Con Edison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter, Issue No. 47

Con Edison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter, Issue No. 47

Featured Artist: José Carlos Casado

IAP and NYFA Program Associate Michon Ashmore interviewed multi-media artist and two-time NYFA Fellow José Carlos Casado to find out more about his artistic practice, recent projects and his experience as an immigrant artist.

Casado uses technologies to create art involving video, 3D animation, photography and sculpture. His work has been shown in multiple solo and group shows internationally and has won numerous prizes and recognitions, including a grant from Picasso Foundation, a scholarship from LaCaixa Foundation, and MIT’s Leonardo Excellence Award.

Tell us about your work. What motivates you to use technology to explore the art world?
I use technology because it’s the easiest tool to navigate the blurry line between what’s real and what is not. I am endlessly amazed by what people decide to believe in, and how for another person that belief might be far from their reality. I use technologies to create my own unreal worlds, but they are very much based on what I consider truth.

In that way, art is my sort of therapy to understand the things I like and dislike in this world. I do it as the only way I know to calm my nonstop spinning head. I do it because I cannot not do it. My work has many layers, but certain themes are constant: one of them is always political, usually an ironic interpretation of what I find outrageous; things I don’t understand, which are often related to the human, mostly male-generated, obsession with power and/or violence.

Also, technology is an infinite (sometimes exhausting) field with endless possibilities, with discoveries and advancements every day, and that means a continuous research and learning experience for me. It’s a playful tool I can use to create new and unique experiences. I like the shock of the new. I revisit certain themes that interest or challenge me, but visually, my work is very diverse. If sculpture is the best way to explore an idea, I’ll make a sculpture. If a performance is best, then that’s what I’ll do, and if I need to change the style of my last creations, I won’t hesitate twice.

My work is most of the time an accident that happens in the process of researching and experimenting. It’s not normally what I was looking for when I started, it’s a single happening that surprised me, which I will then develop for months. But then it all clicks, and becomes something I am satisfied with (or as satisfied as my tolerance will allow).

You have had a successful collaboration with Swatch, participating in a residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai and creating “OFF” for the watch brand’s 30th anniversary. What insights have you gained through this experience?
While I was excited by Swatch’s invitation, I have to say I was not convinced at first and took some time to accept. Being my first collaboration with a major company, I had doubts: Is this what I want to do? Does it fit with my work as an artist? Then I realized they were giving me complete freedom, and I started to see it as another medium to explore. Swatch was not asking me for just any watch; they wanted my watch, and then it was easier to accept and to create the watch since it became part of my regular process. It turned into a small canvas for the series I am currently working on.

It has also been a good opportunity for me to think about time, not only generally about the passing of time, but literally about seconds and minutes. Also, about the many people I would be reaching. Visual artists don’t have that chance very often, as exhibitions are normally seen by hundreds not thousands, unless you are The Artist, who I am obviously not. It wasn’t only creating the watch, but also the concept and that gave me opportunities to add a limited edition watercolor and an Augmented Reality project that users can see by downloading an app for their Smartphones. So like everything I do, the watch became complex and turned into something else; it’s now a mini show I am proud of. It has taken me out of my studio as well, something I believe artists should do more often!

OFF was launched at the 55th Venice Biennale with a big presentation and press conference. Being part of the Biennale with this little piece has been a dream, and now I just hope to come back soon with a bigger work!

Thanks to this collaboration, I am also doing solo shows in Shanghai and Madrid in the Fall. So far, I am happy I accepted their proposal and I’m still figuring out where this project will take me. It’s exciting!


You’ve received numerous grants and fellowships and taken part in several prestigious residencies. What advice can you give to other artists who are applying for these types of awards?
Making art is full of challenges and it is also a complicated business. I always say that if I had put half of the efforts to be an artist on another business I would be a billionaire by now. But that is not why we are here, are we? So I keep trying, not to become a billionaire but to be the artist I want to be. There is no mathematical formula in the arts. The typical advice successful artists give, like keep working, believe in yourself and one day it will happen, etc. is unrealistic. I know plenty of people who are talented and work hard and haven’t had a serious show in their lives and can barely support themselves with their work. So, what is it? I would say the hardest is to find a balance where you don’t depend too much on other people’s opinions, where you can keep doing what you love independently of what’s happening around you, good or bad. In my experience, it’s a roller coaster. Some years are pretty good and you think you’ve made it, and then nothing will happen for a long time, and then the freaking fun will start again! If you are up for the ride, you will make it one way or another, because it’s the ride, remember? Not the end! If you are not adventurous, go and do something else. This is not for cowards!

That said, apply to as many things as you can because it’s a lottery. Applying to opportunities is a full time job, but unfortunately it’s the only way, since sitting in the studio waiting to be discovered does not work!

What I do is take advantage of the application process to dream pieces I want to make. If I get to win the jury scrutiny lottery it’s definitely a reward, but if not, that application wasn’t a waste of time, and it’s still a project I will hopefully some day make, so I will keep proposing it!

You came to New York in 1998 from Spain. Can you talk about the challenges and opportunities of transitioning from one culture to another? Do you have any advice for recent immigrant artists to the U.S. as they establish their careers?
This is a sensitive matter and I could talk for hours about it. Like any other immigrant, especially as an artist, I know all the suffering and obstacles. Transitioning from one culture to another is still an everyday effort, but in my case, I believe not as hard. What I mean is that while I am proud of my Spanish heritage, I never felt especially Spanish, or from any particular part of the world. I always loved traveling, my second passion after art. In my head I was already in New York before coming here. It was a dream come true, and I felt part of it as soon as I arrived. Of course, my friends might tell you the opposite – that I am very Spanish, starting from my strong accent even after all this time in America!

I recently got my green card, after years in the making and one rejection. I got it just before the Supreme Court repealed the ugly DOMA, meaning I could have just married my American partner now without the expense of attorneys, etc. But I am glad my application was approved on my own efforts and merits, as an “Alien with Extraordinary Abilities,” which is the title of one of my artwork series, but also a title that has haunted me for years!

My advice would be this: Hope you fall in love with an American – believe me, much easier! If not, work hard, it is still the land of opportunities. Where else would you find an institution with a program specifically for immigrant artists? My second bit of advice is to mingle with all kinds of people, not only with those of your own nationality, and not only with other artists! There is so much to learn from the Other!

How can our artists and community stay connected with you?
Easy: my website, which is always in the making and therefore ever changing, but it will always have my email. If you are reading this and you think I can be of any help to you, or you to me, do not hesitate to contact me. I am also looking now for assistants. Also through social media, which is linked on my site, but it might take longer for me to answer as I am still trying to find the joy of social media. 

Want to know more? For the complete article and to read the compelling story of NY/Anantapur, a foundation José Carlos established to raise funds to build schools in India, please click here.

Images: Top: Sacrifice.v03 | 2013 | Photo-Installaton | Archival print (shadows created by thousands of names of casualties in Iraq’s war) | 19 x 11 ft. Bottom: Sacrifice.v02 | 2012 | Sculpture | Giclée print on wood | 13 ft x 8 ft x 6 in. 
Amy Aronoff
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