Adam Cruces knows his stuff well. Suspiciously well, actually, considering too he hasn’t been around for that long. When the Texas-born artist discusses his work or its evolving sphere—like his personal life as an American expat in Europe—the aptitude for standing in close-enough yet far distance to his whatever current subject matter becomes quickly determinable. It’s the seemingly unbroken objectivity towards his practice that probably comes off as most surprising, an interpretation skill many artists try to divert into throughout the process of creating, yet—more often than not—fail doing so.
These days Cruces spends his time producing site-specific installations which usually consist of an array of different media, creating momentary settings that demand their audience to experience, well, essentially, experience itself. The diverse formations— paintings that exhibit traditional still-life form; or water containers filled with little plastic figurines, some of them referencing contemporary commodities like Facebook’s Like button; or cables taped to a wall—evidence a parity between obligation and recreation that immediately borderline with the artist’s very own hypersensitivity to time and space. While being in contact with his work, Cruces discreetly asks for uninterrupted attention, no matter how long or short or the mode of response. A task that, however seemingly challenging with every typical modern distraction around, organically procures once setting foot on his ground of cultural-related assessments. We’re (t)here, the whole time.
I think we actually met once. For about two minutes, it was at your opening at EXO EXO. My friend Francesca had accidentally stepped on one of your wax flowers when we were going for a smoke. You were pretty nice, considering. Do remember this incident at all?
Haha. That’s quite funny. I didn’t remember that Francesca had been a culprit. And I also didn’t realize that we had met! (Lots of things going on that evening.) I recall a few of those lilypad pieces getting stepped on and broken, some survived. It was a little annoying but not totally unexpected since they were scattered across the floor, in the dark, with some of the candles on top burning out. I’m always worried something will get broken, not work, or get stolen. At any rate, I’m just anxious for my openings to be over before they even start. I relate it to the sensation of hearing one’s own voice on a recording.
I can relate to the feeling of anxiety. In my case, I guess, it all goes back to this fear of failure.
I’m not worried about the feedback of the viewer. Every person is entitled to their opinion, and negative responses are bound to happen. I’m actually worried about the more literal failure of the work, due to poor craft or shoddy installation. It concerns me because if something happens where the work isn’t whole (falls apart, stolen, etc.), the viewer cannot experience the piece in its entirety.
You’re currently based in Zurich, but lately consider moving to Paris. You seem pretty well situated in Switzerland, so what’s causing the debate? Does it have to do anything with Zurich being limited in its possibilities?
I enjoy the balance between the two cities. I had essentially a year and a half going back and forth between them. They complement each other quite well. Zurich is great because everything runs smoothly, it’s clean, punctuality is valued, and there’s plenty of support for cultural activities. Paris is great because of its history, the current enthusiasm in the art scene. It’s a bit cheaper, and more socially relaxed and casual. Paris and Zurich are just a 1h flight or 4h train from each other, but I like the option to be in either one at any time. Would be perfect to have a place in both again. I think Zurich will continue as a homebase, though.
While Zurich is fairly international regarding its industry, you must stand out within its considerably modest artist scene. Is there an allure being a foreigner in a fairly conventional setting like Zurich? Has your American exoticism made you less or more American while roaming around European terrain?
Naturally, I find it hard to have an objective point of view on how I or my work are regarded by others. In Zurich, I think the novelty of a newcomer wears off fairly quickly, especially if it’s clear you’re going to stick around for a while. However, not being from another European country, it seems like the novelty lasts a little longer. With that said, there is an advantage from time to time being an American based in Europe. In some cases I’ve been included as the Texas-born artist, and others I’ve been included as the Zurich-based artist. I suppose it depends on whatever sounds better, or sometimes it’s the combo.
Do you think you could migrate back to the U.S. one day, also looking at the transitional consequences it might have for your work?
Although I won’t rule it out completely, I don’t see myself returning to the States. I’m on a different wavelength than the art scene there. The commercial aspect is much more of a focal point stateside, for the artists and galleries. It’s really about surviving and making a living, unless you reach a certain point of success. Then it’s a matter of maintenance. Even project spaces in the States seem to keep the option of transitioning to commercial gallery in the back pocket. And it makes sense, there’s little to no cultural support or opportunities from the government. With such a large population and so many other issues, it’s hard for there to be a strong emphasis on cultural activity. So marketability determines what is shown. That’s a position I don’t want to be in. In Europe, at least for now, I feel more free to take risks. And it’s practically encouraged by the project spaces, galleries, and institutions I’ve worked with, rather than being concerned with collector-friendliness.
So has your American excoticism made you less more more American while roaming around Europe?
I continue to feel very American in Europe, while simultaneously feeling more European when I’m in the States. I don’t think that sensation will ever go away completely. It’s also echoed in terms of my practice. I definitely have connections to certain peers, but I don’t really identify myself as being part of an aesthetic, conceptual, or social grouping. Since I left Houston, I’ve consistently been a bit of a loner. Though Louisa Gagliardi has become my partner in crime.
Furthermore, how has the geographic shift influenced your work and your personal life, aside your time in Paris where you picked up painting again?
I moved around quite a bit, in addition to travel, so the influence of experiencing different places for certain amounts of time has been substantial and cumulative. Coming from Houston, my artistic background was quite conventional with observational landscapes and still lifes. When I moved to Kansas City for my bachelor studies, there was a lot of emphasis on exploration, which is why I switched from a Painting major to Interdisciplinary Arts major. I started doing a lot of video installation and sculptural work.
After I received my BFA in 2008, I moved to Brooklyn for a while, assisting an artist and some galleries to make money. In such a busy city in such a terrible economic moment, this, of course, meant there was less time and energy to focus on the stuff I wanted to do. At that point I was working on short videos uploaded to YouTube. So I started considering an MFA, to focus more on my personal practice. I got into a couple places, one in Chicago and one in NYC. When the time came to commit and pick classes, I got cold feet. Neither place seemed right. With the debt from undergrad, I just couldn’t justify adding more onto it, to go to a place in which I didn’t see a future for myself. I considered looking around in Europe, and Zurich seemed to have a good program with several artists that I was already relatively familiar with. Switzerland was one of the few places that wasn’t completely chaotic as a result of the recession, plus I could pay the same amount ($800 per semester) as a Swiss resident.
Stepping away from my work allowed me to reconsider my approach and interests moving forward. The work of peers and circumstances of Zurich definitely had an effect on the work. Options for materials are limited and expensive, lots of restrictions on what can be imported into Switzerland, few people have cars or large spaces. All of these factors make an impact on decisions, and the overall outcome of projects. When I went to Paris in 2014, for a yearlong residency, my interest in painting had been resurfaced for a while. But, as noted before, the environment and history definitely motivated me further. Although, I don’t necessarily see painting as the primary medium for all of my work to be executed.
From a Houstonian traditional art background, to exploration in Kansas City, to DIY small-scale projects in NYC, to stepping away from my own practice in Zurich then restarting from scratch, to getting back to my roots in Paris - all of these places and steps along the path have become part of my work’s inspiration. On a more personal level, the time and distance from places I’ve been in the past have highlighted various qualities of my relationships with friends, family, and peers. In some cases the time and distance pushes people away and in other cases it seems to strengthen the connection. The more distance, the more I miss a place or person. However, conversely, the more distance, the more I can do without that place or person.
For me it’s the opposite. The further away, the less I miss. Just thinking about family, for instance. I think the act of missing goes also hand-in-hand with one’s personal level of contentedness. We miss more vigorously when we’re unhappy. Perhaps because time seems to move deliberately.
I think the necessity to continue and move on, is what sort of balances out the longing. I don’t think I miss people or places any ‘less.’ It’s just that life must go on, and there’re always so many interesting experiences to be had that end up filling in the blanks. And in the situation that I feel a significant dissatisfaction that means I should probably make a change.
It’s unnerving to think about the artistic consequences of staying fixed at one’s original home/country. I think about that sometimes, what would have happened if I never had moved from Germany to Mexico, or then stayed in Mexico after graduating high school, and not leave to New York. My life would have been so different.
I would be lying if I were to say that I haven’t wondered what would have been the result of remaining in any of the places I have lived. However, I don’t think of myself as someone unwilling to take risks, especially when it comes to being where I want to be. If Zurich ever becomes a place that I no longer enjoy, I’ll move on.
You work predominately consists of site-specific installations, how important are spatio-temporal conditions within your work?
I consider those conditions to be extremely important. My practice really oscillates between stuff that’s much more installation-oriented and painting, with some mix in between. But whether it’s a full on installation with sculptures, special lighting, and video or just straight up paintings on a wall, I always take into account how I’d like the viewer to move through the space. Considering the potential ways they’ll engage with the work from various entry/exit points. I’d like the experience to have some impact, even if the viewer is only around the work for a short time (although hopefully they are enticed to spend more time). More often than not, characteristics of the space have a big influence on the work itself. Like panels from woodwork being replicated on the walls, patterns from floors connecting to work, or the height of a countertop dictating the height paintings are hung at.
In terms of time, I think a lot about the duration of an event. How certain elements might change over time for long-term projects—like these untitled pieces with battery powered watches covered in resin would die during the exhibition, then the hour and minute at which the piece the watch died would become the title, and that moment would be crystalized like a fossil. Or, sometimes capitalizing on a small timeframes. For example, if it’s a short-term project, lasting a day or less, sometimes I’ll organize something that takes advantage of that limitation—like a performative piece with fireworks (‘Tell’ at OLM, Neuchatel). Other times, I want to go against what might be more appropriate for a short-term presentation and go big (‘Un coucher de soleil’ - Exo Exo, Paris). Responding to these conditions of space and time in a manner of specificity keeps me on my toes, and helps push the work in ways that I might not have pursued otherwise.
Aesthetic as an overall theme continuously surfaces your work. I’m primarily thinking about your still lifes here.
The themes or content in my work is very much rooted in the history of painting. A lot of times it includes the landscape, but more frequently and prominently the still life. This can really be tied back to my artistic training. From the age of 8, I was brought up looking at lot of Impressionism, but first shown how to paint realistically from observation using still lifes. Having that yearlong residency in Paris brought back the painting, Impressionist, and still life influences full force. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the still life subject for different reasons than when I first started working with it.
I enjoy how still life as a genre has evolved throughout history among different cultures—ancient Egyptians depicting food to be consumed in the afterlife; Romans displaying the variety of exotic fruits they’ve had as status symbols; Dutch conveying allegories through symbols to the middle class, etc. In each case, the still life isn’t only an expressive reflection of its time, but it also serves as a documentation. Displaying the technology (tools, utensils), entertainment (musical instruments, books), foods (hunted game, drinks), and moods (skulls, flowers, palette) of the period. The genre as a whole also shows the impact humans have had on nature through artificial selection/ agriculture/ domestication. It’s fascinating to watch these items evolve through paintings. Incorporating company and pricing stickers on paintings, or painting cross sectional slices based on Google Images, I see my paintings as a continuation of the genre’s lineage - reflecting the times.
That’s an interesting point, “still life representing a reflection of its time.” What would be an adequate still life representing our current moment in time?
In terms of a VERY direct representation of our current time in still life form—maybe a brown bag lunch in a cubicle, fast food in car, or perhaps an Instagram post of someone’s meal.
Images courtesy of Adam Cruces
interview LARA KONRAD