It's raining when I leave our first meeting. Violeta Cruz talks to me about her work with objects, and the games it creates. Water games. It's in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. I walk and sit on the terrace of a café to film the trickle of light that tinkles on the Parisian cobblestones. Today, the filmed interview is a double one, spanning two years. The first in April 2022, the second in December 2023. The first in Paris at his home, the second during a residency at the Dôme Théâtre d'Albertville on the edge of the Savoie mountains.
Violeta Cruz is a composer and sound artist who came from Colombia to study in France, where she now works. The video portrait bears witness to this. The video portrait focuses on an object, a "kinetic and sound sculpture" on which Violetta reflects. Her video portrait is one of a series of twelve, the seventh to be completed between late December 2023 and early January 2024.
Kinetic and sound sculptures.
It's funny because when I was a student, I was very clear about what I wanted to do. And now, I play a lot with what the world offers me. I feel I'm quite flexible. I get a lot of pleasure out of the projects I'm offered... even if sometimes they're a bit far from what I would have drawn as a line in my artistic approach. For example, at the moment, I'm doing a show for and with children, La mer, les jouets, le vent, les horloges. It's very demanding, in the sense that the children have no musical training. But, as there are quite a few precise objectives to be met, I'm making the most of it... I'm finding my place in a lot of different things!
In my more personal projects, it's precisely this project with objects, sound objects, where I'm taking a step aside, straying a little from the pure path of music. I'm going to touch on what attracted me to this other field, the circus, which I discovered during my first year in France. Circus is a different kind of apprehension of the world, it's about forces, volumes, things that are more vast and at the same time more mysterious... Things that happen visually but aren't limited to images. It's a mixed language... between several elements.
The objects I'm making at the moment, I call kinetic and sound sculptures... a fitting name for them! When things start going my way with these sculptures, that's when I surprise myself! These are the strongest emotions I have during my entire creative process. That moment when I produce one thing, and in fact, while making it, I discover a whole other thing! That moment when that thing totally escapes me and becomes more beautiful than I had imagined! I try to reproduce these things, knowing that they are accidents!
... It's a reflection that comes from a chain of reflections and requires a strong awareness of the context and the place we occupy in a system of power. Sometimes, I find myself in a context where people try to legitimize me by saying that I have plenty of conditions for not being legitimate! It's funny how emphatic it gets. I'm called a young woman, a Latin American. As if it were a cocktail of bad conditions to be someone who could succeed in art!
I wasn't at all aware of these potential obstacles to a career. I never felt that way. I come from a background, a family, where feminism was kind of the rule because there were only three of us! So there was never any question of it! We existed outside it. These are the kinds of things that I've learned to, how shall I put it... that people have made me see. I'm well aware that there are a lot of values that we carry without necessarily being conscious of them. For me, the gender discourse is not the priority. There are other discourses, other conditions, and in particular economic conditions, which are stronger and more decisive than gender conditions. In any case, I feel that if I lived this too consciously and if I asked myself every time whether I was legitimate to do what I do, it would prevent me from moving, living and thinking about what allows me to create.
In certain contexts, for example when I had the experience of composing an opera - and there's a whole explosion of identity problems when you say "opera", when you talk about a universalist genre, when it's purely European! - So how do I, as a Latin American, deal with European universalism? What am I building with that?
What I liked about my experience with this opera, La princesse légère, was that its content, its subject, projected itself into an extra-European universalism, and touched on very basic things beyond the political.
It was the director Jos Houben who suggested the subject of this opera, and I was surprised by how closely his proposal matched my own personal research. I'd started a project with my kinetic and sound sculptures where weight and gravity were important. In other words, the suspension of a fall, in a purely mechanical context, where everyone knows it's going to fall!
This is the main subject that motivates me. So it was a really good idea! At the same time, it was very concrete and sufficiently mystical and abstract to leave plenty of room for poetry.
With the artistic team, we particularly portrayed the princess's lightness as insouciance, which is a kind of false innocence. As when someone is unaware of the place they occupy and the conditions that have led them to that place. This social dimension is increasingly important to me. That is, how I live and how others live and why everyone lives the way they do and whether it's right and what I do if it's not right. Ever since I was a little girl, I've been made aware of that. To this type of question. And I think there are times in my life when I'd rather stop asking myself certain questions!
When I decided to come to France, I wanted above all to take advantage of the excellent opportunities offered by the French education system. When I became aware of the resources available to every Composition student at the Paris Conservatoire, I rearranged my speech to tell myself that it was only fair that, as a Colombian from a less wealthy country, I should come and take advantage of French resources, precisely because this country has a colonial past... I felt that it was good if I was recovering something that Europe had stolen! But it's a case of wanting to justify a life story, to find a history of humanity in one's own little life story in order to clear one's conscience. Now I think it would be nice if these resources were spent differently, benefiting more students, for example.
What's fundamental in my work and in my quest for life is to continue to be sensitive to other people's concerns. To broaden my horizons and keep them sufficiently open while remaining an artist. As an artist, you're very focused on yourself, on what you do and what you perceive. You have to have a good relationship with your ego so that it doesn't overshadow all the things you find important. So that's how I make such an individual approach shine through and be consistent with social issues.
For me, kitsch is a kind of contradiction-condensation between the beautiful and the ugly! It's a value that conveys a certain irony. There are codes of beauty, there are codes of what is popular, there are codes of low-art and hi-art, there are things that are beautiful, others that pretend to be, and there are barriers between a certain level of beauty that certain objects can't surpass! Kitsch is a point of view on a popular object that "denaturalizes" it, taking it out of its original context and giving it artistic value through decontextualization and transformation. It's a subject on which there's a lot of literature, and it's not what interests me most! I don't theorize much about it, but I think I touch on this type of phenomenon when I integrate the little plastic men, for example. It's an object with which everyone has a story. It's a popular object in Paris, but also in Colombia and China. I like the idea that I didn't come to this object by thinking about it, but rather through the more direct links of childhood and the pleasure of play. I get a real kick out of grasping objects.
Popular: I wonder if I could replace this word with another from the field of playfulness - which is very present in my work - to talk about what interests me and brings my sculptures together... It's often a question of confrontation: what's popular versus what's academic? Popular is also a notion that belongs to everyone, and it's a way for me to appropriate it more as a person than as a musician. There are sounds that interest me because my ear has heard other sounds and has been nourished along a certain path, but there are objects, or toys or machines that appeal to me on a deeper, more basic level!
The notion of work.
When I talk about my work, I find it pretentious to say "I compose". When people ask me what I do for a living, I find it a bit clichéd. I'm a composer, I write music, yes... well, that's a bit of a fantasy, so sometimes I limit myself to my administrative status, and answer that I'm an "artist-author". Sometimes work means consulting the Internet, sometimes it means writing, and sometimes it means experimenting and failing, but that's my own business, and for the rest of us, it's just work!
Interview by Céline Pierre