From the Archives: Daniel Cevallos

As I enter into the last year of a decade in Boston, it’s time to reflect back. In 2011, Andrea Evans launched a (short-lived) blog of artist interviews called Temporary Land Bridge. Boston had seen many commercial and non-profit spaces close over the previous few years. The Weekly Dig had cut its arts coverage. Big Red and Shiny was on hiatus. There was a need to redevelop the support network, and a group of naïve young artists willing to try. Things were about to be on an upswing, but it was difficult to see at the time.
Andrea and I were newly married. I was working at building an alternative space with group of people from the SMFA community (Lufthansa for those of you who remember). We were all pretty new to the city at the time. Andrea wanted to help us out. I think the idea had been in her head for a while, but the first interviews ended up being with me and three other artists from one of Lufthansa’s exhibitions.
The next three interviews are with artists who were there with us in the beginning. Their practices have grown since these conversations. Two of the artists have helped our community expand by doing that thing we call “leaving”. Andrea and I owe them a lot; they helped us envision what we are doing today.
-Kirk Amaral Snow, Editor
Daniel Cevallos, Check Room, performance/installation,  2011.

Daniel Cevallos, Check Room, performance/installation, 2011.

In mid-March [of 2011], I sat down with artists Daniel Cevallos, John C. Gonzalez, Garett Yahn, and Kirk Amaral Snow during their group graduate thesis show at Lufthansa Studios, an artist-run exhibition and studio space in Dorchester, MA.  As of the publishing of this interview, the four have now graduated from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston & Tufts University.  We discussed the collaborative process of putting together their exhibition at Lufthansa and each of their individual art practices and thesis projects. This is the first installment of our interviews.

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Daniel Cevallos (b. 1982, Quito, Ecuador) returned to Ecuador after receiving his MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston & Tufts University in 2011.  His interactive sculpture, video and sound installation, digital animation, and performance has been shown in exhibitions including InterArts Video at the Museo de Bellas Arte in Havana, Cuba, The Future is Now at Grace Space in Brooklyn, NY, Arriba y Vite at Laconia Gallery, Boston, MA, and Próxima Parada at Ecuanimec, the 1st International Animation Festival, Multicines Theater in Quito, Ecuador.

Daniel Cevallos, Check Room, performance/installation, 2011.

Cevallos’ “Check Room” is the first piece one encountered upon entering the exhibition at Lufthansa Studios.  This fully functional coat-check room was constructed within the gallery space, complete with revolving coat rack and attendant: the artist himself.  Daniel was present working in the space during the opening reception and all gallery hours.

Andrea Evans: I think starting with your piece makes sense, because it’s the first thing you encounter when you enter the space, whether or not you recognize it immediately as art.  Daniel, your work is really project based; you get an idea and see it out.  I’m curious what the trajectory of this piece has been, from the original idea to what it turned into.

Daniel Cevallos: My process is really about sitting and thinking a lot.  I’m not the kind of artist that sits in the studio and tries things and tries things, and gets to something.  I feel like in grad school I wanted to try projects that were a little more challenging, and to push myself in every aspect, technically, conceptually, all of that stuff.

I think that’s why the dimensions of the pieces have been so important.  For example, with the Oil Drum I built in my studio:  if my studio is 8’ x 8’, and I’m not constantly sitting there working, I thought, “Ok, I have this 8′ x 8’ studio, why don’t I make a piece that is exactly the size of the space, as tall as the building, occupying the whole thing, and use the studio as a display, as a gallery?”

Daniel Cevallos, Oil Drum, 1449,82255 m3, interactive sound installation, 2010.

So that was the piece before this one.  And before that, I did the Guard Shack, where I started learning about structures and building with wood.  Obviously, you can see that in all of the projects I’m exploring a space, inside and outside.  With the shack, I wanted the viewers to come in and lock themselves in, so there is the idea of inside and outside.  In the Oil Drum too, the front of the piece is this round thing that you don’t know what to do with, and then you go to the back and you realize you can go in and you can go up.

Daniel Cevallos, Oil Drum, 1449,82255 m3, interactive sound installation, 2010.

In this one [Check Room], the viewers are outside, and I am inside–even though a couple viewers came in, and I thought that was really interesting.  And the back is open, so you check your coat, and the functionality of a coat check is to secure your things.  I give you the number, you go to the back, and you realize that nothing is safe–I’m not doing anything for you.

Daniel Cevallos, Check Room, performance/installation, 2011.

And I guess the other reason why my art is project based is I feel like I am running out of time to make art.  I’m going to go back home [to Ecuador] probably, and I’m not going to have the chance to make work.   When I first came to school, I was like, “Ok, I have three years to make art, and after that, I’m probably going to go back to the TV or commercial industry.  I have three years, so I’m going to make epic work because it is my last chance.  I’m going to die artistically in three years.”

AE:  Have your feelings about that changed?  Do you foresee yourself still making work after returning to Ecuador?

DC: Now artistic practice has become a central part of my life, so I don’t see myself not doing it.  But who knows?

Kirk Amaral Snow:  Are you and Camila [Molestina] going to keep a studio when you go back?  Or have some sort of space to work where you live?

DC: It’s really interesting; in Ecuador, the idea of a studio doesn’t exist.  Artists are just in their houses.  There’s no idea of a “studio”.

John C. Gonzalez:  It’s kind of post-studio.  It’s intertwined with whatever else you do.

AE:  The studio space becomes whatever space you are inhabiting or building or making your work in.

Garett Yahn:  You have the opportunity to make art that is conceptually linked to the place it is going to be exhibited in

DC: Even starting with materials: this [the Check Room installation] is completely context specific.  Sheet rock and two-by-fours are not standard materials there.  I don’t know what’s going to happen—I have been working with those materials for the last two years.  

And I’m obsessive.  I don’t have a lot of ideas.  I have like, two ideas a semester.  Because when I have one idea, I just go with it, and I get obsessed with it.  

AE: This piece is activated by your presence, with you entering into the space and performing this job.  I’m curious about what the space becomes when you aren’t in it. Do you view it as a sculpture?  Is it a remnant of a performance? And maybe it isn’t clearly defined, but I’m interested in that relationship between when you are in it, and when you aren’t in the piece.

l_check3 (1)

Daniel Cevallos, Check Room, performance/installation, 2011.

DC: I kind of like the absence of the person there.  It feels really isolated, kind of dead.  But on the other hand, I don’t see it working the way I want it to work without me inside.  The day before the opening, I was on the train, and I was sitting in the train with the uniform on, and something happened–I felt that for me the performance already started.  Like, “I’m tired, I don’t want to be up this early.”  It felt like work.

AE: And I think Kirk was telling me that you’ve never had a job like this before, a customer service based job, so I’m curious what that experience has been for you.  You’re choosing to take on this job.

DC: One of the things that needs to be clear about this piece is that I’m not speaking for immigrant laborers in the States.  I’m not speaking for them, I’m not giving them a voice, because I’m a privileged graduate art student.  But I can’t deny that the things I am seeing here in the States with the immigrant laborers doesn’t call my attention, and I can‘t avoid making work about it.  It is interesting to me.  Because I see Latin America in a really transitional moment, in this specific moment in history, where 20 or 30 years ago Latin America was representing itself more as the victim.  You can see the images of art that came from Latin America 30 years ago, you know, in Mexican Muralism, you can see the workers suffering more, like the victims.  And I feel like that is shifting a little.  So that’s why when I show images of this work, I don’t want to show myself as a victim, but more happily enjoying my work in there –some kind of different attitude.  Because I don’t think it’s healthy for society to build that identity of the victim, or the indigenous with chains; that’s not the case anymore.  I feel like Latin America is in a position globally, where if they make the right decisions now, because of resources and the way politics are working there, they can end poverty.  So I am very enthusiastic about it.

AE:  There’s no denying your own personal history, as you are part of this piecewhere you are from, who you are–that’s interesting.  That is a connection that people are going to make.

KAS: You definitely play with assumptions… it’s kind of interesting.

AE:  There was someone I was talking to at the opening who said they came in and saw the coat check room, and they didn’t realize at the time that it was artwork, and they thought “Woah, this is a big deal.  This is like a big museum space out in Dorchester.”

DC: They used the word “fancy”.  “This is a really fancy institution.”

AE: So that comes into play with what you guys are doing here with Lufthansa.  You are setting certain expectations in a way.  That changes how the space itself is viewed. Is that is something you thought about?

DC: I just like how power represents itself.  The only way that power gets power is by showing symbols of power.  The aesthetics of the piece are symbols of power.  You know, clean and minimalist, with someone doing this really fancy service: checking your coat.

Daniel Cevallos, Check Room, performance/installation, 2011.

AE: And then it takes up like a fifth of the gallery space, which is really funny.

DC:  It’s so serious, it is completely humorous.  It’s so funny.

JG:  The piece becomes embedded in the architecture; you become embedded in the architecture.

AE: If there are people who came in and out, without even recognizing that this is an artwork, do you thinkis that it working, or a failure of the piece?

DC: Personally, I really enjoy the ones who never realize it is a piece.  But that is just a personal thing.  It’s more information for me.

JG:  Well that’s power right there.  You have power.

DC:  So the best reaction I got was, there were a lot of people who got upset because my service wasn’t fast enough.  At the end [of the opening], there was a line.  That frustration, I think, is really powerful.  They don’t have five minutes to experience the piece?  They can sit there for an hour in a video installation or in the movies, but they can’t give me five minutes to experience the piece?

JG: I think what is at issue here is that you become a service.  And the service is reflective of the client, not of the individual that is performing it.

AE:  There is a part in your artist statement where you talk about peoples’ things being absorbed into the piece, and I think that is really interesting because it’s totally activated by your presence, and people as they come in, whatever their expectations are or however they choose to interact with the piece; that all becomes part of it.  There were people who were joking when they were getting their coats back, that, “My jacket is artwork now!”   It’s sort of been transformed through this exchange.

Daniel Cevallos, Check Room, performance/installation, 2011.

DC: One of the things that I secretly wanted to do was to raise consciousness of how important every individual is, in every aspect of society.  So I feel like because I am absorbing their things, and making them art, part of my art, then they realize, “I could be art too.  And the decisions I take in my life are important too.“   The conveyer was the hardest thing to get for the piece, and I got it because I thought of it as a central part of the piece–because I wanted the coats to be rotating in an aimless absurd circle.  Not doing anything, just going around.  That comes from my interest in existentialism, and really all topics and things.  I get really inspired by movies like “Brazil”, things that mix philosophical questions with social and economic critiques.  I feel like movies are a huge part of how I think.  That’s why I’m so obsessive.  I’m so obsessed with “Fight Club”, the movie.  It is another of those movies that are between existential crisis and economic commentary.

GY: To me this work is such a natural extension of your personality, not just its physicality but all of it.  It’s so natural. One of the things I think of, is part of how you see yourself as an artist, you see art as a job, as a necessary duty.  So you being on the subway, starting your performance coming out here [to Lufthansa], is certainly wrapped up in how you see yourself as a cultural producer, or a social critic.  I feel that is essential to how you see yourself as an artist, how you see art fitting into the larger realm of the social fabric.

DC: I completely agree.  I’m convinced that being an artist is a huge responsibility, a social responsibility.  You’ve got to be really careful about the work you do.

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For more information on Daniel Cevallos, visit:

*This interview transcript has been edited for length and content.

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