Marks of the Real, Marks of the Phantasmagorical. Tomasz Załuski talks to Regina Silveira. - PDF

Marks of the Real, Marks of the Phantasmagorical. Tomasz Załuski talks to Regina Silveira. Tomasz Załuski: Do you think there is something like the Latin Condition? What is it for you? How would you define

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Marks of the Real, Marks of the Phantasmagorical. Tomasz Załuski talks to Regina Silveira. Tomasz Załuski: Do you think there is something like the Latin Condition? What is it for you? How would you define it in existential, political and artistic terms? Regina Silveira: In 1997 I made an artwork about Latin America, Quebra Cabeça da América Latina (Continua)... [Latin American Puzzle (To be Continued) ] which is an ironic commentary on the knowledge of Latin America, what is known or not known about it. It is a kind of touristic piece, a commentary on the view of Latin America from the outside, but also from the inside, because even as neighbors we know very little about the other countries on this continent. My puzzle was formed by more than one hundred stereotypical icons of Latin America, present as fragments of black-and-white images. The iconography is vast and could continue indefinitely: from soccer to mariachis, from Carlos Gardel to guerrillas, from cannibalistic Indians to military chiefs, llamas, Sugarloaf Mountain, Machu Picchu, tango and much more. It came out of encyclopedias, tour guides, embassy coffee-table books, historical prints by travelers, magazines, books and newspapers, and everything I could gather and apply, in a true predatory operation of images. Unlike in normal jigsaw puzzles, where the pieces fit together to form larger, coherent figures, in my work this never happens. No piece has continuity, the junctions mix fragments of distinct geographies and histories, times and spaces, fictional images and documents, to form nothing but mixed, totally arbitrary and open narratives. The intention was to create a paradoxical cartography for this Latin America that does not exist. Reflecting on the social, political, economic, cultural and artistic scene of Latin America as a whole implies not having any perception of the immense differences of our histories, art and culture. T.Z.: How would you describe the development of your art up to date? What periods or tendencies can we talk about in your artistic career? R.G.: For an artist like myself, who at the beginning of her career, back in the 60s, left the path of painting to take up other conceptual directions, it is very difficult to make a synthesis of this course, after fifty years of intense work. In poetic terms the response could even be synthetic, since my consistent interest, in any medium, has been the nature of the image and the politics of representation, with a focus on the modes of perception and intermediation between the images and the world. In terms of media and supports, the summary could be more extensive. But briefly I can state that throughout all these decades, a constant has been my curiosity for the means of production, from the most artisanal to the technologically most advanced, making me resort to a wide range of resources, according to the needs of the artworks, aims and meanings. To go into some detail, I would say that during the 70s I was operating mainly with new graphic media, making video art, artist s books and mail art, while in the 80s I made objects and largescale installations, which were generally ephemeral and painted directly on panels and walls of architectural interiors. In the mid-1990s, I began using digital resources to construct artworks and installations, thus lending them characteristics of permanence and repeatability. In the same period, I began my continued interest in the urban context as an unprotected and anonymous space, for ephemeral laser-generated projections of images and animations. The ability to dialog with increasingly extensive architectural spaces and the opportunities for conceiving and realizing interventions in specific architectures is a trend in my work that began in the 1990s and has continued until today. T.Z.: Let's go back to the '70s. In what configuration of Brazilian artists, tendencies, interests, issues, strategies and practices of the 70s would you situate yourself and your work? R.G.: In January 2009 Gloria Ferreira published a bold and careful critical study on the 70s in Brazil, entitled Anos 70, Arte como Questão [The 70s, Art As a Question], in the exhibition catalog for the anthological exhibition on this decade, which she curated at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, in São Paulo. My participation at this exhibition was related to the artistic practices of the 70s, with graphic works, artist s books, and publications in alternative magazines, as well as being a member of a small group of pioneers of video art in Brazil. This multimedia phase as well as some realizations of a more technological nature that I did soon thereafter led to my work s being also considered among the first manifestations of art and technology in Brazil. But actually, my course ranged far outside these configurations and classifications, when I began to make environmental installations and to invest in other poetic possibilities, as early as the mid-1980s. This happened with me and with other artists of my generation, when we left the 70s behind. We were left without a classification, which I thought was just fine, but certainly we continued taking the language in other directions. The expansions of my work into specific architectures, which began in the 90s, after I d lived for a longer time abroad (in New York, on a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and afterwards from Pollock Krasner), coincided with my decision to close my long career as a professor in order to become a full-time artist. In recent years my work has located me in a sort of transgenerational situation, in which I am almost always associated with younger artists, to whose training I contributed, and who wound up forming very open genealogies due to a purely conceptual affinity... T.Z.: You were also a part of the Brazilian alternative culture movement in the 70s. The movement formed a part of a bigger, international, if not global phenomenon. But what was it like in Brazil, what was specific about it there and then? Why did you decide to engage in it? R.G.: In Brazil, the counterculture years coincided with the worst times of the military dictatorship. It would be complex and excessive to narrate attitudes and events of an alternative culture that kept dynamic pace with the international scene, in theater, music and the visual arts, despite the repression, the tortures and the exiles. The specifically Brazilian character was perhaps the intense voltage of the poetics, which remained high without slipping into pamphleteering or the merely factual. These are also years during which I left Brazil for an extended time, living first in Spain with an academic fellowship and afterwards in Puerto Rico, to teach at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. Altogether, I spent more than five years outside the country. It was not an exile, but rather a time of being in the world to get to know and experience new media and languages, as a training in art and for professional growth. Setting off down more conceptual paths was more a question of poetic cross-influence and the experience of life than a deliberate engagement. At this time, I was already traveling a lot in the United States and Europe, and could experience and participate in countless alternative manifestations, which a little later I myself was helping to promote and produce when I returned to Brazil in the early 70s. T.Z.: You mentioned the military dictatorship. In Brazil it lasted from 1964 until In what way did the experience of living under the dictatorship mark Brazilian art, especially the Brazilian avant-garde of the period? How did it mark your art? R.G.: In my answer to the previous question, when I spoke of the characteristics of the alternative culture in Brazil, in the 60s and 70s, in the context of conceptualism, I already advanced some information on that period, since it fully coincided with the military dictatorship. Vitality, imagination and poetics is what I mentioned, and I reaffirm these as political and creative responses of our most radical vanguard of that period: poetics/politics, in the best sense. Living under a dictatorship, with censorship of the press, tortures, persecutions, arrests and informants on all sides is always a very bad and violent experience at any latitude on this planet. In my own case, the political mark of the 70s appears in a more incisive way in graphic works like those of the series Executivas [Executives, 1977], Destruturas Urbanas [Urban Destructures, ] and Dilataveis [Expandables,1981]. In these series I worked with images appropriated from the press, in order to construct virtual metaphors meant to function as ironic commentaries on the various forms of power present in the politics of images and of representations disseminated in the mass media and the political world at that time. T.Z.: In one of your texts you wrote: When I returned to Brazil in 1973, constitutional rights were still suspended and denunciations, arrests, torture and a general sense of vulnerability continued to corrupt the realms of public and private life and work. Popular music, the theatre and the visual arts constantly responded to this situation with politically charged messages, although their content could not manifest itself freely but only in the form of subtle or highly poetic metaphors that often managed to avoid being censored. I think that the first pieces of mine to be really influenced by the political and social events of that period were the series of works made with the new graphic media of the 1970s. The images they feature were almost always critical representations, some focusing on political power and others on the media and urban deterioration. Even so, there is virtually nothing overtly political in these series because I always preferred to filter my images with irony. Once, I even converted a bland recipe for coconut pudding into an ironic comment about the most politically commented Brazilian painting of the period, which never aspired to anything more than adorning the walls behind the bourgeoisies most expensive sofas. Now, is the allusion, the metaphor and the irony always a better way than the literal and the explicit, or does it depend on a situation and a local context? Is such indirectly political art less prone to appropriation than the thematically political painting? What is the function of the art that engages in the political I mean its political and artistic function? R.G.: I would never refer to this type of approach as indirectly political, I only wanted to say that it was not literal. From my point of view, irony and allusion can be more refined tools for advancing political meanings than the excessive rhetoric of engaged images, which rarely have all the layers of signification necessarily implicated in the ambiguity of art. They wind up being shallow, with little ability to provoke a political reflection, and they don t manage to change the world... However, everything depends on degrees and on context how was I not going to admire a good art, even one dripping in rhetoric, when quality and meaning are joined? The function of art tout court is its use function, with a philosophical and phenomenological foundation, which has to do with its capacity to transform the perceptions of our relation with the world. This includes political art. T.Z.: Could you briefly describe some works of yours with a political import? R.G.: Paradoxo do Santo [Paradox of the Saint, 1994] is a paradoxical combination of the giganticized shadow of an equestrian monument and of a small wooden popular saint, riding a horse and set atop a small wooden pedestal, from which part of the large shadow is projected, toward the walls. The shadow is a distortion of the silhouette of the equestrian monument by modernist Victor Brecheret, located in a public square in downtown São Paulo, depicting the mounted Brazilian military hero Duque de Caxias, the commander-in-chief of the armies of the Triple Alliance, which in the 19th century united Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay, whose crushing defeat left immense impacts on the country, until today. For its part, the little wooden saint, a popular sculpture from Guatemala, represents Santiago Apostolo, until today the patron of Spain s military, also known as Santiago Matamoros, invoked for centuries in the expulsion of the Arabs from the Iberian Peninsula, and patron of Spanish America as well, having also been invoked in the colonial wars that decimated indigenous populations and their cultures. In the work, the difference between the shadow and its origins as well as the paradox of the double absence (the monument that generates the shadow is not present, nor is the shadow present that should be cast by the wooden saint) aims to emphasize the shadow as the dark and perverse other of the apparently ingenuous wooden saint. By approximating the two figures trans-historically and paradoxically, I sought to comment on the recurrent and always renewed relations between power, militarism and religion in Latin America. In the installation Mundus Admirabilis (2007, at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Brasília) I used giganticized images of insect pests to occupy the interior of a large glass box, in the exhibition Jardim do Poder [Garden of Power]. The giant insects compose a double site-specific work: one for the glass box, another in the relation with the city, the headquarters of the government and center of political power in Brazil. Transformed into a garden pavilion shot through by light, the 20 x 20 x 7m (h) glass box became the dwelling of conflicting species as well as the place of their devouring; in Brasília, the insect pests had their connotation more focused, as a deliberate allusion to the political world. The scale of the insects is the phantasmagoric datum that makes the glass box perceptible as a giant cage, where images of incompatible species, out of proportion in relation to each other, seem to live in magnificent isolation. When the spectator is either looking at or actually inside the lighted box, he or she is provided with not only the exercise of observing the species, but also the marvelous effect of seeing the hyperbolic pests finally caged. Rerum Naturae participated in the exhibition Mundus Admirabilis e Outras Pragas, (Galeria Brito Cimino SP, 2008), whose theme was the updating of the old biblical, historical and mythical plagues, based on the hypothesis of their possible transposition to other territories of signification. In Rerum Naturae, to comment on the deterioration of day-to-day life, I took numerous images of insect pests taken from treatises on natural history and applied them by means of third-firing techniques to pieces of white porcelain for everyday use. The porcelain pieces were arranged on a dinner table, ritually covered by a linen tablecloth on which the same insects, on a much larger scale, were embroidered in cross-stitch, in great detail using black thread. Per Capita, at the same exhibition, is an audio work that considers urban violence as a contemporary pest. In the form of a tubular object placed on the wall as a listening device, it allows the viewer to hear a gunfight, similar to the sound of stray bullets, accompanied by a small flash of light that escapes from the wall, through a thin crack. T.Z.: You said that in the 70s you had taken interest in conceptual art. During the last two decades it was often pointed out that conceptual art was a diverse, heterogenic phenomenon, with its different versions in different regions and local cultural and socio-political contexts. There was also a re-discovery of Latin American conceptual art, which was praised for its early critical involvement into social and political issues, prior to an analogical interest on the part of USA and Western Europe conceptualism. Do you agree, as an insider at the time, with this view? What was conceptual art in Brazil? What did it mean to you? What chances and opportunities did it seem to offer you at the time? R.G.: In this part of the world the different forms of conceptual art and new modes of artistic communication certainly carried more of a political charge, everywhere from Mexico to Argentina, including the contingent of Latin artists in the United States, all of them adherents to a less cool conceptualism. Perhaps because in that period the artists of these latitudes responded to a more heavily charged and conflictive social scene. On the other hand, the forms and modalities of conceptual art, especially in Argentina and Brazil, were very much informed by the manifestations of the Fluxus group and other dadaist legacies, which greatly influenced not only the visual arts, but also music, performance and poetry. It must be remembered that, mainly in Brazil, the trends of art and technology that derived from the concretism of the 50s were blended in an extremely fertile way with the conceptual trends and investigations into new media, imparting a desirable interdisciplinarity to the more radical scene of the 70s. I always rejected the label of conceptual artist, along with that of painter or printmaker. I preferred to be classified as a multimedia artist, believing that it gave me greater freedom of action and movement in alternative means of production, circulation and exhibition of my work, almost always a difficult-to-classify hybrid. T.Z.: Conceptual art has often aimed to reflect on and criticize artistic institutions as well as the institution of art as such. Is there an aspect of institutional reflection or even critique in your art? R.G.: There is no institutional criticism in the direct political sense. But I could cite works from the conceptual years that discuss the system of art as a whole like Pudim Arte Brasileira [Brazilian Art Pudding], a very politicized recipe that I distributed anonymously at an exit from the São Paulo subway system in the late 70s, and a questionnaire about the art system elaborated and distributed by myself and Julio Plaza to the participants of the performative event Mitos Vadios, in an abandoned parking lot in São Paulo, in As a criticism on the art in the museums as well as of the museums themselves, especially those that allow architecture to play a key role, I planned the (unrealized) project Todas las Noches [Every Night], for the Museo de Monterrey, New Mexico, in a building designed by architect Ricardo Legorreta. In that project, which provided the basis for many of my later works, I aimed to cover the entire interior of five rooms offered for an exhibition with extensive black shadows, projected by the furniture, exhibit cases, and benches already existing in those rooms, which I would have left totally empty. In short, totally empty yet with shadows of the interior architecture being cast on itself. I wanted to critically lower the shadow and the night on the museums. This work has remained alive until today, awaiting its realization... T.Z.: It s been said that Brazilian art of the 60s through the 80s seems to look like an alternative version of the Western art world: all the latter s elements are present in it but in diverging configurations, with other functions, meanings and evaluations. How would you comment on that is it a plausible view? Do you think this local divergence is still present in your work? Or did you have to and to what degree? suppress it in order to make your art enter the Western art world and be appreciated there? R.G.: You should know that it was after the 80s, with the more affirmative presence of the curators from outside Brazil and the intensification of international travel and exchange that the Brazilian art of the 60s and the new generations of the 80s began to gain an international presence, at exhibitions and in publications. This took place slowly and has been growing ever since, initially in the context of practically no knowledge about what one was
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