Paola Torres Núñez del Prado, Perú born artist who lives in Sweden, intervenes traditional textiles and patterns using technology, in order to examine such concepts as translation and misrepresentation. We talked to her about interpretation, identity, and the heritage of Conceptual Art.
Paola Torres Núñez del Prado, Corrupted Structure II (Andean), 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
Paola Torres Núñez del Prado, from Tender Room, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
Paola Torres Núñez del Prado, SS - Wipe B, 2018 (Interactive Series). Courtesy of the artist.
Paola Torres Núñez del Prado, Corrupted Structure IV (Modern Mayan), 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
Paola Torres Núñez del Prado is an artist of Peruvian origin working between Lima and Stockholm. She employs traditional Peruvian textiles and patterns that are intervened using technology. Her work examines notions linked with hermeneutics such as interpretation, translation, and misrepresentation. In the midst of a current state of “openness“ in the West towards non-Western art practices and aesthetics, we chat with Paola about her career as an artist, her work, and her position in the world.
C&AL: You have a long career as a practising artist, when did you decide to formalise your career as an artist?
PTN: I think for me the struggle wasn’t knowing what I wanted to be, but rather acknowledging what I was and coming into terms with it. I was six when I first sketched myself as a painter. As a child, drawing was the way of manifesting my thoughts; as a teen, art competitions were a way to prove myself; I think the break came when I moved to New York in 2003 to study: what this new school and this new city offered me contrasted a lot with my experience growing up in Lima.
I think formalising my career happened after I graduated. The extreme consumerist market “tainting” everything in NYC was overwhelming, so I returned to Perú, got a job editing video but I eventually left it and relocated to the south. I spent some years going through another personal conflict that involved a deep depression. It finally ended in the acceptance that, if I was going to be invested in whatever it was that I wanted to say, then I´d better find what was worth “talking about” beyond my individual experience. In that sense, I see art as inherently political.
C&AL: What made you decide to become a visual artist?
PTN: As I said before, in my case it wasn’t a question of becoming, but of accepting what I was: being an “artist” felt both spoiled and grandiose, like some sort of (ego) trip that could end going up to reach illuminated clarevoyance, or down to the blurriest and incomprehensible pits of the self. Since an early age, I experienced being-an-artist more as an imposition than as a choice; this made it claustrophobic at times, but even so, making art has been mainly a healer for me. I also knew that, if I was going to seriously embark on this type of creative path, the privilege of making art that sprouts from the needs of the-self-itself, it would come, contradictorily, with a big responsibility. I think the awareness of this responsibility has ineludibely shaped my art practice and allowed me to mentally place myself more in the role of a “medium”.
C&AL: Your artwork blends art and technology. Can you tell us more about from where stems your interest in matching them both?
PTN: Most of my pieces tend to have analog and digital components, and by analog I also refer to the traditional idea of “craft”. I think this inclination to use both was born, on the one hand, out of the realization that, at an elemental level, technology allowed me making artworks that reacted to people and changed for them, given that people also interact with them. On the other hand, from knowing that I could use this dual quality, the material/craft/analog vs. the virtual/automatized/digital, as a way to criticise the implicit hermeneutic presence when experiencing art nowadays, the idea that artworks meant to be interpreted/decoded, the ineludible heritage of Conceptual Art.
C&AL: You have lived and studied for many years away from your natal Peru, first in New York and currently in Stockholm. You could be considered one of the so-called ‘diasporic artists.’ Can you expand on what your views and positionality are in regards to debates of migration and diaspora, particularly as addressed within the art world?
PTN: To be honest, I never saw myself as “diasporic”, it has been my choice to live a nomadic life. The fact that I might be tagged as “migrant artist” in Sweden, where I live now, makes me feel as if I should be acting and thinking in a certain way in accordance to my condition (of a migrant) and that all my wonderings and concerns will be understood only within that framework. This was never an issue in New York, since the city is more ethnically varied. But I must admit that I have felt some pressure regarding the interpretation of my work in Sweden: as soon as it included references to traditional styles and crafts from Peru, it awakened some interest in the Swedish art scene, hopefully not because of exotization or the imperative of covering “a certain diversity quota”, but due to be offering something different. Although being honest, I feel it is seen as a manifestation of a longing that obviously had to refer to my current status living somewhere else than “where I belong to”.
C&AL: How is this reflected in your work, if reflected at all?
PTN: Dealing with the subject of migration in this new context can be felt as an imposition; so, I guess that when it started being reflected in my work, it had a touch of cynicism. When I moved to Sweden, my subjective perspective made me see as if foreign artists felt the need to fit into the “Migrant Artist That Discusses Migrant Issues” role that the Swedish art scene/market seemed to be craving for non-Swedish artists.
The thing is that, on one hand, these forces that push you under the umbrella term of “diasporic” or “migrant” can be rejected just as intensely as any other imposed classification, but on the other hand, it is hard to deny the relevance and urgent need for discussing the matter. So, even if recently, issues regarding migration have started permeating some of my pieces, I’m aware that this can lead to one’s identity being reduced to that (and only that) of a migrant, and as such it can actually silence other important elements and reshape the meaning of my work.
C&AL: What are you working on at the moment and where can we see your work in the near future?
PTN: At the moment, I am in Lima with my family. I am exhibiting my work in a place called Socorro Polivalente, a non-profit artists’ space that allows me to, literally, do as I wish. I have matured three of my main series: Corrupted Structures, apparently “glitched” electronic embroideries that embed visualizations of sounds; Textile Controllers, smart textiles that serve as interfases to control soundfiles, and the Wipes series. I have also started a new series that deals with 3d renderings of Huacas, earth temples scattered all over the coast of Peru. In the performance Tender Room, held at the Lima Museum of Contemporary Art in April 2019 and presented originally in Stockholm in 2018, I adress issues of surveillance, teleprescence, migration, and motherhood. I find very interesting how the reception of artworks changes depending on which countries and contexts are presented.
Interview by Raquel Villar-Pérez, Spanish art curator and art writer based in London.