Today’s Feature, April 25-26, 2007: Cecilia Mandrille

January 18, 2008 at 6:10 pm (Today's Feature)

Growing up, Cecilia Mandrile never saw herself as an artist. It took a long time for her to even become comfortable with the term or label; artist. She originally thought art was unattainable, a fairytale, not for her. However, it is often the fascination of things you can’t have or desire that drives people to achieve (what they originally thought to be) the impossible. Born in Córdoba, Argentina, Cecilia was told by teachers she was not able to paint ‘inside the borderlines’. Luckily it did not distract her. She was encouraged early on by her grandmother to pursue several avenues of art but still, it took her some time. Cecilia seems a little shy when I ask her about the feeling she gets from creating art. To her it isn’t a job so much as it is a way of life now. She is the rare kind of artist that would still create, regardless of income, shows or sales. This is the sole characteristic that makes certain artists last longer then others. She has shown all over the world and now PensEyeView sits down to hear her story. As she puts it, when discussing her process, “…one day, one night, if going in the right path … it ‘clicks’ and it makes sense again.” That works for me! Read her XXQs, to find out more…

XXQs: Cecilia Mandrile (PEV): How and when did you first get involved in art?

Cecilia Mandrile (CM): It took me long time to accept the fact I was an artist. Being an artist meant a magical, unreachable concept to me before. It has changed, I understand now we cannot emigrate from our skin even wanting to. It was not until recently that I have had come to terms with the fact that, choice or destiny, I am one. I suppose we may sometimes being born bonded to the necessity of a very own language, and because of that, sooner or later, you find yourself involved in some sort of art form. I was a shy, short-sided child, feeling ‘the other’ in my very small birth town since very young age. My grandmother was a painter and piano professor, and I was encouraged to try learning many ‘art forms’ from ballet to music, to painting. I succeeded in none. But as of your question of ‘involvement’, I suppose my first approach to art was through literature. Fine Arts teachers were very disappointed at me because I was not able to paint ‘inside the borderlines’. Paradoxically, in the same context, I become the ‘official poet’ of my school. Not sure that was an achievement to be proud of, considering this was a Catholic nuns’ school during military dictatorship years, but in my innocence, I was!

PEV: Born in Argentina, when did you first come to the United States and how did growing up in Argentina impact your work?

CM I come to the America of the North on 1995, with a fellowship given by the University of Maryland Art Department to pursue my MFA. After graduating, I was teaching and exhibiting in the DC area for a couple of years. I moved back to Argentina in 1999 and soon after, to London. The place and circumstances of your upbringing definitely inform the person you are- or want to become- and in that, the way you approach art conceptualization and making. I was born in the province of Córdoba, Argentina. I always felt as a stranger to my birthplace. During my generation, people emigrate from the country for economical rather than political reasons. In 1983, after democracy was re-established, there was no longer political prosecution, missing or exiled people, or at least certainly not to the degree that happened during the military dictatorship. However having achieved that so precious freedom, the country re-encountered several problems. Unemployment was one of them. From the 90’s there was massive emigration. Three generations later, many descendants of Italians and Spaniards went back to Europe as second-class citizens. I have Italian and Argentinean background and I’ve never understood the relevance of this confluence in my life until I lived outside of the country. Then I felt how this unsettled situation was carried on by generations before me. This is not intended to generate a nostalgic story, simply explain the lack of a transparent past reference. The absence of images, the blindness of the past, is a constant for emigrants. This absence may explain my necessity to construct objects that carry photographic images, (and being aware of their ephemeral condition) as witnesses of transient moments. In a way, this can explain my insistence on ‘portraying’ the experience of impermanence throughout my work, and in that, an important aspect of this odd ‘Argentine-ness’.

PEV: As an artist who worked in the academic world, how does it make you feel to hear that schools are cutting funding for art classes?

CM I am a believer in education, and my former professors and mentors have been very meaningful and influential in the life I have chosen. Strong bonds of support have been developed with many of my own students as well. I was involved in Art Education for more than two decades now, as a student, teaching assistant, researcher, professor, program coordinator… So it is truly unfortunate what is happening in the lack of support to public art education programs, a global disappointment. If political leaders only understood how much art education and education in general can change individual lives and through that contribute to building a healthier society.

PEV: What is your advice for kids who want to get involved in art?

CM As I just mentioned, I have faith in “art”. I do believe in the articulation of an individual language that can translate collective experiences. I think either kids or grown ups… any human being who desires to get involved in the arts, just need to approach this form of communication with true and sincere commitment, also persistence, it is the only way things happen.

PEV: Explain your creative process.

CM As mentioned, I intend to portray impermanence through traveling projects. Rather than a creative process, below is an artist statement, but a statement that certainly is based in a process, a process that intends to follow a creative path. During years of moving, I was performing and recording ephemeral installations, observing cities and their crevices through a portable reference: hand made dolls. Several versions of a disguised self portrait was printed on canvas and attached to objects found or kindly given in various locations. Carrying and curing objects in buses, stations, streets, airplanes, (the self and) the self-portrait was tinted by the crossing of borders. Revisiting the journey, photographs made evident how (even apparently unanimated) displaced subjects have individual responses to the new background imposed. Photographs displaced and displacement photographed: visual ‘documents’ accompany travelers emphasizing our double position, as protagonists, as witnesses. Being informed by times where displacement becomes a global phenomenon and based in a more intimate frame, my own migration, I acknowledge transience as only certainty. In this awareness process, printed translations of photographic fragments appear as cohesive elements in the succession of passing installations, settling points for the continuation of the journey, documents from where to articulate another evanescent present. The process of translation has a double significance in the practice of migrant artists: translation as a means to move subjects/objects from one place or condition to another; translation as a technical means to articulate an image in order to interpret its behavior in changing contexts. Through the dual translation of photographic fragments, I propose disjointed narratives rehearsing a dialogue between portable objects and found places. Based on a process of construction, documentation, destruction and reconstruction of fragments in different scenarios, I intend to unfold a visual language that can translate my perception of -and adaptation to- different realities as a migrant artist. Gathering, capturing, re-presenting and recording transience, the successive printing of photographic traces unveil the process that lies beneath them, a process that ‘holds’ the metaphor of the passage, a process that based on the awareness of ‘incompleteness’ constantly searches for its own language, the one that makes possible the translation of a wound.

PEV: What has been the hardest part for breaking into the art community?

CM I have been lucky so far, although always working in impermanent and somehow alternative paths, I was adopted by some art community in wherever city I happen to live in. Of course we know that there is not ‘the’ art community. There are many overlapping, coexisting communities. I suppose the hardest part in this case is being able to comprehend the different approaches to ‘art’ between these ‘communities’ when you break into them as a foreigner. In her book, Strangers to Ourselves, Julia Kristeva, describe “A crossroad of two other-nesses” in which the foreigner is welcomed without tying him down, opening the host to his visitor without committing him… She states that ‘this meeting owes its success to its temporary nature.’ I think this thesis is applicable to the art community often warm welcoming to impermanent members: A nourishing dialogue.

PEV: Having traveled all over the world, which city has the best environment for artists? Also, do you find one in particular place that works best for you?

CM It is funny, once again… I don’t believe that ‘THE’ place exists. Otherwise I would have settled, wouldn’t I? I feel most cities I have lived in, allows a particular environment to support artists’ dialogue and art production. Certainly is quite different in Middle Eastern cities than in London, or New York, or Buenos Aires. I find it interesting to perform as ‘other’ in every place, and in this otherness becoming a witness and performer at the same time. I think every city that allows a free and sincere dialogue among artists and their possibility of survival with art or art related activities it may become a good environment for artists, but once again this is relative and very personal. As a foreigner, I feel particularly comfortable in London… Although I was most pleased with the response to my work in the exhibitions presented in Middle East, a silent and deep understanding of the work: a silent dialogue that only seem to happen between those who have drawn -or have been drowned in – similar paths. Even throughout the exacerbation of boundaries, intimate feelings appear to remain universal.

PEV: You have shown work in paint and sculpture. What is your preferred medium to work with?

CM Actually I was never a painter (for which I still apologize to my grandmother in my dreams). Painting never suited me as a visual language. I was mostly trained, or focus on printing techniques, from traditional to digital, and their application in 3D objects and installations, which, in constant translations, is the medium I mostly work with.

PEV: If you could sit down for dinner with one artist, alive or deceased, who would it be? Why?

CM I would have loved to have had dinner with Felix Gonzalez- Torres. He was a brilliant artist. He could be deeply conceptual and yet so ‘sentimental’ underneath. He was able to make me cry with the lucidity in which he developed the abstraction process of often, political and somehow romantic experiences. A true artist.

PEV: What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?

CM I am not sure. I am afraid I may be quite predictable even with my surprises. I seem to follow a zigzagging, chaotic, but strongly defined path in its own terms. I think the interesting question would be if I would be able to surprise myself one day, I keep hope!

PEV: If I were to walk off the street and into your art studio, what would I find?

CM Having traveled during years, I did not have a studio for a long time. The absence of a place where to unfold and spread my fragments was significant in the perception, conception and development of my work. I work rather as a Residency-less-Artist. From my bedroom to the streets, from the airplanes to transient rehearsing refuges, I feel that the art process is happening constantly and everywhere. The photographic images carried, provided me the ‘background’ that allow me to ‘impermanently settle’ anywhere, knowing that I have more with me than my own image. Traveling gives me the possibility of working in different environments, to dialogue with diverse artists, always in a third language. The often imperceptible gaps in that communication made me aware of both, how much we loose and gain in these translations process (and on this revealing the also invisible but enormous efforts for a conciliation between languages).But, if something it is to be found, wherever I am living/working is my portable studio: my laptop, and my faithful printer.

PEV: What do you do when you hit that “brick wall” and feel like a piece isn’t working right?

CM Get sad, get mad, sleep, dream, read, see some movies, listen to music, try again to understand from where, how and why I intend to translate these images… one day, one night, if going in the right path … it ‘clicks’ and it makes sense again. Otherwise, it should be left to rest in peace and accepted as another lost battle within oneself.

PEV: How did feel the first time you walked into a gallery and saw your paintings displayed?

CM Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges said that once your words are published they don’t belong to you anymore. He candidly showed himself surprised admiring his own poems as if they were from others! I think while exhibiting in public spaces, this concept of desertion of the work in the eyes of others, does exist. Recently an interesting Finish artist told me that some of my installations, nomadic placements come across like mother-less children. I suppose then, than becoming aware that my images are being ‘adopted’, even ‘impermanently’, by someone’s glance, means a relief to this sense of abandonment.

PEV: What was it like when you realized that you can make a living off doing what you love?

CM First of all, and even though I have sustain myself through art, teaching, and art research for so many years, to be realistic, as a non- commercial artist, to ‘make a living’ is a constant challenge. However limited this can be, I should consider myself fortunate. I was able to travel around the world, meeting amazing human beings, enriching immensely my life, and being adopted all over the world, just carrying myself and my images.

PEV: What is a normal day like for you?

CM I come to terms lately that I am, in many levels, ‘not normal’. And the harder I try, the less it seems to work, so, I cannot really think in a ‘normal’ day. There are, yes, certain “impermanent routines” to follow according to commitments that would change, depending times I am focusing either on teaching or exhibition projects.

PEV: Do you like to listen to music while you work? What kind?

CM I often do. Well, I am at the moment listening a beautiful jazz cd I was given for my recent birthday in Tallinn and truly enjoying it. But – or perhaps because- this is very rare to me. Though, I am quite eclectic in my ‘music mood’. I could be listening to contemporary Argentinean music, to my favorite 80’s English dark songs, to Desert Blues.

PEV: In your opinion, what other artist, right now is making the biggest impact on the art world?

CM I am sorry, I am not certain about how to approach this question …. If you ask about ‘what other artist’, who are we considering to be ‘the one’? To be honest, as I don’t believe in THE place, I don’t believe in ‘ests’ either. I think there are so many artists ‘impacting’ in the art world and most importantly challenging today’s visual culture from different perspectives, even when their work is only known regionally and presented to the public in a subversive way.

PEV: What do you do when you are not working?

CM Oh, well! You seem to have managed to catch me in my own contradictions almost in the last question! I don’t consider art, working as such, but a way of life…So, perhaps being constantly involved in the art thinking/making process would make my days ‘normal?’

PEV: Is there one theme or aspect behind your work you find yourself always looking to?

CM Once again, that is the portrayal of impermanence, a portrayal of this incompleteness, a translation, a constant translation… the Translation of a Wound.

PEV: So, what is next for Cecilia Mandrile?

CM I am working on OneOther, an installation project for el Museo del Barrio S-Files biennale to open next July in New York City. I am too constructing a humble virtual home; I have finally accepted one form of settlement. To find out more about Cecilia Mandrile, check out:


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