Chilean artist and ZHdK fine arts graduate Rodrigo Toro Madrid makes art out of trash and electronic waste. Half-sculpture, half-musical instrument, his works capture the energy of a place and reflect it in sounds. A conversation about the ephemerality of memories.
Tessa Apitz: How did you come to make art out of old technical equipment?
Rodrigo Toro Madrid: Back in 2012, I was in my last years as a visual arts bachelor student in Chile and wanted to develop my practice as a painter. As a hobby, I was building photographic cameras out of trash and cheap materials. A teacher told me that I seemed more enthusiastic about cameras and should develop them as part of my praxis. I first began collecting any sort of trash, like kitchenware, old bicycles, meat grinders, demolition wood, as a source of material. Then I started keeping some functional parts and used what was already built, for example, printers.
How do you approach a project? Do you follow certain steps?
I usually begin with something I have read or seen, for instance, a movie, which I use as a poetic background for a project. In parallel, I build prototypes of anything that occurs to me and sometimes fits with one of these ideas.
What fascinates you about sound and about creating it?
For me, sound is the simplest way of transforming something merely material into something that invites us to also use other senses. This basic idea led me to start making my first noise machines. Next, I resurrected old, obsolete techniques for preserving and reproducing sound, for example, record players and vinyl recorders. It fascinates me that recording and listening are very physical processes: they involve the texture of a surface, have a visual aspect, and convey the atmosphere of the place where we are listening.
Your sculptures capture and reflect the energy of a place. How exactly?
A lot of my sculptures are built with components from a specific place. On the outskirts of a city or at a demolition site, you can see the oxide in the metal, the dust and the cracks in the wood. These material conditions are also reflected in the emitted sounds.
Your installations often erase information and sounds. Why is that?
Personal and collective memories define what we do every day. But whenever we remember something, it differs from the last time. A physical record wears out. My work seeks to address this phenomenon as a way of finding common ground between our minds and the material realm.
What inspires your work? What gives you energy?
I am always thinking about building things. Sometimes, it is just about being in the workshop, chopping wood, hammering metal, and so on. Besides, trying to revive dead technology can be really frustrating — so when something actually works, it is hugely satisfying!