b. 1969, Valencia, Venezuela
Javier Téllez was born in Valencia, Venezuela, in 1969. He studied at Arturo Michelena School of Fine Arts, Venezuela. The son of psychiatrists, Téllez developed a close affinity with institutionalized patients with mental illnesses. This is reflected in his art, which, through installation, film, and video, addresses the general public’s understanding of such marginalized populations. His work questions the meaning of sanity by characterizing it as an axis rather than a fixed state. Téllez’s 16 mm film Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who See (2007) was inspired by the ancient Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant, in which each man touches a different part of the animal, and as a result the group disagrees about its overall nature. Téllez’s film features six blind participants and includes their spoken descriptions, thereby presenting a doubled phenomenological experience: that of the blind actors, who can never fully experience the elephant, and of the viewer, who can never fully understand the experience of the blind.
Téllez collaborated with patients from a Berlin psychiatric hospital to make the twenty-seven-minute film Caligari and the Sleepwalker (2008), which examines the subjective nature of perception and underscores the ways in which we interpret reality through the experiences of others. Artist and patients watched the canonical German Expressionist film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920) and worked together on a new version. Setting his film in the Einsteinturm, a German Expressionist observatory building in Potsdam’s Wissenschaftspark Albert Einstein (Albert Einstein Science Park), Téllez conjures an anachronistic atmosphere. Exploring the intersection of mental illness with hallucination and hypnosis, he also blurs the boundaries between creativity and disorder. And by including footage of the patients watching the original movie, Téllez casts them as not only cocreators, but also as actors and spectators.
Téllez has had solo exhibitions at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City (2004); Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (2005); Figge von Rosen Galerie, Cologne (2009); Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (2011); and Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent (2013). He has participated in group exhibitions at P. S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt; Castello di Rivoli, Torino; Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany; Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, as well as in the Yokohama Triennial (2001); Venice Biennale (2001 and 2003); Manifesta, Trento, Italy; Sydney Biennial; and Whitney Biennial, New York (all 2008); and Documenta, Kassel, Germany (2012). He has held residencies with the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, New York (2000); Art in General, New York (2002); Récollets, Paris (2006); Baltic Art Centre, Visby, Sweden (2007); and Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, Berlin (2010). He also participated in the P.S.1 International Studio Program (1993) and Whitney Independent Study Program (1997, both in New York), and Gasworks Studio Program, London (1999). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1999. Téllez lives and works in New York.