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A talk with Lu Villanueva

Hi Lu, nice to see you here! You're working in Mexico as a multidisciplinary artist and gender equality activist but before your artistic career you succeeded as a dentist. Could you please start telling your story from the beginning?

Hi Lena! It's a pleasure talking to you, I'm so grateful to get to share my history. Yes! I was a dentist, that was my first career choice. Let me say just say: I was always an artist, but it never crossed my mind that I could study art. I felt the need to do what is considered a "good career", and I don't really know why I chose dentistry. I loved college and I loved studying but the truth is that I was never happy, and it took me 10 years to admit it and drop it for good. While I was still a dentist I started looking for ways to incorporate art into my life: I enrolled myself in a photography course, then digital art, soon after that it was art history, and by the time I had my title as a flower designer (which I never actually used, it was more of an excuse to use my creativity) my interest for dentistry was practically dead. I started studying contemporary art and when I moved to Mexico City (I'm originally from Sao Paulo, Brasil) I delve deep into art: studying techniques, art critics, participating in art residencies and together with other artists I created a collective.

Do you remember your feelings when you decided to establish your artistic practice? What were your main concerns and hopes? Did you have any support from your family?

I felt a mix of pride and guilt. I was proud of myself for finally taking the first step toward a new path, but I felt very nervous because in my eyes dropping my career and entering the art world opened the door to judgement from my family and peers. I always give my best effort and hard work to prove to myself and my audience that I have something to say, which is hopefully reflected through the art that I produce. I am incredibly grateful that I have a husband who encourages and supports me with my crazy decisions and my kids whom I believe are very proud of me.

Can you track changes in your motivation to do art? What were your drivers and priorities at the start point? What are they now?

Absolutely! I think changing is part of the game. The more I studied, the more people I got to know, plays a huge part in motivating me. At first, I just wanted to paint, I wanted to express myself through art but I didn't know quite well what that meant. Although my income is inconsistent, I see it as my full-time job. Exploring new techniques and improving how I spark my audience's interest in art is a huge driving force and motivation for me nowadays.
What do you think about your long way to being an artist? What influence on your current artistic practice does your previous medical experience?

Just a few months ago I realised my scientific side is a huge part of my work! I collect data all the time, and I try to analyse it. I do papers and register my process like a pro, just like I did in the old days. For every new idea or concept, new painting or sculpture I make sure to record it somehow, be it through journaling, pictures or logs. Of course, there are also the practical skills that I practised through dentistry, which facilitated my ability to paint and create at the start of my career as an artist. I see it as the left and right sides of my brain communicating in harmony with each other.

Could you please give a little bit more details about your practice, artist collective, and current public activities in Mexico?

I work in my studio every day. I think being consistent and having a routine is very important as an artist. My references most of the time come from architectural forms. But I also do data analysis of my surroundings, translating it into images. Usually, I work in two or more series simultaneously, this methodology allows me to balance and integrate each composition into my artwork. I am very lucky to work with my fellows from my collective, Cuarto33. It surged from the necessity to earn a spot in the modern Mexican art scene from a group of artists from Brazil, Spain and Mexico. We (the collective)are four women who decided to join forces to promote our individual proposals sharing emotional honesty through the process and keeping in mind that perfection does not exist. I think we are trying to reconfigure the image of contemporary women.

The name Cuarto33 which means Room33 surged during a brainstorm in the local coffee(our office then). A room is a space that can be occupied or where something can be done. It is a space of intimacy also. And 33 is a Master Number or a Master Teacher in Numerology. The number 33 is associated with those who are avid seekers and are naturally interested in gaining a lot of knowledge so that they can use it for the betterment of the whole of humanity and not for just a personal agenda. The number 33 show up in religion and spirituality. It seems to me that the name fits perfect for our idea and our feelings at that time.
We also work with a safe house in Mexico City for women and children victims of domestic abuse, addiction and extreme poverty. We realise that visiting the safe house, making contributions, teaching art and being a female model are very important for young girls. It gives them hope for the future.

I would love to hear more about your feministic optics. Do gender issues encourage you to make your artist statements?

In the past our feminist colleagues had a great impact, they conquer immense achievements, which allow us to live with more equality today. It seems to me that nowadays many feminist movements misunderstand equality with power; and power as respect. Respect is the key. We would live more peacefully respecting each other as human beings regardless of gender, race and labels. Right now my biggest concern is about domestic violence and abuse. We need laws to protect women and we need to make sure to enforce the law, women need to feel safe. This is not about equality, this is respect.

I think the feministic side of my work resides in my history. Not playing by the standards in stereotypical Latino society. For me as a woman, a mother, and a wife being able to do what I want and being a model to others is an achievement that I am proud of. Finding a balance between both types of life can be a challenge, but at the end of the day women have to understand that this pressure comes to an extent from within themselves, not society. As females, we need to move past that idea. We need to be ok with our choices whatever they are: it is ok to work all day, it is ok to be a full-time mom, it's ok to be both and not be perfect. It is ok to wear a lot of make-up or none, it is ok to grow your armpit hair or to wax it out, it is ok to live on a diet or to eat whatever you want, and so on… I mean just be happy with your own choices, that is the greatest achievement.
How do you see the role of art in our volatile world? Do you believe that art can change anything?

Art is always present, and contemporary simultaneously. The world changes and art changes with it, statements change, processes change and materials change. Thinking about the covid pandemic we've seen in a very short time changes in the art scene: most artists were struggling to survive, trying to figure out how to show their work and finding out ways to connect with an audience, the inability to buy art supplies, many artists migrated to digital art and so on. On the other hand, works of art up for auction made millions, like never seen before. Same world and a huge gap. After all, Art is a mirror of society, reflecting all the good and the bad in it. I don't think art can dramatically change millions of people at the rate we would like it to, but I do think art changes the surroundings it is presented in, little by little. It's hard work, but once you make a single person think and appreciate it (or not), and inquire, you cannot undo it. It is done. Soon after that more people get involved and you think to yourself: my work can make a difference.

Please present the artwork that you choose for the show.

This is the last work of my last series: Microcosmos, in which I try to do an analysis of time. Time translated into moments of life, in this particular case, a family meal. In my family, the act of getting together to eat goes beyond sitting down to share a meal; it is an act of love. It is a time to share experiences, disappointments, achievements and failures. It helps us remember good times, or to have discussions about a controversial topic, make plans, share laughs or give way to a comfortable silence. That silence is a rest, a cuddle where one feels safe for being what one is and for simply being part of something.

The interaction between people and what results from that sum of feelings, knowledge, and moments of the present that in a blink of an eye are already in the past have always been interesting to me. The records of those moments are usually images and sensations that in the end are memories.

However, my "abstract" thinking always tries to encode those traces, moments, seconds and memories.
What about the things we don't see?
How do preserve those moments?
Where is the place we most feel safe in?
What role do we each play in the dynamic of these moments?
Microcosmos It is about family, about our safe place. We all need a place to feel safe, to laugh, to cry, to be heard, to just be….

At first, I made an audio record of a family meal, the audio has 1hour05minutes. Then I analyse the audio and each character, there were 6 people sharing the meal and the conversation. I translated the audio to the canvas, creating a code, where each person has a colour when speaking. These abstract works refer to the feelings or objects involved in the feast

There are 26 works in this series, I'm showing part of the last 9 works, the final abstraction, made in cardboard, collage and acrylic, representing balance, movement and equilibrium. These final works reflect the apparent fragility of this world (the family) and the need to find a balance between all those feelings and emotions through a feminine point of view.

Do you have any certain plans for your artistic career? What are you dreaming to achieve as an artist?

I don't believe in long-term plans so I have a short-term plan for my career. Life is so unpredictable that if you plan it out step by step life will go on regardless of them. But I do believe in dreaming big, which is ok and fun.

But my mid-term plan is to keep creating and presenting my work, I want to dedicate more time to my "Xperimental Curator" platform (@thexperimentalcurator). This is something I create to talk about art and somehow teach or just inform people about art and the new ways of presenting it. I have a few texts ready to publish and ideas that I wrote but I need to organise myself and my time to properly publish them on social media. This is something I would like to work on more constantly and I have to coordinate myself and my priorities to do so. And of course, keep collaborating with other artists, teaching my young girls at the safe house and publishing my book of drawings made in 2021 during my studies at Berlin Art Institute would be perfect for mid-term plans!

Thanks for coming and being so open and sincere. I wish you all the best! Take care, Lu!