STUDIO VISIT SMS | CARLOS ENRIQUE RODRIGUEZ - Red Bull Arts Detroit

STUDIO VISIT SMS | CARLOS ENRIQUE RODRIGUEZ

Hi Carlos, how have you been? Are you in PR? 

Yes, I’m living in Puerto Rico and no longer splitting my time between NYC and PR. Moving here permanently was important to take care of family things and catch up with the island narrative.

What is your favorite image from the past few weeks? 

[Image depicts red terrazzo floor fragments in a box]

While on the southern coast of the island a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a house similar to my own in San Juan. Only a few walls and aluminum windows were still erected as the rest was being consumed by the sea. I went on the rescue of the few pieces left of the red terrazzo floor, and placed them on my floor the next morning to see if something would happen; Justice or the feeling of acceptance perhaps… I’m not sure what but it felt right somehow to bring them home. 

What is an island to you?

It’s a body that’s apart from the rest by its own nature. Such nature must be acknowledged and left alone. This I share with one of my mentors Zilia Sanchez who titles some of her work “Soy isla, comprendelo y retirate”. For me acknowledging the island is a way of recognizing one’s own vulnerabilities as a strength since they are natural part of who we are

[Image of slanted mirrors, next to a photo of someone with a pool of water around their feet]

This piece was made more than a decade ago. It’s a digital image of me urinating myself in front of an audience to create an island. It was an awkward experience and it now feels like a cliche. But I accept that that’s where I was.

Aw, I like it, quite sweet/tender to make an island with your own source of ~water. 

In your statement you discuss how the structural landscape of Puerto Rico has influenced your work, can you tell me more about this?

I grew up here. It’s a place with no stable political and economic ground. In my work I try to get a sense of location while embracing impermanence and the undefined. I started studying economics before I switched to art. There is no balancing the plane field in a colony. 

Was there a specific moment while studying economics where you realized you were gravitating more towards art?

Yes, there was. When I first saw the work of Mondrian and read about his take on reductionism and balance. It blew my mind how close it was to the statistical charts in economics. For instance, too much of a town’s financial budget going to just one sector throws the political composition of the landscape off. Mondrian doesn’t flood one side with just blue, he needs to spread the other primaries around for a balanced composition.

When I was looking at your wall works I was thinking about maps and diagrams, methods of representing a landscape. Do you think of your paintings as maps?

Impermanent suggested and negotiable maps. I exist in this landscape seemingly with no control over it but I can at least make my own map in my head as an exercise of freedom.

I’m googling urban planning diagrams right now and they weirdly look quite similar to Mondrian paintings.

The whole world is getting more like this colony has always been. You get tired of finding what’s worst, that’s why I make my work. From this operational nonsense, I get the impulse to think in a utopian way. Don’t you at times?

Ya I mean I like the idea of thinking of utopia as a plan rather than a place. I think for some utopias already exist or people guard what they think upholds their utopias

In my head, the plan and the place are intertwined. The work helps me figure out the mechanics of uncertainty while creating a  sense of utopia in the process. I  hope It’s up to the audience to find some freedom in it as well.

What was something you saw that changed the way u think about art?

There was a Mayor here a few decades ago, Sila Maria Calderon, she demolished an old hotel in front of the ocean to plant grass. She called it A Window to the Sea,Ventana al Mar. That was a piece that blew my mind when I was young. What this Mayor did was come up with a plan to give back a place. Do you understand me when I say they are intertwined for me?

Totally, I notice windows reoccur in your work a lot as well.

I try to offer an entrance to my work. Not exactly a door but the sensation that you can walk in physically. The window (and as cliche as it sounds) is more cerebral and mostly visual. It gives you the universe”. 

Have you experimented with intervening in existing spaces at all?

I love the work of Robert Matta Klarc. Going back to great bodies of work since you mentioned intervening spaces. For the past two months, I’ve been playing the trumpet in an abandoned building by the water. It’s meditative and it feels right. There will be a residue for art. Here it’s easier to do than in NY. 

[Image of palm trees on a shoreline]

Here’s where I play the trumpet and think

I like that you’re intervening through sound. I’ve been thinking recently about how work around abandoned spaces can be rather aggressive. Is this place a hotel?

Yes. There’s a lot of healing to be done around here. No the abandoned spaces in PR are mostly public schools and government buildings. I was excited to go to Detroit as both cities are both strange paradises in their own abused way. 

There’s a similar discourse around abandoned spaces and structural neglect. Although different historical context.  Where did you learn to play the trumpet?

About 13 years ago someone gave me one. I’m attaching a warmup jam with a friend in NY a few months ago. The trumpet so far has been a tool to help me think.

[Image of Carlos and a friend playing in front of paintings]

Wow! Amazing. I know it’s not your “artwork”  but it’s always interesting to see the things artists turn to think or clarify some part of their practice. 

When do you think an artwork is finished?

I never do. I don’t like most of them because I never think they are done. If I don’t get them out of the studio the search is endless. In jazz, you aspire to perfect your craft to articulate your solos with more ease, but in a jam, a good player doesn’t repeat its improv. There’s always something else to do or a different way of doing it.