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Pedro Reyes

Visual Artist

Pedro Reyes is a Mexican artist who works in a variety of media and techniques to create large-scale (and small-scale) projects intended to “take existing social problems and imagine solutions for a happier world.” This has included 2008’s Palas por Pistolas, where he melted guns into shovels with the goal of using them to plant trees around the world, and 2011’s Sanatorium, where museum visitors were asked to sign up for a “temporary clinic… with the mission of treating various kinds of urban malaise,” and the Doomocracy installation, a haunted house featuring real-world horrors like climate change, gun violence, and the 2016 US election.

How important is it that people “get” your work? As you pursue ideas that feel important or necessary to you as an artist, how much concern do you have for the audience?

Contrary to the common belief that artists break rules, I think that artists subject themselves to extra rules. One of the rules that I’ve embraced for my own work is to be accessible for all audiences regardless of their art literacy. Instead of dumbing down, often it means adding different layers to the work, so there may be conceptual references that only a connoisseur may catch, yet the formal resolution has to be compelling enough for everyone. This is a requisite that I ask myself, but I don’t need to see that in everyone else’s work, actually. I like artworks that are quite obscure.

How important is it that people “get” your work? As you pursue ideas that feel important or necessary to you as an artist, how much concern do you have for the audience?

Recently, I have been doing sculpture, in a quite classical way, like direct carving in stone, etc. I was a bit worried that people would be confused, as it’s quite different work from my social practice projects. Happily, I’ve had good responses as I believe that there is a craftsmanship and plastic dimension to these pieces that resonate with the viewers. I have come to discover that I don’t want these sculptures to be anything other than sculptures. Making a good sculpture is a fascinating challenge in itself.

How important is it that people “get” your work? As you pursue ideas that feel important or necessary to you as an artist, how much concern do you have for the audience?

At the same time, I continue to do performative projects and in the following months, I will be presenting a theater production and a socially engaged project, so I have come to accept that it’s impossible for me to limit myself to one genre or medium in order for everything I do to fit within a unifying system. I guess there is no solution to this dilemma, like Hans Arp used to say, “Art is a fruit that grows in the heart of the artist.” You can’t help it, it just emerges naturally.

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