Vanesa Muñoz Molinero is a professional Sculptress who prides herself on persistence and dedication to her craft while working with traditional artisanal processes in an ever-increasing digital world.
With a strong connection to three dimensional art from a young age and an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding of the bigger questions, Vanesa threw herself into self-study as well as traditional education and training in the Fine Arts as well as Philosophy. After years of searching and finally finding her answers and inspiration in mathematical approaches and quantum physics, she delved into formulating her aesthetic structures from abstract theories and ideas found on the pages she read.
Today, on Meet the Makers, Vanesa tells us about her creative process and artistic trajectory, her current exhibition and plans for the near future.
Let’s start with a bit about your history and your transition into becoming a professional artist. When did you make your first sculpture? Tell us about the piece and how it might have changed you.
I threw myself into three dimensions early on in my childhood, in a very organic and natural way. I played around with drawing and the like, but what was most interesting and satisfying were three-dimensional shapes. I did some experiments with plasticine and clay—like any child—but when I discovered that soaps could be turned into objects using a small knife, I attacked an endless number of Avon scented soaps that my mother hid without much success.
When you’re little you don’t know what it is to be a sculptor, but without a doubt, my life and destiny were intimately intertwined with creating forms that occupy a place in space.
Later in adolescence, I experimented with molds. I was fascinated by the concept of positive and negative, but there was a certain boredom in the sculpture of adhesion. That’s when I fully focused on subtraction; taking away and letting the form that hides in the block breathe.
At the age of 17 I entered La Palma School of Applied Arts in Madrid. There I had the opportunity to work with many materials: sandstone, marble, wood and wrought iron. During this first approach to the materials, I completely discarded stone and focused on wood and iron.
You studied Philosophy after finishing your degrees as a Sculpture Technician. Were you exploring a new career path or looking for inspiration for your artistic work?
When I arrived in Barcelona in 2000, I entered the La Massana School of Arts and Crafts, in the upper cycle of applied arts in Sculpture. I was greatly influenced by the conceptual and fresh vision of this school and little by little I went from a style with figurative overtones to fully embrace abstraction as a rich source of freedom. I discovered the magic of each spectator giving their different interpretation. I was fascinated that the work of art was an intellectual challenge and totally free from the aesthetic for the sake of aesthetics.
When I finished my studies in La Massana, I still had the discomfort of not understanding the reality that surrounded me. Using my artwork as a tool for knowledge, I needed to continue investigating what was beyond the limits of my skin. Through my artwork, my desire to know more gave me the excuse to continue studying.
In the end, you found inspiration in quantum mechanics. Can you tell us about how you became immersed in the world of physics?
At the end of my degree, I experienced a growing boredom, the feeling that much of the bibliography was limited to subjective opinions, originating in different historical contexts and with an anthropocentric perspective that not only didn't get rid of my doubts, it increased my satiety.
Then, out of the blue, a good friend put the book The New Alliance by Ilya Prigogine into my hands; a Russian physicist who introduced the seed of what would from then on be the epicenter of my study and gave a breath of fresh air and answers to that feeling of being famished for truth. Combined with books by the mathematician René Thom, Heisenberg's Relationship of Uncertainty, Erwin Schödinger with his vision of ‘reality does not exist until you affect it’, I found the breeding ground for the turning point of my work.
Since philosophy was simply a way to expand my knowledge and not a career path, I decided to abandon my studies and focus on devouring the bibliography that could introduce me to the world of physics, where I finally found the answers to everything that was in my head—embracing uncertainty, chaos as a generator of life, the interconnection of particles. I felt so identified with the science that I took it as a new philosophy.
I finally found the answers to everything that was in my head—embracing uncertainty, chaos as a generator of life, the interconnection of particles.
Not only did it cover my need for knowledge, but it was infinitely rich in forms and concepts which perfectly fed back and forged a very personal style, which today is the language that the viewer identifies behind each work.
How do you conceptualize your pieces? Can you walk us through your creative process?
My creative process begins mainly from the pages of a book, or an experience that I have had that disrupts my established concept. The assimilation of a theory or the conclusion of a problem that for whatever reason has resonated in my brain.
With my humanities perspective, I admit that when the explanation becomes purist, I do not understand a large portion, but it hits my head like the echo of a melody in a foreign language—-It is capable of shaking you without actually knowing its meaning.
Usually, when I am interested in a very abstract theory or idea, I see the aesthetic structure behind it, whether it is wood, organic or pure geometry, whether it is blue or warm tones. If it can be independent or if it should go in a group. I understand the aesthetic structure, the form and the matter that that equation evokes. If there is any question that remains in the air, I study and search for information until the mental image of what I want to do is sharper and sharper. Then I transfer it to color drawings, which visualize what is mentally hovering. Once I am clear about where to fit the shape, I simply start to build in my favorite place in the world, which is the workshop, until I can excise that form and continue with another.
You work with a variety of different materials. How do you choose which medium to work with for any given sculpture?
The materials that I work with are subject to the concept that I want to deal with. Each material has an emotional power that is impossible to ignore and infinitely helps to convey the message I want to express. Only with the choice of material do you have part of the phrase that you want to convey when creating. Lead wings are not the same sensitive perception as light feathers. The same form will convey diverse emotions just varying from matter.
If I speak of real constructions, I usually deal with wood that shows the roots, the base. Something organic and still alive. If the piece talks about physics or mysteries of the universe, I deal with metals and aluminum, materials that I believe are transmitters of energy. Sometimes I give material importance to those things that do not already have them.
Any material that surrounds us, from remains of iron slag, plastic, polycarbonates, steel or wood can be part of a lexicon rich in nuances.
In the exhibition that is currently in the Alalimón Gallery, there is a low-relief mural formed by iron slag plates, creating a sensation of scales. These very fragile plates are obtained by scratching the work table with a spatula, where iron plates were plasma cut. A priori it is a waste, remains that in themselves would fall apart. I noticed that when scratched, these slags created precious crusts with iridescent hues from the oxidation process and the heat it was subjected to when cutting with plasma. This unvalued material is a randomly discovered treasure that is part of something precious and rare. Any material that surrounds us, from remains of iron slag, plastic, polycarbonates, steel or wood can be part of a lexicon rich in nuances, which you use to express concrete concepts.
You work artisanally, sometimes spending months constructing a piece instead of relying on new technologies to facilitate the process. Can you explain how and why the artisanal process is important for you as an artist and for your work itself?
The artisan process is of utmost importance to my work. Although I am defined as an Artist, I feel much more identified as a Sculptor—with a commitment to my trade that requires a liturgy at work and the handling of technique, which can only be polished through practice. It is the commitment to a job well-done. And this discipline, if it teaches you anything in life, it’s patience and the certainty that there are no shortcuts.
My work requires many long hours, solitude and assuming the limits of a subject. Perhaps because when I finish them, I no longer feel that they belong to me—the longer I take to make them, the longer they will be with me.
Perhaps because I simply feel like a channel, a mere bridge between the world of ideas and the materialization of form. When I finish them, I wrap them so that time affects them as little as possible and I store them. I do not like to see them, nor have them on display in the workshop. They are waiting for their moment that no longer belongs to me. To focus, I need a blank wall to start again. At the end of a project, my attention ends and I simply focus on another, and this in turn, when finished, will leave me empty again, wanting to take on the next piece.
You’ve chosen two fields where women have not been traditionally welcome or respected —fine arts and physics. Can you tell us how being a woman has impacted your trajectory?
Actually this question is somewhat complicated to answer, as I have always felt like quite a free electron, without defining a genre. I do not know if being a woman has influenced my career, but it certainly impacts how I do an exhibition. I have to justify and explain that the pieces are done by me from beginning to end, there are no assistants, no army of fellows.
Usually, when working with materials identified as masculine, many viewers assume that my work must be conceptualized in the head of a woman and executed by the hands of a man. They’re surprised and sometimes even suspicious when they learn that it is not so. There is still a belief that women are more comfortable with ductile, warm and malleable materials—with fabrics and autobiographical themes. This is not my case, I am interested in universal themes, as a simple mammal.
I find myself in that gap identified as not-a-woman by men, and cold and non-vindictive for the feminist cause by colleagues, although this is not the norm.
For a woman, people expect not only that she work with certain materials, but also the issues she tackles. Topics such as the body, motherhood, emotions or the place of women in the world have never interested me. And that's what happens when we create icons: Frida Kalho, Marina Abravovich, Louise Bourgeoise, none of them represent me, and excluding the latter, the aesthetics of their work provokes a certain boredom. I was more akin to the formal composition of Russian Constructivism, the Bauhaus, Oteiza or Anish Kapoor, the coldness of optical art, etc.
In this time when it is fashionable to influence feminine identity, I am out of this trend and sometimes referred to as frivolous for not addressing the problem. For me, the important thing is being, in this conglomeration of particles that we call reality and this uncertainty of universal chaos.
Can you tell us about the show Sisyphus, Escaping Tragedy Through Physics currently on exhibit at Alalimón Galería?
This exhibition has been conceived and planned for a long time and if something was very clear to me, it was the subject that I would talk about. I would pay my own tribute to this profession to which I am totally dedicated and to this discipline so sacrificed. The profession of the sculptor.
When you have a vocation, it is like a call from heaven, it is the engine and the only purpose in life. Every day you are in the workshop working hours and hours without knowing very well what the point of it all is.
When you have a vocation, it is like a call from heaven, it is the engine and the only purpose in life.
On countless occasions when someone asks me what I do and I specify that I am a sculptor, the general answer is "Great!" or "if that makes you happy." I think that is a rather simplistic conclusion. Well, it’s not exactly happy—but to feel complete, since artistic creation is often more of an ordeal than a mystical experience. How many times have I exclaimed, "Why didn't you give me another discipline? " Hours of sawdust, a loaded lumbar and cervical pain, but there is no choice but the realization as a person in what completes me as a living being.
Within the artistic trajectory, I feel like I'm in a Greek tragedy.
Sisyphus was a mortal who had the audacity to cheat death. The angry gods explained to him that he would be punished with the worst reprimand ever executed, they would need time to plan such a sentence. Sisyphus’ mind did not stop shuffling the possibilities, each one more bloody than the previous; would the crows gouge his eyes in eternity? Skinned little by little with unimaginable pain? In the end the sentence was, the effort of useless work. Every day he would have to carry a large stone to the top of the mountain, but just before reaching the top it would fall and he would have to repeat this action for eternity of days.
In this exhibition I reveal my own figure as an artist and my work as a creator. The usefulness of the work in the face of issues such as the banality of art, the superfluous, the meaning of making Art ... I show the ability to face it through constancy and persistence, (the vocation before a trade). I take the figure of Sisyphus as a mirror. His punishment: hard work that must be done over and over again.
The philosophical concept of the eternal return helps me to face reality. I take as a reference the conceptual versus the real of the eternal return. Discarding the reality in which repetition does not vary is explained through physics. According to the entropy, energy would be lost in each repetition and would end up dissipating. And in thermodynamics a constant repetition would lead to a rise in temperature to destruction. Therefore, in each repetition a variation is necessary.
The eternal return is a philosophical conception of time, posed in the West in a way that the world returned to its origin through a conflagration. Once burned, it was rebuilt so that the same acts would occur once more in it. For Eastern philosophy, existence continues to be a cyclical event, where each act, each moment and event, will be eternally repeated. In contrast, in Eastern thought, the eternal return will lead to the perfection of the universe, since each fact will be polished at each restart until it is perfect.
I cling to my vocation to face the constant struggle that is to face artistic creation. I live the repetition of the creative process according to Nietzsche's theory of the eternal return. Wishing it to repeat itself again, and thus embrace life without fear, without regrets, aware of every minute, polishing every moment and with joy.
The selection of the works presented here is with one foot in philosophy and the other in physics, they go hand-in-hand to tell the narrative of my proposal.
Any big new projects in the works?
Next year I have some projects underway; first a solo exhibition at the Antoni Pinyol gallery, in Reus gallery with whom I have been working with for several years. I will conclude an artist's book that has been brewing for three years. It will include writings on philosophy, art and economics, aphorisms and in some way my own manifesto of intentions. It will be accompanied by sketches and notes, where I show part of the previous process and a selection of works that encompass the last 15 years.
Then the agenda will gradually be completed, with some collaborations, an outdoor intervention in Vilasar de Mar, and the filming of a documentary on the creative process and the struggle behind each piece. How I combine this job with my own physical limitations derived from a chronic illness. While carrying a colostomy bag I must do a ritual when making abdominal efforts that so typical of my trade, such as lifting weight and the impacts of carving.
How can our readers learn more about you and your work?
Well, I think the good thing about social networks is to be able to show both the processes and the work, almost almost in situ. On many occasions art is produced by obsession and the work goes from the workshop to the warehouse without being exhibited. Those pieces that do not enter any exhibition because the narrative is not coherent, but they do exist.
...you demystify art and magic, because after all, anyone can do what I do, there is no magic, but a lot of mystery.
I also like to show the whole process on my instagram. Apart from the actual making, by allowing the viewer to participate in the process, you demystify art and magic, because after all, anyone can do what I do, there is no magic, but a lot of mystery.
And it also helps me a lot because those who follow me on social media will never ask me if I did them. Or I just made a sketch and had it done and delegated production.
Thanks for taking the time to share with us today Vanesa!
You can also find more about Vanesa and her art at http://vmunoz.com/
If you enjoyed Abstract Art Inspired By Physics With Vanesa Muñoz, check out more artist interviews on Meet the Makers.
This interview has been translated from its original version by the author, Amelia Johannsen.