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Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 Studio Visits: Cristina Lei Rodriguez

Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s Design District studio.

In conjunction with recent collaborations between Thomas Hollingworth, Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 (Magazine pg. 100), Modern Luxury (Miami) and NO MAD Paper, featuring Miami culture, ARTLURKER, will now present studio visits of select Miami based contemporary artists. Running concurrently with Art Basel Miami Beach the aim of these features is to venerate the cities native artistic wealth and honor those who continue to make Miami what it is.

Sharing her Design District studio with Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Frances Trombly and Wendy Wisher, Cristina Lei Rodriguez makes deliciously abstract forms from a variety of sourced plastic and textile materials which she configures then coats with epoxy resin. Represented by Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Miami and Team Gallery in New York, her works are admired for their unique visual textures and for their dualities between natural and artificial forms.

Decadence (Red Coral), 2008.

So Cristina, what are you working on?

For Basel I have new pieces that I made for MOCA for The Possibility of an Island. The exhibition is based around the novel The Possibility of an Island and the angle that the curator has taken is to look specifically at problems in society and the way in which we abstract then by looking at them in the future. This opens up a lot of possibilities for artists to comment on what is happing today. SO my pieces are called Decadence (Red Coral) and Decadence (Opal). You saw them before and you see then red one finished now, but since the last time you were here the white one has developed a lot. It’s a lot more opal, obviously, and its still a dense mass but somehow it looks almost hollow like a skull, but also like a landscape. I’ve been doing this thing with epoxy where it dries really slowly and I can put pigment in it and make subtle swirls like sediment. I am really interested in adding this dimension to the pieces that is really organic; it’s almost like an artificial natural process.

Is it true that quite a lot of violent energy goes into the production of these works?

Yeah, definitely. But that’s also because of the material. I have to work quickly with it. Its quick and its hot and I’m wearing a suit and a respirator.

One criticism of your work has been that it’s a quick fix, but you are genuinely invested in this aren’t you?

First there is the process of collecting the materials. A lot of my work starts with the object. Right now, the way in which stuff [for the studio] gets bought and stored here is becoming much more sordid and tangled and mixed up; and getting farther away from the initial object. So the cardboard and the tinsel gets really weathered and broken down and decayed, the way in which manmade things discarded on the side of the road do. Now I also have two directions in my studio. They both have kind of the same direction but they are different groupings. With one group called Gravity and Decomposition I like the idea of the scupture being a mass and I am more interested really in the weight of them than the shape.

Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s Design District studio.

Does your medium of epoxy lend itself to this particularly?

At first it started that way. In fact the reason I first started to work with plastics was because things could be all dripping down. Then my work was about turning and trying to defy that gravity and play with that but I think that the thing that I learned form the last show [Rodriguez’ first solo show at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin] was a feeling of weight and how that can give a lot more of a physical feeling to form.

What inspires you right now?

Robert Morris’ felt pieces. They have the weight of the felt, but the way that it’s folded and thrown and the scale of it; I think it’s really amazing.

How does glamor play into your themes of decay and gravity?

I definitely want that part of the materials, the eye candy thing that attracts me to the materials and makes me want to work with them initially to be maintained within the work. I like that it has that part to it; that the finish could almost look like a luxury object. More recently I have been trying to focus on things in a more micro way. Now the work is really more about form and glamor. I think the glamor fashion part has actually taken me the longest to integrate and for me to feel comfortable making more of a predominant part the work.

Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s Design District studio.

What was your work in college like?

In college I started as a painter but finished as a sculptor. But all the work I did as either was assemblage stuff, bringing objects and mediums together. I made a lot of the same shapes in different materials, making these dress shapes on manikins. And then in graduate school I ended up making work about environments but really about the object, actually mass produced objects. I started just by amassing them, not knowing what to do with them and then I started making little scenes. And then I think that once I realized that I could work with plastic as a material it opened up because I could maintain something that I liked about it, but essentially distort it. But now I think and the plastic they way that it uses the variety of different chemicals that I use it’s really a lot more about it being.

Do you envisage an increasingly unified or increasingly polarized relationship between the natural and synthetic origins of these two bodies of work?

I think part of the process of staying with both is that in the studio and especially being able to work with Freddy in the studio is that things get made in sets each with a very specific set of roles. We’re going to do this, were going to use these colors etc. And this is really important to me because I want to be really quick and free with it. That part of not really knowing what is going to happen is crucial. So in that respect all the works are the same. These black pieces or these leaf pieces, each of them have gone through about ten different processes, not all of which you can see. There’s a lot of completely tearing something apart and scrapping it and using it in a different way. Things are getting more mangled and the tests, the experiments, are beginning to get more broad. Recently I have been using a lot of papers, like cardboard. I am interested in the paper being left outside and it decaying or tissue and shrink-wrap; just throwing lots of different things at a piece, figuratively, and seeing what the result is.

Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s Design District studio.

In regard to mass, are you conscious of the sense of your larger works having a core?

I used to hide things in there when I first started out. I would make little hidden scenes or tiny little people. A dolls head like a coin in a pudding; “if you really look you’ll find the treasure.” But actually, when you walk around these pieces there is actually a lot of open spaces. I think I am interested in how when you look at things in a micro way it looks like a landscape. This cardboard tinsel trash thing can look like a cave in certain parts. Light comes in different ways and the more layers I put on it, the more it actually starts to form like a sedimentary rock or it actually starts to just kind of become this. The thing I really like about these MOCA pieces is that at the end they actually became something different thing, like a precious stone or something[.]

Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s Design District studio.

These impressions are simply a result of process, not because she wants to cause that effect. Rather than intention, Rodriguez’s practice is more about how a piece evolves, the material and her developing involvement with it. Unlike purposefully laden work that says things loudly about culture and the human condition, her work does not carry excess baggage. Yes, it evokes feelings about the nature of beauty and even the human condition, but on an individual level. The work is not pushing themes. Nevertheless the impression one takes away is that of encountering an object that has all the qualities of beauty, and in equal measure, decay and reflection.

Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s work inspired by themes in Michel Houellebeq’s novel The Possibility of an Island, will be on view in the exhibition The Possibility of an Island organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art, North MIami and curated by Assistant Curator Ruba Katrib from Thursday December 4th 9am – Noon at MOCA at Goldman Warehouse, Wynwood Art District, 404 NW 26th St., Miami. +1 305 893. 6211 or


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Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 Studio Visits: Cristina Lei Rodriguez