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It is hard for Gon Hergueta to stay still. This graphic designer is from Madrid —but has been working in New York for a while— and has spent the last four years of his life jumping from one aesthetic discipline to another in his search of new textures and letters.
His work explores the margins of digital representation. His means are graphic design, filmmaking and whatever gets in between; Gon is something like a Renaissance man in the New Media Age, also behind very eclectic projects, from a documentary for Nowness to the streetwear label Ponte Ahí. Three weeks ago, he landed in Barcelona for the launch of his latest exhibition, Original Copies, and we had a chat with him about art, film photo, the Palentino tee…
We have to start somewhere. Can you introduce yourself? Who you are, what you do, why are you here in Barcelona…
I am Gonzalo Hergueta, a graphic designer. I’ve been working in design for a while and now I like to think of myself as a multidisciplinary creator, I also do photo exhibitions, documentaries… My main job is quite commercial, but I try to combine it with projects like Original Copies.
A big part of your work explores the interface between what’s analogic and what’s digital. 83M80 is a clear case. You reflect about growing up without the Internet, about the glitch as an element of our imagery, about imperfect technology… What relation, if any, bears that with Original Copies? What did you want to express with these images?
Original Copies is not so much about the analogic-digital dichotomy as it is about the way we consume images. We live in a digital world in which we are constantly consuming images at fast speed. We end up with a huge imagery, but this is only seen (and updated) through a very small window: the screen of our smartphone. I have seen Guernica hundreds of times and you have seen Guernica hundreds of times, but we have actually seen it only twice. The reference always appears on screen.
I developed Original Copies because I was interested in this idea of creating a work of art that is outlasted by its copy. The sculptures only exist in the real world for a very short period of time, but their copies —that is, their representations— become something more elevated that will last in time.
Disassociating the scanner from its copying function and thus enabling it to become a creative tool is a bold movement, like a making a book without ink or “digitalizing” a Heidelberg press. You’re always questioning the limits of the materials and exploring their margins. How do you come up with these ideas?
We have arrived at a point at which the Internet has democratized everything: the creator and the consumer really have the same tools and references these days. I try to start from that point and see where I can get by means of an innovative use of the tools we share.
“I developed Original Copies because I was interested in this idea of creating a work of art that is outlasted by its copy. The sculptures only exist in the real world for a very short period of time, but their copies —that is, their representations— become something more elevated that will last in time.”
In the case of Original Copies, the process wasn’t strictly different to what I usually do at the office. I started scanning things that I found around in order to provide new textures for my old job at Adidas, and, by means of using the tool and getting familiar with it, I realized that I could obtain results that were external to the functions the machine was originally programmed for.
That’s where it gets interesting for me: the limits of the images, their re-definition. There is something there that has a strong link with 83M80. What I liked about that project was the fact that glitches are mistakes which technology unintentionally makes, and our mistakes constitute our vulnerabilities, that is, what makes us human. I like what that expresses. I’m interested in the point at which you take a scanner that makes perfect duplicates of documents and force it to copy 3D planches. The scanner fails —it is unable to accomplish a task that it was not designed for—, but with its errors it generates Original Copies, new images that arise from the impossibility of perfect technology.
What entity do the images of Original Copies have? Even if they look like them, they are not virtually-modelled renderings, but then again, they don’t exist outside of the digital world either…
They’re original copies, man. There is a giant contradiction in making a copy of a piece that does not exist in the real world. The originals only exist through the tool and that’s what I find particularly interesting, especially from the traditional point of view of fine art, which rewards the original so much.
I wanted to create pieces for which there were no originals, but only copies. Initially I had a very radical approach: had I been a million-dollar artist, I would’ve made aluminum copies of the works, I would’ve engraved them and I would’ve destroyed the digital files. I really wanted to do that, but then I stepped back. But at least we’ve made I book in which I write about the creative process.
In the introduction of that book you just released with Bandiz Studio, you also talk about the lack of honesty you feel present in the art scene these days. In fact, you allegedly include the weaker images in the book because you feel that they constitute an important part of the process. You say you don’t like the narrative of the artist as an illuminated individual. Why is that?
I believe that’s something we all see… Within the Instagram generation everything’s fake, even the most standard people are curating the content of their lives.
It’s the same in art, really. You can see that the current trend consists of artists that only have been working for two years which place their five best pieces in a pristine grid. I’m interested in all the opposite. I feel like I’m no different to anybody, I have my ups and my downs, and it is important for the spectator to see that. I believe it’s way more honest.
“I have seen Guernica hundreds of times and you have seen Guernica hundreds of times, but we have actually seen it only twice. The reference always appears on screen.”
If you do Hip-Hop you can freestyle, you can challenge the norm… Why don’t you have spaces where you can do the same stuff in fine art? I feel like what’s perfect can never be authentic. The pieces I like the most among Original Copies are the final ones, because when I started the project, I cut, pasted, bended… I wanted to make shapes; but, at the end, I just grabbed the tweezers and the blowtorch and I let the laws of physics do their thing. The improvised pieces are the ones that make the project unique.
Changing the topic a bit, you’ve been living and working in New York for a while. How do you feel that influences your work? What does it mean for you to come back to Spain for an exhibition?
For me, New York is pure energy, I live surrounded by a feeling of “it’s happening”. And The City has taught me something vital: it has taught me to finish, to finish my projects in order to show them and thus participate in the active conversation.
I feel like being able to do an exhibition in Spain is nuts, because it is where I come from, but since my career has started at the other coast of the Atlantic, I had never had the opportunity of exhibiting anything here.
In that connection, I would like to talk about what you do as a part of Ponte Ahí. The Palentino Tee, the Metrobus Tee… As a collective of designers “exiled” in New York, you vindicate the España Castiza, the Cutre. What does this represent for you?
Despite the pejorative connotations of the word, for me being cutre [‘shabby’, ‘tacky’] is not necessarily negative. The images of the Cutre simply emerge from a tradition that loses its identifying value within the framework of a globalized culture. I come back to Spain and I see people starting up brunch places, adapting themselves to a cosmopolite image. I can understand that, but living in The City, what catches my eye when I come back are the things that we take for granted, the things that are supposed to be cutre, which, for me, have a particular mysticism and a real, strong identity. And they’re definitely distinctive.
“If you do Hip-Hop you can freestyle, you can challenge the norm… Why don’t you have spaces where you can do the same stuff in fine art? I feel like what’s perfect can never be authentic.”
Ponte Ahí, for now, consists in that: we try to look at what we have with a Martian eye, from the outside looking in.
In fact, I can tell you a cool story about the process of making the Palentino tee. I couldn’t find the font of the back. I spent a lot of time looking for it until a point in which I said to myself: “Hey, I’m sure the guy who did this did it with Microsoft Word”. I downloaded the basic fonts of Windows XP and Argelian was there indeed. I think that is very interesting because there is a brutal contradiction there, too: I am a designer that works for brands you could consider of a high profile, and I was replicating a tacky and shabby work with the same effort I employ at the office.
Recovering symbols that we almost fail to see because they’re actually ubiquitous is a simple discovery but also one that definitely works.
I have a problem with that. These days the appropriation game is starting to get tiring; taking existing logos and relocating them is something that already feels a bit outdated. Ponte Ahí is now stopped mainly because of that. We want to keep the narrative but without reutilizing stuff, and that’s a bit tricky.
Maybe the next thing we’ll do is playing with hypotheses. If for the Palentino tee and for the Metrobus tee we used already existing elements, creating things that did not exist but could have existed can be something to be explored in the future.
That can definitely be cool. Before we finish I’d like to talk about two things that are less central to your work. The first one is photography:
You’ve directed a short film about Isabel Muñoz for Nowness. The scanner is, in fact, a camera, so Original Copies can be read as your first photographic exhibition. We know you’ve been shooting film for a while. As a visual artist, what does film photo give you?
I don’t publish my analogic work, but at my flat there are lots of folders full of film that I’ve shot during the last five years. For me, it has a mysticism. My job is to create images, so every tool which is devoted to the same end is kind of mystic for me. Everything I’ve done until now I’ve been able to do because I’m constantly living in that space: I’m always thinking of images.
“Despite the pejorative connotations of the word, for me being cutre [‘shabby’, ‘tacky’] is not necessarily negative. The images of the Cutre simply emerge from a tradition that loses its identifying value within the framework of a globalized culture.”
I’m also interested in film photo because it is too an imperfect technology. Chemistry adds an aspect of chaos that you lose with digital photography.
A movie is a different thing. Even if I could shoot a movie with all the resources I wanted, I would probably still shoot it digitally, because, for me, shooting a roll in a completely controlled environment doesn’t make much sense. What I love about analogic photography is its improvised, point and shoot component, the ponte ahí.
And what did you learn from Isable Muñoz? Being able to see her from close distance has to be impressive: her platinum processes, her big formats…
Isabel changed me a lot for various questions. The first one is that she is seventy years old. Young artists move amongst young artists. There are some who are looking for success and some who have already found it, but there is never anybody who is fully established. Isabel has already cleared the game, so she doesn’t care much about it. She is only interested in what she does, and with her, even if sounds cliché, I’ve really learned that you must be true to your ideas and follow what you really love.
The second thing I’ve learned from her is the detachment from the tools. Isabel works in a very marked dichotomy of formats: her photos are digital, but she prints them manually. For her, film photo does not have the mysticism we were talking about; at some point I asked her why she never used the Mamiya RZ67 she had sitting on a shelf, and she was like: “But why should I do that if I have digital photo?” After fifty years of shootings, it’s just not important anymore.
Isabel gets what she wants, like all the greats. If you let Martin Scorsese alone with a phone and a building, he’ll give you one heck of a film. Tools don’t really matter. A big problem here in Spain is that artists tend to justify the flaws of their work with their lack of tools. When I moved outside I realized that here, we are always trying to copy what’s done abroad, but with less resources, instead of thinking in the resources we have and seeing how can we do something unique with them.
I want to be truly DIY. In fact, I’m very interested in this stage of my career because right now I don’t have the resources I would need to do some of the things that I have in my head, and that pushes me to be more creative.
The second thing I wanted to talk about is streetwear. Among many other things, you have designed for Adidas and you have released a campaign with Young Thug and Playboi Carti. Have you always been interested in clothes and shoes? Do you also express yourself by means of dressing?
I’m not going to lie, I used to care way more. Some years ago, I had sneakers and I was more into the culture. Right now, I understand fashion as a more complex system.
I feel like the big problem with streetwear is that it is very industrial; unfortunately, most of the clothes are produced by big companies. I prefer to pay attention to smaller brands, which are closer to the real craft. Because of that, the quantity of clothes I buy has dropped a lot, but the prices have climbed: I never buy twenty tees anymore, but if I buy a shirt, it’s Ètudes.
I would like to see more interesting stuff happening around sneaker culture. The problem is that it is even more linked to the big companies. Nobody small can compete with their constant releases.
What brands do you think are doing the most interesting stuff right now?
For me, Raf Simons is the king. I think he has his Calvin Klein hustle, but then he also has a line in which every piece he releases is fire. All he did with Adidas is brutal too, he started the Triple Stack trend with the Ozweegos. The shoe may not have been the first, but he was the first vindicating it as a piece of fashion. Himself and Yohji. We owe them a lot.
“Even if I could shoot a movie with all the resources I wanted, I would probably still shoot it digitally, because, for me, shooting a roll in a completely controlled environment doesn’t make much sense. What I love about analogic photography is its improvised, point and shoot component, the ponte ahí.”
I also love Ètudes and Miguel Adrover, even if the latter is not doing anything anymore. But as I was saying, I like to guide myself for pieces more than for brands now; in fact, I try to not show the logos of what I’m wearing. I don’t want to tie myself visually with anybody anymore, I want to be identified because of my style.
You just left Adidas. Any future plans? Can you tell us about your next projects?
Sure, but the next visual project I have in mind is very different to Original Copies.
Some time ago I realized that the only thing I was doing at the office between nine and ten was checking out blogs. During the last two years I’ve committed that time to design typography and now I want to put together the 40-50 full fonts that I’ve come up with and do something with them. It is a project for the near future, but not the main one; and it wont have such a tool-dependent narrative.
My big aim right now is focusing on film. After Hidden Glances, Dano has been to New York and we have shot Istmo, another documentary that is currently in postproduction and that will be released in 2019. It’s going to be heavy.
Gon exclusively showed us some footage of Istmo and we had to agree with him: New York in Super-8, Dano rapping on a rooftop with the skyline behind him, a bit of jet lag and mailmen that listen to Héctor Lavoe. We leave you with some of the frames:
If you are around Barcelona these days you can go check out Original copies at imaginCafé (c/ Pelai, 11). It’s on until the 6th of November. Run!