Rafael Domenech, works from the series Untitled 1-9 (Friedman’s strength model of time memory), 2014
Courtesy Rafael Domenech and Fredric Snitzer Gallery

Temporality, sensory perception, and spatial relations are concepts at the core of Rafael Domenech’s artmaking process. In a conversation with Janet Batet, Domenech talks about how these concepts have informed his latest work, recently on view in an austerely beautiful exhibition in Miami.

“Time / Memory / Context” is the title of your most recent solo exhibition, which recently closed at Fredric Snitzer Gallery’s new venue near downtown Miami. The show was composed of works on paper, in-situ sculptures, and an outdoor installation, and explored the notions of temporality, sensory perception, and spatial relations—concepts that have been at the core of your artistic research for the past three years. Could you delve into these concepts and explain to us how they structured the exhibition?

A group of factors has consistently informed my artistic practice, and the source of information for them clearly includes personal experience, but more importantly, a fundamental interest in history, philosophy, and theory. For the last two to three years, I have been deeply aware of ideas that touch upon sense perception and spatial relationships.

These thoughts began forming as a rebellion against my own history and artistic practice. The necessity of having a story to tell was replaced by more personal and fundamental concerns and theories that were always present but not previously exposed. The need to create artificial artifacts, or so-called art with no connection to me, was wiped out by a natural curiosity about space, observation, spatial connection, and time. How a piece is perceived against the space that holds it, and how the work connects with both its source of information and its new context became a fitting commentary and interpretation as I prepared for this exhibition.

I started early to formulate personal theories about the temporality of a work of art, and to generate thoughts on how a piece accepts and acknowledges surroundings rather than refusing them. The concept of time became not only the subject matter of the work, but also an idea about how the work can continuously be transformed, based on context.

My own historical interpretation of a painting, photograph, or drawing has always been of an image that is looked at more than once and does not change form; we receive and reflect information based on personal circumstance. In this case, I was exploring the idea of a work that starts with the act of discovery and continues transforming the perceptional experience.

Rafael Domenech, Untitled 1-12 (benches), 2014
Courtesy Rafael Domenech and Fredric Snitzer Gallery

I have consistently been intrigued with the idea of connectivity between objects and context. The spatial configuration of an exhibition has been always crucial, and continually taken into consideration as a foundation of the work exhibited. I see space as an important part in the processes of creation, not just a setting where a painting or a drawing hangs. To me the distance between two works, the separation between a work and a viewer, or a work and the floor, is conceptually more relevant for an accurate reading and understanding of the overall project presentation.

Installation view of Rafael Domenech: Time / Memory / Context at Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami
Courtesy Rafael Domenech and Fredric Snitzer Gallery

Your work has a strong connection with minimalism, particularly with the work of Donald Judd and what he referred to as “the specific object.” But the type of materials you use, and the importance of the process in your work, make for a crucial difference. Could you explain the meaning of the materials, such as paper and wood, used in this show, and also how the process pervades your work from conception to final realization, and how it provokes a dialogue with the viewer?

An artist’s studio has to fulfill the same role a laboratory. The studio is a place where experimentation with materials and forms is crucial for achieving growth and development within the language of art.

My studio practice, however, responds at the same time to a hierarchical structure where works are conceived through a series of steps: concepts generate ideas, which then produce forms. Usually, most ideas respond to a general concept guideline I would be following at that moment, with forms expanding and contracting along those lines of thought.

In this particular case, the use of wood, plastic, and paper is the end result of a large investigative process concerning the inherent fact and physical possibilities of materials. Wood and paper carry implied historical information, with links not only to the history of art but to the story of humanity. This direct connection and the extensive use of both in everyday life, from time immemorial, is of great interest to me.

As I mentioned, form is always based on a series of pre-established ideas, but the search for the singular form that will state and best define an idea follows an extensive research process—the use of wood, for example, since wood is historically viewed as the solid foundation and strong support for construction. In this case, however, the investigation regarding wood took a completely different approach, and the matter at hand was the fragility and flexibility of the material.

Rafael Domenech, Untitled (gravity drop), 2014
Courtesy Rafael Domenech and Fredric Snitzer Gallery

Behind “Time / Memory / Context” is a rigorous method of research regarding art and perception. Tell us more about this process.

Art history is an important part of my life, and I am conscious of the influences an artist can receive. It is extremely important to me to grasp fully what has happened previously to comprehend my own position within the framework of visual art today.

I feel closely related to conceptual, minimalist, and land art. A common thread within this grouping revolves around the way art was perceived at that time, and how it still is. The seriousness and concerns of projects within those art movements are subjects I deeply identify with, and I consciously try to incorporate some of their precepts into my own work.

Visits to places such as Dia Art Foundation in Beacon, New York, and the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, were sources of information and inspiration in the development of the work in this exhibition. Being exposed to a particular way of showing and displaying art was crucial in establishing a personal mindset that would lead later on toward solutions and challenges in problem-solving.

If space was a crucial reference in your last solo show—at least I feel it was—now space becomes the analogy to challenge time: here becomes now, and through this bridge we reach out into time and memory. What is the significance of pairing time and memory in this show?

The pairing is the foundation of the show. The substance and relationship between these two elements was for me the challenge to tackle and is chiefly the subject matter of the exhibition. From a personal point of view, time-memory is a combination of two words that define existence. Time is the greatest invention of mankind and memory is the result of the experiences through time.

Since last year, you’ve devoted yourself to developing artwork devoid of any image. The first step in that process, as you have explained, was to spend one year without yourself being a formal presence in any photograph. Let’s talk about that in the context of your ongoing series, “Untitled 1-9 (Friedman’s strength model of time memory),” 2014. How does it relate to this process?

This project emerged from a series of analyses centered on William J. Friedman’s 1933 text “Memory for the time of past events.” The investigation of memory and space memory revealed in this study was a critical source of information as I undertook this exhibition. The work started to emerge from concepts and from ideas regarding information that gets stored in the brain regarding distance, specific contexts, and relative times of occurrence.

Rafael Domenech, works from the series Untitled 1-9 (Friedman’s strength model of time memory), 2014
Courtesy Rafael Domenech and Fredric Snitzer Gallery

At the beginning of the year, I started to think about a project to be based on the absence of the image as the link between memory and the past. Why do we need a photographic image to remember? Why not consider using different means to record places that could lead to diverse interpretations of that same space? These two questions confirmed and defined how the project was going to be approached.

The research consisted of the negation of any photographic process documenting any event or place. This included the act of self-deprivation: I would not be part of a photographic image of any kind. The work then became a progression in evaluating and calculating how I perceived and assimilated my own environment.

The process of abstaining from being a formal presence in an image was a defining moment. I started to perceive “context” as more than technical jargon used in the art world. A deeper awareness of surroundings led to seeking and finding potential in the most neglected spaces and the objects found nearby. These personal interests, combined with urban planning models and space-time theories, were components that conceptually shaped the work.

It started as a simple process of recording space from a documentary standpoint. As my questioning regarding specific contexts, time, and spaces expanded, the project opened up and gained strength, finding root in a conceptual and process-based work. The different objects found and the textures recorded replaced the previously customary flow of images.

This shift opened up possibilities for more sublime interpretations of moments past. The eradication of the image as conceptual foundation of the work rapidly pointed me to contemplate “white” as a concept, a form, a presence, and an absence.

The form the pieces took derived directly from the calendar, and they retained a grid-patterned structure that corresponds to days and weeks in a month.

A series of watercolor paper pieces cut to 4” x 4” are used to engrave a memory of space.  Rubbing those squares against a texture, be it wall or floor, makes the paper capture every surface detail, as if casting material. Rigorously doing one card every day, records were then reviewed the following month, and only those remembered were placed back in a previously created holding structure.

The small pieces were sited exactly to correspond with the same day of creation, while the remaining ones were replaced with empty, unmarked paper squares. This existential record created refers directly to the actual source of information and the relevant value of the moment is its basis.

Rafael Domenech, one of the works in the series Untitled 1-9 (Friedman’s strength model of time memory), 2014
Courtesy Rafael Domenech and Fredric Snitzer Gallery
Janet Batet (b. Havana, Cuba) is an independent curator, art critic, and essayist currently living in Miami. She is a former researcher and curator at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales (Development Center of Visual Arts) and a former professor at the Instituto Superior de Arte (Higher Institute of Art), both in Havana. She is passionate about contemporary art, Latin American art, and new technology. Her articles on art practices are regularly published in Art Nexus, Art Pulse, Arte al Dia, Art Experience: NYC, and El Nuevo Herald, among others.