Preis der Nationalgalerie finalist Sol Calero talks about the politics of representation and creating art out of a strip mall.
Agnieszka Polska may have scooped up the prestigious prize on October 20, but Sol Calero’s Amazonas Shopping Center a colourful and immersive installation that references the 35-year-old artist’s Latin American roots and her current life in Europe, is an undisputed highlight of the four finalists’ joint exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Calero studied in Madrid before moving to Berlin in 2009.
What has motivated your recent work?
As an immigrant, you are always trying to fit into someone else’s society, and that can make you forget where you come from. Also, while you are adapting to a new place, you perceive how other places are seen from there. The first welcome card you have is how you look – and this comes with preconceptions. I’ve suffered racism since I was very young and it is very hard to forget these things. Not only in daily life, but also in the way the art world works, where there is still segregation and you have to follow certain rules. The way that I try to work is to break the white space.
What do you mean by ‘break the white space’?
When I decided to study art – which is something I decided in Europe, because in Venezuela the idea of studying art was impossible to think about – I had to train myself to start understanding what art is… I mean, it is very different in Europe than in Venezuela. I was first living in Holland and going to museums all the time by myself, but I felt like the gallery space was not welcoming. For me, it is important to try and create a social space – where you can come in and sit down and hopefully engage with something while you are there. In this exhibition, as soon as you enter you feel it is no longer a museum anymore. For me, it is important to break this feeling.
What inspired Amazonas Shopping Center?
It’s a reference to an original place. Before an exhibition in any given city, I used to go into the local neighbourhood and find where the Latin communities were hanging out. I went to London once and was looking for a Latino hair salon and found a newspaper in the Venezuelan embassy with an ad for the Amazonas Shopping Center. I thought I’d find a giant mall, but when I arrived it was just a storefront full of very small businesses – a hair salon, a restaurant, a driving school turning into an English classroom, a woman selling empanadas. I started doing all these businesses as installations, and then, for this show, I thought it was a good idea to go back to the original idea and put them all together in a mall.
How does this relate back to your own identity?
For me, it is about representation. In Europe, people might think that Sol Calero is a Latin American artist, but it is important to remember that I am a Latin American person who has moved to Europe. The country where I come from has changed completely. When you are in this floating situation, the references that you have about your own identity become very blurry. On one hand, you remember things from where you are from that don’t exist any more. On the other hand, you are living in a place that has preconceived ideas about the places where you come from. In the end, you get a mix of all those things which becomes a surreal world for yourself – and this is what I am trying to represent. I like this point where it makes you doubt. It makes me doubt, and this moment of doubt is when you actually have to deal with your own preconceived idea of other cultures.
Sol Calero: Amazonas Shopping Center Through Jan 14 | Hamburger Bahnhof, Mitte