Alejandra Zermeño: Second skin textile sculpture
Born in Mexico City Alejandra Zermeño gained a Masters Degree in Visual Arts at the Academy of San Carlos, UNAM. She creates textile sculptures that explore the theme of human behavior.
In our interview with Alejandra she explains why she describes her studio as a laboratory and talks us through some of her early influences.
Textile with 3-dimensional art
What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Alejandra Zermeño: I started to knit when I was 11 years old. I was captured by the possibilities to create forms with only one thread. When I was in high school I realized I wanted to be an artist, sculpture caught my attention and I found I could mix two passions: textile with 3 dimensional art.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My early influences were two incredible artists, both working with the human figure and experimenting with unconventional materials: George Segal (USA) who makes sculptures with Gipson molds and Antony Gormley (UK) who uses iron in his pieces but makes his molds with the same process as Segal. When I met them I realized I could do everything I wanted to do. Then I met Georg Baselitz and I was astonished! When he started to cover big wood sculptures with fabric I decided to start to experiment with my two favorites materials: threads (knits, fabrics, threads) and resins and polyurethanes (human sculpts).
Another important event in my life, that changed the way I saw art, was my first journey to the Mexican desert: I was 17 years old when I saw Huichol Art, the most traditional and recent innovations of mexican folk art and handcrafts produced by the Huichol people, who live in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit in Mexico. The unifying factor of the work is the colorful decoration using symbols and designs which dates back centuries. The most common and commercial successful products are “yarn paintings” and objects decorated with small commercially produced beads. Yarn paintings consist of commercial yarn pressed into boards coated with wax and resin and are derived from a ceremonial tablet called a neirika. That method and forms completely opened my mind.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
When I was teenager I visited a sculpture exhibition, it was the greatest experience for me, in that moment I decided to study arts, I started taking a clay-modeling course: the teacher didn’t explain the process and I just made out like I understood… She was so angry with me because of my freedom to work! She gave me a C grade.
Despite this discouraging beginning, I decided to be an artist so I applied to study at the San Carlos’ Royalty Academy in Mexico City; Life gave me what I wanted. I gained my Degree and Master Degree in visual arts at that Arts Academy.
The laboratory method
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I like the laboratory method – I love to be in my studio and experiment with industrial materials. My favorite methods are: clay modeling, life cast, molds and casting resin, I named the next step “The new aesthetics of second skin” as it consists of a kind of crafty method where I knit, crocheting, manipulate paper, threads and fabrics.
The first method is harder than the second and requires a physical surrender. The second one is clean, repetitive; the patterns require an obsessive way to manipulate it. My work is so obsessive that that it feels like singing mantras while I’m working.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
In my sculptures I use human references as a symbol of immediate identification with the observer and the observed. Here I can match two objects of the art study; on one hand I want to find out if my existence and human existence develops through a sensible or intelligible way. The other object of study focuses on the research, application and handling delicate material – that alone carries a symbol of protection and refers to something internal.
I am interested in individual items (yarns, fabrics, papers, applications and scale, color in pyroxylin, enamel or polyurethane), which together consolidate the concept of human identity, which is re-defined itself in my work through the repetitive handling patterns, fabrics, embroidery, forms, applications and resin color. Allegorically, I use these materials to make a reference not only to individual or social definition of the subject of study, but also to the set of atoms and cells that allow life that are so unique and unrepeatable and perfectly functional for survival.
I have the same discipline, respect and love that I have for the lab, where I could experiment with materials and processes that require extreme care in conduct and conclusion (modeling, molds, castings, finishes and armed).
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I have my studio in the heart of Mexico City. The neighborhood is called La Obrera (The Worker). My studio is called ODDA, which stands for Obrera Distrito De Arte (Obrera District of Art). At the beginning of the 20th century, big fabric factories were established there, bringing workers along with it. With the crisis (very poor standards of labor and deplorable working conditions in the factories), and the 1985 earthquake, most of the neighborhood and the people disappeared. The government rebuilt the city in some places, but those big buildings that once were factories are still in ruins, so it’s fascinating to walk on the streets and see these abandoned places, like a big twisted monument to the history of the place. The streets are like an old Mexican town: full of colors, good people, and lots of stimuli.
My studio is there, it’s an old house full of colors and plants. It’s a very quiet place to be all day long. My schedule is very tight – I work from Monday to Friday all day long. Even in the afternoon, on weekends and holidays; with friends or at home I’m always thinking about art. When I take a walk, I’m always looking for materials, forms or inspiration. I live for and from art.
The possibility of the creation
Do you use a sketchbook?
Sometimes yes, sometimes I go directly to the work.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
Life inspires me: animals, plants, people, my family, my friends and my cat. I enjoy the possibility of creation, how human beings can create an extension of their bodies or souls. I admire beauty, details, reflections and the conscious of the mind. There’s too many different kinds of art that I appreciate a lot. My favorite artists are those who believe their work is a method to live better.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
I appreciate one piece more than any other. One that I made in 2009, it’s my mom’s portrait, a human scale duplex piece. I made it with polyurethane foam covert with wool; she was in a private conversation with her self. At that moment I didn’t think that three years later she would need to sit in front of her own thoughts and have a conversation about her illness. She died because of cancer on December 2012 at the 57 years old. I love that piece but I don’t want to see it until my pain has gone.
Developing through mistakes
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has been developed through mistakes but those mistakes have helped me to grow and have a better understanding of sculptural and textile processes.
Nowadays I can work freely, doing wherever I want to do: I have more knowledge, experience, visual education and a consolidated concept. But it’s not the end, I’ll be the eternal student. I’m like an open book searching for new challenges, I visualize my future full of prosperity. I want to live and die making art.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Please have a lot of passion, be focused, train every day, have discipline and more importantly: don’t forget enjoy the process!!!
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
Resources, workshops and exhibitions
What other resources do you use?
I’m always looking and searching new artists and proposals on the internet (blogs, magazines websites, artist websites, forums, etc.)
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Yes, each year I offer in my studio two kinds of workshops, one referring how to live been an artist: how to get sponsors, how to promote and to sell your work, how to exhibit it, etc. Is called self-art management workshop. The second one is about sculptural process and textile art.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
It is important to exhibit my work in museums because people like to visit those more than other places. Sometimes I can choose the place (because of the place itself or the currency or the space that could be useful for my work), but mainly I receive invitations from some galleries and museums, they invite to me to exhibit some specifics works.
Where can readers see your work this year?
In Mexico City: In the Woman’s museum and there’s three of my textile sculptures in the Ciudadela’s Public Library, both in downtown and in USA in the Latin Views Biennial and in the Alexey Von Schlippe in Connecticut.
For more information please visit: www.alejandrazermeno.net