Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Domain of Things, 2017, installatie Anytime Now, TENT, Rotterdam

Time and time again - interview with Pedro Gómez-Egaña

Issue no4
Aug - Sept 2020

What are these people doing in this underground world? In an interview with Rhea Dall artist, composer and musician Pedro Gómez-Egaña tells more about his installation Domain of Things which is the intruiging centerpiece of the group exhibition Anytime Now in TENT, Rotterdam, that is on show until this weekend.

—Rhea Dall Having a background as a violinist and a composer, how did you decide to work with visual art and what did you bring from those métiers to the realm of visual art?

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña I think that in many ways I still work as a composer or a musician. I guess I started practicing music so young that my brain is simply wired that way. I think in terms of duration and temporality and also focus on how intensities rise and fall, how textures, images, and narratives develop over time. Musical thinking is like the spinal cord in my work, except in the visual realm. Visually I’m mainly exploring this through motion: making things move, making dynamic spaces. Another way that I feel influenced by music has to do with appreciating how, in musical concerts and also in theatre and cinema, audiences commit to the events in a very different way than in visual arts. I like the idea of making a work that invites people to invest in whatever it is that they are seeing for a certain duration of time. This is my way of addressing what I identify as a generalized crisis of attention. People just don’t have time to engage. I find it very valuable to bring the question of an economy of attention into visual arts and to resist the scrolling, or supermarket dynamic of art-viewing. I favour the idea of staying with something and allowing it to accumulate, allowing it to open up in all its complexity.

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, The Chariot Greenwich, 2013, Bergen Triennial, courtesy the artist and Galeria Casas Riegnar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Nils Klinger

—Rhea Dall Following this longevity of motion, how do you think this aspect changes the quality of your objects or artworks in relation to more stable or finite functions?

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña Movement destabilizes the material and the formal characteristics of the object. It throws it off and juggles with its meaning. The object exposes itself and becomes vulnerable. I am very interested in the history of industrial objects or machines that have an aura of power, labor, production. I try to explore how such machineries can also be unstable, or even vulnerable or pathetic. An example is my work The Chariot of Greenwich (2013), an ancient, Chinese, mythical design that represented great military power to the Chinese of 2600 BC when it was allegedly invented. The apparatus was essentially a compass that did not use magnetism or electricity, so it was very magical. The story of this device reached a British engineer in the mid-1900s, who interpreted it and explained it back to the Chinese with the use of European engineering solutions. I am fascinated with the different layers of power that the chariot represents in this story. For the Chinese 2600 years BC, such a machine was a monumental show of power, while for the British engineer who re-discovered it in the 1900s, it was quite a colonial gesture. I made a large version of this chariot and made it spin endlessly. Whilst spinning the machine proves to be an effective compass which is amazing, but it also begins to screech and cry, and slowly loses accuracy. It is a simple choreographic operation, but the repetitive spinning activates a different side of this marvelous machine: its inherent weakness and fragility. The same weakness and fragility seems to be displayed by almost anyone aiming at such grandiose gestures of power. This double side to the mechanical where power and vulnerability coexist is also shown in the erect line of The Great Learning (2015), a piece with which I let a 4 meter tall copper tube fall slowly to the ground. This kinetic sculpture was recently presented at Vigelandmuseet in Oslo, in a room filled with monumental, plaster models for Vigelands marble sculpture.

—Rhea Dall Since I am partially based in Oslo, I visited the Sculpture Biennial that your work was part of. I kept returning to watch how the slow fall of the copper tube evoked the destruction of the surrounding artworks. The whole legacy of Norway’s national artist Gustav Vigeland, in whose former production premises the exhibition was placed, seemed to be threatened.

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña Actually, it’s funny because I’m pretty sure that Vigeland’s ghost haunted that piece. I have exhibited this kinetic work previously and its intricate system of weights always worked seamlessly, but when I showed it in Oslo the piece kept on failing to fall, it would not bow down. In the end we were convinced that the late Vigeland was not letting this phallic object descend.

—Rhea Dall Another part of this piece seems to come back to music and the collectivity of an ensemble, since the title The Great Learning points to the British avant-garde musician Cornelius Cardew and his reworking of Confucian philosophy into a collective composition built around his Scratch Orchestra.

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña The reason for me to call this piece The Great Learning is that part of Cardew’s original score is about a group coming together. In one of the sections of his score the musicians choose individual pitches and then tune in into each other while gradually disappearing. In my piece, a collection of weights, stones, nuts, and bolts hung in strings around the pole come together, synchronize, as a way of choreographing the fall of the pole.

—Rhea Dall This fall seems poetic in its revolutionary capacity, but is there also a luring darkness to this collectivity?

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña Of course, any coming together has a darkness. Democracy is dark. When you bring people together there is always a potential for destruction. Beyond holding the lyrical fall of the single line embodied by the copper rod, the fall of The Great Learning is also a coming together by giving in to gravity. There is a pull downwards, to the ghost and the grave of gravity, which has been an interest of mine for a long time.

“When you bring people together there is always a potential for destruction”

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, The Great Learning, 2015, Mana Contemporary in New Jersey, courtesy the artist, photo: Erin Lee Smith

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, The Great Learning, 2017, Norsk Skulptur biennial, Vigeland-museet, Oslo, courtesy the artist. Photo: Carsten Aniksdal

—Rhea Dall Thinking about collectives, and how peers inspire your work as much as you produce individually, who are part of your extended partners of conversation? Who inspires you?

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña Actually, when producing artworks, I feel closer somehow to film. To mention just one example, I love the contemporary Mexican director Carlos Reygadas. In his films meaning arrives through a very crafted sense of time: one that is not built linearly but through constellations of landscape, character traits, and silence. It takes a while to get into his universe, but it is immensely rewarding.

—Rhea Dall I think you see the cinematic influence, for instance, in your precision when producing your performative installations. An example is Domain of Things that I saw at last year’s Istanbul Biennial and which consists of an elevated and theatrically lit stage-set. The scenography shows a home divided into serial mobile platforms that can be moved around individually by a cast of performers who find themselves crawling around in the mechanic netherworld.

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña For Domain of Things I worked with a couple of cinematic layers: music, light, and motion in a darkened space. I even thought about having the right temperature in the room and controlling some of the background sounds.

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Domain of Things, 2017, installatie Anytime Now, TENT, Rotterdam, foto Aad Hoogendoorn

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Domain of Things, 2017, installatie Anytime Now, TENT, Rotterdam, foto Aad Hoogendoorn

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Domain of Things, 2017, installatie Any Time Now, TENT, Rotterdam, foto Aad Hoogendoorn

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Domain of Things, 2017, installatie Anytime Now, TENT, Rotterdam

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Domain of Things, 2017, installatie Anytime Now, TENT, Rotterdam

—Rhea Dall Could the piece be read as a division in upstairs and downstairs, representing the hardship of the underground, a silenced state of human kind, or maybe even a state of the subliminal?

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña This work seems to be prone to very different readings depending on the context. The main reference is the sciencefiction tradition of stories where the underground is a place for postapocalyptic escape. In Istanbul, the piece was of course read by some as related to the situation in Turkey where there’s been an overwhelming feeling of loss of safe spaces, even at the most intimate level. But another reading of this piece could also be more psychoanalytical where upstairs stands for order and representational qualities, while downstairs carries connotations of disarray, darkness, and ambiguity.

“Another interesting temporal blur, which is present in several of my pieces, has to do with labor and how hard it is for many of us to know when we are working and when we are not. Clocking in and clocking out does not exist anymore”

—Rhea Dall The performers’ ongoing, slow movements or labor in the downstairs space seem endless, which takes us back to the question of duration and timed motions, and relations between symbolic and scientific, historic and mythical time.

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña I am really taken by historical relations between science and the occult. My piece The Kinetoscope of Time (2011) deals specifically with this, focusing on how, when cinema occurred, the idea arose that you could—with the camera—literally capture time, and cut it into an assembly line of pieces. I also like that there used to be traveling magicians that would show you magnetism or electricity while at the same time they would tell your fortune or foresee a ghost behind you. Science and magic used to be so close. Then, roughly said, around the Enlightenment, they got separated, and now, after some centuries of separation the lines of division are somehow getting blurred again. We are facing technologies that are so fast and so small that the space between technology and magic becomes indistinguishable. Another interesting temporal blur, which is present in several of my pieces, has to do with labor and how hard it is for many of us to know when we are working and when we are not. Clocking in and clocking out does not exist anymore.

—Rhea Dall Thinking of clocking in and out, how do you work on an everyday basis?

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña I do not have a 9-5 relation to my work. I have a studio that I adore, but it is mostly used for physical experiments. I actually have very weird rhythms. I cannot work in long stretches. People who work with me know this very well, I need these breaks, and I need to keep them long. If I work for more than two hours I stop being productive. I will work for 1–1½ hours and then I need a break or shift onto a different project. My dream is to have my studio at home where I can work in my pajamas, then make breakfast, then work, then get ready and go out for a while, then read, then cook, and then work some more. Another aspect of how I work is that I love to work in teams. I need that. I am not very good at just doing things on my own. Not to say I work collaboratively because I don’t, but I do love to have accomplices who ask questions and to discuss the work as it develops.

—Rhea Dall A good note to end on. What are you listening to and reading right now?

—Pedro Gómez-Egaña I am listening to many podcasts, but my current favorite is Hidden Brain which is about different ways of explaining psychological behavior in relation to politics and culture in general. I’m also reading Utopia for Realists which makes a case for a universal basic income, and then I’m rereading The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa which is my circle book, or in other words, a book that I begin immediately after I finish it so I’m always, in a way, in the middle of it.


Anytime Now, TENT, Rotterdam, until 10.06.2018, with works by Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Olphaert den Otter, Thomson & Craighead and Anton Vrede. 

Rhea Dall
curator bERLIN

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2020