Mexican artist Mariana Castillo Deball works across a wide range of mediums, including installation, performance and sculpture, to explore how objects shape our identity and our history. Her practice is rooted in research and often involves collaboration with ethnographic collections, libraries and archives. His last installation, ‘Roman Rubbish’, includes ceramic sculptures, a textile curtain and a wax wall with inscriptions. Commissioned for Bloomberg SPACE at the Mithraeum in London, where it is on display until January 14, 2023, the work is inspired by the 14,000 Roman artifacts discovered at the site of Bloomberg’s European headquarters during archaeological digs in 2012.
Where is your workshop?
My studio is in Berlin. It was a carpentry workshop, I believe, and before me it was occupied by a group of women who worked on the scenography of the theatre.
What do you like most about space?
I like that it’s very quiet because it’s right next to a park. It’s also a pretty flexible space. I am able to adapt it to my different projects and to the mediums I use: sometimes I do ceramics or woodcuts; at other times I do carpentry or work with textiles. It’s not big enough for me to do all of these things simultaneously, but I can create different areas in space. The light in the studio is also very nice. Upstairs, I have a library where I can draw. Drawing is an important part of my practice; it’s quite an intimate process for me, so I like having a smaller space to work in.
Is there anything that frustrates you about this?
No, I really like it. Nothing to complain about at all.
Do you work alone?
Sometimes, but I also have three people who help me in the studio. They come two days a week. One is a ceramic specialist, one is a carpentry specialist and the other helps with budgets and project overview. I teach in another city in Germany, which means that I am always away from my studio on Mondays and Tuesdays.
When you’re in the studio, do you like to follow a particular routine?
It depends on what I’m working on. I don’t identify with the kind of artist who needs inspiration to know what to do next. I can’t remember a time when I was sitting at my desk thinking, “What should I do now? My processes are very long and one thing tends to lead to another. I could speculate on how to use another material, for example, because my work is very divided between material investigations – how to do things – and where these materials come from in relation to museums, archives or public spaces. My studio practice is not only based on what I create in the studio, but also on the encounters I have in other spaces.
What is the most popular book in your library?
I have a collection of Mexican manuscripts. There is one called Codex Borgia, which I have used for many different projects. One section is a facsimile and the other section is an interpretation of the drawings. The book belonged to my father so it has a long history and I often come back to it. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully understand it.
What is the most unusual object in your studio?
I collect a lot of very small things, or fragments of completely useless things. They don’t really have any aesthetic value. They’re basically garbage, but they have sentimental value to me. I pick them up when I travel or when I set up shows: pieces of ceramic that have fallen from a work, pieces of metal.
Where are they kept?
Do you pin the work of other artists?
Not really, but I create folders with reference image prints for each project; much of this visual material comes from other artists. I find it in books and scan it before printing it very quickly and cheaply, usually in black and white. The records are kept in my archives, so if I need to go back to something, I can easily find it. If it was stored on the computer, it would disappear into the chaos of files and data, so that’s the way I have to do things.
What artistic tool could you least do without?
I have a collection of bones that are used to fold paper or open letters. I work a lot with paper and create models for shows. I have been using these bones for over 20 years. I always have one with me whenever I go somewhere to set up a show. It is a humble tool.
Who is the most interesting visitor you have had at the studio?
Well, for a while I worked on a technique called scagliole. There are very few people who can still do it but there is a person who came to give us a workshop in the studio and share his knowledge. It was very special. His way of working is less tied to measurements than to an idea of how the material should look. It was very interesting for me. So much craft knowledge goes unwritten and it was special to see how he carried that knowledge with him, in his body.
‘Mariana Castillo Deball: Roman Rubbish’ is at the London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE from August 4 to January 14, 2023.