Memories of a Grand Tour – Episode 2

An interview with Henrique Loja

We continue with our memories of the Grand Tour with Work.Master graduate student Henrique Loja’s sculpture work. Loja presented a series of objects partly composed of recycled materials, in which micro-stories and the planet’s geological history mix. Floating between the ruins of a wrecked civilisation and clues as to a possible future, these works fit perfectly within our uncertain present.

Sea foam from the future

Sylvain Menétrey: When I saw the works you exhibited at the Grand Tour exhibition, I created a narrative in which you had collected materials from an abandoned beach, your production of forms guided by their indecisive status, between nature and junk.

Henrique Loja: I’m interested in coastline imaginaries. Having grown up in the south of Portugal, I’m interested in exploring the relationship between mass tourism and gentrification, yet also somehow in taking distance from it. The works I presented exist as a response to my growing disinterest in looking for a conceptual resolution to my work. I’ve started pursuing a material practice instead; almost a psychoanalytic process in the sense that I haven’t looked for and eventually found the objects and materials. Somehow, it is as if I stumbled upon them. Together, they relate and create an imaginary. There is a subconscious element to it. The beach environment is present. I think of the beach as the liminal space between land and sea. It echoes the space between knowledge and alternative knowledge, which is a boundary I want to exploit in my material practice.

S.M.: These works resonate with the environmental crisis, especially in comparison to your text production, which is partly informed by the flow of the digital environment.

H.L.: The works were produced in the context of a health crisis. My interest in materiality originated in a constant saturation of information that set me adrift – as in the ocean. This interest was a kind of detachment from digital knowledge, leading to the pursuit of other formats. However, there is also a recognition of this digital environment, culture and technology. The works often refer to former technology trends, bringing back old knowledge and other formats, currencies, and economic potential. Other ways of making, other symbolic meanings.

S.M.: Despite their similar ageing surface treatment, your objects open up different narratives. Can you talk about the symbolic meaning for instance of the big black hand? It looks like a discarded bronze monument for a roundabout, but also has this welcoming gesture of the palm, as if it were expecting to catch a ball?

H.L.: The first layer is made of metal. Then there is papier mâché and finally fibreglass with several layers of paint on it. The hand was modelled out of a menu holder that I saw in a restaurant in Italy. It was a large hand with the menu on the palm. It was quite an attractive object, in fibreglass painted red. As a display on which to place text or information, it evoked a kind of futurology or foresight. I was going in that direction but as I built the object I realised I was creating something both new and already decaying – something containing a catastrophical aspect. If you think of disaster movies (the scene in which you discover remains of the Statue of Liberty, for instance), a large cropped hand is often a broken monument that announces the fall of a civilisation, probably replaced by another. There’s a nihilist position but also hopefulness to it. I don’t know if you noticed but there are some engravings and scratches on the hand. I was quite interested in how people tend to mark walls, trees or statues with their keys, writing things like “I love you” on them. This hopeful gesture is marked into a body which holds some historicity, all the while announcing the decline of history.

S.M.: This brings me back to my first question on the importance of the different materials in addressing the multiple temporalities that your works convey. How do you choose and assemble them?

H.L.: I’m interested in the symbolic potential of extractive resources. For instance, the hoops with the soda can ring-pulls exist in these multiple temporalities. They are anachronistic objects. When I was in middle school, kids used to collect ring-pulls. They kept them in their backpacks or on their keychains. Those with the chunkiest were the coolest kids. It was already an assertion of power, of economical power. Ring-pulls became a precocious type of currency. I imagined the three pieces as necklace, sculpture and talisman holding these aluminum ring-pulls. Currently they hold scarce value because of aluminum’s limited worth, but in a future with fewer resources aluminum could become a precious material.

S.M.: A consideration of the material’s economic value is typically conceptual and seems to contradict your shift towards a material practice. It could also be extended to your artworks in general, whose value can evolve parallel to the price of aluminum or get totally disconnected from it. Somehow your future artistic career and that of humanity are linked in these hoops.

H.L.: That’s an interesting point. I think a discussion about value somehow exceeds the control I have over the works. Perhaps it isn’t for me to decide. Nonetheless, my material decisions create multiple narratives which only symbolic value and concept can unearth. I am building my own narratives and I hope that, while gazing at my works, others will do the same. Some qualities and details that cloak the works and allow the viewer to read timelines and, within these timelines, stories are built. Through storytelling, speculative futures or futurabilities become visible. They can be applied to our own expectations of a future. As a subject, I will build my own visions of the future.