GREATEST / Guillermo Santomá

The Spanish artist on subterranean town squares, autonomic systems and chairs as pieces of art at Manifesto 2022.

INTERVIEWER: Cyrus Goberville INTRO: Brock Cardiner PHOTOGRAPHER: Thibaut Grevet LOCATION: Espace Niemeyer
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Guillermo Santomá (Spanish, b. 1984) is a designer who lives and works in Barcelona. Merging his sense of color and play with a sensibility towards industrial materials and processes, Santomá creates surreal objects and spaces suspended between art and function. His work promotes the systematic transformation of the ways of objectifying, organizing, analyzing, and transmitting.

At Manifesto, a four-day festival presented by GOAT and Kaleidoscope Magazine at Espace Niemeyer during Paris Fashion Week SS23, Santomá debuts his latest work, CPU (Central Processing Unit). The piece establishes a direct dialogue with Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture and furniture, furthering Santomá’s fascination with organic topographies and science-fiction narratives.

Santoma sits down with Cyrus Goberville, Head of Cultural Programs at the Pinault Collection’s Bourse du Commerce museum, to talk subterranean town squares, autonomic systems and chairs as pieces of art.

How would you describe your approach?

In general, my work is related to something between architecture, design and art. Everything is connected, and I like to produce my own work, so I am trying to be something like a constructor.

Tell me about your background.

I'm from Barcelona. I studied engineering related to the production of small objects. After engineering, I studied architecture. That's why I started to construct things related to houses and buildings; different ways of living. Everybody can change the way they live by changing the objects that—

That are around us.

Exactly. I like architecture that completely changes the context. Buildings like Espace Niemeyer; these curved floors and these ceilings with windows. It reminds me to create a landscape that is more than a building. Niemeyer was one of the best architects of the 20th century, and he also was a designer. These chairs and these tables are from Niemeyer.

Do you believe these chairs are a kind of artwork that could live in a museum? Or are they something more utilitarian?

Both because people can use the chairs however they want. That’s the nice thing about using objects: You can change the meaning of things. I'm interested in this idea of change when I design a chair or a house. Maybe, later, you don't use it as a chair, but you continue saying that it's a chair.

Can you tell me about the piece you made for Manifesto? Did you design it with this space in mind?

Yeah. When I saw photos of the green carpet, I began to imagine that this particular part of the building was more related to public space—it's like an underground square. That's why we tried to make something that looks like it's on the outside. That's why we included solar panels; they are trying to take light from the skylight. That was the main idea, to create something that is related to the landscape and the shapes. Thus, a new technique: A topography made with sand, resins and latex. It's also connected to a computer and the computer to the solar light. It’s kind of a cycle.

It’s an autonomic system.

It's an autonomic system in the middle of this crazy landscape that also looks like a sci-fi movie.

Image via T-Space

Sci-fi, right. It reminds me of Philippe Parreno, a French artist who also works with systems, but here you have a more architectural approach. Do you think this piece has more to do with autonomy than architecture?

Yeah, I like the autonomy analogy because at the end it's a kind of self-construction. The world also works as a self-construction of itself. The sun is a performance every day, and plants take energy from the sun, completing the cycle.

But here you chose a place with limited natural light.

Yeah, but I can bring it outside later. The piece doesn't finish when the show ends.

Do pieces change for you throughout their lifecycle?

Yeah. I always begin to connect new ideas after finishing a piece, because while touching the material and touching the new concepts and new places, I begin to construct another fiction. And this fiction, it's something I have to complete from different angles and approaches. It has to be this rich process where everything mixes with everything, and there are no borders between anything, from nature to artificiality to gaming. Everything is connected, and we have to show these ideas.

With these systems you create that relate to natural elements, could you connect political environmental issues to your work?

You can, of course, but the relation between politics and art is about each person. It can act as a virus also; it’s something that you learn from somebody and after that you spread it. I think that's the most interesting thing, when everybody is learning from others.

What are your next projects?

I’m working on a house in Florence and renovating a house in Madrid from the ’70s, taking out all the things that are not strictly structural and making it light.

Architecturally, where do you want to visit that you never have?

The ziggurats in Iran and ancient Mesopotamian architecture.