At Rice University, Fernando Casas teaches philosophy. Outside the classroom, he is an artist. In his latest exhibition of works — Co-Constitutions — those two roles merge for the first time in a series of installations that underscore artist’s enduring interest in how the human mind interprets reality.
These are big questions, to be sure, so we asked Casas to give us some insight into his latest work, which debuts at three different galleries beginning on Thursday.
Jan. 30–March 7
Gremillion & Co. Fine Art, Inc
2501 Sunset Blvd
Opening reception Jan. 30 6–8 p.m.
PH: Fernando, you’ve been working on these installations, which you are debuting in multiple galleries almost simultaneously, for the past four years. Does the phrase “Co-Constitution” have anything do with the fact that your work is appearing in multiple settings at once?
FC: Co-constitution is a fairly well known term in many fields, one of them being philosophy, which is also my field. It refers to a very simple, but a beautiful and remarkable phenomenon that occurs when two or more things come together and through the interplay of several things a new reality emerges. A trivial example of this, but also a beautiful one, is, for instance, a rope, which many of my works actually use. They are the coming together of very many rather useless and weak natural strands, which are very short. But when they are brought together by twisting them against one another in a coordinated way they form a rope and a significant new reality emerges.
PH: That’s a very elegant metaphor. Is it emblematic of a particular idea that you’re trying to address in Co-Constitutions?
FC: What I am addressing in the show is really very basic and it gets to the heart of how we structure reality. Reality is really made up. It is the result of the interplay between the mind and how we see it with our organs of perception, such as our eyes and ears and our mental capacities. I am really trying to depict the limits of interaction between these two. I also happen to be a philosopher and I teach philosophy and other courses at Rice University. I think that art and philosophy are very much intertwined and I’m very interested in works that are visually striking and emotionally impactful and also pleasurable. I am also very interested in the mind.
PH: You are known as a painter, but in these exhibits you’ve greatly expanded your use of materials. What can we expect to see?
FC: It is some painting, but when I create work I feel free to use whatever I want. I paint, I use ropes, I use springs, I use collage, I use little toy cars – all sorts of things. Whatever is necessary. I love painting and drawing and now for the very first time in my life I’m doing installations. I’m doing this huge installation in G Gallery of two chambers. One is dark and one is light. It's very simple, but I hope a very profound experience when one walks in between them.
PH: So there’s actually a physical interaction to the exhibit that people will be able to experience?
FC: Very much so. The word “interaction” is really an understatement. Any work of art – take for instance a poem written on a piece of paper – has to be experienced to exist. If nobody reads the poem the poem doesn’t exist and it’s just ink on pulp. There are things that only exist in the mind of the reader, and painting and works of art are the same thing. So I am very much exploring that idea by pushing further and asking the viewer to actually look at himself and herself in the mirrors in my exhibit. I don’t just want them to say, “Oh, is my hair good?" The hope is that they will read the image of himself or herself alongside the rest of the work. For that reason I am very much dependent on the intelligence and sensitivity of the viewer.
PH: It sounds like the exhibit could have a jarring effect on a viewer depending upon their mental state or their willingness to be introspective. Am I hearing you correctly?
FC: Absolutely. I like that, because the exhibit will depend very much on the viewer’s mood. There are no images of other people. I’ve created images of other people all my life. In this exhibit the only image of a person is of myself – a self-portrait. But because of the mirrors the viewer will find himself or herself there and depending on the mood my work will depend on whether the viewer wants to construct in their mind. Very much so.
PH: When people have an experience in your exhibits what do you want them to leave with? Is it a sense of how arbitrary our construction of reality is?
FC: Arbitrary—no. I would like people first to have a 'wow' experience from seeing something very novel and visually very striking. Beautiful as well. But on top of that I want to give viewers the chance to realize how complex and how wondrous the articulation of reality actually is. The common sense, naïve view of the world all of the sudden gets taken away and you have a moment of ecstasy. Ecstasy not in the sense of pleasure—although I like pleasure, too—but by being shocked out of your common, everyday experience. All of the sudden I want you to have a moment of wonder about the world and how fantastic it is and how worthwhile it is to livein it and see it for the first time. If somebody gets that I will be happy because I get that when I see art and every once in a while the world gets transformed.