Over the past two decades, the works of Argentina-born artist Leandro Erlich have found international recognition, being showcased as part of permanent collections at the leading museums and art institutions across the world. With his undeniable success in the global art arena, Elrich’s popularity in Asia cannot be underestimated. In 2019, he became the first non-Chinese artist to take over the entire exhibition space in Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). A year later, his Infinite Space artwork was permanently installed in KAMU Museum in Kanazawa, Japan. The art of Leandro Erlich is truly revolutionary. In his works, he strives to push the boundaries of objective reality as we know it, questioning the human daily life experience and challenging our perception of the world. We spoke with the artist about his creative process, philosophical influences, and links to architectural tradition in his work.
What encouraged you to become a visual artist?
I have always been drawn to artistic expression. I grew up in a family of architects, and art has always been a highly valued element in the family. Very young, I thought I had the ambition to work in this profession. The idea of working in the art world has a bit of a romantic side, and there is great uncertainty in the future. Compared to other professions, as artists, we never have a diploma that confirms the quality of an artist. The diploma of Fine Arts only gives us the career opportunity of working as an art teacher. This is the type of activity that still conveys a sense of adventure, endless research, and personal achievement.
That is why I was also interested in philosophy: it evokes that the path of art that is not dissociated from thought, from the construction of a critical sense. On the contrary, the construction of the being, of the artist, is associated with vast personal research where there are obviously technical aspects – such as knowing how to paint, the whole traditional structure of art, but there is also an important part which is the development of ideas and the pursuit of the artist's imagination in society.
What are the philosophies and currents that have influenced your work and inspiration?
For me, philosophy is an ancient method of questioning oneself, the order of things, and developing a critical sense. I am trying to move away from the idea of professionalization: today, the philosopher is a philosopher, the doctor is a doctor, the artist is an artist. I believe in this Greek and Latin classic notion of the Artist being indivisible to the Philosopher. The themes were vaster, and it was necessary to have a talent for expressing oneself, including in all artistic fields. I remember Plato's Allegory of the Cave – it is a written allegory but described in a very visual way. It could very well be a contemporary art installation. And at the same time, it was about understanding the order of Reality. And that is something that inspired me a lot: this idea of questioning the order of reality from poetry and art.
Nowadays, science has been assigned the role of providing answers. We live in a world that is a scientific and technological paradigm, which is good, but art also provides the possibility of bringing about an awareness of the world, and even imagining the future, of projecting oneself. It is a little piece of sand that allows us to add a comment, a question about life. Your works tend to come closer to the imaginations of the 20th century’s artists and surrealism, but you have also been compared a lot to baroque artists.
Which artists of these movements resonate particularly with your works in your opinion?
We often imagine that the artist is influenced or inspired by the practice of a previous artist. I like the artistic revolution of modernity, but I think the artist's production is more to do with historical context. For example, the birth of surrealism coincided with a moment of questioning the conception of the unconscious by Freud. In surrealist artists, there is ambition, the decision to revive impossible realities, a bit like dreams, and in which there is no real Cartesian meaning nor logic. The artists of this movement I like a lot are Magritte and Marcel Duchamp – the father of conceptual art. But for Marcel Duchamp, one cannot imagine his work without considering the industrial revolution, and the production of industrial objects. It played a huge role in his creation, and in particular the invention of the ready-made.
Today, I question the meaning of the real and trying to define reality. This subject has found different answers over time. There have been myths, religion, and art has also helped question the order of reality. Since the technological revolution, I think there is a new wave of questions coming back. We have had the technological and scientific capacity to do amazing things and reconstruct the essence of reality with an interface called “perception” that allows us to codify reality. For me, visual perception is an emblem of this idea of questioning.
Mankind had an extraordinary capacity to build things dissociated from nature.
Regarding this perception of space, lately, we see more of your works directly in the observer's space rather than in places devoted to art. We see your works from the Maison Fond or your Au Bon Marché
works in Paris, integrated into the daily lives of your spectators. How can you explain this evolution in your works?
I was attracted to the idea of moving away from spaces devoted to art. When you enter an art gallery or a museum, you are already warned about the experience you are going to live. It is a space that protects the imagination of the artist, as well as it protects the viewer. In a contemporary art centre, we could have a performance with naked characters, but if it happened in the street, they would be imprisoned! Even though I am grateful for these dedicated spaces that allowed us to develop ideas and communicate with the spectators, I took the challenge to go out and bring art back into the public space. There are stories rich enough that do not have to be a part of a laboratory experiment and can fit into the fabric of everyday life. Like architecture as a part of everyday life, I think it is interesting to articulate thoughts and Art in places that are sometimes unexpected or that are part of our life, like this new hotel we had made in Japan. This is erasing borders: art speaks about the everyday, so why not do it in the everyday space?
Your work is influe, it is omnipresent. What is curious is that it is also present in works concerning the environment and nature, such as Maison Fond. How do you see this interaction of man and nature?
Mankind had an extraordinary capacity to build things dissociated from nature. Architecture is a human invention, and nature is precisely the space allocated to us by the universe. But today, we no longer dissociate the two in our sense of reality. A car exists in the same way as a meteorite. In the order of reality, they are of comparable value. For me, architecture is perhaps the ideal space to question the order of reality because it is a part of everyday life, where we are asleep in our reflections. We do not usually ask ourselves questions in the elevator every morning, or when we go to work. So, I take all these spaces that are part of our daily life to ask these questions.
To come back to your influences, you are between several cultures. You were born in Argentina and many of our works are in France, but we also see that they have been around the world and many of them are found in permanent exhibitions across Asia and in Japan, notably, Kanazawa. How do you explain this enthusiasm for your works abroad?
It can be read on several levels, but if we take the subjects related to visual perception, then I think it is not a cultural subject, but rather a functional one in relation to the way we see things. There are aesthetics, elements that do not exactly correspond to the culture in which my work is presented, but the idea of being immersed in a space in transition, in an impossible experience, is comprehensible no matter what. There is a universal meaning to it –you do not have to study philosophy to feel close to my work.