Interview with Ximo Lizana
“The role of my robots and holograms is focused on their own existence and their interaction with the viewer”
Your exhibition at IVAM (Valencia Institute of Modern Art) has recently finished. In the exhibition you displayed 33 photographs along with robots, your work from 2001 to 2009. What was the public’s reception?
X.L: Fantastic. This project is the result of three years of work, and it collects both new work and projects made in the last 15 years. Valencia is like my alma mater for many reasons, such as my years of work with Galería Punto and my training at the Faculty of Fine Arts. I’m very fond of this exhibition, and I am also very grateful for the support of the people of the IVAM, where I started an internship in the teaching workshop. I also want to thank Consuelo Ciscar in particular, who believed in my art project from my beginnings.
In 2005 you presented your project “Robotic Angels” with IVAM in ARCO. It was the first time in the history of Spain that an international museum acquired robots as pieces of art. You were also the first Spanish artist to win the German critic prize for exploring the possibilities offered by technology in the service of art. Where have you found your influences? Do you consider yourself a pioneer in this field?
X.L: My influences come from the realms of cyber culture and new philosophies derived from creative thinking and thinkers such as Stelarc, Chic MacMurtrie, Jean Baudrillard and Guy Debord. I don’t like the term pioneer at all; I prefer being a contemporary thinker, and to walk along paths that still haven’t been trodden. I’m a “cyber villager”. I’m from Aragon (Spain) and I combine the ancestral characteristics of a centenary culture and its aesthetics with high-tech to create a natural language of conceptual communication, tradition and technology: robotics for society.
Among your themes we can see you addressing traditional matters with a technological touch, which yields a completely different point of view. What prevails in your art, emotion or technology? Can your art be considered Expressionist?
X.L: My art is expressionist. Technology is only an instrument used to convey complex concepts on contemporary culture and its dilemmas. For people who have grown up in the world of technology, it is basically our natural communication channel.
You have participated in several editions of ARCO MADRID. It could be said that ARCO and the situation of Art in general in Spain are going through turbulent times. What is your point of view on the current situation in Spain?
X.L: My relationship with ARCO is threefold. First of all, Galería Punto was the origin of my career and one of the founders of ARCO. Furthermore, I participated in several editions as an artist; and in the period of Rosina Gómez Baeza I was the fair’s artistic director. This period was the era of greater internationalization of the fair; it became one of the most prestigious fairs on a global scale. It seems that the fair today, after undergoing a complex transition, presents itself with renewed hopes and a new governing body. I personally wish them all my best.
You took the lead of the SENSOR IVAM Project, an innovative museum project that believes in an unfinished art that evolves day by day and in which the viewer becomes the last part of the process. What can you tell us about it?
X.L: SENSOR was a complex project and, even though it could never be carried out due to contextual problems; it formed the basis of my technological projects and collaborations in the IVAM. The idea behind it was to create an international itinerant art to set up a more interactive type of museums. It’s a shame, because it was a very interesting project, but it entailed a lot of work. I wish I can resume it in the future.
In the field of robotics and the construction of androids, humanity shows its ambitions, faults and fears. The New Media Art, where authors use technology with a critical and experimental intention, is based on Post-humanism, but also on Trans-humanism. Knowing their differences, which side do you take?
I’m in favor of building robots and images directly from thoughts. Mental energy becomes a 3D synthesis and, later, robotic constructions, holograms, stereograms and photographic images that are produced virtually. It is a way to transfer data from our brain. I construct robots that build my robots. I think and I create the virtual image, but the process is always binary, robotic and automatic. That’s why I love Germany; it is one of the few countries that undertake this kind of work perfectly, just like Russia, South Korea and Canada. Japan is very technological, but I think it is not expressionist and visceral. My robots are handmade and I don’t think a Japanese purist would understand the machine to be a conceptual response of a thought, or a feeling from an artistic point of view. Instead, they would see it as a technical display or as a result of innovation. Their robots do things, and my robots say things. The role of my robots and holograms is focused on their own existence and their interaction with the viewer. Technological thinking is only the obsession of art being a chronicler of its time. To be coherent with our time, interaction between technology and thoughts is necessary. It might seem a little surprising now, but children’s thoughts are three dimensional and multi-tasking. The new philosophers are Raymond Kurzweil, Daniel Bennett, Jean Baudrillard, Hakim Bey, the founders of Trans-humanism; they are people who assume new media and the new thinking that derives from it.
Masks are a recurrent theme in your work. But the work itself can also be identified as the author’s mask. What lies behind Ximo’s masks and robots?
I use masks to protect life’s important things from a polluted world. In my work, the beauty of the future will be determined by our gas masks. The world has been contaminated by men, transgenic products, microwave radiation, speculation, misguided religion, radicalism… Listing all of them would be almost impossible. Technology helps us improve our functional limitations.
In “Mid Air Shark” you showed a new way of making sculpture. It was a shark made entirely of light, a light that comes from, and also goes, nowhere. What is the hidden meaning behind this piece? Is there any connection with society?
“Mid Air Shark” is a game, a challenge to remove matter from the work of art. The idea was to create a sculpture without using three-dimensional matter that could still be seen in daylight without the need for 3D glasses. It was on my mind since I began my artistic journey, and to this day it is the most direct connection I’ve managed between my original idea (mental idea) and the result (piece of sculpture). It is a work of art which, thanks to technology, borders on the magical. And it gets to involve the viewer emotionally and interactively, in an almost visceral way. In my work, the maximum exponent is the triumph of art versus craftsmanship, and the search for the value of the original idea.
You said: “technology is a kind of prosthesis that makes us better”. For example, artist Stelarc implanted a prosthetic ear on his arm. Is this an example of what you mean? How can technology make art better?
No, it is not an example. Instead, it is that technology could amplify our organic and spatiotemporal limitations. We live in a time of vastly changing ideas, aesthetics and thinking. Technology amplifies bodily limitations by encoding in ones and zeros the ideas of humanity’s new reality. Technology can help art, because it is a tool created for men to express contemporary and conceptual ideas, which traditional media can sometimes not convey, for example, the magic of interactivity. The relationship between both is the same as the one between a car and its owner after years of use: a virtual extension of your body.
Within the New Media Art there are artists who decide to work independently due to the technological difficulties they find when submitting their works. They maintain an international presence without resorting to the galleries, museums and other institutions. What role do new technologies play in museums now and what role could they play in the future? What is the future of this kind of work in the art market?
That depends on its directors and managers, but they must be consistent with social reality. This type of creative language should not be excluded, because what matters is the idea behind the work and not the tool with which it was created. After all, collectors are only art lovers who bet on a creator’s idea with their own capital, and this denotes a sincere commitment.
What has been your most difficult project?
I don’t think it’s been creating a machine, but remaining faithful to my convictions and not getting carried away by speculative movements that have nothing to do with real art.
Is there a new field you would like to explore or are you absorbed in any project right now?
My latest robots are built by other robots. I’m just moving on to the conceptual world and the programming of machines to create the works. I have also managed to capture video on paper and photographic images that float one meter away from its pedestal. I still enjoy art.
Ximo Lizana is an artist, a professor and a researcher. He is able to combine his research activity with art. He works as professor in the department of Technology and Communication at the European University of Madrid.
Interview: Isabel Valencia