Terrenews - Mexico

Helena Lugo, Dorothée Dupuis

Reading time: 19 minutes



Terremoto appoints curator Helena Lugo as Executive Director

Lugo will lead the organization’s upcoming projects as it enters a new phase.

In September, Dorothée Dupuis, founder of Terremoto, will pass on her position as Executive Director of the magazine—which she has held for nine years—to curator Helena Lugo. Dupuis is leaving for a year at the Villa Medici in Rome, Italy, for a research residency, but will remain as President of the Asociación Panamericana de Apoyo a las Artes, the Board of Directors of the non-profit that operates Terremoto, in order to expand and consolidate its strategic goals. Dupuis and Lugo talk about this change of leadership and what it implies for the project in the short and long term.

Helena Lugo (HL): A decade ago you founded Terremoto, a project that began as a blog, became a magazine and is now one of the most important platforms for current artistic practices in Latin America. How do you see the project after almost ten years from its inception and what has it represented for you over time?

Dorothée Dupuis (DD): Terremoto responded to two callings. The first was personal; because, as a foreigner, I arrived in unknown territory, where the artistic scene that was connected to Europe and the United States stood out, and where other local initiatives did not easily reveal themselves to an outside, non-Spanish-speaking agent. The blog and the magazine served as tool that allowed me to understand the discussions, to get to know the cultural agents and what was happening in this territory. Actually, before Terremoto, I published a magazine called Petunia about art and feminisms in France. That’s when I realized the potential of a publishing project and its power to trigger encounters, link creators and stimulate dialogues about their practices. I had this idea in mind when I came to Mexico and started Terremoto.

Ten years later, I realize that beyond a magazine, we are building an archive. Aligned with the processes of memory in Latin America, Terremoto has allowed us to weave a series of voices and networks that have resisted the systemic erasure in this region. I feel that there has been an enormous desire to make ourselves present, to remember each other and to continue discussing what has happened. A community of almost a thousand authors has been formed, a space even where many people were given the opportunity to write for the first time. So, I think the question now is, what’s next for us?

HL: Of course, how are we going to use this platform and what changes are coming? My arrival is part of a new phase, new plans and new formats. How is Terremoto going to be constituted now?

DD: In Terremoto there have been a series of practices that have made the project become what it is today. Now we are a team of seven, an enormous growth since I started by myself. It has been an exciting process to see it grow, to gradually build and train a team, to remunerate their work as well as that of the collaborators in the fairest possible way, and to make the whole project sustainable. We have developed an economy that allows us to work in the best possible conditions, that when a project is added—be it the magazine, its online sections and side projects such as La Postal, or the launching of public programs, parties, trips, fair presentations, among others—it is done in a respectful and just way, without jeopardizing the other activities.

I always thought that at a certain point I would want to entrust the organization to someone else, with more energy, from another generation, to be able to build on what we have already built and develop new stages of the project. Working on independent projects is exhausting! I always felt that if the project survived, it would be an honor to pass it on to someone else. Few independent projects make it through this stage.

The idea now is that Terremoto will be made up of three “bodies”: the Executive Team that you will lead, Helena; the Board of Directors that now supports the non-profit that is the legal framework of Terremoto, and of which I am currently the president; and, finally, we are launching a more advisory body that consists of an artistic council, with various agents from the Americas, to help us think together about the adequacy of the project’s missions. Terremoto‘s mission-vision has always been to develop artistic dialogues throughout the Americas, on issues related to artistic processes as grids to mediate the power relations that govern our experiences; always stressing the individual and the collective from the common. This year we will see how these three instances are articulated.

HL: It must be very difficult to detach yourself from a project that you have nurtured and developed for ten years, why make that decision now? What are you going to focus on?

DD: It took me a long time to detach myself emotionally and also to build the infrastructure that would allow me to leave without affecting the project. Over the years, a community of people has been consolidated who benefit from Terremoto, a platform that goes far beyond myself. Now, one of the things I want to do is to stay close, but through Temblores Publicaciones, the publishing house that emerged from Terremoto. For us, it made sense that the community that has written in the magazine, the galleries that support us, the museums we review, the artists we talk about, etc., would at some point need to produce more ambitious and specific publications. At the end of the day, the objective is to appeal to strategies and editorial lines linked to those that we have supported, since its inception, in the magazine.

So, I left Terremoto as executive director to focus on the direction and growth of Temblores. But I remain at Terremoto as president of the non-profit, a volunteer job at a more strategic level. At the same time, I have started my PhD in Art History at UNAM, and I am going to the Villa Medici in Rome, Italy, for a year to continue specializing my curatorial profile. This residency gave me the opportunity to venture to leave the project operationally, so that other people can appropriate this tool and generate their own lines of research.

HL: Let’s move on to the changes to come. One of the most significant decisions, which coincides with my arrival, is discontinuing the printing of the magazine. I am excited because I think there are many other possibilities to think about Terremoto. But how did you come to this decision, to interrupt something that you have also been taking care of and working on for so long?

DD: During the pandemic we did a couple of issues online because we couldn’t print and, surprisingly, we had great results. We realized that we could experience the virtual in a much more profitable way. I also have to say that at the time I launched the magazine in 2015, printing was a political act: printing a color magazine in Mexico and distributing it at no cost in more than 25 countries in Latin America and beyond. After that, people started to talk about us, they wondered who are these people who were able to do this? We accompanied the international growth of the visibility of art in Latin America: we became one of the most powerful tools. When the pandemic arrived, we realized that many other initiatives had emerged—blogs, online magazines, etc.—, and that artists who had had their first publication with us were now working with big institutions, participating in biennials, and they now had established a market. Let’s not forget that social networks were very different when I started the blog in 2012: Instagr*m had just been born, there was no TikT*k, our relationship to information consumption was different.

Last year we decided to return to our print format because we wanted to be present after the pandemic, and this year we are launching our last three issues, which are curated by our guest editor, Duen Sacchi, who was selected by open call. It has been very interesting the way in which Duen brings different types of content—such as comics, poetry, stories—, formats that we had not been able to investigate consistently. Duen is a visual artist, so he has another relationship with images, the rhythm, the words; very different from the orientation of critical theory that we had been doing, but without detaching himself from our editorial focus. Now there are many mutations in the format of the magazine, it is necessary for it to change and move towards other directions.

In that sense, I would also like to ask you, what does Terremoto represent for you through all these years? How has it accompanied your practice? What do you think this job opportunity represents for you—an independent curator in her thirties—in your journey?

HL: I remember ten years ago when I met you and worked with you briefly, you were already talking about Terremoto, I don’t know if it was an idea you were flirting with but something was already brewing. A few years later, it seemed to me that Terremoto emerged with a lot of force, and that Antonella Rava, Natalia Valencia and you were a powerful trio; you were traveling, printing magazines, and giving them away. It was a remarkable display of power, of what could be done, of how practices and critical thoughts could be brought together.

But on a broader level, I realized very soon that Terremoto is a huge refuge for Latin American artists & cultural agents which, to me, seems the most relevant thing. I think there are few platforms from Latin America for Latin America. Besides, being a non-profit in Latin America is one of the biggest challenges. It’s not the same as being an organization in the global north with access to grants or larger governmental support.

In that sense, I think Terremoto consolidated itself as a tremendously powerful platform. When we talked in January and you asked me if this is a position that could interest me, I was very excited about the possibility. For me it is a great opportunity, because I believe that directing a project is the next step in my career. I have been part of independent projects: I founded Palmera Ardiendo, a project that grew a lot in three years and I was eager to expand its limits constantly. I did my own books, my own curatorial work, collaborated in projects, galleries and I think it was natural for me to try to put my curatorial practice and everything I have learned in the last ten years into a more ambitious project.

DD: As an independent curator you have had to look for resources, you have done your master’s degree at Goldsmiths in England, you participated in the Shanghai Curators Lab, the Curatorial Program for Research in Scandinavia, I wonder then, what does Latin America mean to you? Why do you think it is important?
HL: Well, first I am going to tell you a story. When I was working in Cuernavaca after leaving the MMAC, at some point I started to panic and questioning myself—what am I doing here? I have worked a lot in that city, but I also had moments where I felt very lonely in a place where cultural institutions find themselves in a huge crisis. I soon understood that—comparing that scenario with other art systems in Northern Europe—it is possibly much more powerful to work in local and arid contexts where you can really contribute and make meaningful projects, than in mega-metropolis where cultural projects abound. I worked as an assistant curator at Chalton Gallery in London for a year and had the opportunity to develop a lot of exhibitions. It was an incredible, experimental and very fun job with jts fair share of complications and challenges, but I also realized that the amount of exhibitions and things that happen in London make the projects a bit diluted. In Cuernavaca, I felt that founding a program like Palmera Ardiendo was very relevant to the city and to the local art community.

Transferring this thought to Latin America, I recently did a nomadic curatorial residency where I visited Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen to get to know their cultural panorama. Something that seemed crazy to me was to realize how the art system operates not only in the global north but also in the richest countries and how easy it is for artists to produce, have access to grants, travel, etc. This made a great impression on me, but I also found it very painful to see that evidently these northern practices are sustained thanks to the exploitation of the so-called global south. Who makes it possible for a person to work from 9 to 4 in Europe? Who works those extra hours? Who sustains the agents in the north who have more facilities to be artists, while in the south the struggles for those spaces are much greater? From the south we need to detonate changes, generate platforms and projects, because otherwise we dissolve. It seems fundamental to me to join a project that focuses on the south, I think it can generate more significant and political impacts, because this is where these narratives need to be generated, this is where we need them.

DD: To delve deeper, why do you think it’s important to support medium-sized structures such as independent projects? In Mexico we historically have a public sector such as INBA, private museums and also the UNAM that are very consolidated institutions. What void do we fill? What place do you think we occupy in the artistic ecosystem?

HL: It seems to me that Terremoto—and other similar organizations—are halfway between the tremendously consolidated and institutionalized—and therefore sometimes stagnant—institutions and the independent projects, which are very free, experimental, necessary and creative but full of uncertainties. I believe that this middle ground is very useful and we can avoid getting lost in the bureaucracies of the institutions, in their very slow processes that extirpate creativity, but also to have more certainties and strategies already in place. In Mexico, it is very difficult for independent projects to survive more than two or three years because energy diminishes, there is too much “free” work, generally the programs are subsidized by affection, there is no support, you have to be asking for infinite scholarships and they are not going to give you the Jumex grant more than twice.

It is extremely important that there are these intermediate spaces that do not survive in total uncertainty. It does not mean that here we do not have uncertainties, in fact I believe that uncertainty is always an important quality to listen, but I do believe that Terremoto has some certainties that allow it to continue its work, which has also entailed a process of institutionalization. However, I believe that this is exactly where the power of such an organization lies: taking some of the advantages of the institution, but with its own agenda, agency, ideology, its own interests and in defense of the communities and issues that we have to defend.

DD: We stopped printing; do you think it’s wise? What potential do you see in this? Speaking of changes, what needs do you think the new actions we want to take respond to, which are not erasing history, but rather seek to add activities to the critical reflection we produce?

HL: I must confess that I was surprised by the decision to stop printing the magazine but, at the same time, it opens up enormous possibilities. I have edited a couple of small curatorial books of my own in a very independent way, and publishing is something I am really passionate about. I feel that although it no longer has its current print form, we will continue to reflect on the printed matter that will make another object emerge in the future, one that is more nourished and made with more time to encompass more specific themes. And we will also continue to publish the magazine online, although this format will also be reformulated, adapted and redistributed.

Another thing we have thought of together is to launch a residency program that places the artists’ practices at its center, which I am very excited about. The residency program that we are going to launch next year seeks opportunities for mobility, research and to consolidate a much stronger and more powerful network throughout Latin America. This program wants to welcome Latin American artists to Mexico and also to bring Mexican artistic and curatorial practices to the rest of Latin America.

I have only been with Terremoto for a month, so I am still in a huge process of learning from you, from the team, of listening to what you already know, so that later I can also add and contribute my knowledge and experiences to this platform.

DD: Of course, and thinking further ahead, how do you see Terremoto in five years?

HL: I would like Terremoto to be much more consolidated in the future and our message to continue to be relevant to art in Latin America. I would like to have more solid support from the philanthropic and funding community. Being a non-profit organization requires constant fundraising, it requires generating ideas and solutions so as not to make ourselves or others continue to survive in precariousness, to generate a fair system for those who collaborate with us. This is something that you have obviously worked on and developed over the last few years, but it can be much more solid.

I think the residencies will be great success, there are very few residencies in Mexico with the model we are proposing, which is fully funded, and I would like it to be a space for exchange, for research, and to allow us to continue creating a much larger network. Finally, something that interests me a lot about Terremoto is rescuing all the potential of critical thinking, which I think is something that is sorely lacking in Mexico. The online platform is a spectacular space to generate critical discussions and touch on issues that are not yet talked about. It is essential that we create a space and continue to talk.

In that sense, I would like to ask you: in these ten years, what have been the greatest challenges for Terremoto? What are the challenges of the past and what are the challenges you see for the future?

DD: I think you have described it quite well: a consolidated financial and operational structure are challenges. Another important challenge is the construction of programs along these new “lines”, which imply taking Terremoto to a physical location to emphasize our presence in Mexico, and to reaffirm our participation and foster dialogues among the local guild and also beyond Mexico City.

It’s important not to forget the editorial dimension of critical, anti-patriarchal, decolonial, anti-racist, dissident thought, which is the axis of the project. Although we originally started from a much more classical decolonial feminism, it has been greatly transformed under the impulse of its past editor Diego del Valle and the needs of the community itself. What I wish for Terremoto is for it to continue to be this pulse, this fever, this gauge of the most relevant conversations of the moment. And I feel that these conversations are changing constantly, that our urgency to visibilize power dynamics, injustices, extra-activism or inequalities continues but that it also goes further. And that if we want things to change, We don’t want to be complacent with the system. then we have to take care of the way we do things in the art system.

We have been able to count on the support of many people, this has allowed us to build a space with a more horizontal working environment; meaning also an understanding of the impact of good governance on the way in which projects are carried out. Because the context of extraction and exploitation is brutal, so I feel that creating, promoting and communicating this is necessary. Making these issues visible has been key focus for the project. I feel that this is very powerful and you should never apologize for doing it. I know it’s scary to see all the funds we need to operate. In the end it’s almost two hundred thousand dollars a year and half of it is payroll, but obviously you are not alone with the fundraising. As well, you saw that we are not ashamed to ask for support and that reaffirms that what we do is important, that we give back as best we can to the whole community that works with us.

I’m excited about what’s to come. New conversations are going to be generated, our online presence will go to unprecedented parameters. We should not lament the demise of the print format. We have to shake it off and see it as the death card in the Tarot deck, a symbol of transformation. In fact, it is interesting because the last issue of Duen’s trilogy—and the last issue of Terremoto—revolves around death and rebirth. I think it’s really cool to think within those lines anda that are going to surprise and excite our whole community, instead of staying in our comfort zone. I feel like it’s not an end at all, but a new chapter.

HL: I would like to close by asking you, why are you entrusting Terremoto to me? What is it specifically about my practice that caught your attention and makes you believe you are leaving it in good hands?

DD: The transition has been a delicate issue because I feel that the next time there is a big change, hopefully in a few years, I would like the structure to have the solidity to be able to make an open call, and provide a little more agency since the beginning. In this case, I felt I needed to choose someone under very specific criteria. I wanted to work with someone Mexican who had a good balance between mastering our lines of research and cultural management. You have a curatorial practice, you have edited books, you write, you have worked in museums, you have done residencies, you have started your own projects. So, there was a curatorial practice, of commissioning content, but on the other hand I felt you were interested in management. It is quite difficult to find curators who are interested in management. I feel like I needed someone who really understood what an independent project does but also could make it grow. I thought it was the perfect time to offer you the opportunity to work with a more consolidated project, that could take you and Terremoto towards a new path together.
HL: Thank you very much for the invitation. I am very excited to begin this new position in Terremoto. For me it represents many challenges, learning, but above all an enormous series of possibilities to contribute to a fundamental organization for Latin American art.


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