Gonzalo Borondo: The Interlude In Between
We were supposed to meet in Venice but ended up in Segovia, the Spanish hometown he had left years ago. Nomadism has been a way of life for Borondo, hopping from festivals to friends’ couches, then on to monumental, immersive projects around the world. I spent a few days with him, accompanied by his 15-year-old dog Lobo. As we traversed Segovia and its surrounding hayfields. I realized how this land influenced his work, from the golden and ochre scenery to the arches of Romanesque churches. After speaking of heritage, connection to places, space, and context, and how his artistic research led him to delve into the unknown, Leonard Cohen's words came to enlighten me: "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in".
Merci exhibition, Bordeaux, France, 2019. Photo by Aruallan
Aruallan: What is your state of mind, having just finished your acclaimed six-month project and exhibition, Merci, in the Temple des Chartrons with the Museum of Contemporary Art of Bordeaux in France?
Gonzalo Borondo: I am in this space in between projects, and these moments can be rough. When I work on a project, I put all my soul and energy out there, and then, when it is over, I feel empty and weak. I am supposed to be proud of the success, but I feel the exact opposite. So, during this particular time in between, I try to calm down, catch my breath, feel the earth, my land, put my mental house in order, reflect, analyze, and understand myself better to be able to go further with my art. I aim to slow down and give myself time to go deeper into my research.
What is the nature of your research? What are you pursuing or trying to achieve?
Research gives sense to my life, and it is the engine that keeps me going. Research is trying to put some layers of artifice and lies out there, digging into the depths of the unknown. It is working without knowing where you are going. It is not looking for an answer, as I already accept that there are none. I keep going inside the tunnel, and then things appear. It is about taking steps towards something higher that I cannot express in words, but which might bring us closer to this world's mystery.
In my work, I shed light on connections, contradictions, paradoxes and the hidden relationships between time and space. This, in turn, may open the path of these higher questions, or at least bring the feeling, the sensation that one layer has lifted. My work is actually a lot about layers and trying to discover what lies behind them; maybe it is why I like to scratch surfaces, to dig inside of them.
Merci exhibition, Bordeaux, France, 2019. Photo by Roberto Conte
Do you mean to take out the layers to find the truth?
I don't know if there is a real truth and I don't want to find out because I know it is impossible. I think we are somehow here to dig into reality, and each of us uses his own language to do that. I try to find mine, connecting with myself, with my past, with my heritage, but I am mainly trying to talk about something more universal, something more significant than this superficial life we have. I try to touch this part of us that we don't understand, like when a good movie leaves this feeling inside that you can't recognize or describe, but which stays.
It does linger. What are the artists or movies that you hold onto?
Andreï Tarkovsky is one of them. He reaches this spot inside of me, which is neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. It is a rare feeling that makes you want to cry. But it is not a cry of sadness, it is a cry resulting from plenitude. Maybe creating this lingering feeling is what I search for in my work—through different techniques, trying to find codes, languages, and places, a way to leave something inside the viewer. If nothing stays, it has no sense. It is just entertainment.
I go by instinct and by my feelings in what I do. Through theory, you cannot touch the heart. You can try to explain things, but I think there is no sense in it. How can we even think that we have the capacity of explaining anything? Instinct is probably the only thing that can get us closer to the truth.
Chained, Gonzalo Borondo x Edoardo Tesoldi, Bicocca University, Milan, Italy. Photo courtesy of Wunderkammern Gallery, 2015.
Looking back to your past projects, you have entered a sphere where you create immersive experiences in places which have a palpable history: a cemetery, a flea market, a temple.
My constant artistic research and my connection to the environment, the places I go to and the memories embodied in them, led me to create these immersive exhibitions. I do what the place asks. I try to understand what architects call genius loci, the spirit of the place. Of course, I could hang paintings in these beautiful locations, but my aim is not to create a monologue. So every piece I create starts when the dialogue with space begins. If the place requires a painting, I will do it, but if it doesn't, I won't paint, even if it is the thing I enjoy the most. This requirement is the reason I decided not to sell my works, as these pieces have no sense when they are isolated from their context. They would become a relic of something that happened, and they would only get weak outside of their environment.
Don’t you apply the same governing principle when you paint a wall?
Exactly. It is an evolution of the way I have always painted murals. Be it a church, cemetery, market, or wall, the space chooses the colors, the subject. It is the main character, and then the story can be created. At that point, alchemy may arise when I infuse it with my personal experience, background, feelings, and moments of life.
Untitled piece for L'aerna delle balle di Paglia in Cotignola, Italy. Photo by Marco Miccoli.
I know you never set limits on what you can do, so I am not surprised that you are going from one crazy project to another. How do you select them, and how do you approach the work?
These last projects are about falling in love with spaces and finding a strong potential in them. And then, as I did in Merci in the Bordeaux Temple des Chartrons, the idea is to take over the place and make a proper dialogue with it. The project materials were found on-site, and themes of the exhibitions were, in turn, suggested by the space. My team and I, as well as the artists I invite to collaborate, connect the elements around us, and try to transform them into suggestions through art pieces. Before I did the Temple, the City Council made me visit numerous places, and that was the most impressive, promising, and probably the hardest one. It was highly challenging to accomplish an exhibition in such a space closed for 30 years filled with rubbish and dead pigeons.
The first part of a project is about accumulation. We immerse ourselves in the feelings of surroundings while gathering information, pictures, and materials scattered in and around. Then we start to digest all of it, and afterward, we start creating. Suddenly, the elements that once seemed useless find their place inside the space. You see a panel of Perspex, and you have no idea what to do next. You wonder if you need to take it, but you have a feeling about it, and then at one point, it happens to find its perfect place, and you can't believe it.
You have been a nomad for years, but are now going back to your Spanish roots. Why?
I realized my work and heritage are connected, but did not know this at the time. I also realized that for many years, I was going along, looking forward, never pausing, never looking back. As in the Greek myth of Orpheus, you have to escape from hell, and if you dare to look back, you will fall and lose everything. It is the system I had put unconsciously into place, just looking at what was next. I did not have an easy past, so I couldn't look back without fear, without thinking that this would bring me down. Coming back to my land after so many years of wandering is a way to stop just being focused on the immediate things that are ahead. I am now facing it all and looking for presence in the present.
Lore Beltza in Vittoria, Italy. Photo by VCornelli.
Is that why you are working on a project around Segovia involving haystacks? What is the allure?
I started working with haystacks around five years ago. I went to a poetry festival where I was asked to paint a mural in the middle of nowhere, which made no sense to me at the time. We were in fields surrounded by haystacks. These bricks made with natural elements were beautiful monoliths and looked like sacred ruins from afar. So I asked the organizers to superpose some of them, hence creating a surface on which I started working. I went to the town's archives and found old pictures of farmers who used to live on that land and I painted them. Then I developed this media in different places.
The landscape here around Segovia is very characteristic and connected to my childhood. I have never seen such territories anywhere else, and they are magical. This project involving haystacks is consistent with me coming back to my roots. They are everywhere, and I feel this improvised natural architecture embodies a certain universality. There is something ancestral about it. Haystacks can be correlated to the beginning of civilization, starting with agriculture and livestock farming. As food for cattle, hay was farmers' gold. And you know how important it is for me to shed light on things that are forgotten or are not perceived as fully as they should be, and to transform their meaning. I will meet farmers, simple people working there, and try to convince them to allow me to create art pieces in these fields. As an artist, I feel in debt to the world because I am gifted with a free life, so I need to give something back to the people. These installations will be standing in places not made for art. They will be seen from the road by people who probably never visit museums or art galleries. It might create some surprise, maybe a little mystery and, hopefully, start conversations.