Valeska Soares Brings Surprise and Desire at Frieze New York 2018

Valeska Soares tells Tausif Noor why her visceral art is “like a trap”

BY Tausif Noor AND Valeska Soares in Frieze Week Magazine , Interviews | 02 MAY 18

Born and educated in Brazil and a resident of Brooklyn for the past two decades, Valeska Soares’s practice has emphasized visceral, surprising responses over unitary didacticism. Taking a distinctly phenomenological approach, her work incorporates various sensory— most notably olfactory—stimuli: visitors to her recent show at Alexander Gray Associates in New York found themselves taking in a rush of scents from glass tables topped by various decanters and glasses of spirits. The installation, Epilogue (2017), is a continuation of Finale (2013): a prime example of the tendency in Soares’s practice to refuse linearity, which was also displayed in ‘Any Moment Now’, her recent survey at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art as part of Pacific Standard Time LA/LA. For Frieze New York 2018, Soares has conceived a series of textual “constellations”, on view in the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management lounge.

TN: How do you think about your work in relation to surprise?

VS: Let me start from the place that I hate. I hate that people go to museums these days and they read more labels than look at anything. I really strive to capture people’s attention in different ways, so they have an engagement with the work beyond words—more visceral. It’s sort of like a trap. But a good trap.

TN: It’s almost like an invitation to someone to bring their experiences to complete the work.

VS: You engage with it but you also engage with your own memories, own experiences. This way, the work changes day by day, context by context, person by person. You might walk into the gallery and the sun is nice, or it might be raining. That’s why I love to show my work in natural light. There’s some works that are supposed to change, over time—get beautiful, or really ugly. I don’t have a problem with artwork that stops existing—there’s always the memory of things.

TN: As well as memory, your work also examines the future. How do you think about the dynamic between past and future when you’re planning a survey, like your recent one?

VS: The Santa Barbara show was not linear. There’s old work mixed up with new work and they function together. I like to think about the museum as a place of the living. Like you’re coming into the library, hallway, you go into the bedrooms, and the living room...

TS: I’m thinking of Oiticica, too, and his Penetrables which were meant to be lived in.

VS: There’s a homely sense, and people can relate to those objects and not have to follow a chronology. For me, thinking is circular. Something that I did 20 years ago has a relationship with something I make tomorrow. So an exhibition is a great opportunity to see all these works together and work out how to relate them. It’s sort of like re-writing a text, but with artworks. Each individual work is a word, and in the way I put it together it becomes a paragraph.

TN: I like this analogy, because you can always still edit text, it’s open.

VS: To a lot of people my work doesn’t look cohesive, and many writers and curators want to explain a path—I started here and I am going there. But my work goes back and forth; sideways; up and down. I don’t feel obligated to be derivative of myself.

TN: Editing is also about restraint.

VS: Sometimes it’s more about reducing the possibilities of things than putting more on them. I’m interested in absences and presences. Desire stops being desire if you do it—if you act on it, it’s not desire anymore. It’s always in this intermediate state, being between. A lot of what I do exists on this plane.

TN: But desire can propel you forward...

VS: I think one of the most interesting things is when desire overcomes social norms, and people can’t hold themselves back. I had this piece in a museum and there was this kid that came

in every day and stared at my piece for hours. One day he decided he wasn’t going to stare anymore, he put it under his arm and ran. If someone is inspired, motivated to do such a crazy thing, how can you be offended?

TN: When you want to embark on a new project—when do you know where togo?

VS: Life is a project and I am naturally looking for new—sometimes crazy—ideas to realize. To make my installations I often need to do a lot of research and come up with solutions that are new. In order to do that I have a great studio team and we collaborate with people all over the world to see what is possible. They are my little geniuses.

TN: Do you think that studying architecture has made you more open to working like this, and thinking in this big way?

VS: If I didn’t have an architectural background, I don’t know how I’d deal with all of this. Not just thinking about space, or light, but also being able to manage a budget, and manage people. I was thinking of teaching a class called “Project Development”—because I see that people have really good ideas but they don’t know how to execute them. Myself, I’m very well trained but sometimes my knowledge and focus on detail is misread as being demanding or difficult. I think I speak for a lot of competent women here when I say, actually, standing up for your ideas is the opposite of being difficult.

This interview appeared in Frieze Week, New York 2018

Main image: Valeska Soares in her studio, Brooklyn, March 2018. Photo by Bobby Doherty

Tausif Noor is a critic and curator. His writing has appeared in Artforum, The New York Times and other periodicals, as well as in various exhibition catalogues.

Valeska Soares is an artist based in New York, USA.