"Would you like a cup of tea?" asks Gabriela Alvarez as I enter her art studio in the bohemian Barrio Brasil. I accepted the offer innocently enough, unaware I was contributing to some future work of art with the teabag lying at the bottom of my cup. The huge bucket of dried, used teabags next to the kitchen table should have given me a hint.
Photo courtesy Emmanuelle Lebhar
Alvarez is a petite, 29-year-old woman with a peculiarly Chilean artistic trajectory. After leaving the family home in Talca at 21, she arrived in Santiago with no clear view of where her ambitions would take her.
While working in bars and cafés to finance her first stab at independence, the atmosphere at her new Santiago home - shared with several artists - reinforced her artistic consciousness. Soon she was working with a variety of different materials. She grew through a series of successful encounters with artcrafts – including jewelry, sewing and then ceramics – before she began feeling a strong need to do more than just create a specific object.
So she began manipulating her art forms, combining ceramics with her sewing, for example. The result is artwork that strikes the viewer’s imagination, even though it is created from very common objects.
“Each object is a small world by itself,” says Alvarez, displaying a collection of cigarettes filters carefully selected and stored for future work.
Her most recent project, "Anamnesis," is a stunning example of this very original vision she has on objects taken from every day life experiences. At first glance, the artwork appears to be a very lovely watercolor painting. But a closer look reveals a paper and sewing montage that is - surprisingly - made of used teabags.
Alvarez has a philosophical explanation of her artwork: “Each object is the reflection of a transitory instant of its becoming something else. An instant that could be easily forgotten, but which I try to capture in an effort to show the visual poetry that is embodied by the object.”
What first appeared to me as a huge bucket of used teabags became, in the course of the interview, a collection of sophisticated painted papers – each carrying a piece of history. The bacteria developed on the moisture of the “redfruit” teabags had created a fine layer of reddish paper with shattered black spots, unique in its composition and the instant it represents.
Alvarez works in a world populated by materials usually considered garbage. While this is not a particularly new art form, Alvarez’s work tricks the viewer, because the origins of her material are not immediately perceived. The spectator is first attracted by the poetry of her visual art, before having to contemplate its origins.
“This project invites people to redefine the objects of everyday life through a new perspective, perceiving the nature of the simple and the ordinary," she explains, sipping her tea.
I left Alvarez with the busy schedule of her life as a young Chilean artist, planning future exhibitions, studying new materials and new techniques, applying for funds to continue her work and giving sewing classes to earn some extra money.
Minutes later, after our interview, the used filter that I found in my coffee machine had a completely new appearance to me.