Interview: BUSINESS AS USUAL by Quintín Rivera-Toro (Collect, Autumn 2012)

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Interview by Jen Young, Yellow Peril Gallery Assistant

Quintín Rivera Toro has worked as an artist in many different places and uses a variety of media from film and theatre to painting and sculpture.

With deep roots in Puerto Rico and a strong Caribbean identity, he has seized opportunities to “get off of the island” and explore and embrace different places and cultures. As we see in Quintín’s exhibition, BUSINESS AS USUAL at Yellow Peril Gallery, his work is directly related to his environment.

What role does the notion of place have in your work?

It is important where I am, that I am living here in Providence in the West Side neighborhood next to Olneyville. Geography and my entity are relevant to my work… I look at myself as a survey or a rule of thumb and then I usually react to the same issues everywhere – which are social, economic, political, and identity based. These are interests that I have which definitely need to be explored.

Place inspires in a very matter of fact way. I guess this goes with the territory of being a sensitive person. I see how certain social patterns are common to most social contexts: interpersonal dynamics, “the system” vs. the individual, environments that can improve, but don’t. This all makes me feel as potentially engaging in an active role for change, somehow. I could affect, improve,
critique anywhere I am standing in the world. At least anywhere in the world I’ve been able to be.

How does your identity as a Puerto Rican “nomad” translate into your work?

I can’t escape this, it is a type of behavior that precedes me from centuries ago. Islanders don’t have roads that connect them to other communities and countries; therefore, we are used to emigrating elsewhere. This translates into complex intellectual and emotional relationships with the place “abroad”. Now it is the USA, it used to be Spain, it will probably be China next. My working as a site specific conceptual artist brings me to evaluate this estranged point of view, as a resource, an extra tool in my toolkit of art making strategies.

Your façade staged at Yellow Peril Gallery is an unusual intervention in Olneyville and will be seen by thousands of people who are not familiar with this sort of art. What do you expect or hope for regarding a reaction to this piece?

In the very least I always hope for a memorable reaction. Sometimes I am trying to provoke an audience; sometimes I am trying to find sympathy in an individual. It can range quite drastically in terms of intentions, but, as the cliché goes, the artist hopes the audience will make their own interpretations.

I have always been very attracted to the wild range of responses my art work can produce, depending on its complexity and context.

Would you consider all of your work to be performative?

I’m not sure I’ve ever looked at it this way…but I like it! I feel that conducting an art practice is inextricably attached to the notion of a viewer, someone we are communicating to/with, and along with that, there is the notion of humans always being performative. We perform all the time: perform as a parent, perform as partner, a son/daugther, an employee, a student, an artist, definitely. As far as art making goes, I have witnessed a strong impulse in recent times to use my skills and my ideas as a means to construct tailor made stages in which to perform artistic statements, for social reflection, criticism and interpretation.

Business as Usual will be on view at Yellow Peril Gallery from October 18 – November 11, 2012. This interview originally appeared in the Autumn 2012 issue of COLLECT.