Portuguese artist Hugo Canoilas’ first major solo exhibition in Scotland is currently on display at Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee. Performance, paintings, photographs, drawings and writing feature in his exhibition Someone a long time ago, now. We caught up with him to find out more about his background and work.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I studied art from the 9th grade on. Since the age of 15 I wanted to be an artist. Although my perception of it developed, I have lived this activity intensively since then.
I studied my BA degree for 5 years (3 years painting and two years fine art) in a small town in Portugal called Caldas da Rainha. I believe no one made this school his or her first choice but the last possibility. The result was a hippie, very experimental school that started from 6pm, when we would return home to make dinner for friends, go out and go wild. It was the time to reinvent ourselves and do our own thing. We did a lot of self-organised projects and we worked with little means. The last 2 years of the 5-year course brought in subjects like Political Studies that increased our capacity to think and establish our own ethos.
I was an assistant to a writer and translator of philosophy who had worked as an artist for 20 years. The books he translated shaped my readings from the age of 15. I also worked for the artist Pedro Cabrita Reis who taught me a lot and gave me a greater capacity to work.
Where do you make your work?
I live in Vienna, Austria, where I have a studio that I share with Christoph Meier and Nicola Pecoraro. We have a strong sense of community, and there’s also place for critical sarcasm, since a joke can push the work somewhere else with its critical distance. I could also say that I work everywhere, because I read in the toilet, in bed, on the metro; I work directly in galleries or institutional exhibition spaces and I love to work directly in the streets. It’s hard to disconnect when I’m working and when I’m not. And this is wrong! One should be critical to this neo-liberal way of working. Labour is a key tool to transform the way we live. On the other hand, art is not exactly labour… it’s a job but it’s also a pleasure…
What is your work process/technique?
All and none. I do everything and nothing. I don’t want to be a specialist and I don’t want to be recognised for my skills. Art being understood as a skill is like judging the work of a writer by his calligraphy.
Can you describe what a typical day is like?
Let me say that I’m plural! I am many things… I aim to be in permanent motion. I have this erotic-Dionysian force that is the opposite of the jubilation of the fixed, achieved form or idea. So I don’t repeat many things in my everyday life (i.e. having the same breakfast for years) apart from taking my daughter to school and going back home early in the evening to have dinner with my family.
Installation view, Visitors, (2015), To be read aloud, To be read aloud (2014) and Chevy, (2015), from the exhibition Someone a long time ago, now., Hugo Canoilas, 2015, Cooper Gallery DJCAD. Photo: Ross Fraser McLean.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I don’t know if this word is used in the right way. Usually “inspiration” pushes us back to the cliché in art and I’m not into this. Taking the word as it is I inspire as much as I can from the world, from the whole and I try to give it back to that whole that is the people. Since I aim to have what I don’t have, I think and make, in ways that will produce a change of my self; to be another or to try to live many lives in one life; following your question, I’m inspired by the absolute otherness.
What are your future plans?
When my daughter goes to University I would love to move to the countryside and build a house and have my garden with my wife. Maybe we would invite friends or open it to all, like a small non “ecophagic” way of living with the contradiction of going somewhere else to exhibit from time to time. I could dedicate my time to working in a barn, behind the house, building a secretive work that could be developed through the years. Plough in my stomach, work without serving anyone else’s project or agenda (artistic or political), that is the only way you can respect the whole. The whole should be a space of convergence of all differences, even the non-negotiable ones.
Someone a long time ago, now. is on display at Cooper Gallery, DJCAD until 10 April.
All photos courtesy of Hugo Canoilas, Cooper Gallery DJCAD and Workplace Gallery, UK unless otherwise stated.
Want to read more Q&As with creatives? Find them here.