In Conversation With Paola Torres Núñez

“It Has Been My Choice To Live A Nomadic Life”

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.

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.