Site-Specific Conversation’s collaboration with Barcelona Gallery Weekend continues with a series of conversations that will be published weekly over the summer.
Once again, the event centres on a novel this year: Just Kids, by Patti Smith. In doing so, it highlights the process of ‘growing together’ and delves into artists’ beginnings, professionalisation, coexistence with the art market’s demands, and collaboration dynamics, among other elements.
This week, we’re talking to artist Teresa Estapé and Laura González, the founder of Chiquita Room. There is a special understanding between the two, rare between an artist and a gallerist, thanks to their friendship before the opening of the gallery. Or, as Laura points out, a gallery and “much more”. Chiquita Room offers a home to artists who want to live in the city for a while, as well as organising workshops, talks, conferences, and more. It’s a space that takes care: over what is done there, of artists and of those who take part in it as visitors.
How did you meet? And when did you decide to work together?
I studied jewellery at the Escola Industrial and I saw Teresa’s work in a solo exhibition. I fell in love with it straight away… We met in person at an opening and I remember I wanted to make jewellery beyond the Escola a bit, so I contacted her to see if she needed any help in the workshop or an apprentice. I remember she said no, but we could meet up for a coffee. From that coffee onwards, we started to have long conversations and a lot of shared reflections on the work of the artist and the jeweller. At that time, she felt there was a split between the two fields. Our personal relationship gradually developed from then on, and when the opportunity to open the gallery came along, well… We always laugh when we think about this… But Teresa is the reason why I’m doing this.
That’s a lot of responsibility!
The last interview we did was a few days ago with Martín Vitaliti and Jorge Bravo from ethall, and they also talked about that reciprocity that takes shape between artist and gallerist, as Martín is also really important in ethall’s programme. There’s a relationship that goes beyond the proposals they come up with, beyond their own projects
Sometimes, the artists themselves encourage people with a gallery-related profile to open a gallery. One example is the artist Gabriel Orozco, who spurred José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto on to open their first travelling gallery.
It wasn’t as clear-cut in our case. But my work with artists, which is my favourite part of running a gallery, is definitely based on the relationship I have with her.
But did you encourage her, Teresa?
It didn’t really happen like that; I never told her she could open a gallery. But when she went from her art book publishing house to opening a gallery, I did think: how lovely! I was really happy with the step she had taken.
When it comes to the gallery’s programme, have you ever recommended an artist to her?
No, she’s very clear on who she wants to work with. It comes from deep inside her. We have talked about artists we like, but not with a view to including them in the gallery programme.
I feel like it’s a shared reflection that goes beyond our relationship as artist and gallerist. It’s about sharing where we are, our concerns, our interests… For me, that’s outside of the projects we do together, and I think it’s rooted in our personal connection, in trusting someone and feeling like you’re going to look for opinions where you feel understood and appreciated.
Teresa, what was the main part that interested you when you decided to join the gallery project?
It was a proposal that came about very naturally, of course, with someone I had such a close relationship with, and so much affection and trust. As soon as she asked me it was a big yes. It feels like we’re together on this journey. For better and for worse, we’re always there supporting each other, so there are no doubts in my mind. It was wonderful to think my friend could become a gallerist. Sometimes, there’s also that fear that the professional could get mixed up with the personal, and there could be misunderstandings. In my eyes, it’s a fear everyone who works with friends has. A fear that there could be some interference. But anyway, I think we’re careful, and if there are any problems, we talk it through.
Laura, do you have this kind of connection and involvement with other artists?
I don’t think I do to the same level, but it’s true that, morally, the relationships I establish with artists have that sense of closeness and intimacy. They get built gradually, but they are based on connection, and I’m realising that that’s a more natural way of working. In art, I think it’s harder to find that separation: we work with sensitive materials and sensitive people, so naturally, connections end up at the heart of my work.
Would you define Chiquita Room as a gallery?
There’s no need to define it as a gallery! I think everyone else needs that definition more than I do… Chiquita Room is a gallery and much more: an art book publishing house, a residency for artists, an art project at the margins of the ways in which it unfolds. In my view, there’s a certain character that brings together all these facets, and it’s to do with work based on a close relationship, support for projects and processes, and that occurs in residencies, publishing, exhibitions and fairs. So, yes, it’s a gallery, but not just that.
I’d like to go back to what Teresa said about fear, when you have these close relationships and work is there in the middle. But in this case, on top of that, you’re working in an environment that’s the market, the art market, and you go to fairs… How do you find that?
For me, our experience at ARCO, at a fair, was very positive. I mean, we felt like dance partners. Excitement, teamwork… If you can’t quite manage something, I’ll be there… It was a great experience, outside the gallery space, of what I mentioned earlier: doing things together and pooling our strength. I’m not sure what you think, Laura.
We also knew it was an important endeavour, so we gave it our all. I view the artist–gallerist relationship as an association; the common interests are so huge and strong, and so are that trust and the desire for things to go well. It was a great experience for me, too; I learnt a lot. With the intention of this possibly taking us to other stages in our relationship and what it means to be able to take Teresa’s work beyond the gallery.
As we’re looking at your relationship in this case, I wanted to ask you to give us a summary of your projects. What was that first exhibition that consolidated the path from friendship to a joint professional project? What projects have you worked on together?
When I had the art book publishing house, before I opened the gallery, I worked on a collective project called ‘Page Blanche’, and I wanted to invite Teresa to participate because I was curious about how she would approach a book of blank pages with her practice and transform it into something else. The project was presented at Arts Libris. The gallery opened later on, with another collective project, but the first solo exhibition was with her. When I opened, I knew I wanted her to be one of the gallery’s artists from the very beginning. The first exhibition with Teresa was ‘Oro, papel, diamante ‘[Gold, Paper, Diamond], which Zaida (Trallero) curated. It was a really fun three-sided process. At that time, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but that first experience did me good and I understood how to collaborate with other people who contribute other things. Teresa was clear: she wanted Zaida to be the curator. We were really pleased with that exhibition. We did thousands of guided tours! A lot of people saw it. It was an important time because I’d just opened and we were given the great news that the Catalan government was going to buy one of the pieces to keep it in the MACBA museum!
And what are you preparing now?
We’re going full steam ahead with the exhibition because, of course, August doesn’t exist, so we’ll have to have everything ready in July. The project stems from the work I presented at ARCO, whose central idea was the lack of spaces for grief in contemporary society. In it, I look at mourning jewellery and bring it to the present. When I noticed the lack of spaces for grief, I said, ‘Well, now what?’… I was in some sort of abyss, and then the second part of the project started: Blankness. It’s this idea of insipidness, and it’s based on the concept of staying in a place where nothing is decided, where anything could potentially happen, but nothing has happened yet. A place that, for Zen Chinese philosophy, is central, full of determination. We developed the project with this concept as a starting point. It talks about stopping doing things, about recovering spaces of silence, of indecision, of inaction and of no interaction.
Teresa, the materials you work with are really important. A lot of the time, they trigger certain works. In ‘Blandness’, what material are you using?
In ‘Forget Me Not’ I used jet, which was very powerfull. Perhaps, as an artist, there are some concepts going round my head and some obsessions that draw my attention instinctively to a material. I spend a lot of time touching and looking at the material, going to its source, entering a symbiosis with it so that I can start to talk about the themes. Until the time comes when the two things come together. And in this case, just like with jet, passion comes into it. Here, I’m using talc as a mineral.
So, the main material will be talc.
Yes, talc will be the main mineral I’m working with. It’s a material we think of as a powder used for cosmetics. But I’ve reclaimed it as a mineral. It’s the softest mineral in existence, at number one on the Mohs scale (of hardness). It has those connotations of softness associated with childhood, care – something so ethereal and so fragile – and that helps me and gives me plenty of opportunity to work on that place that is almost limbic, I’d say. That space where humans are valued according to what they are, and not what they do.
From what you’ve said, it seems like your artistic processes are long, and there’s research behind them. How are those research processes monitored?
To be honest, Laura gives me carte blanche. I come along with my initial ideas, and usually with materials I’m interested in, and we start to talk. And it’s good because she can be like a sparring partner, or she helps me to redirect or put more emphasis on the pieces I present. I always keep her up to date with the things I’m working on.
The same thing happens with other artists. In this area, I think there’s a lot of value in my work. Of course, there’s a more solitary part of the artist’s work, when they are researching and working, but when they share, exchange, bring me up to date, things happen. When a person is immersed in a subject, coming into contact with someone else can open up a new path… I think these are enriching processes for both parties.
It’s essential to be familiar with all the processes so that this can be put across as it should, because otherwise, some nuances would be neglected. With this close relationship, you know there can be things that were really difficult, however small they may be. Acknowledging the value of the process is really important.
Personally, this is what happens with me: the process is still alive when I exhibit the work and share it. It happened to me in ARCO in a really visible way. I was talking about the pieces and things emerged that I perhaps didn’t see when I decided the piece was finished, but then by talking and sharing with others you keep on creating, and that’s really exciting to me.
One final question to wrap up: what do you think makes relationships between artists and gallerists last?
Trust and respect.
For me, respect and love. It all sounds very grand, very trite… But that’s the way it is for me. It’s about loving and respecting each other.
Barcelona Gallery Weekend (BGW ) seeks to reinforce and make visible the rich and varied artistic scene of Barcelona, promote art collecting and highlight the work of the galleries, as culture generating spaces open to citizens, and the artists they represent. From 14th to 17th September 2023, BGW celebrate your 9th edition in 32 galleries, presenting the work of more than 60 artists.