After interviewing him a few years ago, Gastón Lisak has had quite the time to develop his theoretical framework and practice, as he's now working on his PhD on the anachronistic object as an instrument to understand and visualise our present from a sociocultural viewpoint. It is quite a mouthful but what Lisak means to say is that his own artwork, which focuses mainly on objets trouvés from places like Barcelona's own market called Els Encants, informs his academic career and his way of seeing things. He's an artist who is passionate about the inherent lives or the meaning you can give to objects – for him marketplaces are like canvases. In his own words: “Some people do yoga, I go to second-hand markets, or as I like to call it: an open museum that changes their collection every single day.”
Other than just an artist, a teacher or a thinker, you’d rather define yourself as an ‘artivist.’ How would you explain this concept and how do you relate it to your profile?
Art is a way of living. This might sound cheesy but I cannot separate art from anything else. We are not talking about making just beautiful things but using art as a tool to research, explore and embrace curiosity.
I must confess that I have mixed feelings about the term artivist. However, I really believe art is a game-changer and a weapon to talk about the world from a privileged position. It is a way of freedom and liberation.
What is the purpose of using specific sources, matters, colours or objets trouvés you choose for your projects?
As ordinary citizens we interact and coexist with totally disparate objects on a daily basis, they’re clearly of different provenance, material, symbols and uses. However, we rarely stop to think about the story, the message, or what they represent. The purpose of using certain materials or objects is to make them visible or to share a story that might not be shown in our daily demanding attention routines.
Each object has a story and I try to listen to it. I’ve been lucky enough to have been working closely for the past few years with Antoni Miralda and Montse Guillén, two incredible human beings, and he has been conveying his love to the objects and artifacts he lives with. They represent ideas ranging from memory, colonialism, gender or rituals amongst others. We all celebrate the beauty, the ugly and the imperfections.
“Every object is a thing, but not everything is an object,” used to say the art historian Jean-François Chevrier. So I try to work with objects where I can connect with either because they are ugly, pretty, useless, weird, immoral or fascinating.
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When standing in front of your work, you want people to question the world surrounding us today. Would you say your art is a reflection of the problems of today or rather a tool to make people reflect on them?
I believe it is more the second one. “Objects define us,” this is the way Antony Hudek started his compilatory book, The Object, published by Whitechapel Gallery. I combine objects and artefacts of today, creating new narratives for people to explore and experiment with things differently, using (De)materialization and (Re)materialisation of the object in the art world. At the end of the day, my research and my work is based on trying to make the invisible visible.
With the ‘uberisation’ of society, we are becoming more stupid and our capabilities are becoming weaker, as Ezio Manzini use to say. We are buying anything we want at any time, from a pizza, a sushi box or a taxi. But, what happens when the system collapses? On the other hand, technology is becoming more sophisticated, our work routines are shifting to more delocalised environments and figures like Marie Kondo are showing us how to live better with less and detach ourselves from our useless possessions. However, in this transition into the minimal, we need to take action and preserve, visualise and give voice to those objects that are still meaningful to explain stories from our today’s society.
Many of your creations start from antique objects that have had lives of their own. You find them in antique shops and markets like Els Encants in Barcelona. Is the search for these objects what ends up giving them a new identity, or do you come up with a particular idea first and then you start seeking some particular objects?
I am lucky to have my studio near one of the oldest active second-hand markets of Europe – a magical place where all objects are screaming to be rescued. What is the procedure? Good question. Sometimes the object just fascinates me and I need to save it, and others I really have a clear idea in mind and I know what I am looking for. It’s like a painter buying their oil paints. My canvas is the market and my medium is the artefacts. I walk a lot in those markets and it allows me to think and reflect on ideas. It becomes a ritual of meditation. Some people do yoga, I go to second-hand markets, or as I like to call it: an open museum that changes their collection every single day.
Would you say you transform and combine antique objects to build brand new ones or – considering they are undoubtedly changing – do you prefer to describe your work as a way of giving them a second life, but keeping the essence they used to have?
I don’t like to talk about second lives but I am really interested in the idea of the new. At the moment, I'm saying the word ‘new’ is already old. New old and old new. Even hearing the term ‘antique’ creates goosebumps on my skin. You can find an increasing amount of newborn objects made to look like they are old, like fake rusting edges for street signals or wood windows, but why? This is something I really hate.
Why do we love the fake? Why do we recreate things worse than they are in their original stage? I am interested in the symbolism that an object has, individually and collectively. And the knowledge that can be brought to someone once you see it differently. Of course, then in my work, I am giving those objects a second chance to be displayed, shown and revisited in other places.
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How do you decide which will be the topic you’ll be working on? I’ve noticed each of your creations has something to complain about diverse contemporary issues. The sculpture Tables of Consumerism might be representative, for example.
All of them are reflecting contemporary issues. I come from a Jewish family and it has always been really challenging being a Jew in a non-Jewish environment. So I’ve been experiencing local festivities in Spain from an outsider's point of view. Objectology and iconography from Christianity, the rituals and the objects used to pray have always been fascinating to me. The nomadic reality of my Jewish family and our relationship to objects might have been a crucial influence on my work somehow.
Why are you so sceptical about consumerism and new religions? Is it something personal?
I believe it has been my learning and experiences over time. We are full of objects that we don’t need. We are bombarded with messages of buying, like “10 minutes left to be able to access this discount,” from a new gadget that we don’t care about. We buy objects, and we don’t know where they come from – even the sellers on Amazon or who design the advertisement on Instagram don’t know. So we really need to ask ourselves about the importance of what we have.
We are moving to a lighter space, more planet-driven and ethical, and in this process, I want to document through art and save some objects to be preserved in order to explain these stories to future generations. An object could also refer to an ideal, a figure or a concept. It doesn't need to be something you could touch.
You’ve been one of the starring artists for the recently performed Palermo Art Weekend (PAW). You participated in a non-profit project with a great number of shots and some original pieces from Sacred Plastics, which were exposed all over l’Ascensore. Don’t you think those sculptures shown only in the images, instead of ‘in-person,’ were in danger of not touching the viewer as much as if they were in front of them?
This is a good question. They are totally different experiences of course. I had the pleasure of being invited by Maria Abramenko, curator of PAW to intervene at Gipsoteca of the Academy of Belle Arti di Palermo. The space itself is mind-blowing – the air, the light, the feeling you get inside cannot be described with words. Thanks to Giacomo Rizzo and the team of L’Ascensore it was possible. Due to Covid restrictions, we couldn’t make the opening there but we aimed to capture the essence and bring it to the gallery space. L'Ascensore is the perfect location to display this new materialism on the sculpture. Combining ancient monumental sculptures into a reduced space.
For me, it was interesting to see those large scale prints of the artworks. Artists, curators and professors of the faculty came to the opening and were surprised by the images. Is this the Academy? And the fine line between real and fake, digital or physical plays an essential role in the viewer's perception of my work. The same exhibition had also on physical sculpture from my studio in Badalona and also one invisible sculpture from Mundane Archaeology. Also, following this idea, I decided to introduce one piece in the exhibition that looked like an air extractor, an artwork that was not visible at all and was connected to the work of Mundane Archaeology.
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Last time we interviewed you was during the pandemic. You explained that Sacred Plastics is a way to explore how humans and society interact with matter, identity and religion. How do you relate and match such different topics in one single piece?
The beauty of art is that each viewer relates and creates his or her own story. I see my work evolve every single day. It was great to see how my sculptures start having lives passing from small artefacts of desire to public monumental artworks. Just to give you an idea, the copy of the head of David that I revisited was 133 cm high and was bought by the Academy in August 1896. Another of the works that I was really fascinated by was the Perseo Trionfante, from Antonio Canova, measuring 250 cm height, representing Perseo cutting the head of medusa that becomes petrified once he looks at the eyes of the monster. In a way revisiting it is a meta action of its original representation.
On the other hand, digital environments have been pushing us to seek materiality, texture and senses. We are overstimulated visually but we need to expand other senses. And touch is one of those senses. The sense of touch is becoming particularly marginalised nowadays, don’t you think?
How did you get a heat gun and start covering antique human sculptures with colourful plastics? It isn’t a common technique at all! I wonder if each colour has a specific meaning for you.
It has been a long journey. I started with plastic bags, then I began moving into other plastic materials found on vinyl discards. I really wanted to have a feeling of a second skin, of melting and merging, and the way I found it was using vinyl and a hot gun. As any other artist, I am evolving and will add other methods and work processes according to the story and the meaning behind each work.
Sacred Plastics is part of Post-Apocalyptic Renaissance and, definitely, one of your most relevant and extensive works. Our environment keeps evolving non-stop. Is this series strong enough to be perdurable and still be relevant, let’s say, 20 years from now?
Hopefully, we won’t be talking about certain plastics in 20 years. We are smart enough to shift minds but we are a bit slower to change actions. What really drives me is the idea that any of the objects or the materials I am using for my work, will not be existing in the following years. The same happens with the plastic bag used for some of the works of Sacred Plastics related to brands that I share with you in my latest interview. When I was in Palermo doing my show, you could really find impressive works of art in any single corner of the city. However, those kinds of works will not last forever so it is up to us to enjoy them now and take care of them once we can.
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You give much importance to materials. Not only plastic but also wool or natural fibres – like in the Normalization series, for example. You paint them, cut them and transform them; some might say you are destroying important past items, am I wrong?
As Acaso says: “Materials can talk.” They have the ability to express and they are not innocent. Steel will have some connotation and playdough another one so it is the responsibility of the artist to use it in the best way possible to convey messages. A lot of the time will be founded in the mix and contraposition of a concept, as we see for example in later works produced by AiWeiWei for his show Rapture in Lisbon.
Normalization is a piece that represents the loss of heritage and identity. A found rug made by hand that is destroyed with a simple act of painting white paint on top of it. I could be burning or cutting the rug, but that will be much more aggressive. Instead, the work tries to represent the ability of humans to slowly destroy our context. We all know how to paint a wall. In the end, it is always easier to destroy than to restore and repair.
I heard you are getting your doctorate's in Lisboa and it’s about art thinking, where you explore the anachronistic object as an instrument to understand and visualise the present, socioculturally speaking. Tell us a bit more about the topic and how is it going.
Yes, I found a really beautiful intersection between Academy and practice. In my case, my goal is to introduce more artistic processes in the Design Academy, by using the anachronistic object as a tool to understand today’s society. Do we really need to create new objects that have no soul? Can we learn from the existing ones? Joan Fontcuberta, while talking about Post-Photography, claims that everyone could be a photographer today. Instead, the role of the photographer today might be to find or create meaning behind those images or collections. I feel connected to these ideals using objects as a raw material.
The exhibition of Palermo opened a new perspective on the work of Sacred Plastics. We really have millions of places underutilised and invisible to the human eye that could be revisited – public sculptures, cult spaces, public parks or private villas waiting to be transformed. 
What will be your next move? Are you working on something at this moment?
I am really excited because I've been working with parallel on new series for the past months that will be shown soon in exhibitions. One of them is Mundane Archaeology. A rich project full of layers that tries to capture those objects on 3D paintings. We will revisit the work of Man Ray or still life paintings from the last century and connect those artworks with blockchain technology as NFT’s. You can find some of them on Foundation as part of the research on the mundane, I ended up seeing that a lot of the collections found on markets are about nature, what could be called Soft Colonialism.
As human beings, it seems that we always have this need to own nature. We try to possess it through souvenirs of our own collections: seashells, stones, coral, animals... A hundred years ago it was importing big sculptures from other continents to Europe and now it’s a do-it-yourself action on a lower scale by local families during their holiday trips.
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