David Lamelas is a key figure in the history of conceptual art and experimental film. His nomadic practice, encompassing film and video, performance, photography, sculpture, installation and drawing, is as pioneering as it is complex, defying neat categorisation. His art focuses on the viewer’s own perception and critically assesses the mechanisms of cultural production. He creates interventions that work with time, space and their relation with the viewer, challenging their perceptions and knowledge.
David Lamelas is on view with his solo show “I have to think about it” at Fondazione Antonio Dalle Nogare in Bolzano till 24th January 2024.
My first encounter with your work was at university, when a professor showed us one of your most famous pieces, Untitled (Falling Wall), 1992, in which a series of wooden logs support a sloping wall, as if the gallery space were closing in on itself or collapsing under its own weight.
It is a powerful work of art – part of what is defined as Institutional Critique – a reflection on the power of the white cube, as also developed in Brian O’Doherty’s essays. The same can be said of a much earlier work: Corner Piece, 1965, which was on show in Bolzano. These interventions were attempts to analyze how we move in space, how it functions and the power that architecture has over us. What were the questions you were asking yourself when you were conceiving these kinds of works?
It is very much about the function of the space, how we use it and stay in it. For example, we don’t go to corners usually, there are no works hung there; for some reasons that space has always been of interest to me. When I made Corner Piece I was working with the lines of connection of the walls, the angles, the place between the walls and the ceiling, the point where they come all together. This work was also about the empty space created there, that was the reason why I was interested in this space. And of course, also the power of the space is an important element. One relevant work that sums up all the things that you said is Connection of Three Space, 1966, this is the perfect example of what we are talking about.
I am not sure about the influence of Brian O’Doherty on my practice, just because when I started there were no white cubes, the walls were painted with colors; it was very often like being in somebody’s house. My first confrontation with the white cube was when I did the show in Instituto Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires in the mid ‘60s.
Your work has been affiliated to many different artistic narratives throughout your career: from Minimalism to Conceptualism, from Institutional Critique to also Relational Aesthetics in this last show, even though your work can be mostly defined as “situational”. How do you perceive the evolution of your artistic practice throughout several decades? Is there a fil-rouge in the evolution of the media you use in your artworks?
If you think about my work it has always one constant: the drawing. I started to draw very early on, and looking back from the early days up to now the most important thing was the space of the white paper, so I have always been working with the space and drawing in it.
Space has always been the common link, it also applies to my film work where I have a broken narrative of time, memory and perception, there the social space and the aspect of the time become almost as an abstract space.
When you represented Argentina at the Venice Biennale in 1968, it was a very particular moment in the history of art and also in the history of the Biennale. You presented Office for Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels: The Visual Image, Text and Audio, a real-time news agency about the Vietnam War, an installation composed by a desk, an Olivetti telex and writing machine, where news from ANSA, the main Italian news agency, were read aloud in three languages. On this occasion you decided to use an art space as a centre of communication, and to move from presenting an art object to presenting a situation. It was a reflection on how news is transformed before it reaches the audience, but I wonder if this was also a way of linking art and (everyday) life? And, ultimately, to create a work that is not a “work of art”, as Duchamp said back in 1913?
I totally agree with that, it was not intended as a work of art, it was intended as a statement on the situation.
You present this work anew in the show in Bolzano, slightly changed, as to say that there is not a definitive and unique version of this work, but many and multiple.
The version we presented in Bolzano is simple and different because things change over time, but the work was an idea, and basically it has not changed since then. The work can change in relationship to the moment and the condition of the presentation, so every time it can be slightly different. I do like to work with the ideas of the curators, so in this case it was very nice to retrieve appliances and furniture of that period, it was a wonderful way to present the memory of that work. I would not be against showing it on a different table but in this case it was more related to the memory of the original presentation.
Another of the work exhibited in the show at Fondazione Antonio dalle Nogare is Rock Star (Character Appropriation), 1974, a series of photos of you acting as if you were a rock star on stage, playing between the desire to be a rock star, the perception the photos create in the viewer, and the reality. This work struck me as prescient of how social media works today; in their relentless flux social media are a tool for self-editing personality, where you can present your idealised self, acting as-if, and fictionally building your persona.
Absolutely everybody does it! Now I find it very strange, you know, I am not on Instagram so I do not really follow that logic but now for example you even see people posing while waiting for the bus, we are in a constant pose, the mediatization of their life where real life has become fictionalized. Almost every aspect of life and, also politics, now follow what is good in social media. This work also represented a moment in English culture of the ‘70s. Back then, in London, all the people of my generation wanted to be a rockstar, I represented a social phenomenon. I had many friends dressing like rockstars, and living, or pretending to live like such. The work was a kind of social comment on the creation of stardom back then not many had a camera so very few could document this.
What are you working, or maybe re-working on, at the moment?
I am making a long feature film, 80 minutes long, about my life in Los Angeles, currently I am doing the final editing and I will soon start a new film when I finish this one. These are not commercial, or Netflix-like movies, they will be shown in art circuit. I am constantly thinking about new works, I’ll have a big show in New York in 2025 with many spatial pieces, and I am working on the expansion of the idea of Corner Piece into the future.
Installation view “Office of Information About the Vietnam War” at Fondazione Antonio Dalle Nogare;
ph. Hannes Ochsenreiter, 2023
Installation view “Corner Piece” at Fondazione Antonio Dalle Nogare;
ph. Hannes Ochsenreiter, 2023
Installation view “Rock Star (Character Appropriation)”, at Fondazione Antonio Dalle Nogare;
ph. Jürgen Eheim, 2023
David Lamelas, “Rock Star (Character Appropriation)”, 1996, Courtesy of David Lamelas and Jan Mot, Brussels
David Lamelas portrait; ph. Luca Guadagnini, 2023