Exhibition Federico Herrero.
The Corridor summer 2004.
Conversation Federico Herrero and Helgi Thorgils Fridjonsson:
H. Th. F.: First I would like you to tell me something about your background. Where do you come from, and why did you decide to become artist? Or did you decide it?
F.H.: I think I didn’t decide to be an artist. Like many people, it was just something that was very naturally growing with me, all the time since I was a kid I was drawing and having a very intense imagination. In my family there are no artists , so I couldn’t say that this was something that I learned from my relatives. As a child , my parents would catch me often just making silhouette on the air with my hands, like making invisible drawings. Maybe they thought I was a little weird.
H. Th. F.: Did they like it? Do they still think it is weird you are doing? You are born and grown up in Costa Rica, I get the feeling these silhouette have been like huge colourful butterfly in your palm, coming and leaving. That is how we Icelanders think about a place like Costa Rica.
F.H.: I think they didn’t mind much back then. After some time, when I finished school it was the first time they became a little concerned with the fact that I wanted to paint for a living, to be an artist. This idea was a little scary for them because they though it was very difficult that I would be able to live well from being an artist, and I don’t blame them because its true; I have so many friends that are having a terrible time from their art making. At this point my parents are very much happy and they don’t think what I do is weird at all, as long as they see that I am working and having a nice life from that. Now they have started to let their own butterflies come and go. My father for example has started making his own assemblage out of pieces of wood, and they are quite interesting I think.
H. Th. F.: At this point you went to New York for Art education. Did you already know a bit what you would do before or did New York change your ideas about art? I believe the art situation is different in these two places, and could even be need for different questions about life and art at each place, or do you think it is just a universal question?
F.H.: I think N. Y. changed my idea about life more than about art. I felt so many pressure in the art world there , between artists and between history and present. That made me want to step away from that as much as I could. One way to achieve this was by going back to Costa Rica , and that’s what I did. Being in N. Y. made me realize that simple things in life are much more important than becoming any kind of star. Now things have developed in a way that this kind of questions are more universal because they deal with my personal universe , my personal cosmic map which I am building any place I am in the world.
H. Th. F.: Does it mean you had to escape? Wasn’t possible to have a little Costa Rica personal cosmic map in the brain in Manhattan? Of course I understand what you mean, I did a bit of the same when I returned to Iceland. But can you describe this personal cosmic map?
F.H.: It has to do with people , situations , conversations , objects , food , music , a telephone both, a car, a lover , its related to one becoming a magnet and all these things will stick to you in your memory. So like the situationists that where making a different map of a city , I believe in making a personal map of my life, with all this elements that I can recollect around the world at the end they are leaving traces , and its possible to make a constellation out of them. Leaving N. Y. was definitivly like escaping, I chose not to built my Costa Rican map inside Manhattan , but instead I wanted to take another direction and of course bring with me the many good things I was able to take from there.
H. Th. F.: Were there some influences or some favourite things to take back? Are there some special artists or ideas influencing you more than another? You were quiet young and the nice thing about N.Y. is how busy and ambitious it is and speedy. There is a famous cliché mentioning a song about a city who never sleeps.
F. H.: maybe my main influence was my roommate at the dormitory in the school. He was a student for architecture but his ideas about society and life were very powerful to me. He was working on what would be his only construction in this life; a building that was to be floating in the air. Seriously. I also learned a lot from artists that were having interesting shows in galleries and museums by the end of the nineties , like Gabriel Orozco, Matthew Barney, but also again from other students at Pratt , like one from Los Angeles with whom I had a great connection in terms of ideas about invisible art, new ways of painting and situationist concepts that we didn’t know well how to explain but did understand in a level of instinct. To follow my primary instinct was one nice lesson at that point.
H. Th. F.: Are your colourful paintings invisible? And what about your public paintings which might bring the viewer to the track of spray painters. Are there some political statement in them? And also in the architectural line remarks, which looks at first sight like lines for information or instruction, or lines to give orders for how to behave.
F. H.: No, by invisible art I was , or I am thinking more of many small actions that I can do during a normal day, that are more close to making personal jokes and statements rather than objects or documents. I don’t think I am very interested in bringing the paintings I do to a political level, although the lines in the street have something to do with systems of regulation and limitations in our behaviour the real motor behind them is the joy of applying pigment to a surface. The game of the monochrome. I am very much interested in the relation that can exist between work and joy , much more than making a political or a conceptual statement.
H. Th. F.: You also mentioned Matta as early influence on your art. Of course it is strange to say early influence to a twenty five year old artist. Can you talk about that? I think I can understand that, though it doesn’t have similar look. He was also from Latin America. Are you different in Latin America?
F.H.: Yes I think we are very different in Latin America. Even in countries that are so small and close as Costa Rica and Panama (just to give an example), there are huge differences in the behavior of the people , the food and the music, other type of differentiation can come from the fact that some countries have had military conflicts , dictatorships , political issues that other countries have had been lucky enough to avoid. When it comes to Matta, I always think of him more in the universal scale , probably because he was working so much outside of Latin America , but what was more interesting for me was his method of painting and his background as architect and urban planner. So it has not so much to do with how his paintings look like , but how he was constructing them and his ideas behind about space.
Don’t you think there is some connection with this abstract space and the real space in which his son Gordon was working in the 70 s? , To me it seems like his son was putting in practice into real time and space what his father was representing in an abstract scale , like the surrealist were seeking for the hyper real , but this is something that can only be achieved in the social form I think, and that’s what Gordon did.
H. Th. F.: Yes, both are dealing with modernistic space, which connect the viewer physically and by mind to the space. They cut up the space in mechanical way. Are you combining these two elements, when you do the architectural lines and the representational abstract paintings. You paintings seem to have layers of plans and also story and then the plans on the walls and floors. I didn’t know the architect background of Matta, but now I might understand a possible combination of him and his son Gordon. Thinking of this can make an extra meaning to both of them.
F. H.: Yes , I am really interested in combining these two practices , mainly because I feel it’s a way to free my self from any particular position or determinant point of view. I think its healthy to have some contradictions in your work every now and then and to make it possible for you to have exits , windows to escape from your own work and a way to this is by finding other planes , spaces (also social spaces ) then the possibilities are much more wider.
In this sense is that I feel there is a relation of joy and work , and I wanted to ask , in your case, how do you deal with this issue?
H. Th. F.: I agree to this, and try to keep all tracks and plans open, and every time I do exhibitions myself, I do them as a kind of environment, or do it as one piece out of the ones whom I select. The longer I work I sometimes see links between the different spots I took and it always interested me when suddenly in a circulation where there are lot of possibility at the same time. I think this time we are living, we are join the art as part of the life, not the separation like it might have been earlier on. In case of my work I use Art history and history in general as a kind of road design, jokes and what so ever, information we don’t always understand but they lead us through the complex of the road. Normally I would tell my students to open as many doors as possible when young, because it seem to be more and more difficult by age, if you do it as young they are already open. It is like a language. As you know the ground better, you can play and get more out of using it later. Is that a question for you?
F. H.: I ask it, because where I come from , and in relation to the world of biennials and documentas , it seems that we are supposed to be dealing with our political problems, economical situation and point them out or find solutions from them in our work for it to be legitimatized in the wider scale . And it seems that things like joy , beauty , leasure and playfulness have to come to a second plane when you come from a third world country. That’s the reason why I ask you that , but then I think it would be more interesting to know how do you deal with living and working in an island , how do you deal with the issue of the local and the global , do you care at all about this in your work? After all , the geography of the island is something that really affects the people who live inside of it, I think , its very psychologically molding.
H. Th. F.: I meant if my answer could be taken as a question for you, but your reply is a question. I guess we in Iceland are meant to be the so called western culture, but at the same time people tend to think of us as a kind of abstract thing or outlaws in the world. Coming from strange island far in the north and everything of that sort. Then the existence of Björk and Sigur Rós somehow underline it, and then fire mountains and meeting of the platform of America and Europe, and the rest of us is watched with all these glasses of strangeness. We are the strange, and somebody don’t like it and other do. In case of my art I often feel like people both like it and fear it. Because it gives information which people feel they know but don’t know or feel unsure about. Of course I feel my language is international but as I am here in my physical state I also feel it is my local mind in there. Somehow I feel like people scare the local, but I feel there is positive and negative localness. The positive one is global in mind. Actually I sometimes thought your work and of some young artists somehow relate to the art around 1980, which combined all possible things without too much of the effort of respect of the past. This playfulness. That is to say other kind of information, faster.
About your country we would maybe think of it as a perfect paradise. You know, sunshine, and comfort, and all these beautiful animals. Tarzan and Jane, Robinson Cruso. Darwin. Bananas and oranges. So we see the wrong picture like we said for Iceland. Apart from the world, and difficult to understand properly. But also we must remember the west is only a part of the world and I think Art is to open the mind everywhere and is always from some point political. I like to ask how you joined the international field. Did it start with the Venice biennale in 2001? This is concerning the question of our existence in the others.
F. H.: Yes it was with Venice , until now its been like a domino game and of course its also up to me until when or where I want to play it. As you say , it has to do with our existence in others, but also about building this cosmic map , a personal journey in which hopefully many people we can interconnect .
H. Th. F.: Some of your ideas brings me back to the time when I was starting. You know after very heavy conceptual period, people were becoming tired of all the rules and the new painting bursted out. Pat of it was the track I took