Oscar Santillan

MFA, 2011

Oscar Santillan (Ecuador, based in Amsterdam) insinuates in his work the existence of a territory where fact and fiction are exchangeable. Unexpected events occur there, the beat of drums synchronizes to the sweat of a person, the unrealized desire of a dead person is fulfilled, or a cloud is physically captured in a marble container. Santillan received a Sculpture MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University – VCU (US), and attended residencies at the Delfina Foundation (UK), Jan van Eyck (NL), Fondazione Ratti (IT), Skowhegan (US), and Seven Below (US). His work has been displayed at ‘Carrillo Gil’ Museum of Art (MX), Irish Museum of Modern Art (IE), Mercosul Biennial (BR), Bonnefanten Museum (NL), STUK (BE), Fundacion ODEON (CO), Poly/graphic Triennial (PR), The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art – SECCA (US), Copperfield gallery (UK), Centraal Museum (NL), Galleria Mazzoli (IT), Marilia Razuk Gallery (BR), Oud-Rekem Castle (Belgium), Centro de Arte Contemporáneo – CAC (EC), Vogt Gallery (US), Alanica International (RU), among other venues.

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What have you been up to since graduating from VCU?

Producing art and ideas, in many ways, in many different places.

What advice would you give a current VCU Sculpture student?

Do not try making interesting art; rather focus into what is interesting for you.

How did VCU prepare you for your current situation?

There is a story I always tell related to how VCU made me rethink and even reshape my work, which is all you can ask for from your education. One day I had a studio visit with one of the legendary thinkers at the Sculpture Department. Because of my personal anxiety, during the visit I was talking too much while she carefully examined the sketches and tests I had set on a table. When I started the program I used to plan for too long before daring to be more physically involved with those ideas; the relationship between thinking and making was quite stiff in my practice. At some point she interrupted my messy stream of words, and said “Oscar, you should let your work be smarter than you are.” She did not provide further explanation on the statement and we rather moved to other aspects of the conversation. Those words sank deep into me; in the beginning they made me feel uncomfortable but after a little while they started to break down my old mindset. VCU definitely opened up my understanding for a more complex relationship between thinking and making, for letting room to surprise myself, to work towards something beyond my own personal limitations.

How do you define success?

It is what happens when “who you are” and “what you do” match.

Why did you decide to study sculpture?

In my case those limitations were more important than my actual skills in order to move in this direction. I was a self-taught artist, coming from Ecuador, where the contemporary art scene is in its very early stages. As an artist I grew up in a context with a prominent sense of urgency, an urgency that comes from both social struggle and individual curiosity. During those early years I ended up making three-dimensional works by figuring out how to do it, or asking friends who were more knowledgeable; it was a mix of clumsiness and good luck with the final results. Joining the Sculpture Department at VCU provided me with the opportunity to properly learn the how-to’s while getting closer to a larger set of ideas, and becoming more familiar with the current discussions of the art world.