Interview with Belén Mazuecos Sánchez

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize

Interview with Belén Mazuecos Sánchez

Meet Belén Mazuecos Sánchez from Granada, Spain – one of the four overall winners of 14th Arte Laguna Prize. Her strong art tells us about fragile art ecosystem…

First of all – congratulations, we are very happy for you! Arte Laguna Prize is an internationally recognized art competition that not only gives a big cash prize but also visibility for artists around the globe!

I want to say that I’m so happy for being one of the four overall winners of this Prize. For me, it’s an honor to receive this prestigious prize and to be selected from more than 10.000 artworks. All the finalists have works of very high quality and I want to give my congratulations to everyone.

Please tell us about your experience with Arte Laguna Prize – how did you learn about it, and what did you feel when you heard your name as a winner?

I knew about this call because I usually go to Venice every summer to visit the Biennale. I applied for the first time and it was a huge surprise to be the winner in the painting section.

Was it easy to decide with which works to apply, to fill the form…

It was easy to apply. I decided to choose 5 works from my current project (paintings and drawings) because it is a project that I want to develop further in the future. Filling out the application was not difficult (I had only the language hándicap, but nowadays we have translation tools on the internet that simplify the task).

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
“The naked king” Charcoal on paper. 150 x 200 cm 2019

What were your emotions when this global lockdown changed the plan for visiting the opening in Venice?

I was very excited because the participation in the exhibition at the Arsenale and I had already booked the flight and the apartment to attend the opening when the event was postponed because of the pandemic lockdown. At first, I felt disappointed because I dreamt of being in Venice in March but the organizers took care of us updating the situation in every moment and I was confident that sooner or later the exhibition would take place. I felt a big emotion when I heard my name as the winner. When Sara Tortato read the jury’s motivation for the selected work I thought that it might be my work, because of the description of the meaning… and, finally, Igor Zanti – the head of the jury- announced my name. It was really fantastic!

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
Handle with care II Acrylic on paper 114 x 140 cm 2017

Your artwork — “Handle with care II” is one of the series “Genius loci. Notes for an ethnography of the art world”. What are your thoughts about the art-eco-system and the crisis of the legitimacy of art?

This work is part of my project Notes for an ethnography of the art world which started three years ago. I showed part of this project in two personal exhibition in Spain and, after this, in Kracow, last year. The meaning is about the dynamics of the contemporary art world, the roles and the relationships between the different agents, and the fragile position of the artist, that becomes, sometimes, a ready-made itself.

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
Fragile artist: Handle with care” Acrylic on canvas 195 x 195 cm 2016

This project highlights the complexity of the art ecosystem, in which the survival of some species depend on the others and where, since the eighty’s, the gatekeepers assume a preponderant role. The titles and the references to famous artists and their artworks are very important for the understanding of my pieces.

In short, the main objective of my artistic research is to present a visual ethnography of the field of art (I studied Fine Arts and Social and Cultural Anthropology and I wanted to put together this different knowledge), from the perspective of the artist, underlining the difficulty for accessing and adapting to this competitive system.

Is an artist really fragile?

Yes, I think the artist is fragile because is very difficult living from art, but however, the art scene is changed because the globalization, the possibilities that offer internet, and the current crisis…and the artists can assume today a new protagonist position in the management of their careers. Currently, the relationships between the different agents and their profiles and competencies are mutating. The art ecosystem is becoming a more democratic space. The artist is now such an entrepreneur. There is a change of paradigm from one more traditional art system (based in the galleries mainly) to another more flexible.

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
“Mark Wallinger inside the white cube” Acrylic on canvas 195 x 195 cm 2016

In your artworks, we see masks and camouflage – what these symbols mean to you?

The use of masks and camouflage suggests, on the one hand, the idea of ​​art as entertainment and, on the other hand, emphasizes the need of the artists to develop survival tactics in a hostile environment. Artists reduced to merchandise are transported in packaging for artworks by the artistic intermediaries in panda costumes: as the caretakers (keepers) of these animals in danger of extinction are disguised to facilitate their return into the wild, the career of the “fragile artist” is managed by curators, directors of museums, gallerists, etc., through marketing strategies, relegating the artist to a product.

What is your daily art routine?

I share my work as an artist with my job as a professor at the University of Granada. For this reason, I have my timetable as a full professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts, and I dedicate the rest of my time to go to the studio for painting and drawing, mainly. Firstly, I develop the idea that I want to communicate and there is a time for artistic research; secondly, I design the image using the computer with photomontage (using different resources), and finally, I paint or draw this picture, normally in big size. I use to work with big pieces in black and white, on paper or canvas. The work is made, normally, using only black acrylic and respecting the own white of the paper.

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
“The impostor” Charcoal on paper. 150 x 150 cm 2017
Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
“The ethnographer” Charcoal on paper. 150 x 150 cm 2017
Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
“Marcel Broodthaers photocall” Acrylic on paper 140 x 140 cm 2017

What inspires you for work and what experience of your life would you say that is reflected in your works of art?

The reference to autobiography is present in my production (I connect my artworks with my personal story, with my life – identity tribulations, reflections on life and death, role in the artistic ecosystem, etc.) For the last 3 years, I have been working on this project that aims to reconstruct a kind of visual ethnography of the art world, inspired by my knowledge of the artistic field, by the contextual artists who question the art market and the art system (such as Maurizio Cattelan, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, etc.), and specifically by images of the panda keepers in the panda reserves in China.

Specifically, the concept of this project is inspired by the tale “The naked king”, written by Hans Christian Andersen and by the thinking of the art historian Juan Antonio Ramírez that said that the art system is an “extremely fragile ecosystem” in which the survival of some species depend on the others, and since the 1980s the mediators have been the agents that assume a preponderant role.

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
“The invisible cloth II” Acrylic on canvas 195 x 162 cm 2020

What was your most strange art experiment?

My artistic work is situated in the field of expanded painting, pivoting from drawing and painting itself, towards the territories of object art, installation, or site-specific intervention. Currently, I am mainly focused on figurative drawing and painting but I have worked with experimental materials such as resins or recycled materials such as soap and other materials such as tin. With the tin, I make pieces similar to the ex-votes with which I compose installations.

What is the most difficult in the work of artists?

For me, the most difficult part of my work as an artist is the management of my own work. Artists must develop other tasks relates to social and management abilities such as doing networking, giving interviews, speaking about their statements, applying to differents calls, (before finding the representation from a gallery)… and this is very hard work. You must balance the investment in specific capital and relational capital.

The main problem is not so much the product itself, although of course you have to be disciplined and this is not always easy and you need to find your personal language, your personal brand.

What obstacles do you face in making and exhibiting your work?

The main obstacle that I face in making my work is the lack of time and the lack of inspiration, sometimes and the difficulty to find my own personal language. The main obstacle that I face in exhibiting my work is that I don’t have the support of any gallery for my representation. I use to show my works in institutional spaces and I use to participate in competitions to show my works (but not in art fairs or private galleries.)

Your husband also applied to Arte Laguna?

Yes. For me, this prize is a double prize because we have both been selected as finalists in the painting section (from more than 10.000 artworks) and this is a big joy. We are so happy and we are lucky because we will have the opportunity to participate in the exhibition at the Arsenale next March, and we are in love with Venice.

Do you have already a plan – what to do with the prize money?

I think I need to invest part of the prize money in an English course, jejeje. No, seriously,…In addition to that I intend to use this prize money to invest in my artistic career (doing a website, buying material and equipment for the production of my new projects, paying the studio mortgage and making some repairs in the studio (repair the lights, for example), and I want to invest this money to travel and do new experiences.

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
“The invisible cloth II” Acrylic on canvas 195 x 162 cm 2020

What is the future of art? What will be art in the 22 century?

This is a very difficult question and I’m afraid that I don’t have the answer. In my opinion, after the digital revolution that we are living with, increased with the pandemic and the lockdown, the future (and the commitment) of art is the conservation of the real experience. I think that will be a return to plastic arts (and not only visual arts) and the contact with the material. I think the challenge of art in 22 century will be the conservation of the tradition and the use of traditional techniques with a contemporary concept. I believe in a return to the essence of art…and, in a way, the return –or better, the reinvention- to the traditional techniques, with a contemporary sense.

Belén Mazuecos Sánchez | Arte Laguna Prize
Belén in her studio

You are also teaching what advice you give to your students and what you can wish to those who are just starting to think about applying to Arte Laguna Prize?

I think the best advice I can give to my students is to believe in their work and be honest with their work. I also advise them to be confident in their abilities and to try their best. The must try to find their personal language (as me) and I advise them to prepare a statement and to apply to different calls and, of course, this award is one of them.

Be patient and work hard! My wish to those who are just starting to think about applying to Arte Laguna is good luck! Maybe, they can become the next finalist artists and the winners, and in any case, be part of this great artistic community that is Arte Laguna Prize. They take care of us, artists.

Interview by Anna Shvets