Taking it to the limit: In the studio with Luciana Lamothe

Interview and translation by Vanessa Bell

The Buenos Aires–based artist talks about her demanding process, the status of women artists in Argentina, and her latest piece for Art Basel Cities Week

Luciana Lamothe knows she’s onto something when the piece she’s working on starts to get a little alarming – too tall, too vast, too tenuous. Whether joining iron pipes with simple clamps or lashing panels together with zip ties, in sculptures and installations that are robust yet malleable, the Argentine artist tests the limits of her materials, as well as the boundaries between interiors and exteriors, built environments and psychological ones. ‘I like to play with how far I can push the limits of a particular material, and with resistance,’ says the artist. ‘This extends to the spectators and those who interact with my work as well.’ Lamothe will unveil Starting Zone (Zona de inicio), 2018 – her first public commission – as part of ‘Hopscotch (Rayuela)’, curated by Cecilia Alemani for Art Basel Cities Week in Buenos Aires, September 6–12. The artist recently welcomed Art Basel into her studio in Munro, outside Buenos Aires, for a discussion about how her work is received locally and the heightened sensation she hopes to provoke with her project for Art Basel Cities.

Luciana Lamothe at work in her Munro studio. Photo by Mani Gatto.

Vanessa Bell: Your work alternates between sculptures that can be experienced visually and installations that require viewers to enter into them. Has this always been the case?

Luciana Lamothe: I was very influenced by a professor at the Pueyrredón art school who was a Modernist-architecture fanatic. I always loved architecture, and at one point I was torn between following a path in architecture over sculpture. Ultimately, I chose sculpture because I feel that with architecture, there are many boring elements, such as having to make concessions for the client and being conditioned by functionality.

Right after I finished my degree and was trying to figure out what to do, there was a period of civil unrest in Argentina. When I did my acciones in the street, it was just after the economic crash. There was a lot of violence and roadblocks. I was fascinated with the marks left by rubbish on street corners, where it would be piled up, then burned, leaving imprints on the asphalt. I took photos and documented it. Then, when I began working in public spaces, I was experimenting with what was legal or illegal and what I could get away with: what’s hidden and what’s visible, what’s private versus what’s public.

Many of the materials you use in your works are synonymous with strength and construction, and your creative development involves lengthy experimentation with them. What did this journey of discovery stem from?

Even when I was carrying out these acciones in the street, I knew that in some way it was connected to my sculpture. My interests started to gravitate towards materials. I returned to the workshop to continue taking these materials to an extreme, to see what they would resist – not just the materials but also the structures, what they could withstand.

Ensayos de Abertura, 2018, made of oxidized metal tubes and scaffolding ties, which Lamothe presented at Galería Ruth Benzacar earlier this year. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Your process is quite physical: welding, torquing metal …

I work extensively with iron tubes. I’m not only defying the properties of the material, but also its shape, testing new ways that the element can create or generate something new. I’ve had older women ask how I manage to work with the materials that I do, perhaps because I’m slight and not very tall.

It seems there aren’t many women sculptors in Argentina. The artworld [here] is very macho, and I always felt a sense of resentment, but I never really expressed it much – I just got on and did my thing and tried not to care. I do think it affects all female artists, to a degree. Starting out as a young artist and seeing how one’s male peers received more institutional recognition, it was really obvious. But now, I’d say women [in Argentina] are feeling this sense of inequality.

The artist, who often works with construction materials, examines metal components in her studio. Photos by Mani Gatto.

How else does your context in Argentina influence your work?

From the start, I have always experimented – I had to. The way we work, the way our works are presented, the materials, I think it’s very unique. Sometimes I see an exhibition in Europe and I think that it’s something that an Argentine artist would never be able to achieve – the surfaces, the finish, the materials employed. Here we only have two choices of wood: eucalyptus or pine. In Paris, you might have 10 options. In Argentina, there’s more experimentation and resourcefulness.

Can you talk us through the work you created for ‘Hopscotch (Rayuela)’?

Cecilia was keen for me to present a project that experiments with vertigo and claustrophobia, and the fear and adrenaline these provoke in the spectator. I’m working with the idea of a closed sculpture, less of an installation but interactive nevertheless. It will be a series of cylindrical tubes, following the theme I’ve been using of bundles of tubes held together with knots. And the cylinder has a series of spiral steps embedded in the metal structure, both inside the cylinder and externally. You’ll be able to take the stairs up to the top and then walk down into the depths of the cylinder, where you feel you become stuck, with no way out.

The work will be installed in Plaza República Oriental del Uruguay, a popular area where people go to jog or ride bikes. I’m interested to see the impact it has in a more everyday setting, where anyone could feel that rush of adrenaline – especially in a space where that’s not expected.

Metasbilad, 2015, phenolic panels, metal tubes, and scaffolding clamps, installation view in 'My Buenos Aires, La Maison Rouge' at the Fondation Antoine de Galbert, Paris. Courtesy of the artist.

Do you consider the public’s interaction with your work essential to its meaning?

For certain works it’s fundamental; for others, simply spectating is sufficient. With my installations, I try to challenge the limitations of the individual, as well as the stability that the structure can offer them: how much courage they need to explore the piece, and the moment when they realize that the material is resistant and won’t break, which creates a feeling of trust.

Top image: Luciana Lamothe. Proceso de inicio (detail), 2017, installation view at the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Courtesy of the artist.

Learn more about Lamothe and the 18 artists participating in ‘Hopscotch (Rayuela)’, and plan your trip Art Basel Cities Week in Buenos Aires now to experience the exhibition this September 6–12.