In the midst of a siesta Gabriel Chaile and Duen Sacchi talk about the histories of fragility, the genealogies of forms and the possibility of inventing new meanings that mobilize symbolic and material transformations, appealing to the political commitment of the artists.
This conversation is a brief exercise in ellipsis and memory with regards to the so-called “Latin American Contemporary Art.” The talk began with an email and continued on in the voice notes that Gabriel Chaile sent me via wachap [Whatsapp]. Birds can be heard in the background and the sound is lulling. He is at the house of friends who are taking a nap. I have put on my pink headphones, and while I listen, I am sweeping the floors of my home.
GABRIEL CHAILE (GC): Hello Duen, what are you doing? Yes, the wachap is working well—he laughs heartily—and I can hear you perfectly, listen to me… Look; I didn’t know you were in the town square. I liked what you said—that” they separated the fernet, the cumbia…” I found that very funny. So we were there, you see, in the same place… Let’s talk, yes. I am reading the mail and I am answering you. I like that Andrei is there too, we are friends, we have been friends for a long time. Not only are we friends, we work together. Many of the things I am going to tell you, she will tell you too because we have worked together since I arrived in Buenos Aires, only she went far, far out into the bush, and I got deep into the big city. So we led those tours and then we met again working on my show La genealogía de la forma when she was my curator, and well, that’s it, that’s my basic answer to what you wrote me.
You also mentioned your relationship to the north, with the ovens, with what the feeling they produce in you, how I connect to it, and what I bring back to the form. You gave me a fragment of a poem Andrei wrote for La genealogía de la forma. She wrote the poem, but she based it on many of my texts—I also write—so that was a nice exercise we did. I gave her all my texts and she made her own text taking my phrases as a reference and from these another, new text with two voices emerged. This story of weakness is something I passed on to her and she continued with. You asked me how I see myself in that, and a little bit of my biography. —I’m going to close the door, hold on—
In the poem, it says they are good stories, that aren’t mine per se, but which I make mine. And some of it is true. I say “some” because it also refers to the portraits that I created because it has to do with works I was doing in those years, the journey from Tucumán to Buenos Aires, the uprooting, the nostalgia.
Making portraits of my relatives mainly helped me to keep them present in Buenos Aires.
Beyond being an artist, I have always been a person who likes to observe my surroundings and ask myself questions about it.
When I went to school, I found I loved philosophy as a subject and I would have liked to continue studying it because in my process of researching form in my work as a visual artist, I am dogged by questions about reality, questions about the relationship of oneself to their context, and principles of proximities and similarities between groups that belong to certain contexts. In this sense, I am referring specifically to my life, to questions related to the self-portrait, to things that extend beyond the self-portrait, to things that have to do with the lives of my siblings, relatives, neighbors. Although they are not explicitly figured in my work, I feel they are captured in the form, in the curved shapes, in the materials I use, in the stories that incite us to think about these ovens or anything else I’ve been doing.
And when I told you I wonder about context, I mean I always wondered what makes one appear in a place with certain economic and social conditions, and how that determines so many differences, right? And what makes one thing strong and another weak. A lot of half-theological observations as well, because I was raised in a protestant religion, which filled my heart and my head with stories and theological reflections, and that was the closest thing to philosophy I had as a child, you know? And in some way, I think it was the door that opened me to exploring my sensibility, my capacity to ask myself questions. And a bit in the same way, I became very aware of how context and this group of questions helped me to move forward to understand the process that makes it that a form is determined in the present in a certain way. I’m not sure if that makes sense? I always tried to make more abstract analyses of things, I never wanted to understand it as something that only happened to me, producing a reflection that stemmed only from my position, even though I started doing self-portraits. Beyond all that, I always tried to find principles that somehow put together theories, and in that sense I always felt like a “sociologist”. But I talk about all this intuitively, and then I capture it in the drawings, in the things I did and I do. So, the story of weakness has to do with that, it has to do with real experiences, which were mine and not mine, for I was the one who observed them: I was there, as a witness, and that is something that continues to interest me and to move me.
I always tried to find principles that somehow put together theories, and in that sense I always felt like a “sociologist”.
In my email, I tell him I lived in Tucumán for a few years. I was young, I had a lover. The sweet stupor of the mixing fragrance of orange blossom and the odor of ‘molasses’ ash comes back to me. I feel my answers must come across as agitated and a little chaotic because of the mopping and the memories coming back to me.
GC: Hello Duen, here I am again, I hope you can’t hear the music in the background. There is a school nearby and they are singing something like Alejandro Lerner. I listened to your audio and I was thinking about the whole question, in relation to what you said about “the other beauties” and somehow, I think it is something that makes my work particular. So I don’t know if it is necessarily that I looked for it, but because I never stopped paying attention to that context I was telling you about at the beginning, the context which enabled me to discover these forms and enhance them above all. Another time I was interviewed, they asked me who connected more with my work, and the answer is that it is the elite that tends to be interested in my work. They like it, and oftentimes they like it because another group of elites has already taken a liking to it, it’s a matter of collecting, isn’t it? Also, many intellectuals within the elite are interested in my work, but everywhere I go, no matter what country it is, I always connect with the service personnel, let’s say of the institution where my work is being shown. That’s powerful, isn’t it? There is something that reminds them of that world, among the working-class life, in the context of poverty, there is something of rural life also very present and it connects in one way or another to the sensibility of the security guard, the bricklayers who help me to produce the work, and in that sense it is very strong, beyond to the question of Latin America. That’s very striking to me.
On December 10, there was a big demonstration in Buenos Aires. Among the bodies, the smoke, the “V” and the raised fists, the mini-skirts, the wigs, the drums, the children, the fernet with cola, the cumbia, the flags, and the open throats, I saw Gabriel and of course, we shouted in unison “Homeland yes, colony no!” a slogan from the sixties that was resounding once again in the Plaza de Mayo.
GC: With regards to the other comment you made about the slogan “Homeland yes, colony no” the question of the symbolic, and our commitment in relation to that slogan, and the fact that we were there in the square. I think that in relation to the question of the market and what it presents as production in terms of the symbolic, loaded with convictions, it is assumed, isn’t it? For me the answer is strategy, knowing where one stands. I think I always go back to the situational context. I am very interested in understanding one’s relationship to context, and knowing what the best way to operate in certain circumstances is, and in that sense, I consider myself a person very attentive to these things, and I try to handle myself with great caution. I am aware that it is necessary to take time, to stop, to think, to feel, and above all, to accompany the whole process of convictions you are forging, forming, becoming aware of what places you are getting involved in and what implications this has in the present and especially beyond it. One thing is that I am convinced my work functions and is protected by an elite, so why do I want it and why do I insist on taking this route and not another, and why do I want to get into this or that person’s house, even understanding the process by which these groups of families end up financing a whole process of inequality that perhaps my relatives suffer from. Whom am I observing in order to build this project? And what is my responsibility there? I think that in reality it is a situation in which one must always be attentive, opening the eyes, the heart, the mind to discern from what position one shouts “Homeland yes, colony no”. I believe that this distancing exists not only in this nation, in Argentina, but in the whole world.
Furthermore, it is the elites who will safeguard this material, and it is also the elites are maintain the artworks of artists who are opening the path, and I’m thinking specifically about my responsibility as an artist:
Am I responsible for generating a new context for what I am producing and what I am proposing as a new beauty?
Beyond that, why am I proposing it? And, why do I want these people to protect it? How involved are they in educational projects? How close are they to the production of generating new meanings? How close are they to the masses? Why do I want to be in a position of maximum visibility, one that grants me maximum visibility not only as a person as an artist, but to my project that has a series of convictions that it proposes not only regionally but to the world? That’s why I have a large group of friends. It is important to think together. Thinking with colleagues who think differently from me helps me to feed this situation of how and why. The house is cool now, I lie in the hammock.
GC: Going back to the question you asked me about thinking beyond the critical, about the transformation that can happen in the symbolic in art. Thinking about everything you mentioned with regards to proximity or remoteness—for example, that you, like me, grew up far from a library. In this context,
I am confident that utopia is possible.
I have always been a bit of a nag. When I was in college, even when I was learning about contemporary art, we were told that in reality “everything has already been done”. That always bothered me, it still bothers me today. If you are training an image maker and you propose a whole new world of how images are produced and at the same time you limit that world by saying this, then what guarantee is there that these people can produce something new, that they can generate new meanings? This is something I keep in mind and whenever I have the opportunity to say it, I do. I think we must trust that utopias are possible because it is the way to produce new meanings. Even from the symbolic. I also have a position on the symbolic, on the metaphor. I was getting exhausted, I was getting a little tired of works of art simply feeding the critical spirit: like thinking of Berni and Manifestación, which is endowed with so much importance. I also love it, it is a great painting, but it does not take into account experiences that go beyond the critical happening within the framework of what we call and consider art. What other ways are there to produce and think about art, if in the end we are the ones responsible for opening that game? If everything is done, then what is left for us to open up? In this regard, I have recently been researching Quinquela’s entire project, based on art, based on his port paintings. Wha does all this have to do with Quinquela? It has a lot to do with it, the more I research the more I love Quinquela and his project, which was never considered art until today. We should review it. His whole project understood that there is a close relationship between capital and the art world, and his paintings, many of which I like and many others I don’t, had a weight in the market and he knew the weight of himself as a figure of power. But he was also a guy who was very class conscious, and what did he do with it? There’s a reason they love him so much in La Boca. He began to weave networks, in that relationship of power that began to be generated, to his own production and projects that go beyond metaphor: the La Rivera Theater, the Dental Hospital, the School Museum, the project of the School of Mechanics that he founded, the Caminito itself. He envisioned them together with other artists. It seems to me an incredible work. This is something many artists have in their heads, and I am interested in continuing to produce from that place, which eliminates the bad press that art has, which is something completely unnecessary, because in reality the artists themselves let the bad press be made of this knowledge.
This knowledge can be applied to a lot of things, you not only become a producer of images but also a producer of thought, and it is a creative act that you are proposing. It’s just that many times artists who are trained in a context are only limited to what art institutions allow us to think of as creative activity. Indeed, I was recently discussing this with another artist friend in New York. What are we if that context doesn’t exist? What is the creative impulse if that context doesn’t exist? What am I? I have to reinvent myself. And in that reinvention, other issues of the sensitive world that we handle necessarily appear along with the capacity to perceive and propose images. Well, it got very intense, but this is what I think about on your thoughts about going beyond the critical.
In his orphanhood, Quinquela was surely breastfed by salaried milkmaids. Understanding the vital importance of this service to the popular classes, he would later donate the land where Lactarium No. 4 was built in La Boca.
GC: Then you ask me about an old drawing from 2012. That drawing was in fact the flyer for Todas las cosas eran comunes. It is a biblical phrase actually written in early Christianity. I drew myself with the utensils I used, I lived alone at that time and I had those things that belonged to me. It’s a nice question, what things do you miss about that time and now? One of the things I miss a lot is the space of silence. I had a lot of time to think, to listen to myself too, free time. I had little work. One of the things I don’t miss is being so worried about money, something that gives you a stomachache, being so tight with things. At the same time I had a lot of space for silence. Seeing that drawing, those works, it moves me a little because of the journey and how one is transformed. I always think of the act of faith. I trust. I create an image proposal and I begin to produce a militancy around it. And you start adding people to the plan, and I think this is a beautiful process that happens to many artists. I think the moment of silence, as I was saying, helps me rethink everything.
I love that drawing of Gabriel. He’s a little ball on the floor surrounded by a peculiar order of tools.