Dialogue with Julio Obelleiro and Casilda Sanchez

Fall 2010: v.06 n.02: Dynamic Coupling

 Before the Stranger’s Eye, 2009. Obelleiro and Sanchez.

Before the Stranger’s Eye, 2009. Obelleiro and Sanchez.

Before the Stranger’s Eye is an interactive two-channel video installation that explores the encounter and relationship between the artwork and the viewer, as well as their roles within this relationship through the content of the dialog that drives the installation and by means of using computer vision techniques and custom made software to trigger interactive reactions, both characters acknowledge the viewers around them in order to introduce them in their conversations. This strategy tries to shift the center of attention from the installation itself to the viewer(s) around it to remark the critical roles they play in the completion of the artwork. 
Project documentation can be accessed at: www.julioobelleiro.com/before-the-strangers-eye/

How much time do you spend together? Do you live together or share a studio or do you just get together to work on projects as they come up?

We spend most of our time together, as we live together, have our studio together, and have the same group of friends (both in Chicago and Madrid).

When you are working on something do you schedule structured time together in a physical space, or meet online, or is it more organic than that?

Following up with the previous answer, when we work together it is completely organic. We always try to schedule time to work on our shared projects, but in the end it is a more organic process. Finally we end up mixing project-related topics in most of our conversations.

Do you keep your personal/professional lives separate, or have they become seamless and indistinct? Is this okay?

We don’t keep such separation between personal/professional lives, which is good and bad at the same time. It is great on the one hand, as that means that we love what we do, but at the same time, it is difficult to disconnect every once in a while.

Can you, or do you, turn off your research/studio practice(s)?

That is what we ultimately try to do, but it does not always work. Not as much as we would like to.

When and how did you meet each other and under what circumstances?

We have been together for a very long time, when pretty much neither one of us worked on or studied art. That happened afterwards.

At what point did you start making work together?

Our collaboration has been so far more project-centered. Both of us have an independent studio practice, but if during a certain conversation we come up with an idea for a project that we are both interested in, then we collaborate for the project. Anyway, we equally consider “collaboration” the fact that we are our main “critiquers” for each other’s work, as we discuss all the processes, ideas, and details of the projects we do (and of course help each other to make them happen.)

Was there a growing period, when you had to get a feel for each other’s process/priorities, learn how to communicate – or did you click right away?

It has been a natural process that evolved from our personal relationship into developing shared interests.

Do you gravitate towards roles in your practice – based on strengths, or personality, or skills? Or is every project a different kind of adventure?

Not that we define roles, but when it comes to technical aspects we usually keep the same roles (depending on our areas of expertise). In terms of conceptualizing projects we don’t make any distinction.

How do you generate the concepts you work with? Do you draw, write, photograph, or do any sort of regular background practice? Is this a shared thing?

We do not have a specific method. Our projects are born from ideas that come up during a conversation or as a consequence of previous projects or research. Then, we draw sketches or build prototypes to clarify ideas and make sure we understand the project in the same way.

How do you make choices and negotiate decisions about what direction to take with projects?

It is normally a matter of exposing the ideas to one another and understanding what could be the best way to convey them. We discuss the possible arguments and then decide on the best solutions, but we don’t have a specific decision-making process established.

Does your collaboration ever involve more people? If no, why not? If yes, then when and how does that work?

Not so far. Not for any specific reason, just because we didn’t need help or more “hands” involved in the projects we have collaborated in. If, in the future, we were to collaborate in a project where more people needed to be involved, we would be happy to do so.

Will you describe a project that didn’t work out or you didn’t follow through on? Can you describe something that you couldn’t agree on or you didn’t feel like you were both “into?”

We don’t remember any specific disagreement that led to a failure in a project. Nevertheless, when looking back into projects previously done, we both recognize that some decisions were just wrong. But we consider this part of the natural evolution we constantly “suffer.”

What kinds of singular processes or practices, studio or research, do you maintain as individuals that you may or may not bring into the collaboration?

We both maintain an active individual studio practice (which actually is the source of most of our projects). Our collaborations have happened due to “points of contact” between different projects/research we have individually, thus leading to hybrid projects.

Do you make your own work in addition to the collaborative work, and what sort of need does this fill?

Yes, we both do. Our collaborative projects fulfill the common interests that we have and that arise from our individual practice. Our individual practice fulfills more personal interests that are not always common.

If you maintain an individual practice as well as a collaborative practice, have you run into conflicts of interest, time-management/priority issues, or experienced communication problems due to multiple focuses at any point? How is this resolved?

We haven’t have problems so far. Whenever we have collaborated, those projects have been our first priority to make them happen.

What are the strengths in working collaboratively and what are the challenges in working collaboratively?

The strengths are the enrichment of the projects due to the collaborative thinking and brainstorming process. Later on, during the development of the projects, the different perspectives help refine the project from different viewpoints. Also, on the technical side of things, it is easier to accomplish complex tasks that involve expertise in different areas than working individually.

In terms of challenges, I think for us the challenge is to keep the projects in a state that feels interesting to both of us. To balance the ideas, the interests, and the goals of both in a single project. When that happens, it is great, but it’s not always easy.

What sort of theory, cultural circumstances, or life scenarios influence or inform your decision to work collaboratively? Would you say that your collaboration is philosophically driven, or more pragmatic?

We think our collaboration comes from the constant sharing and discussion about our ideas, projects and interests. By doing this, our projects end up having a blend of influences coming from each other, and that leads to collaboration in many cases. It is a natural consequence.

If you teach, how does collaborative practice inform the way you facilitate student projects and teach studio courses?

Currently only Julio teaches. In my case (Julio), I attempt to convey the advantages and interesting outcomes that collaboration offers. I don’t force collaboration of course, but I encourage it, and in the end the students end up collaborating naturally too, and I love to see it when that happens.

If you teach, do you co-teach? If you do co-teach, how has that been received by the students, and how has this been received in the academic institutions you have worked with?

We haven’t co-taught yet, but it would be great.

Please point to us at a project or projects you would like to describe. Include links or attach files. If relevant, share with us a sense of the collaborative back-and-forth that may have gone into planning and making the work.

The Viewer, which addresses the artwork-viewer communication from the “gaze’s standpoint,” was a very segmented collaboration, as it was very close to Casilda’s research topic (the act of looking), and very close to Julio’s interests in interaction (as an end). So, even if we were to discuss every single aspect of the project together, the work times where “by turns” in a way, instead of more intertwined processes. Finally, it was interesting that we did some public presentations of the project together, which in the end was another stage of the collaboration. More: www.julioobelleiro.com/the-viewer/

Before the Stranger’s Eye, is for example another project we made together, with a different collaboration process. It dealt, among other things, with the collective elaboration of meaning that immediate discussions in an exhibition space can provoke. The process of making it was way more mixed in the sense that we worked together on the scripts, on the shooting and on the installation itself, pretty much sharing the weight of all the stages of the project equally.

Julio Obelleiro is an artist and engineer focused on the investigation of new ways to create engaging interactions between audience and artworks. He creates light based interactive installations that initiate shifts and illusions in perception, as viewers are made aware of their relation with an artwork. His work has also revolved around the creation of interactive large-scale public projections where the collaborative creation of audiovisual experiences by the audience is addressed. His interdisciplinary work has also been developed as part of the art group Play The Magic and in collaboration with Casilda Sanchez. He has displayed his work internationally in festivals and venues such as: as Ars Electronica (Austria), FILE Festival (Brazil), 10YearsAfter v4.0_OuterSpace Festival (Seoul), The White Night (Madrid), Looptopia (Chicago), Urban Art Festival (Bucharest), Mirador-Matadero Biennale (Madrid) among others. He has been recipient of the Fulbright Grant, or the Torres Quevedo Fellowship (Spanish Ministry of Education and Science) among others. Obelleiro currently teaches in the New Media Arts program at UIC and in the Art and Technology Studies at SAIC.


Born in Madrid, Spain, Casilda Sánchez holds a Doctoral Degree and a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the Complutense University of Madrid. At the moment she lives and works in Chicago where she is an MFA candidate at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work is an immersion in the experience of vision and the role of looking in a social context, raising some of its beauties and contradictions. By means of using photography, video and installation she explores the ideas of vision, voyeurism and intimacy, as contradictions and metaphorical behaviors. Those specificities work aesthetically and metaphorically to connect us with the broader experience of our personal communication dynamics. The resulting images embody a physical eye that beats, touches and relates intimately. She has shown her work in galleries and venues such as Soho Photo Gallery (New York), Directors Lounge (Berlin), Museum of the University of Alicante (Madrid, Spain), Oliva Arauna Art Gallery (Madrid,), International Roaming Biennial of Tehran (Istanbul) Estampa Art Gallery (Madrid), FILE RIO 2009 Electronic Language International Festival (Brazil), Museum of Visual Arts (Chile), among others.