Untitled (79th), 2017, Photo courtesy of Rafael Domenech

Student Spotlight: Rafael Domenech ‘19

January 18, 2018

The Student Spotlight series aims to highlight the work of current MFA students, asking them to share thoughts on their practice by answering curated and peer-submitted questions.


Rafael Domenech '19 is an MFA Visual Arts student in his second year.


Headshot of Rafael Domenech


What themes or subjects are you currently addressing in your work?


Early on I began to see the city as an outlet where one can acquire experiences, find objects, and seek ideas. To understand the urban habitat as a revolving force, a rich energy source, generating knowledge, creating forms, suggesting materials. And I want my work to reflect this vitality.


The studio becomes the space where theoretical content finds development, a visual laboratory where aesthetic and formal results are the logical outcome of specific investigations. It is here where one examines the complex processes of constructing an image. Regardless of whether the result is a sculptural collage or a painting, the execution process remains open to be impacted by new information. Often my pieces incorporate waste resulting from their production.


I see my work stemming from a focused study of networks and their physical composition. This approach embraces complex and challenging notions, such as contamination, renewal, implosion, repetition, and surplus. These tightly woven ideas and conditions impact our contemporary society significantly. Their convergence is a catalyst for expanding my investigation, acting as fuel to increase a critical perception of materials and their inherent behavior.


Currently, my attention is on how objects relate to a public space and how this compares to when seen in a private condition. I am interested in the social impact of something subtracted from a particular place, modified, and then returned to its source, an exercise in defining and discovering complex, multiple identities.



What materials are you working with at the moment?


Materials fluctuate as ideas evolve, I am not interested in specific materials or forms. For example, I am fascinated with the evolution of image databases composed over time; images become materials to use as the result of performative actions around the city. I think that walking around the city is one of the most profound and conscious actions one can do; it can lead to the discovery of new ideas or new materials. The sedimented public space allows for an archeology of the city.


Lately, I have been experimenting with vector technologies such as laser cutters, CNC machines, and 3D printers and their relation to different materials. Usually, I try to utilize the tools on materials that they were not designed for; surprisingly results come out of these accidents. I am interested in standard and generic materials such as plastic, cardboard, paper and how they relate to the industry of production, design, and display.



Are there any themes or materials you’re interested in exploring in the future?


I cannot say I am not. Ideas evolve everyday as I try to understand the entangled and convoluted New York City, and with the ideas come the materials. I want to stay open to expand the practice as much as possible.  



What challenges do you face in your practice?


Challenges are always present, whether it is economically or time-related there is always a bump in the road which makes things more interesting. However, I think austerity and necessity are the mothers of creativity. I can say I function better under stress. Time management is always a concern as I try to tackle a lot of projects at the same time so they can relate one another.   



Who are artists or works of art that inspire you? Who are contemporary artists that are doing interesting work?


I will never forget the first time I left Cuba. I traveled to London where I saw Sunflowers by Van Gogh, at that moment my life changed. From then on, I decided to visit and learn the history of art. Some of my favorite artists are Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta-Clark and his relationship to the city and architecture is something that has influenced me for a long time, as well as Helio Oiticica and his political irreverence.


Here are a few artists and architects that are doing great work Liam Gillick, Ernesto Oroza, David Hammons, Francois Roche.



What has been your favorite class at Columbia so far?


Politics of Space with professor Mary McLeod.



How do you think artists can continue growing as artists?


Keep intrigue about things, look and talk about issues that no one else is willing to, and never give up. But most importantly, be in the studio and do the best you can.