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Interview with Alberto Aguilar: Museum Artist-in-Residence

Alberto Aguilar is a Chicago-based artist, whose creative practice incorporates found materials as well as exchanges with people—family, friends, and others he meets in passing. His work bridges media, from painting and sculpture to video, installation art, performance, and sound. Aguilar is the Department of Museum Education’s Artist-in-Residence from December 2015 through August 2016. He recently sat down with Robin Schnur, Director of Youth and Family Programs, to talk about his work and his residency.

RS: Let’s start with a basic question: what does it mean to be an “artist-in-residence,” and what does it mean to you?

AA: Traditionally, an artist-in-residence produces a body of work that can then be shown and sold, but I take it more literally, as dwelling or living in a space. I enjoy that approach because it takes me out of my normal routine. It’s like moving to a new place or a new state, which I love. There is a momentum and excitement at the beginning of that. For me, that’s what a residency represents: being in a new place and having that place generate new ways of thinking. This [the installation Room for Intimacy, pictured below] is just my first move in the space. I hope that the second thing that happens in this space will be completely different, but I don't know what that’s going to be. 

RS: It's January and you're just getting rolling in your residency. What do you think might happen over the next six months?

AA: I want it to be in response to going out into the museum. Someone recently posted an image of the Sol LeWitt drawing [from The New Contemporary installation]. I have more of an interest in that kind of work now. I saw a relationship between this and that.

There’s also something about the light in the space here that really speaks to me. This kind of regulated, matter-of-fact architecture gives me a clear state of mind. I think that the space itself here changes the work that I’m doing.

I hope that some unexpected exciting, opportunities come out of being here. I’ll be taking over the museum’s Instagram for a week beginning today, January 11. That kind of thing really excites me because I use Instagram and Facebook in my own practice. The idea of taking over someone’s Instagram, especially a big institution like this— to be given permission to stir things up or turn things upside-down—is exciting to me. I do that all the time, when we go on family trips. I’ll do something in the hotel room or I’ve done things in museums. At the Walker Art Center, I made a sculpture out of their outdoor furniture. But to be given permission to do that is a really exciting prospect.

RS: You've reconfigured your residency space with an installation, Room for Intimacy. How did you arrive at this idea? Why intimacy?

AA: In my work there is always this thing of not letting people feel my emotions. This installation works in the same way. It’s very muted. There is not a lot of emotion here. It’s very matter of fact. Brown square paper folded on a diagonal. Two pieces of tape holding it up. It’s very regulated, but at the same time there are many instances in which you can see my hand. You describe the space as cold and emotionless, but in me it generates a lot of emotion to be in this space.

The fold was a complete surprise. When I saw this brown paper, I knew I could use it to transform this space but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. When I came here on the first day, I folded it and then I realized right away that this fold was “it.”


RS: It really draws you back to the light and space. It makes you see this room as a void that the light comes into.

AA: It’s like material and no material. It was everything. Rather than bringing in materials, intimacy also involves using what’s here. When you think of this paper, this is the least valued type of paper. It’s newsprint. The idea of taking this stuff and loving it individually and through each act of intimacy with that piece of paper creating something larger in the space.

RS: Thanks Alberto!

Find Alberto Aguilar in residence on select days in the Ryan Learning Center now through February and then again in summer, June through August. Join him on January 16 during the museum’s family festival to create something special in his space, and follow the experience through his Instagram takeover @artinstitutechi.

Sponsored by the Rita and Jim Knox Endowment Fund for Museum Education.