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Gabriel Rico Artwork

Gabriel Rico is Using Scientific Principles to Transform Everyday Objects into Art

To stand in front of a Gabriel Rico art piece can be akin to looking at an advanced mathematical equation, minus that panic-stricken feeling that you didn’t do the homework for AP Calculus class (or is it just us still having that nightmare?). Instead of written in chalk, his numerals are everyday objects, both manmade and found in nature. Instead of a blackboard, he employs the gallery wall. And you need not be an ace math student to decipher them—these are puzzles designed to bring viewers in, to connect us as humans.

It may be a jersey from your favorite sports team, a volleyball, guitar, gardening glove, leaf, record, postcard, sticker, or taxidermied animal. His accumulation of objects shows up as wall pieces, installations, sculptures, and outdoor public works. They are designed to be familiar as well as grab your attention and jar your perception of reality (be it real or augmented—he’s open to both!). Rico is drawn to the universality of art and science, interested in how we can use the former to reconcile our relationship with nature. 

Speaking with Whitewall last summer, after a series of major solo shows at spaces like Perrotin in New York, the ICA in San Diego, and Galería OMR in Mexico City, Rico gave us a window into his studio life in Guadalajara. His work is currently on view this week at LAGO/ALGO in Mexico City in “Desert Flood.”

Gabriel Rico photo Photo by Diego González Argüelles, courtesy of the artist and OMR, Mexico City.

WHITEWALL: You trained and worked as an architect before beginning your artistic career. You’ve said that you liked architecture but it didn’t give you the freedom that art did. You’ve also said you are in favor of the artist not controlling the entire evolution of the piece. So is freedom for both you and the viewer important for you?

GABRIEL RICO: I think the most powerful thing we have is the information. And the information can materialize by using letters or signs, and objects can be signs with very specific meaning. If you have an experience with a plate made of ceramic, say, in your grandmother’s house, maybe if I use a ceramic plate in one of my pieces you’re going to feel that sensation and you’re going to relate it. You’re going to have a relation with these objects specifically because of your history. 

I’m really interested in the capacity of the interpretation of the objects, how we have the power to manipulate and transmute the material because of an idea. In the end, the power is coming from an idea. It’s very clear that the things around us are there to complete our perception, our personalities. We want to say something with shapes, colors, textures—and that texture, that color, those shapes can come from a plant or a pot, or a piece of art, or a book. 

And for objects, humans are very important. Because without humans, most objects don’t have sense in this society. But nature—in the end, nature is going to recover, it’s going to take back these materials. If it’s paper, the worms are going to come to eat the book. It doesn’t matter what the information. If it’s glass, it takes thousands of years, but it will be sand again. If it’s plastic, it’s going to take more, but in the end, it will disintegrate in nature. In the end, nature rules our world. It doesn’t matter how we want to forget ourselves with materials. 

Gabriel Rico Artwork Photo by Fernando Marroquin, courtesy of the artist and OMR, Mexico City.
Gabriel Rico Artwork Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli, courtesy of the studio of Gabriel Rico and Perrotin.

WW: You’ve used augmented reality in your recent solo shows and public works. How did you decide to start working with AR technology?

GR: We’ve grown up in this era of video games and the digitalization of our world. We have a very strong interaction with new media. It is very natural to interact with the digital world. I don’t think we’re going to substitute the physical world for a digital world, but we’re going to grow enormously because of this possibility. 

The word “digitalization” comes from “digits,” which comes from the Latin word for “fingers.” The meaning of that word is the materialization of ideas using the fingers. In my practice, I’m very interested in shamanic cultures, in the original people from the northwest of Mexico to the middle of the U.S. They were the first people who saw the devil of civilization. We can use technology to materialize shamanic visions, ancient concepts. We can digitalize pyramids, and if you have your goggles, you can go inside the pyramid. You don’t need to be there. If you don’t have the capacity to feel the rock, the experience can be good enough to give you an idea about the marvelous architecture there and the power of the stones. 

I really like to use technology to complete my art. I’m not going to be a digital artist, I don’t know how many medias or techniques I use, but this is a new media; it’s another technique.

GABRIEL RICO Artwork Photo by Philipp Scholz Rittermann, courtesy of the artist and ICA, San Diego.

WW: It seems, as you describe it, a little related to your use of taxidermy. In a gallery, seeing a taxidermied animal creates a moment of suspended reality. That question if it’s real or not, or even what is an animal doing in this space?

GR: With taxidermy there is something that happens that’s very creepy but very fascinating for me. When I started to work with taxidermy, I tried to investigate how the brain works when we saw something that looks equal to something else, but with life. I read a research article that says for a kid, it takes at least one to two minutes to define if something is dead or alive. In my exhibitions with taxidermied animals, the kids who visit really feel like the animals are still alive. So in a magical way, that animal is alive for a moment. That’s fascinating.

For an adult, it’s more obvious because of the context. But I try to create situations that even for an adult can be difficult, even for at least five seconds, ten seconds. Even that question is enough for me. The augmented reality gave me the capacity to bring motion to these taxidermied animals. I don’t know if I’m going to combine these two, but in my solo show in Mexico City I combined both worlds—taxidermy and augmented reality—and it was amazing.

Gabriel Rico Artwork Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli, courtesy of the studio of Gabriel Rico and Perrotin.

WW: You’ve said that science and technology are like brothers, and art is the half-brother—that working with scientists allows you to really push your limits. How did you start on that path of engaging with science in your art?

GR: Technology for me is like a metaphor for the common imagination. Technology has the power to connect us and has the power to divide us. Technology is the materialization of the science in many different ways. Not all the time, but most of the time, you need science to define the technology or create a new technology. 

I work with sports balls, like basketballs or soccer balls, because the industry of sports is one of the most advanced in using technology. They create new materials at the same level as NASA. It’s a very powerful analogy to define our relationship with nature. I had a series that is deer heads with antlers full of different balls. It’s very literal, but I wanted to question our relationship with nature by talking about one of the most advantaged and developed industries of humanity. 

The carbon molecule is the main molecule to create life. And the carbon molecule has the same shape as a soccer ball. It’s pentagons and hexagons. So now when I see a soccer game, I really like to think that 22 people are running behind a carbon molecule. You can transform science in a very playful place so it’s open for everybody. I’m not a scientist, but I really like the idea of how those kinds of ideas can be used to communicate with each other. 

I have a series that is similar to an equation aesthetic, where I just change numbers and letters for objects that we can use in our daily life. That way, I discover that even if that equation lost the mathematical meaning, they conserve a more logical meaning for everybody. Everybody can read that equation, and everybody can know the value of things because of their own experience with those objects. And with real math, you cannot do that. I’m interested in using scientific principles to transform a new suggestion with art. 

GABRIEL RICO Artwork Photo by Philipp Scholz Rittermann, courtesy of the artist and ICA, San Diego.

WW: Do you see artists and scientists related in the way that they are both always asking questions?

GR: The questions are important for everybody. I really like to be at this point in history. We are in a very interesting part of human history. For example, in ancient Egypt, an architect could be a doctor, and then go to practice music. This vision of the universal human now is spread into several humans. We are very specialized. Apparently, in my vision as an artist, I can transform daily life objects into a new language using science. That obsession for science can give me the chance to talk with an astronomer or with a mathematician or with a physicist or with another artist who uses another material. Art is an amazing profession because you can continue your own studies in a more free way. 

Gabriel Rico Artwork Photo by Fernando Marroquin, courtesy of the artist and OMR, Mexico City.

WW: You’ve talked about the decentralization of where an artist can live—that we don’t have to move to New York or Paris or Mexico City anymore to be an artist. It’s been important for you to stay and have your studio in Guadalajara. Why is that?

GR: If we take a minute to review the recent history of humanity, we can really see where the problem is. The destruction of the natural environment has come because of our desire to be cosmopolitan. Why do we want to centralize everything in a single piece of land? Because of the Internet, now you can really live wherever you want, and if you have good Wi-Fi, you can have this interview or you can take courses at Harvard University, or whatever. The option to travel is now more free and cheaper.

Artists in the last century went to Paris to meet the Constructivists and to talk with the Picassos or Dalís. It’s where all the things were. But it’s not necessary now because of the Internet.

Of course, my family is one of the main reasons, my practice is one of the main reasons, the capacity to fly here to another place in the world is another reason. I think the identity of a country needs to be defined for the people who decided to stay in the country and not for the international organizations. That’s one of the points in my decision to stay. In staying where I am, I bring education to my closest environment. I can spread my talent, and, of course, the money I receive for my art I spread with the people around me. I have five assistants and three of them are young artists. I never had the chance to work with an artist when I decided to be an artist. This is happening now because I and other friends decided to stay here. And this decision opened the perception of these younger artists. 




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