Nando Alvarez Perez’s (MFA Photography, 2014) photographic installations respond architecturally and materially to space—pushing the traditional experience and scope of the medium. Here, the artist discusses the evolution of his practice, upcoming exhibitions, and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I’m an artist based in Oakland. My studio is in my home. I work full time at Airbnb, and am currently teaching an undergraduate course at CCA. Right now I’m working on photographic installations using a modular framing system I designed myself in conjunction with wallpapers, fabric prints, and carpets.
Your photo practice has been evolving recently: from two-dimensional, wall-mounted prints to a more sculptural presentation. What inspired this new direction?
My thesis exhibition at SFAI was my first in a really public forum and that meant that I finally had to go the whole nine yards on presentation. Mounting, framing, and hanging my photographs myself really opened my eyes to the way that images operate on a wall. I knew I could no longer ignore the elephant in any room that photographs hang in: the room itself, the scale of the walls. Most importantly, I had to address the way photographs insistently point to a world “out there,” but, due to the inherent ambiguity in the images, they can never really have a 1:1 relationship with that world and are filled with multivalent readings. This is what makes photographs so exciting and generative, but, counterintuitively, there’s been a big shift recently in the direction of art photography away from concentrating on vision, perception, and how humans read images towards projects that insist on their own meaning and interpretation from the outset.
The aluminum frames, wallpapers, and fabrics allow my work to respond to space and architecture—to propose new ways for people to actually live with images. They also allow me to flexibly address a larger range of issues beyond the literal content of each of my photographs—in my case, the way photographic objects relate to death, memorials, the kitschy reproduction of art objects, and the remembrance of some failed futurity. They are also, frankly, a quick and dirty way to put photography into conversation with painting, sculpture, and installation art, which is generally a thing photographers are trained to assiduously avoid.
Tell us about your recent experiences at art fairs in San Francisco and Mexico City.
I think it’s hard to be an artist and not have a bit of a bitter taste in one’s mouth re: art fairs. One of my instructors at SFAI compared the experience of going to a fair where your work is being shown to that of a cow getting a tour of the sausage factory. There is an undeniable truth to that: art fairs reduce the hard labor of art making and art thinking to that of mere commodity exchange and no doubt they can be a pretty ugly scene.
On the other hand, fairs draw a crowd. And not just a local crowd, but an actual international crowd of people from galleries, museums, and institutions around the world. They are, without a doubt, some of the only venues I’ve exhibited art at where the “exposure” was well worth the cost of production and in which the contacts I made have led to real, concrete opportunities.
I think it should also be said, and it’s not said nearly enough in art school, that selling your work is not a bad thing. It’s one thing if you’re unashamedly making art that has nothing to do with your interests or ideas simply to pursue a market trend or to be well liked, but to me fairs have been very powerful reminders that when I’m working in my studio I’m not alone in there: I need to consider my audience, I need to consider how the work will be encountered, and I need to consider how to make the booth stand out.
So at both Untitled, San Francisco and Material Art Fair in Mexico City I can say pretty unequivocally that they were well worth the time and investment. It also helped that Suzanne [L'Heureux] from Interface Gallery and the team at City Limits were incredibly supportive of my ideas and they’re the ones who ultimately do the hard work of spending three straight days in the booth trying to drum up interest in the work.
What are some upcoming projects or exhibitions?
Right now I’m enjoying a little break after a whirlwind of exhibitions and taking some time to learn a few new things to bring into my work in the future. I’m hoping to produce a portfolio box for the 2017 SF Art Book Fair in July and I also have an exhibition towards the end of the year at Interface Gallery in Oakland. And then in November I’ll be doing a month long residency at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York.
Image credits: 1) Installation view of Post-industrial Living Situation 1 (Self-centered World), 2017, at Untitled SF; Ultrachrome prints on sintra, extruded aluminum frames, shower curtain rings, silk charmeuse, dye-diffusion print on carpet, 78 x 102 x 72 inches; 2) Remembrance Block 1 for Material Art Fair 2017; 13 x 25 x 27 inches; 3) Post-industrial Totem for Home or Office 7 (Neon Venus Pixel Quartzite) at Under the Willow October Salon, 2016; 60 x 143 x 2 inches; 4) Portrait of the artist. All images courtesy of the artist.