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NUKA NAYU IN CONVERSATION WITH ALEJANDRO VILLA DURAN

First of all how are you? How have you been after graduation at RCA? Could you say a few words about what you are doing in Ecuador for your residency? 

Hello, thank you for the first question. I am all healthy which is the most important, but feeling more and more surreal as time passes, does this vortex have an end ? 

RCA at the end became tough, the last terms is when Covid hit London and we all had to lock ourselves up in our rooms, and materials will take around 7 working days to arrive, so it was challenging but I was able to make work and many of my peers did it so it felt positive to see all these ideas and projects coming together in such weird times, so after graduation I packed my bags and went to Mexico, I have been discovering the city and making new friends.

I am in Ecuador now, it is definitely a magical place. Quito is surrounded by the Andes and it is so high up in the mountains that it is hard to breathe if you're not used to it. I was invited to do a residency as part of a new contemporary space called Rudimento. I have been wandering around the city going to parks and the city centre, chatting to people, life here has a different time everything is a bit slower people are not rushing so they really are there in the moment. I've been researching in the gallerie’s library, where I bumped into The Spiritual in art Abstract Painting 1890-1985. Also Reading loads about Hilma af Klint, she's a star. I have been painting for a few years now but I haven't shown any of my paintings so I'm thinking of how to continue painting while I'm here.

I'll set off to the Jungle in a few days. I'll be in the Amazonas for a whole month, quite isolated, the gallery has a studio there, so I am preparing mentally for that, as I will get to disconnect to connect while getting to use some ascetic practices, while making work for my show at the end of the residency, so looking forward to transmute with the jungle... or get lost probably, or eaten by an anaconda.

 

Silhouette 1 (2020) Alejandro Villa Duran

Almost, trying. (2020) Alejandro Villa Duran

 

Wildness and the idea of nature are both something that we share ideas of in our practice, but in some respects have conflicting views on. It would be interesting if you could define your idea of wildness, and what comprises your method of reclaiming wildness and nature? What does queer ecology mean to you, and how do you navigate yourself through it?

When I speak about wildness I try to reconstruct the idea of what the self can be or let itself be in an environment that has been domesticated by heterosexuality, so wildness can often in my work show as a process of unlearning, this intimate process often comes not as a resistance but as way to navigate a terrain with an honest attitude towards sexuality. 

For me the word wild is often difficult to grasp as we have the idea that wild is that inhabited place, that is full of plants and animals, a dangerous environment as it hasn't been touched by humans, but i often think that this environment can happen anywhere.  i believe also for queer people this wild envirorments happen in habited places cities, these cities can be hostile and difficult to navigate, an envirorment that can feel unsuitable and challenging. In an imaginative plane I like to think of cities as this environment full of animalistic humans trying to eat/attack each other then doesn't fit into the norm, but this attacks are often in a mind/spiritual level as society has this shield of political correctness where people behave rationally but can hurt each other in different subtle hidden ways.

This is the reason why in my work I often try to find places to escape, so part of my practice is finding safe and honest spaces where my body can thrive. And this is where the ecological element develops in my practice, where I often find landscapes of mutual respect and the order of things can work in disaccordance of the precondition of hetero norms. Where is home for the queer? Whilst navigating a hostile terrain, there are spaces where acceptance vibrates in a high frequency, for this reason I perform solitarily in natural landscapes, where I am exposed in a space and there is no bouncing judgement there is the true essence of grasping your own wilderness.

So I believe queer ecology is how we carry our bodies in the envirorment we live in and how we aknowledge it, much of my work is the process of being comfortable with who we are in the present in the specific environment we develop but also with the changes that the being/body will develop with, as I see sexuality as a transitional energy that if we allow it to flow, the relationship with the bodies (living creatures) around it everything work in harmony, so in my work i try to work with opposites; to build a path to this harmony we need battles, breaking ideas to then contstruct new ones, much of my questions focus on identity and I am always willing to adapt to the changes that the body and sexulity suit for its stability and well being.

In a way a lot of my research goes back to the ideas of Jack Halberstam of decolonising certain words like wilderness and queerness, and understanding that the body which holds a physical, spiritual and mental entity goes beyond ideologies and culture and becomes a personal relationship that you have in an environment and a landscape, doesn’t matter if its urban or ‘natural’ and how actually the world itself is very weird. It took some time for me to realize as I remember when I was growing up it took me some time to accept myself as queer, which at the time I called homosexual, and I remember thinking when I was in my early 20’s if society works in a specific order then ´am I doing things right´ do i belong in this world ´´ or how gloria anzaldua would say `am i a beast´? I have realized that you have to be very brave and you have to always be rediscovering who you are and noticing that the who we are is transformative and the ‘what we are’ comes from a lineage of a past and acknowledging that, and being aware of what our ancestors did to this world, if they helped it or they harmed it because all of that makes us more sensible in how we can take action in shaping the world for our future generations.

 

Untitled (2020) Alejandro Villa Duran

 

Your work seems to be heavily ephemeral, questioning ownership over materiality and artistic autonomy. Could you tell me more about what ‘decay’ means to you? 

The process of decay does often come into my work quite a lot, and some of the reasons for this is my interest in cycles and transformation and changes. I’ve talk in the past questions about transformative changes and energies, but at the same time the way that I show my devotion and understanding of life is through the psychological and physical processes that we living creatures go throughout our lives, and I think in my work I like to demonstrate this processes, this is the main reasons I work with natural materials or materials that have transformative qualities, and these qualities can be seen in the exhibition or these qualities can change during the exhibition. 

I think particularly as I am interested in the psychological effect that transfarmormative materials have on the human psyche, I work with values that I have been trying to cultivate such are values of non-attachment, and I create certain tensions in an specific contemporary capitalism environment that we live in that also involves, heavy involvement in social media and a fast paced society and my challenge is to reverse that, and create a certain tension from the viewer, spectator and the piece. When I speak about non-attachment I simply refer to the simple idea of death, and how death is part of a process of life, and how beautiful it is to be able to accept that things can go, and that we do not have control over it. Death is the highest point of intensity to transform a certain energy to become something else.

Having in mind that death is part of a life cycle and that it is circular and that the moment something reaches its final stage, it comes to a rebirth, I like to think  that anything is final that is always recreating itself, like matter. So I never use to think it in the past but time is a medium in my work, time is important how makes us see certain spaces and materials in our life in an specific way and how if certain elements transform how our emotional reaction bounces in a transformative way, so us are constantly subjected and this can be called alteration of the mind.

 

The angel, the devil, and the chair. (2020) Alejandro Villa Duran

The angel, the devil, and the chair. (2020) Alejandro Villa Duran

 

What's your decision in buying second hand garments? What is your thought process? How do you get inspiration? 

As my work talks about identity I try to reflect that into the work, but it is not because I go and buy second hand garments into a shop, it comes from wanting to show a certain part of me in the work. So I do use something in the work that is part of my wardrobe, personal objects and accessories that were part of my daily life, that yes I went and bought in a second hand shop and I used to wear, and then I thought that it was important to be used for a piece of work.

Why are they second hand? It is because of the simple reason that i do not enjoy as much shopping new made things for sustainable reasons, and when it comes part of the work I like to mix natural elements such as plants shells, etc. with human made objects to open a discourse in between capital value and natural values which are both realms where I navigate. Man-made objects that were part of the capital-system for example fashion garments can have a certain value at some point and when the emotional attachment in society changes, that values can go down, this is what I'm interested in, in buying this object once again to transform its value and after putting into an art space, so how this monetary value can change depending on the way we perceive the object in a particular time and space.

Responding your question about how I find inspiration, I can say that i try the most to stay away from contemporary art references I like to keep my inspiration open in the honest way and this is through the things I do in my daily life, my disciplines and rituals, and things me and my friends talk about and sing about and laugh about. I believe in the collective consciousness for this reason I try to keep my references as far from the art world as possible, we are so connected and so similar that for doing something truly honest one must dig very deep into oneself.

 

 

Miu Miu bag (2020) Alejandro Villa Duran

 

You often use queerbody/nudity in your work, what is your decision in showing this? 

The play of dressing and undressing the body and changing its environment is what I explore, in my work is not necessarily nudity but the attached capital value that we have given to the dress/attire to our identity. What I am trying to say is that often we believe our identity comes from capitalistic value, the things we buy. So the mystery that I am trying to reveal in my work is the meaning of the object and the body without any preconditioning, keeping these two separated.

At the same time I try to identify the meaning of the body dressed in a particular way and transport the individual to a different landscape, this can take the image to an alien place, losing its context, in the city our idea of queerness completely changes meaning, for example in the forest in contrast to the city.

 

Painting (2020) Alejandro Villa Duran

 

You once told me that you wear the clothes that you use in your work before putting them into the sculpture, can you explain a bit more about this process? How is it connected to your ideas?

Throughout my early years when I was a young teenager I was much influenced by fashion, I had all my attention in this industry and through clothing I was able to express myself, sometimes hiding from my parents I would go upstairs to my parents room and wear my moms dresses, or after taking a shower I would make garments out of the shower towels, I believe there is a certain power in clothing and the things we wear. Garments have an extended aura to who we are and they certainly enable us to walk and behave the way we really want to express our identity, well at least this is the case in my personal experience.

When I became a bit older I started to realize the impact of capitalism on our bodies and identities and much of what I believed who I was, was completely transformed and distorted by this system. I decided to take upon creating ownership of who I am, my own identity and this would be a journey of investigating my wildness through experiencing it. 

 

Fog (2019) Alejandro Villa Duran

 

Your work titles remind me of films/documentary/song titles a lot, do you think about these relations to pop culture within your practice? 

I find this question a bit funny as sometimes I see myself as someone that knows very little from pop culture as I enjoy more the effects of stimulation when it comes from inside out, rather than outside out, unless I am experimenting with medicinal plants, so I try not to fill myself with too much of external stimulants, but there are particular films and music that I can become fixated with, I can listen the same song or artist for months even years and that is my case with fleetwood mac <3.

I enjoy when a two hour long film can hold a subtle message such as the meaning of love, this is why I named my last piece after the film ‘Only lovers left Alive’ by Jim Jarmusch, this film has always had a big impact in my life but it was more relevant when we had the first lockdown in london, I was having a difficult time and as cheesy as it can sound I believe the only trascendental thing we have as humanity is love, so for me it was important to name my piece honoring this feeling in such a difficult unexpected time the whole humanity found itself in.

Another artist that I find loads of inspiration from is Anohni specially in her last album Hopelessness, there's so much sensitivity in this albums that talks a lot about where the world is going as a matter of our carelessness to take care of the earth, also with our obsession with the USA, being raised in Mexico I grew up being obsessed with their culture I pretty much grew up spending half of my time in shopping centres I thought that I could buy my happiness , luckily the other half I spent it in the coast of Nayarit and Jalisco both states in Mexico, that was my real escape where my most valuable memories come from it is important to take care of our environment as every little choice we have in the system does have a huge echo, I have used some of Anohni`s lyrics in my work, often is more single words that then I create my own phrases from.

 

 

Biographical narratives and themes of queer experiences seem to come up a lot in your work. You told me that you recently lived in Mexico city for a while and mentioned about your queer community there. Could you talk about your experience growing up in Mexico? And how does it compare with London?

In this very present I try to be as honest as I can be with my work, and I try to analyze the impact of small action has in my environment. I recently have been thinking of the power of the word only, how only something can transform our whole experience in this dimension. Also I don't believe that there is such a thing as innaction or passiveness, everything is active, everything around us has a certain magnetism or energy, so when it comes to my work I work with the energies that come to me in that very moment, it is part of an intuitive process.

One of the drives of my work was when I bumped into the book Borders/Fronteras de New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua in how important has been the study of our ancestors, the specificity of mexico in relation to  where we come from, and how the majority of the population in this specific place now called mexico is still called by some ‘turtle island’. These people are mestizo/a/e and this is a mix in between the native people of the land and the european conquistadores, and me myself being a mestizo I always felt that I had inside of me the oppressor and the oppressed plus being queer in an extreme catholic country made growing up very confusing in terms of who I was. I felt I had this beast (my queerness) that was an enemy or an evil spirit that wouldn't let me free, and in difference of Gloria Anzaldua that she grew up acknowledging her indigenous roots and traditions, I didn't have this I grew up in a city called Guadalajara in a white mexican environment I went to a school with a european model of education. 

It took me a while to stand up for myself but eventually I did it, I recently moved back to Mexico and it's my first time living in Mexico city, it has a very special intimacy, people are warm and very caring, I have met wonderful free spirited beings. Probably my only queer community when I was growing up in Mexico was a secret boyfriend I had when I was 16, he was 9 years older than me, at that time that gave me a lot of freedom. It wasn't until I moved to London when I was 19 where I started to adventure myself into my sexuality, London has a lot of freedom, as nobody cares who you are and what you do, they let you be, and it is a solitary place, but I am quite solitary, so everything worked out in London.