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Massy Interviews / Esteban Pérez

February 8 @ 12:00 pm March 31 @ 5:00 pm PST

Feb 08 – Mar 31, Massy Arts will host a new window installation by Ecuadorian visual artist Esteban Pérez.

In the series of paintings entitled “Unfinished Marks”, the artist was inspired by walking practices that seeked, through the body, to learn about this place called Vancouver in its colonial statement. In the streets and built environment of the Downtown Eastside, Pérez found a range of unplanned marks, spills, graffiti, dirt, and other manifestations of the urban landscape.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.

The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm.

Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to: info@massyarts.com.

Click here to know more about the exhibition

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To celebrate Pérez’s creative process and artistic research, Community Engagement Coordinator Rafael Zen interviews the artist for Massy Arts, questioning how walking practices mediated through art can establish a process of investigation about a city’s unfinished aesthetics.

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Esteban Pérez – Walk as an artistic practice and the embodied memory of urban landscapes

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Rafael Zen – In the concept text, you claim that “Unfinished Marks” is a study on the range of unplanned marks, spills, graffiti, dirt, and other manifestations of the urban landscape. How do you think you manifest these unplanned marks in your installation? What do you expect from audiences to dialogue from what they see at our window?

Esteban Pérez – Initially, I had envisioned a painting installation based on the work created during 2019–2020. But in the end, I only used one of the oil paintings, the larger one. Also, it has been almost 2 years since I created that series so, in order to reconnect with the place that inspired the artwork, on the day of the installation, I walked through Chinatown again.

It was interesting to see how it had changed in only two years. It seemed fancier and with more bars, coffee places, and nice restaurants. I guess that’s what’s called gentrification.

However, it was this North American urban landscape where I somehow felt comfortable when I first arrived in Canada. Mainly because of the unplanned marks, spills, graffiti, and dirt, the place felt familiar and had some similarities with the chaotic urban landscape from Latin-American, especially from Quito my hometown.

Regarding your question about expectations. I really don’t expect any specific reaction from the audience. The work is open to interpretation and anybody can access it in whatever way they feel more comfortable.

Although, I guess I can explain my process and ideas behind the work. I created a series of paintings inspired by the marks found on my walks through Chinatown. Additionally, the work that I am presenting has other sculptural elements.

The combination of both bodies of work is inspired by the idea of Place.

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RZ – You say you found these marks surprisingly similar to the aesthetic of the Latin American urban landscape, especially your home of Quito, Ecuador. In what way are these urban inscriptions similar?

EP – The marks that I encountered created an ambiance, which triggered an embodied memory of an urban landscape. I associated this sensation with my early experiences in Quito when I used to walk everywhere and take the bus to move through the city.

So, I connected that vibrant energy that Chinatown has with my youth in South America. In other words, it wasn’t just the marks it was the whole atmosphere that this part of the city has. Its energy and vibrancy expose all the complexities, and contradictions of a city and its social fabric.

Somehow, I would like to think that I am able to understand the city through my walks through these streets.

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RZ – As an immigrant studying art in this city, you say your piece was inspired by walking practices that sought, through the body, to learn about this place called Vancouver in its colonial statement. What has this practice made you learn? What were your eyes looking for when you took these walks?

EP – Good question. I was able to learn about another side of Vancouver, one that is not advertised as much. I was trying to understand the social codes of this place by walking its streets and observing.

I saw beauty, fluidity, wealth, needles, movie stars, movie sets, bright lights, tea stores, languages, fish, tents, decadence, and vegan cheese.

The combination of all of these elements felt real unlike other places of the city that just feel more generic to me.

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RZ – You say that, recently, your painting practice has evolved alongside and as an extension of your investigations into unfinished aesthetics. By not working from preliminary sketches, you claim that this approach highlights non-mastery and a decolonizing sensibility. What would “unfinished aesthetics” be, and what do you think this method testifies about coloniality/decoloniality?

EP – Yes, my painting practice is on hold now because I have been interested in sound and I do not have a studio space to work on such a large scale. I do not work from sketches. I am more interested in letting the process define the artwork aesthetics, instead of me imposing a rigid idea.

The process needs to be fluid and move away from any aspiration of achieving mastery. The idea behind this method is to focus on the empirical expansion of knowledge and not to position me within any tradition of painting or western art history.

Moving my attention to the street marks or to the land has been more inspiring than trying to enter a dialogue with art history and its Eurocentric foundations. There is where the unfinished aesthetic idea comes from.

To see what’s outside that dominant ideology and how those expressions of life manifest themselves outside the art world, in the civic society.

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RZ – What is the relation between the title, the canvas, and bones in your installation? What are you suggesting to your audiences?

EP – Once I saw the installation window I wanted to experiment with these sculptural elements and the paintings. So, after several trials, I decided to reduce the installation to three elements.

The title refers to the painting that’s on the floor however the other pieces are recent work that in my opinion didn’t have any relation to my previous work. For this reason, I wanted to see what would happen If I combined them together and the result was interesting, at least for me.

The installations center on different temporalities, not only within my work but with bigger periods of time. I see the work as a speculative exercise that oscillates between the current time (when the paintings were made) and an earlier time before the arrival of settlers.

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