Exclusive: Julieta Aranda Talks about Her Guggenheim Debut

When we learned that the Guggenheim was launching a new contemporary art series called Intervals, which would feature the work of emerging artists in a museum setting, we cheered. It’s not often that major institutions have the chutzpah or the real estate to give up-and-comers a much-needed moment in the spotlight. When we learned that their inaugural exhibition would feature the work of Julieta Aranda, a Brooklyn-based multimedia artist whose collaborative project PAWNSHOP (a spot where artists could pawn their works) caught our attention back in 2007, we were even more excited.

“The richly conceptual, project-based nature of Julieta’s work made her the ideal choice for the inaugural Intervals presentation,” explains Katherine Brinson, Assistant Curator. “The resulting multi-part installation is a nuanced meditation on the nature of time, activating the liminal area of the museum’s rotunda staircase.”

Lucky for us, Flavorwire got a chance to sit down with Julieta on the very morning that her works were being delivered at the Guggenheim — which was a lot less chaotic than you might think. Or maybe they just have it down to an art.

Flavorwire: You studied filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts. So how did you end up here?

Julieta Aranda: What I didn’t realize back then is that I was actually making art and not straight up films. I was very frustrated because my work would never get into film festivals, but people would ask me, “Can we show this at a gallery? can we put this in a show?” and I was upset because I wanted it to be shown in a film context. I was kind of obnoxious about that. But then one day I decided to just embrace what I was doing for what it was instead of what I wanted it to be. And that was it. I kept making the same work, but thinking of myself as an artist, rather than a filmmaker.

FW: What’s it like for you to be the first emerging artist featured in the Intervals program?

JA: It’s a bit ridiculous — not in a bad way. Good ridiculous. It feels really good. I can probably really only answer this after it happens and the show opens, it is still quite unreal. I keep asking myself, “Am I really doing this? Well, OK!”

FW: How did you go about selecting the pieces that will be featured?

JA: It’s all new work. I’ve been working with the same subject matter for some years now < time. When I was asked to do this show it sort of came naturally as a follow up to a series of works I did called “You Had No Ninth of May”… that came from… well, I never can pinpoint exactly where my work comes from. One day the idea is just there.

FW: So when you say that, where does the inspiration come from?

JA: The back of cereal boxes (laughs). Ideas always come from many different sources. It’s not like I’m watching a TV show and I see something and go, “Yeah, I got it! A new piece!” It really isn’t an organized process. It comes from here, there, there. I usually assemble ideas and think about them for a couple of years before I try to bring them into the work.

FW: But what’s behind the time theme in your work?

JA: I started working with time because after I found out that there is an archipelago in the South Pacific (Kiribati) that moved the International Date Line (IDL) in 1995, so that they could switch calendar days. I found this incredibly moving. I was quite interested in how time intersects subjective processes, and what is the relationship of time to subject formation and autonomy. The constant calibration between what reality started as being and how would you fit yourself within that. How to pair this to different kinds of time — one being the time that regulates social processes.

FW: I got a chance to see one of the pieces in the show — it was an oversized clock but the day was divided into 10 hours…

JA: That piece is based on the changes in time that took place after the French Revolution: From 19793 to 1795 they changed the calendar, and they also changed the clock to try and adapt it to decimal time. They remapped time to make 24 hours fit into a 10 hour cycle. And although this idea didn’t take hold and was a very short lived initiative, I find it to be a very radical gesture, asserting sovereignty in way that wasn’t only about claiming space but claiming time in order to disentangle the subjects completely away from the monarchic rule.

There is an anecdote that Walter Benjamin writes about in his text “On the Concept of History” where he mentions that right after the French Revolution, people were going out into the streets and shooting at clocktowers. A collective gesture of abolishing the time of tyranny that they had been living under. I think that is a very powerful image. This idea that “from now on we can make a break and claim time as our own.”

Qui le croirait! on dit,
qu’irrités contre l’heure
De nouveaux Josués
au pied de chaque tour,
Tiraient sur les cadrans
pour arrêter le jour.
[Who would’ve thought! As though
Angered by time’s way
The new Joshuas
Beneath each tower, they say
Fired at the dials
To stop the day.]

FW: Do you have a studio space out in Brooklyn?

JA: I travel a lot, so I do most of my work on my laptop. With a piece that involves building something, I can only think about it until the time for actual work comes. I call myself a post-post studio artist, I work on my head most of the time, and when I need to actually make something, I get temporary space wherever I happen to be, so that things can happen. Once that is done, it is back to living in the laptop again.

Image credit: Julieta Aranda, Partially untitled (tell me if I am wrong), 2009 (detail).