Sometimes we come across something so weird and wonderful, we have to pick the brains of the individual behind it. This was the case when it came to artist Anton Alvarez and his lightheartedly named project, Alphabet Aerobics. A collection of strangely shaped raw clay sculptures, Alphabet Aerobics is the result of Anton’s obsession with creating his own tools and machines - and not being able to predict the final outcome.
We caught up with him on the phone in his home country of Sweden, mid-mushroom picking during an afternoon spent in a windswept field. Anton trained as a cabinet maker in Sweden and later came to live in London to complete his masters at the Royal College of Art.
“I say to other people that I am based in Sweden because I don’t know about the future, nobody knows where they are going to be in the future” says Anton, “London was great and I still have lots of friends there, but space-wise Sweden is more open, we have water everywhere and it’s a more calm working environment for me.”
When it comes to his work, Anton is somewhat of a design chameleon. He specialises in creating tools and machinery to use as a medium to create his artwork. His largest project, the Thread Wrapping Machine, was an invention that involved joining different types of materials together (anything from wood and metal to plastic) with metres and metres of thread. Alphabet Aerobics was a natural progression from this, and a complete labour of love.
“The most restricting thing about the Thread Wrapping Machine was myself” he says, “I had to be present to produce the object. I took things in a different direction and developed my new machine which is a ceramic extruder. It allowed me to take a step back and explore the making of crafted objects through other people.”
To get a little technical, Anton’s latest whizzy contraption has a 3000 kilo press which pushes clay through a machine and through individual nozzles that Anton designs. The result can quite literally be anything. Speed, height and shape all manipulate the end result and create soft, lumpy swirls of clay which become the sculpture.
But why did he call it Alphabet Aerobics? “The different shape nozzles are actually letters” explains Anton, “When you look from the top you can sometimes see quite a strict font, or sometimes it’s a bit more crazy. The letters of the alphabet come out in sculpture form.”
Bingo! Anton is as wacky as he is smart and the thought process behind Alphabet Aerobics meant that he didn’t need to be present to operate the machine. Actually, it was the staff of the The National Centre for Craft and Design where it was exhibited who pressed the “GO” button, with an audience present to look on.
“I think this way the audience create a nice relationship to the object, they almost become the maker of it, but of course they’re just observing the making process” he says. “They have another relationship which isn’t just seeing the finished object, but seeing the story of how it is made - it creates another level of understanding.”
You can tell that Anton likes to push the boundaries of traditional art and craft, and his results are all the more engaging because of it. We like to think of it as his own factory - the outcomes are always relatively unknown and the process is far from boring.
“My machines are the artists performing in front of a crowd” he says, “The most exciting part of spending a year or half a year designing a machine is getting it working and seeing what it will do.”
For now, we’re still entranced by his clay twists and turns and there’s something totally compelling about his way of working. Whilst we sit and ponder just what his next invention may be, we leave Anton peacefully picking mushrooms in his own eccentric world.
Words: Lucy Vincent
Images: Anton Alvarez