“Pittsburgh has a soul you can see” -Alexandre Arrechea

Have you seen these public art installations in downtown?

This work is outside Gateway Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

This work is outside Gateway Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

This work is outside the David L Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh

This work is outside the David L Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh

Thanks to the Cultural Trust, I recently had an opportunity to interview the man behind the works -internationally renowned Alexandre Arrechea.

This is the plaque outside one of the pieces:

Description of the No Limits Pittsburgh Cultural Trust exhibit.

Description of the No Limits Pittsburgh Cultural Trust exhibit.

This only gives part of the history of this amazing artist. Here is a link to the official press release that tells his history. I wanted to use the interview opportunity to explore his philosophy on art and his thoughts on Pittsburgh.

photo courtesy of alexandrearrechea.com

photo courtesy of alexandrearrechea.com

Tell me a little about yourself .

I became an artist very young. I studied in Cuba my whole career until the very early days of the 90s. I used to collaborate with Los Carpinteros, until after 12 years I started to make my own work and started to focus on architecture and spaces. I love to control spaces. What is interesting for me is to try and bring a new angle or a new aspect to architecture.

No Limits – the work displayed in Pittsburgh – is the most well known of my more recent projects but a lot of my previous work is just as important because I was building everything towards No Limits. What it accounts is more about the process than results. I had done something like this prior back in 2010 in Times Square. It involved video projection rather than a physical thing. The projection was on the Nasdaq LED screen and it showed a wrecking ball that hit the building and bounced back. (!! how cool !!) That idea of a projection that represented an idea of wrecking a building – which you don’t want to do – at least was representative of the moment the project was presented which was so near to the economic collapse of 2008. It was to call attention to that specific building and what it represents. Before that, I developed a very small project that was a lead in to No Limits. It was a house made out of stainless steel that was linked to the Dow Jones – when the Dow went up or down the piece would expand or contract. So that idea of trying to link architecture to an event was a break through for me.

If I were to tell you that two of the pieces here – one being the Seagram building and the other Met Life –  were turning into coils and they are, for me, some sort of fire hoses. Fire hoses define the building because you would need to use the hose to maintain the building. That is the type of thought behind this particular project and what I have been building through the years. I’m now working on a book that will be published in the fall that will show my work leading up to No Limits.

I’ve seen a lot of people stop and congregate around the no Limits pieces and try to figure them out.

Great! That really pleases me a lot!

I was pursuing with No limits an invitation for people to play with the work. Sometimes we feel that reality is out there and we are unable to change things. I think on the contrary we are totally culpable to change things in our environment. What you think is permanent is not and that feeling of being able to change things is something I want to encourage people to feel.

You’ve always been into warping space?

Yes that’s always been there. I always further explain this by talking about a specific project. I remember when I was invited back in 2004 to do an exhibition in Havana by some friends that own one of the alternative spaces to exhibit art. It was a very tiny space. When they invited me, I wanted to make something that extended the invitation they gave me to others. The idea at the time was to build a new tiny gallery inside the main gallery so I can invite other artists. That alone was a commentary on the lack of alternative spaces in Cuba. That idea of always trying to expand the notion of space is something I have been pursuing since the early days.

Continuing with that I remember this project I did with a museum in Spain called Free Entrance. The name turned everything into a big fight with the museum because they didn’t want people to think they were given entrance to the building for free. The project was a video camera at the entrance to the museum so the people coming in were recorded. I then edited that information and build sort of a wooden stadium inside the museum. I placed large screens throughout the stadium that should show how people would enter through the initial entryway but the stadium would actually remain empty. The idea would create a weird situation but I’m making commentaries on how the museum is not a place to count how many people come there but the experience with the art. That’s what really matters – how art would change people and not the museum.

Another project like this was a project I created in Havana. I invited basketball teams to do a game and we went to this court near our neighborhood. While they were playing I recorded everything that was happening. Then later, I took the backboards out and replaced them with large screens. I invited the players and people to come so they could see ghosts of the game surrounding them. It brought issues of what it is like to participate in something and not change the result. I always want to make you think of where you are in the moment. It’s always important to know the context.

What do you think of our fair city?

I’m amazed and thrilled! I was given a tour around the city and taken to that hill where you can see everything. You are able to see all the beauty. Pittsburgh is an amazing city. You come here with your preconceptions of what the city is about but when you are here it is a blast. How the old architecture survives next to the new is a dialogue that is amazing for me. That the city has a soul that you can see is amazing. The fear we all have is that past architecture will give way to new to create a place that can be beautiful, but that old essence is gone. You don’t want that for any city especially for a city like Pittsburgh.

Thank you very much to everyone at the Cultural Trust for this interview opportunity! They have been doing a great job in enriching the lives of people that work and live in downtown.


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