I saw Jorge Manilla's work for the first time in 2013, at Joya Barcelona where he had a solo exhibition titled "Contemporary Savagery". It was about violence, troubled objects, and the human soul. I was intrigued; It seemed like he was materializing feelings through his jewelry, the exhibition was truly an experience. So I have closely followed his work over the past several years and I was so happy to have the chance to meet him in Athens, Greece and chat about so much more than jewelry. He opened up about his life's challenges, his work and philosophy of life in this inspiring interview.
Για να διαβάσετε την συνέντευξη του Jorge Manilla στα Ελληνικά, πατήστεεδώ.
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself? Who you are and what you do?
I am Jorge Manilla, I was born and raised in Mexico City and was living there until 14 years ago, when I decided to move to Europe.
Who am I? I think that I have to define myself every day and answer this question “who am I?” This happens, not only because I am living constantly in a mix of cultural influences but also because my artistic activities are very diverse.
I first graduated as a goldsmith and a silversmith in Mexico City, after that I got a Bachelor degree in sculpture. Then I took the decision to go back to the Jewelry field once again, but this time with a more open, artistic approach. Four years later I got my master degree.
I have been working for many years towards building and expanding my education and I am still doing so. Currently, I am finishing my PhD Research at the Royal Academy of fine Arts in Antwerp Belgium.
All these years I keep reflecting on my professional practice. I can definitely say that I live in a constant artistic quest and that I try to find the balance between thinking and making. For me, it is very important to analyze the process and always question my work before deciding to share it with the public.
2. How did you start making jewelry? Why do you do jewelry and not sculpture for example?
Making jewelry was not included in my plans initially. I even tried to deny the possibility of becoming a jeweler. Since I come from a family of goldsmiths, I didn’t want to follow this path but for some reason life takes you to unexpected places in unexpected ways. I now think that I was in the right place at the right moment… During the period that I was trying to become a sculptor and was searching for the right school I visited a campus and… got hooked with the jewelry department. This felt like many of my life’s past pieces came back to present. Without having any doubts I decided to start my studies there.
3. You are a Mexican artist who lives and works in Belgium. Could you tell us about the ways these two countries have influenced you?
Well, I live in a kind of duality. I can mention a very important aspect in how Europe (and living in Ghent) has shaped me to be to the person that I am today.
As you know, I grew up in Mexico City, this place has a population of more than 20 million inhabitants, and it is huge, full of life, chaotic, something always happens there. That means that I had to be very disciplined if I truly wanted to create. And this was often difficult; I just wanted to be part of the life outside. At that time I was young and it took a lot of hard effort, trying to find the balance between fun and work.
And then you realize that this can become your big enemy… now I can say I did it, but it was difficult.
The biggest contribution of Belgium in my work was the way of life, the tranquility, the structure, the schedules, and of course the dimension of the city. I come from a place with millions of people and I went to live in a city with a population of 250,000 inhabitants. It was a shock for me but on the same time I discovered a new way of life, where I was much closer to myself and I needed this in order to be more productive.
4. Do you miss your home country? Do you consider going back?
I love my home country, the traditions, the heritage, but sometimes we need to take distance from places, people, things, and work in this aspect of “letting go”. But what actually happens when taking distance is that you don’t let go. You only learn to appreciate so much more the “who” that you are and the “what” that you have.
Of course I miss my home country every day and maybe one day, who knows, I will be back. But now it is too early to think about that. I still have a lot to discover before I decide to go back to Mexico.
5. Could you talk about the ideas or messages conveyed by your work?
Some of the themes I work with are: Religion-faith, death-life, feelings-emotions and madness-sanity.
But as I live in a constant flux I’d rather say that I work with many themes but have a central topic, it is about the human being and its physical and emotional aspects.
I like to play with symbols, meanings, materials and make pieces with a personal aesthetic value.
6. How do you approach working on a new body of work?
My approach is related to my background. As I have just told you, I live in a flux, being between two cultures. Although I never forget my Mexican background-as this is the place where I come from- I am deeply thankful for the ways my life has changed in Europe. Over the years these two realities got fused in my thoughts, I accept this as a way of life. Often, I think in one language, talk in a different one, and this can happen with two or three languages at the same time. Living in that way I had to learn how to be very specific with what I want to communicate and the ways that I would do it.
To start a new project I take in consideration the theme in general, I analyze my personal viewpoint and also think how this topic can be viewed by other groups of people, cultures, and nationalities. Using this information I like to create pieces that make people think, I am not looking for aesthetic but rather for emotional aspects. My topics are often difficult for people since they don't like to talk about the most natural things in life, like death, love, feelings, and madness.
From experience I can tell you that my work is not the easiest to approach and several times people have told me in a blatant way that they just don’t like it! Often though, after that initial reaction they let me know that somehow the work has affected them in a way that they cannot take their thoughts away from it and that even after several days they were still thinking about some of the pieces.
7. Do you have any expectations from the person who wears your work?
I am pretty sure that if someone wears my work it is because there is a connection, a dialogue with the piece. So, if this has happened I don’t need anything else.
8. Do you have a specific process? Do you plan what to do, do you have a working routine?
My processes are related to the topic but in general, the way I work is first get a very intimate dialogue with the materials and ask myself again and again how I can make them speak and communicate. This part is sometimes difficult, since for each body of work I am using different materials.
When I know I am going to have a full day in my studio I have three little rules, drink my coffee in the morning, get into the studio emptying my mind as much as possible of concerns and work in the most humble and personal way. Work without having any pretentions or big expectations.
9. Could you describe a typical workday for us?
This is a difficult question, because my "typical workdays" are always different! But I can assure you that my days are full, from morning till night and sometimes the night becomes very short.
As you know I work as an artist and a teacher. For the moment I am a tutor for the first year master students in Alchimia Contemporary Jewelry School in Florence, Italy. I guide some other projects in Chili and in Greece among other places. I am also doing research for my PhD at the Royal Academy of fine Arts in Antwerp. It is important to me among all these activities to try and stay very active with my own artistic work because it is thanks to this that I became a teacher, researcher and a tutor. And not the other way around.
So my days can involve different activities like work in my studio, draw, send e-mails, take the plane, read, write, and very often the combination of two or three of these activities.
There is a part that people sometimes forget or don’t want to see…It is that the Jewelry field changes every day and every day demands a little bit more commitment.
10. As a teacher, how do you help your students approach their search for artistic identity?
We always work together, I help them find their true self, be honest and learn to understand what they want to communicate and how. It’s difficult to generalize because each student is different and unique. Since I work in a very personal way I can't tell you of only one way of approach, it is individual to the student. But it is very important for me that they can find their personal motivation and understand what they are doing.
11. There is an element of magic in your work; your pieces are like talismans, loaded with feelings and energy. Do you feel that in today’s world, the artist can be something like a contemporary magician?
I think what people see as “magic element” in my work is the place where my work originates from and it is what I can describe as the human being’s dark side. This is what I mean when I say I like to work in my studio and try to have a day of introspection. Usually, I then discover a lot of inspiration.
However, I cannot deny that the religious and ritual influence of my past is very present in my process and maybe that this is what you see or feel in my work.
I cannot say artists are like contemporary magicians because that would be generalizing and the beauty of art is diversity.
But I feel very sorry that we live in a society in which mythical, magical and ritual aspects are being lost. Rituals give symbolical meanings to life’s moments, to actions, people and objects. And this is why they are so important. And we should have more of these moments.
12. At the end of your slide presentation at theAthens Jewelry Week you said that “Fear is a lie”. Why do you believe that? Aren’t you afraid?
For me fear is only an illusion, a big lie in the way we want to understand the world. It is easy to say I do or don’t do this or that because I am afraid, because I don’t know how, because I am afraid to take decisions, to take risks, to take that step, to let go, etc…..
But if we take fear as an ally, you cannot imagine how strong we could be….and where we could go, reaching to places or situations that we can now only imagine or dream about.
Of course I myself am afraid, in the end I am still a human being, but life has taught me to take fear as my ally and take risks, and this has become my philosophy of life.
13. Do you have heroes, role models or mentors? Persons you look up to?
I have too many to put in a list.
14. What is it that motivates you? What makes you get out of bed every morning?
Life and curiosity for the new day, it does not matter if the day is good or difficult, I just want to live, to move on.
15. According to Greek myths the souls of the dead had to pay a coin to Charos (Χάρος) to cross the river of Acherontas and go to the other side. If you were to pay that coin, what would it be?
It would be one of my works, representing love.
Jorge Manilla has a busy schedule for 2017! I would like to congratulate him for his new position as the Professor and Subject Area Coordinator of the Metal and Jewelry Art Department at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts in Oslo Norway.
He also has a couple of exhibitions planned:
-18th of February / "Impossible to imagine, when you let go..." at Ra Gallery Amsterdam, Holland.
-10th of March/ "Abruptions" , 84GHz mit Kunstgiesserei, Münich, Germany.
-9th of March/ "Dicotomias" duo exhibition with Jordi Aparicio, Atelier Gallery - PunktPunktKommaKunst, Münich, Germany.
For more information you can visit his website:
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