We had the good fortune of connecting with Manuel Muñoz G.G. and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Manuel, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think risk is a really important thing to consider all the time when you are in a creative field. Moving away from your comfort zone, be that travel, or going to live in a different country completely is always a risk, and part of what I have done a number of times in my career. Moving away from your support system forces you to adapt, once you are too comfortable it is a sign that you should move away from things to try something else. In terms of my work I think it is important for every project to take things forward to places that are unfamiliar for me, to avoid repeating myself. When I was in my early twenties I moved to London from my hometown of Mexico City to study at Chelsea College of Art. I got the place solely based on my portfolio, but at the time I didn’t really speak English. This was a big risk that I was taking, but I was able to teach myself the language just by interacting with people and living my life, and this has been very useful to me over the years. One of the things that I learned after the time that I spent in London is that when you get stuck you have to go where you can make art. When you live in a big city like London it makes you believe that the whole art scene is that bubble that you are in. However you can make art anywhere, meaningful art that can impact the lives of people that have little access to it. When I returned to Mexico in 2012, I moved to a very remote town called Cananea, in the northern state of Sonora, near the US border. The Sonoran Desert is a harsh unforgiving place where it can be difficult to ever get into a comfort zone. I was hired by a mining company to select and salvage scrap metals and obsolete materials from an enormous mine, so that someone else could make sculptures from these materials. During my time there the project that I was working on was cancelled, and due to the many projects that were going on at the time I was invited to work on a different project that turned into the Parque Tamosura, where many of my monumental sculptures are now the features of the landscape. After just a couple of months working with the company I was making proposals for large scale sculptural interventions in the area, many of which came into permanent being. Without the risk of taking an initially small scale job, none of this would have been possible. I always try to put my best into whatever job I have done, from waiting tables in London, to selecting scrap, and I knew that this opportunity would give me the chance to work with the best and most interesting materials possible, and that I could turn the opportunity to my advantage.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I think that what is interesting about my work is that I come to making sculpture from a different way of working. As I have worked closely with a company in a professional sense, this is a slightly different role than a traditional artist’s approach. Much of my work is not commercial because of this, so while there are limitations to working in this manner, there is also a great freedom to be able to realise things at such a grand scale. I’ve been able to make work that is for specific communities, and with a goal of making it so that it holds those communities together, and can give a place an sense of identity. In 2015 we built a sculpture in Cananea called ITSC Bridge. The bridge serves as an entrance point the local engineering university, and it partially consists of a huge gear, or sprocket, that we repurposed from a very old piece of mining equipment. This work has become a landmark in town, and this is something that I am very proud of. Graduates of the university use it as the stage for their graduation photos, and many other local events and traditions now take place in interaction with my sculpture. Challenges are a constant of course, but they are also opportunities to take advantage of what is available, to work with what you have, to work around the obstacle to materialize the work. My current work is focused on the creation of sculpture / installation. The fundamental objective is to produce an aesthetic encounter, a new corporeal experience between the spectator and his surroundings. The experience pretends that the spectator detaches himself from his particular and concrete visual reality to give way to the proliferation of the other senses. A new reflective vision between the viewer and his surrounding world. I’d love the world to know that even if some of my major works are in a small community in the north of Mexico, that anyone is welcome to visit and experience the works. I like to think the I’m working the tradition of Land Art, in the sense that it takes an effort to go an see the work, but an effort that I hope and believe is worth it.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Ha, do you mean in Cananea, or where I am now spending more of my time, back in Mexico City? In Cananea, just going to see the mine itself is one of the most incredible experiences that you can have. After seeing this and my work, then I would say that everyone knows that Sonora has the best Carne Asada in all of Mexico. There is a wonderful restaurant called La Terraza, and outside of town there is a wonderful local winery. Cananea is a very historical town, where the Mexican revolution started, and there are some pretty nice buildings from the 1800s. It is also a peculiar town, that was initially founded by Americans, so the layout and architecture are something of a hybrid between Mexican and American culture, which makes sense for a town in the borderlands. This is also because it sometimes snows in the winter so there are pitched roofs which are rare in México. There is also certain cosmopolitain history with people’s ancestry a mix of Mexican, American, Irish, Chinese, Italian, and others. Mexico City is my hometown, when people come here for a couple of days, I definitely take them to see the Museo de Antropologia, and just next door the Museo Tamayo, which holds good contemporary art exhibitions. There is a great local contemporary art scene, which is growing, and there are many great galleries and artist’s studios to visit. As for restaurants, Contramar is usually a must, but near my house is also a Sonoran seafood place called Los Arbolitos de Cajeme. We also have great Sushi here in the city, and I often take people to a place called Rokai. Covadonga is an old Spanish style cantina in Roma Norte, that is a lot of fun to go have some drinks and play dominos in the evening. If we have time going to the Espacio Escultorico at the UNAM campus is always worth a visit. Just walking around some of the grand boulevards lIke Avenida Reforma is a great way to spend some time, you can see the Angel de la Independencia and you can get an organic seasonal ice cream at my friend’s place Amilado. Churros el Moro is important as well.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’m grateful always for my family, and to come from a family where creativity is part of our lives. My grandfather Ernesto Gomez Gallardo made a successful career as an architect, which even though my parents were unable to support me when I went to study gave us a sense of what can be possible creatively. My larger family in the end were able to help me some, so I’m very grateful as well to my uncle, an engineer who thanks to his wife my aunt appreciates the creative process and was able to help me through my studies. My father is an industrial designer and I grew up around materials, and machinery, so from a young age I was able to work with my hands and develop a sensibility for building things. My Mother is a painter, and I grew up seeing her work, and knowing that this was something that somebody can do. It is also very important to acknowledge the role that Grupo México has played in my career, for believing in me and giving me the opportunity, trust, and confidence to pursue my vision. To everyone out there, I would like to say thank you for all the times that you promoted my work, that you recommended me, for saying that you like what I do, and for those constructive criticisms. Thats the best you can do for me, and that I live from what I love. I think of this a a general type of shoutout to all of the people that I am surrounded by, from my family, to friends, to the people that I work with. To the people that have given me opportunities, to the great engineers and architects that have collaborated with me on various projects, to the fabricators and workers that have worked on my projects, to the people who clean the workshop and everyone else involved.