Fueled by a brilliant imagination and clear vision, globe-hopping artist Carolina Fontoura Alzaga has created stunning bespoke chandeliers out of a most unusual resource: discarded, unwanted bicycle parts. This artist's influences range from class politics to Victorian design elements, both of which can clearly be seen in her chandelier designs. I was lucky enough to catch up with Carolina in between trips to Berlin, Rio, and points in between. See what she has to say about her chandeliers, influences, and plans for the future.
CasaSugar: What medium did you first work in?
Carolina Fontoura Alzaga: My father gave me my first 15mm camera when I was 15.
CS: Where did you grow up? Were your parents artistic?
CFA: I was born in Mexico City. I mostly grew up in Denver, CO, where we moved when I was 3 years old, and throughout my childhood I would spend my Christmases and Summers in between Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro. [My parents] were both artistic. My Brazilian father was a photographer and cameraman. My Mexican mother studied painting in Mexico City's San Carlos art academy and also designed clothing.
CS: How did your family shape your identity as an artist?
CFA: My mother's taste influenced me tremendously — she has such care for color, texture, and composition. My father was an obsessive documentator. Their homes were very attentive to artistic sensibilities. My immediate family certainly helped shape my identity as an artist and so did my extended family. My mother's eldest brother of 11 [siblings], Jorge Alzaga, was a fairly recognized painter in Mexico and really legitimized being an artist to my aunts and uncles. The acceptance of art as a viable career really encouraged the younger generation, as did the pervasive appreciation for art. Many of my cousins pursued creative careers in film, music, industrial design, and fine art.
CS: How did you start working with recycled bicycle parts?
CFA:I started using bike tubes in my fashion design around 2003. I made hats, shirts, buttons, and eventually lingerie. It didn't breathe, but, boy, did it look hot! Eventually, I had the idea to make a bike chandelier as I stood in my makeshift kitchen of a warehouse I shared with 12 other punks, activists, and artists. What I ended up making looked more like a mobile and, dissatisfied, I sought to make a proper chandelier.
Learn about Victorian influences in Caro's work, as well as what show she'd love to see her chandelier on.
CS: Have you used other unusual materials in your work? What are those?
CFA:I love to use found objects. When I painted, I would paint on just about anything I could find in the dumpster. I was a huge dumpster diver when I was younger and found many treasures.
CS: In your series, Connect, you use Victorian chandeliers as inspiration. What attracts you to this era? How does it intersect with class politics?
CFA:Victorian taste was based on class. The industrial revolution made available, to those who could afford it, new materials unavailable before. Victorian design is usually excessively ornamental, lush, and abundant to parade one's wealth. If you look at the chandelier as a symbol of opulence and, as such, power, and the used bike parts as the discarded, invisible, and no longer valuable, then the combination of the two takes on a new third meaning. The invisible are making themselves visible by standing up to that power and reclaiming it. It's a collective self-propelled movement toward change. I do also like the steampunk aesthetic, though this was an accidental afterthought.
CS: You live in LA now. What’s the artistic community like?
CFA: I mostly move between Mexico City, Denver, and LA, though earlier this year I lived in Berlin for a few months. In a week, I'm going to San Francisco, then Mexico City, and will be visiting Rio for Christmas. I get a taste for artistic communities but cannot say I am a part of them. Being so peripatetic makes this difficult. I hope to settle soon though.
CS: You recently turned down an offer to feature one of your chandeliers on Running Wilde. What show or high-exposure venue would you love to see your chandeliers?
CS: What or who is influencing or inspiring you lately?
CFA: Artisan flea markets from LA to Berlin, Swoon's Swimming Cities project, design boutiques, resourcefulness, simplicity.
CS: Are you going to be in any shows, galleries, etc., soon?
CFA: I do not have any shows lined up yet. I've been doing commissions and haven't had much time to produce work for a show. However, I'm lining up shows for next year and planning a US art tour. If you want a chandelier, I can hand deliver it!