By Diego Gutierrez
Diego Gutierrez You recently had a show, how was it?
Leo Castaneda It was good to expand my audience. I had a show in a venue in Miami that was half party and half art show. It led to some interesting reactions to the work, different than what I would get in New York with a more "Art" audience.
DG In your opinion how have video games influenced our culture?
LC Video games have influenced our culture in many direct and subversive ways. Direct ways include cellphone user interfaces, or any sort of interactive menu options from a variety of places. Our generation has memes and cultural attachments to times spent under games. Many of the top tech entrepreneurs in the world, such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk started their careers working for game companies. On the other hand, the origins of video games are quite tied to military usage, since the first game ever, played on a military computer, to current advances in Virtual reality employed by both games and the military.
DG How have they influenced your art?
LC The creation of worlds, primarily through the hierarchical structures of early video games was what has mostly influenced the work. In early games, a progression of environments, commonly known as "Levels" would sometimes have no justification as to how one progressed from one to the next, as long as they were maintained within a numerical hierarchy. One could be in an ice world and then in a giant spaceship without sense or the journey in between. I sought to abstract that relationship. It's been six years since I adapted the structure and analysis of games for my work. Current VR (virtual reality) and painting pieces explore the idea of "Items", the objects of the games and how they relate to objects from the real world. "Items" in games are an interesting category because they range from objects of use such as tools, equipment or weapons, to computer controlled allies, to trophies or other objects of status, to collections.
Also, I find the way space is represented in games is super interesting. The compressed and inverted visual history in games, where pixelated abstraction strives towards realism eventually to sway back. The history of representation seen in art history recurs in video games within half a century.
DG Let’s talk about lenses/filters. Many artist interpret their ideas through a filter, giving the viewer a new perspective. What are your reasons for using video game filters.
LC The video game filter could be described as an interactive media world where the notion of self is malleable. Where a player can become multiple avatars, and his or her core self becomes a sort of core spirit, a constant viewpoint into a world that has embedded selves and worlds. I think the video game filter as a metaphor works by bringing to question our identity as an avatar in itself.
DG Your work has some representational aspects to it, but there are many instances where you abstract. Can you explain your reasons for abstracting images/forms the way you do?
LC The line between abstraction and representation is one I am drawn to out of taste more than anything. I grew up around abstract paintings through the luck of birthing in an artist family, yet at the same time watched anime, sci-fi, Hollywood movies, and played video games. I think the aesthetic that finds itself in between those sources definitely influenced my visual predispositions. Conceptually though I am also interested in forms that appear as gestures, landscapes and objects at once, where a tangibility can be attained to what appears to be painted form or language that is nearly 3D, no glasses required.
DG Can you talk about the importance of hierarchies in your work? How do you establish them?
LC To expand upon the earlier mentioned hierarchies, when it comes to the latest work and sub series, where images from earlier series are reconfigured in a sort of showroom, the idea of the "item" in relation to the human is further explored. The showroom, be it a virtual space, a set of paintings in virtual reality, paintings pulled from VR, sculptures to access VR, or sculptures that have images of the paintings embedded in them, is a a series meant to question the origins of images. The hierarchies within it are those of origin, when seen the conclusion is, there is no hierarchy of importance within the mediums, there is no hierarchy of importance between the humans in the work and the objects, both are animated and inanimate, but definitely in symbiosis.
DG Can you talk about your interest in mediums outside of painting? How did you approach it and where has it led you?
LC Expanding beyond painting and drawing has ideally turned my practice into that of an image maker, or an experience maker. A dilettante of many only to find the invisible structural unit between all the mediums in some future work I can't yet imagine. maybe total exhibitions being the strongest versions of the work. However, my primary concern at the moment is what happens in the 3D image when its the first conception of a space rather than doing a painting first as a plan that then executes another work.
DG Can you talk about the narrative that is being created in your work?
LC The narrative in my work is about generating and breaking down labels, and delineating and blurring boundaries. "Levels and Bosses" in it's linear core has paralles to ancient mythologies of ascension and the heroes journey. However, like games and the world itself, this master narrative within the work is meant to be broken. It does however, through the deconstruction of video game ideas of the self and space constantly switch the viewers' position in terms of power. Power of perspective, power of control, power of creation. This is in dialogue with my choices as the maker or interpreter of the visuals and concepts in the work. The narrative to a certain extent is all about the questioning of the role of the subject as a self, be it through objects, environments or entities.
DG Creating this type of work puts you in a position to set the terms of this game you have created. Can you talk about the terms?
LC The terms are there as both catalysts and overlords. I am currently not bound by them but informed by the choices that originated them. I do, however, still want the culmination of all my work to eventually take form as a virtual reality only/video game artwork.
DG In your previous work you were setting the levels and bosses, but in your current work, it seems as if you’re now going back and commenting on the history the viewer carried over. Forms and spaces are reused and placed in new environments, in different mediums. The new work brings us to a new place. Can you talk about the present/new place in your work?
LG Levels and Bosses as preliminary structure was one of linear progression, if anything the Levels would loop into each other, and within their linearity they could expand, like a video game, into multiple forks in the road. I maybe in a fork in the road at the moment, I maybe in a point that rebels against the structure of the bosses as it implies a power structure and origin structure that the work has moved beyond. I am also fully interested in an acceleration process of art into design too, as the sculpture and images within the showroom space question each other's origin by being decorators of each other as well as giving content to each other.
This acceleration takes into account the process that happens when artworks get distilled through culture and become subjects of use or domestic objects. It has parallels to modernist sculpture, which in the design world, also parallels modernist furniture design, which in its current mass accessibility reaches people in designer showrooms or distilled through IKEA.
Posted January 23, 2016