What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?
Robert Smithson’s 1967 photo-essay A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic. That year, the artist took a tour of his New Jersey hometown one Saturday, describing and photographing the building sites and machinery he found along the industrialized Passaic River. Smithson’s work was my first encounter with an artist’s excursion that was completely focused on the abandoned.
What image keeps you company in the space where you work?
A newspaper photograph of Daniel Knorr’s project Rotterdam 2000 (2000), for which he placed part of a new windmill on top of De Graankorrel, an old, ruined one that is just visible from my house. I’m really attached to that windmill because it’s one of the few abandoned buildings in Rotterdam. On a daily basis, though, the most important image in my studio is the view of the city from the windows.
If you could live with only one piece of art, what would it be?
I just need contemporary art to happen; I don’t feel like I need to keep it. The works that stand out in my mind are those that underline the idea of art as an activity, like Bas Jan Ader’s impossible and mythical project In Search of the Miraculous (1973–5), which started out as a series of walks he took at night in Los Angeles, looking for evidence of the miraculous, and ended with a failed attempt to cross the Atlantic in a small sailing boat, where he was apparently lost at sea.
What is your favourite title of an art work?
An Oak Tree (1973) by Michael Craig-Martin, where a glass of water becomes an oak tree just by mentioning it. Completely magical, poetic and funny. An artist with power.
What film has most influenced you?
I love the end of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970), where you see the whole holiday resort explode and expand in the blue Californian sky, with the refrigerator, chicken and all the furniture in pieces suspended in the air. In the same way, I love the last scene of La Estrategia del Caracol (The Strategy of the Snail, 1993) by Sergio Cabrera, where the inhabitants of a house facing eviction in Bogotá decide to disassemble the entire interior of the building, piece by piece, in the middle of the night and relocate it elsewhere. The day the owner finally recovers his property, the façade of the house is demolished, but behind it he finds nothing.
What are you reading?
NP (2007) by Banana Yoshimoto. I wish there were more writing by her. I would also recommend the recent publications by Enrique Vila-Matas, Javier Cercas and Belén Gopegui. I enjoy books about cities, so I’m reading Mike Davis, Anna Minton and Suketu Mehta.
What music are you listening to?
A lot of pop songs by women, though the last albums I bought were Claude Debussy’s piano works and Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina (1976). What do you like the look of? I like soil, mud and clay so much I want to touch them.
What should change?
Social inequality, speculation, evictions. Nationalism, conflict, pain.
What should stay the same?
Undeveloped areas. Some ordinary buildings, like local food markets and movie theatres. And a few examples of the opposite kind of architecture – like Oscar Niemeyer’s Brazilian National Congress in Brasília and the headquarters of the Communist Party he built in Paris.
What do you wish you knew?
I like to know how things work. I spent a while asking around about how cables travel through oceans – if they float or if they’re buried. Eventually someone told me: they run along the surface of the bottom of the sea. These flat areas act as ocean highways. What is art for? Seeing things differently; having another reality that’s better and cleverer than the official, established one; questioning; a form of knowledge.
Lara Almarcegui is a Spanish artist who lives and works in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This year she is representing Spain at the 55th Venice Biennale. Her solo show ‘Ivry souterrain’ (Underground Ivry) is on view at le Crédac – Centre d’art contemporain d’Ivry, France, until 23 June, and she is currently working on a project for the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, USA, which opens this autumn.
First published in Issue 155