Audemars Piguet ARCOmadrid Prize: An Interview with Belen Uriel

by Carla Ingrasciotta
January 23, 2018
Carla Ingrasciotta
Uriel Belen

Belén Uriel (Madrid, 1974) has won the VI Audemars Piguet Prize for the production of a work of art at ARCO Madrid. Her work, “In Dandanah“, is a project presented by the Lisbon gallery Madragoa and will be exhibited, within the Audemars Piguet space, during its celebration from 21 to 25 February 2018.

On the occasion, we interviewed the artist to learn more about her practice and the project she created taking inspiration by the glass game Dandanah: The Fairy Palace, designed by the German architect Bruno Taut in 1920.

Carla Ingrasciotta: Your practice is linked to architecture and design as you mainly work with sculpture. How did you develop the dialogue with these disciplines?

Belen Uriel: My work is probably influenced by my curiosity in both of these disciplines. It was through the medium of photography (which in the past was my main artistic medium) I could bring together the diverse elements both of these disciplines have to offer. I used to create scenarios, spaces filled with architectural elements and de-contextualised objects which I built with the purpose of being photographed. Over time I became aware that I was more interested in the sculptural potential of the objects themselves and on how their properties were transformed. Then I started to isolate these objects or structures and work with them individually, exploring new possibilities or readings where constructing, assembling and staging are intertwined. In this way, the original design and function or the object is reconsidered – both materially and in terms of the ideas carried through their use.

C.I.: In your research you investigate everyday objects, their sculptural potential and their possible conversation with the surrounding environment. This allows us to presume that you have a broad knowledge of art, often associated with several different social and human fields. Could you tell us about your practice and how would you define your concept of art?

B.U.: My works frequently point to real, everyday objects (for example, elements from architecture or furniture). They interest me for different reasons: their forms, materiality, shapes, uses, etc. The way we are supposed to relate to them is the starting point and to consider their social, cultural and functional meanings in the process of making. The manipulation of materials, the construction of forms and surfaces, and the re-definition of dimensions and scales, are worked/thought about in relation to the histories embedded in these objects and structures. My sculptures and installations incorporate a diverse range of materials, from glass to papier mache, metal structures, fabrics… that often replicate recognisable objects, belonging to well-known forms and designs and repeated in our every-day lives, enacting different types of behavioural codes, every-day conventions and protocols, as a way to reflect upon the use of the object, as well as our experiences and “expectations” in regard to them.

C.I.: What about your involvement with Audemars Piguet Art Commission? Could you tell us something about “En Dandanah”, the project you’re presenting during ARCOmadrid? How did this idea come about? Could you tell us about the creative process behind this specific artwork?

B.U.: My piece “En Dandanah” is inspired by my long-term interest in the German architect Bruno Taut (an utopian expressionist architect, I have already done other works related to his work), specifically by a set of glass building blocks, a game designed by him in the 1920’s, named Dandanah, The Fairy Palace. The Dandanah appears to be a unique toy case made of glass, produced at a moment in the history of Design that incorporated the game as a channel for artistic experimentation. It is an object where technological and utopian discourses merge through the medium of glass. Taut considered glass a potential agent of social change (he truly believed glass architecture would improved human life). This game realises and exemplifies Taut’s utopian and mystical beliefs, which somehow, are condensed in this small-scale object.
I’m mainly interested in the unrealistic character of the Dandanah (its usability as a toy is questionable: it was considered to be unsafe). The different constructions, depicted in the six instruction sheets attached to the game, are impossibly idealistic representations, illusory designs that cannot be constructed with the contents of the box. This unreal character and the act of play have for me a lot to do with the art making process, or at least with the way I work.
My intention is to re-recreate part of a construction/tower that appear in one of the instructions sheets to a human scale. The sculpture is the result of the re-creation of modular architecture in metal, with angular form, each side is composed of 24 pieces of the game and covered with a glass panel, as in the original game. The glass pieces are each hand made, one by one. In the production of the glass pieces I try to give each of them the texture of glass, which is either broken or about to break and it is protected by masking tape… I like the uncertainty between something that is broken or could break: fundamentally it gives off the idea that it is the taped glass which holds together the building blocks, evoking the fragility of the original game and its dubious usability.
The structure is divided into two chromatic parts, the left side is produced with a yellow transparency finish and the right part is made with a pinkish colour scheme. For me is like the light at sunrise or sunset which reflects in a glass façade, this alludes to the passing of time…. A fragile, dreamy and imaginary piece of architecture, which lacks any kind of functionality.
Over the last few years I had the opportunity to work with glass. I am an artist in residency at Vicarte (Glass and Ceramic for the Arts, Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the Universidad Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon). With the support and patience of the great professionals there, I have been working with and learning glass techniques since 2015, and this is where I am producing this project.

C.I.: You were born and grew up as an artist in Madrid and later moved to London and Lisbon. What do you think about the city’s art scene and how do you find the city now? Which are the places you enjoy the most and the ones you would suggest to art lovers?

B.U.: Lately I have spent much more time in Lisbon than in London, mainly because it is here where the glass studios (Vicarte) are located. In Lisbon, as well, I have the opportunity to work in an amazing studio that is supported by the Lisbon Council (that supports many artist working in the city); the conditions are really good in which to work and produce, time expands here. I had also the chance to work with great professionals, it is in Lisbon where I have had the most opportunity to develop and for my work to mature…
I would say that Lisbon offers a high quality art scene for its small scale, it offers very good concerts, contemporary and classic, great contemporary dance performances, theatre, plays, exhibitions. My favourites are ZDB and Maria Matos Theatre for their concerts programmes, Culturgest for its great contemporary dance programme, Gulbenkian Foundation programme for classical concerts …there is also a very dynamic art scene, with new spaces opening very often. I love living in Lisbon, I like to walk around and still be able to get a little bit lost and discover things and places, it is a beautiful city. The people, the light, the river etc, make it a very human city.

C.I.: Any upcoming projects or exhibitions we can look forward to seeing?

B.U.: Apart from the project I’m showing at ARCO with the generous support of Audemars Piget, I’m working on a solo exhibition in Porto, which will open on May the 4th at Sismógrafo (a very interesting non profit art space running by a group of writers, designers, artists.. ) with the curator Miguel Wandschneider with whom I had the great pleasure and opportunity to work with before for a large solo exhibition in 2016 (“Segunda Feira”, at Culturgest, Lisbon). At the same time I’m working for another exhibition in Lisbon, a project by Portuguese young curator Claudia Ramos. It is a two-artists exhibition (eight artists, four exhibitions) in four different non-contemporary art related museums in Belem. In my case I’m exhibiting alongside a young Portuguese artist Ana Santos at the Museu da Marinha, opening on May the 18th.

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