Sierra Villarreal: Installation Sculptor and Jewelry Designer | Brooklyn, NY
Interview by Atoosa Moinzadeh Photography by Quan Brinson Sierra wears sweater by Last Resort
Merging the principles of lighting, use of space, and altering perceptions, 23 year old Sierra Villarreal specializes in installation art and jewelry, describing her pieces as “wearable art.” She notably crafts intricate geometric designs out of fragile materials like plexiglass, centering themes like subtleties and symbolism. For her, Paradise is all about the double take—the seen and the unseen.
Growing up in D.C., I had access to museums, so I was always surrounded by beautiful things and absorbing visual information. I became inspired by artists like Fred Sandbeck, who were creating really minimal work focused around spatial perspectives. I remember seeing my first Sandbeck installation when I was 18 or 19, and thinking: ‘Damn, we can do this? I can make stuff like this?’ Installation art had such a presence with me after that, and it really changed the way I viewed things. It opened up the possibilities of what could be created, and what could be seen as art. Something can have presence, and be very minimal; something can be very strong, but just be a few pieces of something.
"I was the kid that would stare into the corners of rooms.And granted, it would always be an empty corner, but it was a beautiful corner."
So naturally, after concentrating in painting for a bit I transitioned into installation art, and a lot of the work I was making played with the theme of barriers: the blockades that are there, but aren’t actually there. My installations weren’t loudest thing in the room because they were often made of string. But that makes the viewer hyper aware of the space they're in, how far away they are from things... it forces people to focus.
When I started making pieces for the body, I made these huge pieces... plexiglass chest plates that covered your shoulders, face masks, things like that, that resembled a kind of armor. It all fed into that idea of barriers: ‘What is the feeling of safeness?’ I think my thought process came from being a young woman, being a girl, and going through those life experiences that cause us to put up those barriers: being hurt, being taken advantage of, trusting the wrong person... being in a situation where you thought you were safe, and finding out you actually weren’t.
People put up so many walls to guard their emotions, barriers between them and other people. Plexiglass symbolized the transparency of these barriers—they’re not strong at all. People see right through them. Clear pieces can be disorienting, they force people to make a double take.
We’re so bombarded by all these loud visuals in life, that we quickly dismiss the subtle things in imagery. And I think that subtlety is so much of what’s beautiful in life. My jewelry adds these little, clear touches to someone's face or hands... little details that not everyone is going to pick up on, but the people who get it, get it. I think that’s why my pieces have gotten smaller—because as I’ve grown, the armor has gotten smaller.
In The Video Organism, Pipiloti Rist said something remarkable: "Elixir can be medication for the mind, or it can impart a feeling of the museum as a hospital for the mind and spirit." Being able to look at something someone has created, and realizing that you can think your inner demons out, or at least have that moment where you can let things go—that’s Paradise.