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Eva Fàbregas

Interview by Antonia Marsh
Photography by Lee Whittaker

Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas

Every corner of Barcelona-born Eva Fàbregas’s East London home is filled with plants. With a sprawling vine of plastic ivy leaves strung up in the bathroom, it’s no surprise that her work sits playfully in the space between the organic and inorganic. Her big, bold, sculptural forms oscillate between natural and prosthetic, materially traversing binaries of soft and hard, and interacting with our bodies with or without touching them. The artist’s 2019 exhibition titled ‘Those things that your fingers can tell’ at the Kunstverein Munich represented a culmination of research into haptic sound, which saw large-scale, lumpy sculptures resonating to varying frequencies and reverberating to basslines pumped through the works via a series of subwoofers, as if they were attached to a sonic life-support machine. Marking a departure from earlier works where the audience was invited to curl up inside their enveloping softness, the sculptures danced through the space like erotically charged bodies shuddering in ecstatic revelry at a crowded nightclub. These giant, bulbous bodies were hung from the ceiling, curling around the gallery in clinically pastel colours, luring the viewer into a vibrating playpen that sits somewhere between Sarah Lucas’s puffy, abject forms and the comforting allure of a wellness centre—at once utterly bodily and completely artificial. Fàbregas toys with fantasy; her understanding that the satisfaction of desire is deeply reliant on our inability to touch, sense, or feel what we so deeply wish to remains at the core of these works. In producing more libidinousness than she satisfies, Fàbregas reminds us that desire must always be left unfulfilled in order to exist. On a regular rainy day in London I totter around the corner to meet the artist for the first time, where I learn about her experiential process, what ensures fruitful collaboration, and the importance of boredom in the studio.

Eva Fàbregas | Apartamento Magazine

Have you done many interviews before?

I have to say it’s been mostly Skype meetings with curators, which sometimes feel like interviews.

When did you move to the UK?

I moved here to study in 2011, so many years ago.

Did you study sculpture?

No, at that time I wasn’t sure what discipline I’d be working in. I was making film, drawing, sculpture, and photography, so I selected Chelsea College of Arts because it had everything under the MA Visual Arts program. At some of the other schools you had to pick a discipline, and I felt I couldn’t just be studying one thing every day. It was good to be surrounded. I come from Barcelona, where, as in any small city, the scene is very interesting but very closed, and sometimes it’s difficult to see outside the bubble. I was trying to fit in there, but when I came to London I began to talk about work in a way I hadn’t before; I’d never talked about textures, surfaces, and materials, so coming here opened up another world for me.

I studied in San Francisco and it’s a very small scene there too, which can be really productive because you get a grip on the city and its cultural infrastructure very quickly.

I feel very privileged to have begun my career in a small city like Barcelona, because you feel part of something. Beginning to work in a creative field would have been much more difficult in London because it’s so big. Being part of something—and of course leaving it too—was very important for me.

What part of London did you live in when you moved here?

Always East. When you find a bargain and it feels like home, why move?

I still love being around here. Do you think you’ll stay here forever?

No, I feel at some point I would like to go home!

I guess that artists often move out of the bigger cities when their career is at a point where they don’t need to be in a place that’s so connected.

Exactly, the point where going back to Barcelona wouldn’t mean anything for my career, I would make it my base and travel from there.

Eva Fàbregas | Apartamento Magazine
Eva Fàbregas | Apartamento Magazine
Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas

What do you miss about Barcelona?

I’m super jealous of the weather there. But of course three years ago I had to produce a show in Barcelona and afterwards I was really anxious to come back to London, so maybe you always idealise where you come from.

I wonder how your studio would change. Where is your studio now?

Now it’s in Bethnal Green. It’s difficult to have a big studio in London, but in Barcelona studios are very cheap, so you can have a very big space; there are a lot of industrial buildings you can rent with other artists.

How much time do you spend in the studio in a normal week?

I would say I go there five days a week. I decided not to have an internet connection there, so my day-to-day routine is that I wake up, work on my computer at home with some coffee, and then when I finish I go to the studio.

You miss rush hour.

Yes, and not taking the computer is important because I can get very distracted with computers.

What distracts you?

Anything, I’m super easily distracted! In the studio I’m just surrounded by my materials, so I can get bored, but something I was told when I first came to London was that as an artist you need to be bored in the studio. Before that I had always felt guilty about being bored.

Eva Fàbregas | Apartamento Magazine

Do you remember who told you that?

It was my partner’s professor at the Royal College of Art.

It’s amazing how that stuff sticks with you sometimes.

Yeah, maybe for him it was not such an important thing to say, but I was in my early 20s and realised maybe it’s important to just sit in the studio and not do anything.

Have you found that to be true?

Yes. There are different ways that I work, different processes. Either I am in the studio physically engaging with my materials, or there’s work on the computer when I lose myself on eBay. I think lots of my ideas come from doing things that are not related to art, too. Going out to Corsica Studios, for example: that was one of the places where I had one of the ideas for my show at Kunstverein Munich. You have all this research and all these interests, then you’re in a place and they just connect. I think that most of my ideas come from being outside the studio.

So much can happen not just between 9am and 5pm, sitting at a desk.

Yes, and an idea is one thing, but then you need to give form to it.

Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas
Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas
Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas

What was the idea you had at Corsica Studios?

It was one of the first times I was in a club where the sound system was so heavy. The music was so, so loud that it became something you weren’t supposed to hear anymore; it was more about the body and the architecture. You could touch the walls and they’d be vibrating, and if you sat on one of the benches you became part of this mechanic vibration. The beats on your stomach—in a sense you became the sound. I felt like I was part of that vibration. So then I started to think about this idea of tactile sound, haptic sound. At the Kunstverein Munich show, I had these very massive inflatable sculptures and I attached subwoofers to them. I worked with Equiknoxx, Jamaican electronic music producers whose music I’d heard. I realised it was what my sculptures would dance to if they were able to dance. I invited them to collaborate, to create a piece of music for my sculptures that would make them dance and be alive. They sent me different tunes and frequencies and I did tests with the subwoofers to see how the sculptures would react. Sometimes no sound would come out, but the sculptures would dance in a certain pattern, while with other frequencies the sculptures would resonate like an instrument.

How long is the track?

Seven minutes. Then Chris Fitzpatrick, the director of the Kunstverein mixed it in the space; he knows a lot about sound. There were two speakers in the space and 12 subwoofers attached to the sculptures, which would resonate and vibrate in different areas. We also allowed for a three-minute pause, a breathing pause, which channelled a frequency into the sculptures where there was no sound but they were still moving, like a breathing pattern.

What do you appreciate in someone that you work with?

Sharing the enthusiasm for the work with you. We would be there until 3am, just testing the sound and dancing with the music. It was really intense but really passionate.

So you had a long install period.

Two weeks. It’s always better. Also, these kinds of sculptures need a lot of time and attention.

They look like medical attachments, the subwoofers.

I think one of the reference images I had was a breast pump. There was something that I didn’t realise—I love when this happens when you are producing something. I had in mind this idea of the mechanical vibration, but I never imagined that the sculptures would become powerful instruments themselves, in the way that they did. You could hear the sound from the street outside the space.

Has this discovery reverberated across your practice? Are you still thinking about your sculptures in similar terms, as instruments?

No, it was interesting that they became something else, and these kinds of surprises are one of the most beautiful things that can happen while you work in sculpture. But it was just a bonus; I was more interested in the idea of them becoming autonomous, having their own lives.

To what extent do you build the sculptures yourself, or are they externally fabricated?

I would say that 95 percent of everything I do, I do myself. Of course there are some things I cannot do myself, but if the idea works then someone can help you produce it. For me, the idea of building up a sculpture is much more related to the surprises we were talking about—surprises that come from problem-solving and that lead to a better solution. I always have an idea, then research those forms in drawings, but from those drawings to the final sculpture there are so many changes and developments that can happen, so I need to stay really engaged with those processes. I sew the fabrics myself, and inside are sensory balls. I always need to be there during the process of inserting them inside the fabric. I also make foam sculptures, which are flocked with nylon fibres, but the flocking is the only part I don’t do myself. I make the form, and because I wanted a certain level of finish, this was outsourced.

There’s an interesting, if uncomfortable meeting point, when something that’s handmade has an industrial finish. This confuses the viewer’s expectations, I think.

I try to play with expectations. Some sculptures appear much more mass-produced than others. There’s an ongoing contrast in my work between pastel colours and soft materials with hard materials, which really interests me.

Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas

There’s an unusual relationship to scale, even looking at these maquettes you have here. This one looks like it might be a toy for your cat.

It is! I always make a maquette to understand scale and how a work would fit inside a space, and then I realised the cat loves it, so I made a toy for her. I also made a work that was a reproduction of a nose clip—those things people put on their noses to swim—but I noticed that people also sell them on eBay to use for thinning the shape of their nose. The work is a reproduction, 1:1000 scale, and once it’s installed on top of a wall inside the exhibition space, it supports or shapes the architecture in the same way as you apply it to your nose. Other sculptures were inspired by prosthetic elements, while others reference ear moulds. I was thinking about how we mould our bodies or how our bodies mould these forms, and I wanted to make them at a scale that we couldn’t relate our bodies to anymore. In essence they are our holes, but they are blown up, so now they mould each other or they mould a space and we can learn new things from them.

I’m interested in the relationship your work has to architecture, namely the space it’s in or how your work might interrupt or bleed out of it.

I think my work is really site-specific; I really consider the space it’s exhibited in. When someone invites me to do a show, the first thing I do is ask for images and plans of the space, and I build a maquette so I can get the feeling of being inside the space even if I can’t be there yet. When I imagine the work, I think about what this sculpture would do inside a space and what the audience would feel having that element inside that particular space. Every show always features a combination of those three elements: you don’t just see a work, you see a work inside a space, and you are a physical entity that can walk into that space.

What about the colours of your work?

The colour is really important. I would say my work is about desire and how our bodies are reconfigured through desire, technology, and architecture, but I’m more interested in the idea of how desire is produced than how it is satisfied. My process really consists of engaging with those materials that produce desire, so I work with a palette that includes colours that we relate to specific places. For example, when I use lilac or mint green, what does this bring to mind? For me it’s clinical feminine products, so when I am using this kind of palette, I am very much aware of how these colours make me feel and what kind of situations they take me to. There are colours that make me think of wellness or certain beauty therapies too. Then others feel more bodily, visceral, and libidinal.

Thinking about desire via colour and desire via material, if you’re trying to incite some kind of reaction in the viewer that’s bodily, actually sound can do that just as much as materials.

Of course, the sound in the space was tactile. Besides making the sculptures vibrate, the viewer would feel it; not as much as in Corsica Studios, but you were still entering into a space where there was energy being transferred to the body.

Which of course a viewer might not normally expect in a gallery.

In another project I made sculptures accompanied by audio where I invited the audience to sit and lie on the works, melt into them in a way. So the audience became part of a performative element of the work. It was interesting to think about these sculptures as animals, as entities or as lovers, so that people would cuddle them, and they would become part of the works. But more recently I realised that if you don’t allow people to touch the work then they want to touch it even more, which initiates a conversation around the production and satisfaction of desire. People fantasise more if these are the viewing conditions, so for me it was much more powerful to see the reactions of people wanting to touch or feel the works than if I were giving them the opportunity to do so. Everything that you cannot touch, or you are not allowed to see, is more important to any erotic relationship than what you are permitted to touch or see. I try to produce and induce bodily effects—body heat and heart rate—and in this way I try and think about my work performatively, even though I don’t do performance.

It’s that same idea that the sculptures become bodies in themselves, so in that way they are also capable of performing. I wanted to ask you about the video work where the little colourful robots move around.

For me that’s the earliest work I’ve made that still relates to my practice now. At that moment I was not interested in the same things as I am now, but retroactively I can see that some of the generative ideas were already there. At that moment I was interested in containerisation and how things move around the world. Each sculpture was made from disposed packaging materials that I was collecting around London, and I wanted to give them another life. If these materials were discarded in the street, after all their travelling I made them travel by themselves, as if they were a colony of swarming objects that now had their own journey without people instigating their mobility. I think all the work I’ve been making since then has some element rooted in that project.

They’re very sweet.

I had to learn robotics and Arduino—learning really motivates me in my practice—and people thought these robots had a lot more patterns of movement than they actually had. They thought they had sensors and that they could really see you and were turning when they saw you; it was amazing.

Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas
Eva Fàbregas, Shaper, 2019, CentroCentro.
Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas
Eva Fàbregas, Nancey, 2019, CentroCentro.
Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas
Eva Fàbregas, Kimberley & Chloe, 2019, CentroCentro.
Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas
Eva Fàbregas, Pumping, 2019, Kunstverein Munich.
Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas
Eva Fàbregas, Pumping, 2019, Kunstverein Munich.
Eva Fàbregas | Apartamento Magazine
Eva Fàbregas, Pumping, 2019, Kunstverein Munich.
Eva Fàbregas | Apartamento Magazine
Eva Fàbregas, Pumping, 2019, Kunstverein Munich.

Your show in Munich was last year. What have you been working on since, and what are you working towards at the moment?

That show travelled to Madrid last summer and then I collaborated with a fashion designer in Spain, Ana Locking. I made some sculptures for the runway show, which was a really fun experience. Now I’m working on a commission for the Yokohama Triennale later this year, and I’m also making drawings. There’s a lot of drawing in my practice; I mostly never show them, but I want to figure out how to. I make a lot of preparatory drawings for my sculptures, but I wouldn’t show those, because why would I when there’s the complete sculpture to show?

I imagine the drawings would need to feel like their own autonomous work, but at that point they engage with a completely different context. Until now you’ve been wrestling with the history of sculpture and where your practice situates itself within that, and then I suppose you have to work out how you relate drawing to your own practice: is it supplementary, is it concurrent, does it develop it in some way?

Of course, if the drawings didn’t develop my practice I wouldn’t want to show them. So that’s why I’m working on it, because for me now drawing is a tool, but it needs to become something else.

You have so many plants in your home. I was already thinking about the consideration of organic forms when I saw your work for the first time, but now, learning more about it, I see the real connection to the body. There is something really organic about some of the forms and looking around here at all the plants, it’s so clear.

Most of these sculptures actually come from the inorganic: prosthetics, tools for massaging, or dildos, but the thing is that when I abstract the shapes from their context, they suddenly do become something organic again.

It goes back and forth, something organic might inform something prosthetic.

When I use an existing shape or form to make something new and it takes the work somewhere else, to another place, that really interests me.

Apartamento Magazine - Eva Fàbregas
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