By Diego del Valle Ríos, Mexico City
Diego del Valle Ríos, editor of Terremoto, interviews João Fernandes, current Subdirector of MNCARS (Madrid) and Director of the following edition of SITAC (Mexico City).
Diego del Valle Ríos: I would like to start this conversation within the sociocultural reality that we are currently faced with. A continuous fragmentation and polarization that results from a human life experience based on hyper-acceleration and self-exploitation which overproduces information and images, saturating our cognitive capacity. The critic Saulio Kbevik wrote at the beginning of the 1970s that art moved into a community based on codes that enabled artistic communication. Such codes are defined by social consensus in relation to a set of knowledge that determines a semantic horizon. For Kbevik the esthetical and social are ‘concomitant, but not equivalent’, consequently their ties ‘should not be to alienate the specificity of one another’. Facing the oversaturation and cognitive overstimulation that produce schizophrenic subjects tied to a sociopolitical reality that perpetuates racism, classism and sexism within the vision of Western modernity, where does one place art within this fragmented reality?
João Fernandes: Well, there are things that I share and others that I would like to redefine in that question. Today the expansion of the art world has pluralized and widened forms of encounter with art, where information becomes dominant and reduces the possibility of knowledge within the critical interpretation. It is a classic dilemma of the information theory: “the more information, less information”, but I would like to redefine it as “the more information there is, the less amount of knowledge and accessibilities to construct a critical interpretation”. This happens in the world whereby the moments of encounters with art are pluralized, limited by logics of globalization. At the same time such moments are marked by perpetuated stereotypes produced by dominant forces that go beyond the works of the artists. As the market, which is a dominant organization present in galleries, fairs and private collections, it frequently determines public institutions. At the same time, the discourses and dominant curatorial models are also formatted by those international circuits. Therefore, it is necessary to create other points of encounters with art that allow for a critical vision of what happens to add stories to history, community to the community, and in turn giving rise to new ideas that radicalize other ways of thinking: interrogating, developing different ways of feeling and experiencing. That is the challenge when an opportunity emerges such as SITAC, for example: to construct a program, to invite participants, and to generate relationships with the public, through questions that correspond to a critical attitude of the current situation, and at the same time proposing lines for future discussions.
DVR: We should rethink this idea of innovation, that through the logic of modernism and of postmodernism, continues to perpetuate a colonial heritage, of exploitation and heteropatriarchal competitivity. The innovation has to distance itself from the individual and move closer to the commonplace, to the whole, to the possibility of expanding knowledge within communities. The innovation has to move away from the ideas of progress and modernity and reconsider itself outside of these metanarratives.
JF: Often it is more interesting that which finds a common ground without communicating. In communication, silences ought to be important as well. Above all the ambiguities and the way in which we can discover distinct things within the same situation that we experience. That is what fascinates me in artworks: the capacity of stimulating infinite critical interpretations in the same situation. I believe that you are right in highlighting that necessity of questioning models of the past that have been eurocentrical, that have been marked by unjust power systems in the colonial history. There is much to decolonize in art, we must know how to expand those possibilities, to know how to criticize the past, and to be aware in the present without homogenizing. The possibility of constructing a situation, in which Mario Pedrosa called “the experimental exercise of freedom”, which is the artwork, as a way of replacing conditioning paradigms. I believe it is there where we ought to have a critical attentive vision to what happens and to know how to question it without having the vision of a concrete path.
DVR: In various interviews you refer to art as a path to knowledge. I agree that art is a practice which allows us to swallow the complex reality in a visual aesthetical language that makes possible more accessible ways of understanding it and sparking reflective possibilities. Nevertheless, the path that opens the artistic language continues being accessible only for select groups. Is art condemned to directing itself to small groups of people in urban centers? Currently where does its potential and radicality lie?
JF: The contact with the artwork is not an obligation. It is very important that the people are aware of their right to get to know art in the time in which they live, getting to know art of other times and constructing in the present a critical interpretation about the past, about their histories. Nevertheless, one cannot privilege art as a beginning for knowledge, there are more efficient beginnings, but yes there is specific knowledge that one can develop there. One has to create conditions in order that the access and contact with the artwork can be a personal decision. For social experience, the fact that people can develop distinct information in communities is very important, which makes the artwork a fundamental experience in social contemporary life. One cannot impose, but at the same time we need to create moments in order to debate injustices and forms of elitism that are still seen in an art history constructed by dominant figures. But, at the same time, I don’t believe that art has a mission. The fascinating thing about artwork is that it exists beyond a mission and its radicality lies in the concept of communication. Therefore it is important to distance oneself from the obsession of finding a unique message. Art continues to be that horizon of freedom which allows us to redefine any uncertainty, in order that we leave behind stereotypes.
DVR: A resignification of Latin American art is emerging outside the etiquette with which it intended to homogenize the entire region, and that is creating a reconsideration of unique stereotypes of which you speak about. I think that the place of enunciation, and the conscience of that place as an opportunity in order to displace all that we took for granted. What reflection do you have with regards to the role that the Latin American multiplicity plays, in the present day in which an online culture, blurring the lines of the autonomous individual based on recognizing ourselves through the approval of others?
JF:The way in which art and the western construction of what we call art has been received, reinterpreted and subverted in the Latin American context is a story that is told in various moments: since the week of modern art in São Paulo, even the multiple artists in the Latin American context developed works with a very critical awareness of the dominant models. Without a doubt I believe that the reception in Latin America provokes many discussions that are urgent to redefine in the present. We have to be aware of these; but without being taken hostage, because there are other challenges in the present day. Nevertheless, in the histories of Latin America one finds a radicality and a subversion of the imposition of dominant powers of the colonial system which continues to remain. I believe that it is very important to have this validity in mind in order to open up new possibilities of interpretation and reflection, to reconfigure our relationship with the social life.
DVR: In the contemporaneity described in the first question, time has lost its linearity. Past, present and future coexist, superimposing on one another. The future is mainly that which sets the tone for a speculative practice that organizes the system and its networks. Based on this, history, as a memory exercise, is visibility. The loss of linearity with regards to history can find itself in the groups of works that form the institutional collections in relation to its programs and exhibitions. Visibility, which is produced, based on this duo, normally follows languages and dominant narratives of the past, with a hetero cissexist and racist tendency that also normally ignores emergent art unless the market dictates otherwise. How does one reconsider museums, their collections and exhibition programs in order to project a more inclusive and plural present–future?
JF: The museum is a space that is in constant redefinition. It is responsible for constructing stories without the desire for these to be dominant, in order to put them in a discussion and therefore add community to the community. Whilst it exposes that which has been made invisible by systems of power in the past, the present is interrogated. The future doesn’t worry me. What worries me is what we do in the present because the future will be a product of that. Thinking in a utopic future worries me: utopias are also intellectual opium. The future could be a dangerous opium.
We must be attentive to the diversity of the present, because there are other places and other times. One has to be aware of the institution of the museum and propose models of reflection that destroy the uncertainties, the prejudices, the stereotypes, perpetuated by a dominant culture. Therefore, it is possible to rethink our relationship with the artwork from an emancipatory attitude which enables us to form a critical interpretation of those stereotypes. It is a critic that allows us to interrogate the past and pay attention to the discourses that have been dominated, exploited, marginalized, and with that emancipate the present of these forms of domination. Art is a common ground of differences, that possibility of adding community to the community—recognizing the heterogeneity—, and to make a difference to what seemed to be an imposition in agreement. I don’t believe that there is only one path, but we must know how to justify our opinions, to not impose them, but rather share them through a critical discussion.
DVR: Nevertheless, many of the institutions—from the art fair and the museum, to the biennial, continue being driven by a constant rhetoric of power and colonization. For example, the collective Nosotras Proponemos—a group of art workers in Argentina—has managed, bit by bit, gender equality, making visible theories and artists within the investigations and even so, it continues to have a tendency towards the hegemony of Western canons. Therefore, what role would that tension play between the institution and the logic of merchandise? It worries me that the museum is a spectacle space. Contrary to what happens, for example, in independent spaces driven by young and emergent artists.
JF: The museum is selective, so it always has to construct an identity in redefinition: to free it from the hierarchical structures of power in order to construct accounts is very important. The museum will never stop having the obligation of explaining why it presents what it presents and no other things; as an art institution it should have its posture clearly defined. It is impossible to be representative of everything that happens. It should find ways of constantly defining itself to construct a program, a collection, or a discussion, and to lay the foundations in order that it is also contested and confronted. The way in which the art institution transforms itself is very important. However, this has been a translation of the dominant social model of a bourgeoise—which constructs itself based on the French Revolution—, we must interrogate it, given that the world is increasingly more plural and more aware of certain problems and emancipatory possibilities. Nevertheless, there are also risks such as the neoliberal logic which gives rise to multiple situations of injustice in the world. It is very important that the museum thinks in the individual and collective relations with the situations that take place, as well as its emancipatory and critical possibility. That is a mission that ought to forge a path, that the museum maintains the curiosity of whoever visits it, that the visitor is not a spectator, but rather an active participant to confront their stereotypes. Franz Fanon said: “The spectator is always a coward and a traitor”, because he has the laziness of confronting himself. To confront that cowardice and laziness of the spectator could enhance the museum. It is a challenge that is important to maintain in the present: we live in a world whereby the models of accumulation of the private collections, of the market, conditions increasingly more the possibility of constructing discourses from the art institutions, therefore we must be aware and critical and continue fighting in order to have the change of critical and cultural spaces. To work with the histories in a museum, at the same time as working with art in the present, as well as interrogating that process of discovering the contemporary that has not been where we thought that it was. It is common, for example, to find spaces in Mexico City that construct other theories of what could be art, such as Mariano Pedrosa’s phrase where he said “art is an experimental exercise of freedom” in relation to the possibilities of creation, reception and reflection.