Tiny Revelations

Artist and educator Federico Clavarino turns his attention to false starts, and the fresh discoveries they can yield

Federico_Clavarino@ The Palm Tree Workshops

If you had to show just one of your images to someone who had never seen your work and knew nothing about you, which image would you show them, and why?

My work is seldom about single images but rather about how these work together, so I guess I would try to show them a photograph of my studio wall, a spread from a book, or an exhibition view. These are the kinds of forms I work with, clusters and nebulae of pictures that, when they are looked at with sufficient attention, can hopefully lead to tiny revelations.

Can you say more about the following, which you once wrote on Instagram: “This is photography’s trick: It does not produce copies of what we see but rather speaks to us of the potential things have of becoming something else.”

We often think of photographs as copies of things that exist out there in the world, as if there were an “out there” and then something else, separate from it, that is a simulation of it. But pictures are part of the world; they are bits of matter that undergo physical changes, processes of transformation in which things get mixed up. I am fascinated by how likeness emerges from these processes, with how an orchid can resemble a bee, and yet be a very different thing from it, or how a photograph can resemble a face while, of course, not being attached to a human body by a neck. How are the face and its photograph attached, then? That is the interesting question.

Tell us about an influential or inspiring encounter you had outside of your practice—an experience that stays with you in generative ways.

It’s funny because I started thinking about it and I realised that most of the encounters I’ve had in the past few years were somehow linked to my practice: students, teachers, fellow artists, curators, people I’ve photographed or otherwise worked with. My work has shaped a lot of the way I connect with people. In a way, it meant I could connect with all these fan- tastic individuals in so many different countries, so my world got bigger. On the other hand, most of it has to do with art, so my world got smaller. Before I could afford to spend most of my time making and teaching art, I taught English in Madrid, mostly in companies but also at people’s homes. I met so many different people from very different walks of life. There was this student, Angel, he worked at a bank but before that he drew cartoons. He didn’t like his job and was going through a rough patch in his private life, but he was obsessed with airplanes and he once took me with him to fly little models he made. It was such a strange moment—we were out near the highway and he let go of this little plane and I took some photographs I still like.

If you could live in a museum for a week, which one would you choose, and why?

If a botanical garden qualifies as a museum, and in some ways I think it does, I would spend a week in late spring or early summer at Kew Gardens [in London], but this might just be me craving the sun right now. I love looking at plants, though, and I am fascinated by the huge Victorian greenhouses. But to tell the truth, I would also spend a week in some museum I have never been to, and preferably in a country I have never been to. Lately, I find myself walking around sections of the V&A or the British Museum that I usually didn’t visit much before—for example, ancient Chinese art. I would love to go to China, Japan, or Ko- rea and haunt some museum over there.



What’s an example of an exercise or experiment that you will take participants through in your “False Starts” workshop?

That is, of course, a secret. But the idea is that they are going to work from stuff I found in my notebooks. These are all ideas for projects that for some reason I never got to work on. Peo- ple are going to be asked to start work on them and abandon them shortly after. We are go- ing to work towards a collection of false starts, of attempts at beginning something. My hope is that people will bring very different approaches to these ideas, and that these will work as a ground to reflect on questions of method.

What’s one thing you’re looking forward to doing/seeing/eating/feeling in Santorini?

There are too many things—they would never fit here! The first that comes to mind is to feel the sun on my skin; it’s been a very long winter here in London. I am also looking forward to going for a swim every morning before the workshop starts. I am very curious to get to know the participants, of course; that’s always the best part for me. People are full of surprises. Oh, and the food: the tomatokeftedes, the yoghurt, the Assyrtiko wine, and that little taverna on the port near Vlychada beach. And of course it’s been a long time since I last saw Stella and Marilena. They alone are worth the trip.


Federico Clavarino x Palm Tree Workshops: “False Starts,” 10–14 June, 2024.