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Betsabé Romero

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Nov 01, 2001
Location: Mexico
Topic: Interview with Betsabeé Romero
Interviewer: Bill Kelley Jr.

LatinArt:  How did you start working with cars? What connection do you have with them?

Betsabé Romero:  The first car I worked with was for the biennial INSITE 97 in Tijuana, Mexico. Before starting the project I worked on various ideas in connection with the very evident contradictions in my country [Mexico], concerning objects having both a real and a symbolic value and related to the needs of an environment. In Tijuana, wheels do not revolve, but settle, and become the steps of the very uneven staircases forming the greater part of the districts in this city. There are an infinite number of "yonk yards" (junk yards) containing cars that, when they fail to comply with the mission of transportation from one world to another, from one country to another, from one situation to another, are left unserviceable as refuges, as altars, as a testimony, rather, to what does not move.

LatinArt:  Can you talk about your use of materials and your work process?

Betsabé Romero:  On the one hand, it has been important to incorporate materials that are not associated with the world of cars, such as:
hand-crafted vs. technology
soft vs. metallic and cold
the internal vs. the external
the handmade and slowly worked vs. the industrial, manufactured in series.

On the other hand, I am interested in incorporating domestic urban architectural elements, elements that bring out the sedentary, rather than more mobile nature that cars possess for me. Moreover, cars that are eternally parked or abandoned in the streets in Mexico are more a part of the architecture than that which moves and circulates.

LatinArt:  In many ways, we in Los Angeles have a strong connection with Mexico City: one being the incurable congestion and pollution from cars. Yet the car is really an international signifier of modernity, progress, and the crisis that these bring. Can you talk a bit about what your work means to you in a local, as well as global, context?

Betsabé Romero:  I believe it is increasingly easier to argue elements of cultural resistance in the face of the commercial and stereotyped significance of the automobile in today’s world. Contradictions are increasingly evident even in cities such as Los Angeles, and therefore, I not only believe there is a strong connection, but also that communication channels exist which cause economic and cultural processes to flow from one side to another in the broadest sense of the word - MEGALOPOLIS. The pollution, the traffic bottlenecks, the violence, the accidents; all are problems transported by automobiles, for which the industry proposes only further aggravation. In this respect, I believe that the developments of the automobile are extremely out-of-date and even absurd as compared to real social needs.

LatinArt:  I have heard a few people talk about your work as feminizing the masculine, in the sense that you created a contemplative home, altar, refuge (often equated with the feminine) out of this product (the car), a symbol of rationalism and progress (often equated with the masculine). Would you agree with this, and could you share your ideas concerning gender in your work?

Betsabé Romero:  The car as power, speed, modernity and technology in scenery such as this and or that of Mexico City, where there are over 500,000 cars permanently parked without working, is a very powerful symbol that a car also represents fragility, intimacy, or the site of the accident. Moreover, in connection with the associations of the species, Baudrillard said that the car is traditionally the man and, the house the woman. In this sense, I am interested in working on cars to emphasize all these contradictions that convey the car to feminine territory. The cars that work are sedentary, one changes their cold metallic skin for an epidermis made by the hands, slowly, artistically, they are cars trying to recover memories that record their histories like tattoos on their skin.

I believe that the problem of GENDER in contemporary art is very interesting. At a time when the problems of minorities have come to light in such an important way, the feminine as a form of tackling knowledge is one of the paths most frequented by artists; dealing with men who knit, cook, make clothes and design fashion. Above all in a country such as Mexico, which is in itself a country associated with values and qualities related to the feminine such as the magical, the religious, the mythical, the intuitive, I was interested in entering a territory of the most masculine and subverting this common place with the feminine aspects of its contradictions which are, moreover, extremely strong and important.

LatinArt:  As an art historian, it is interesting to review the identification of both the historical production of culture and art in the Americas as a gendered trait.

Betsabé Romero:  I believe that art and culture, the most stereotyped values identifying a country such as Mexico, are located on the feminine side of the brain of the world. I believe that reason, force, power, science and politics are associated with the male domination faculties of the world. In this sense, the weak side that is traditionally seen as less important in resolving mankind’s problems is related to very important aspects of the creative process. Consequently, art is an exercise of resistance, although it has lost importance and impact on politics and society over the centuries. It implies a way of questioning, preparing thought and returning it, which in itself – at least for me – is a great source of comfort at these moments, and this has nothing to do with whether it is or is not done by women.

LatinArt:  What projects are you working on at this time?

Betsabé Romero:  In Chicago I am making a car-offering covered with violet velvet, which is the color of Death. It is going to be turned over on its side as though it has just suffered an accident; the door is going to be open, from which will emerge a garden of live cempasuchil (marigold) flowers. That is because I believe now more than ever that modernity and technology have failed to protect us from the deepest conflicts and contradictions in the history of mankind and the West, which is always preoccupied with selling and overvaluing values such as beauty, health, and youth. Now, facing insecurity and Death, all this seems inexplicable. For this reason, a tradition such as the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico is a way to make mourning flower out of the fragility that always exists. I believe that traditions live with the memory of those who leave us in such an everyday way so that we can face events such as those of September 11 in a cathartic and even sublime manner. For this reason, I wanted to cover and change the skin of the car again as a technological apparatus related to the accident, to fragility, and to Death.

I am also preparing a solo exhibition in November at the Gallery of Mexican Art in Mexico City, where I am also going to put a car inside and place another one in the street. And in January I am going to make an installation at La Palmera, which is at a very important road juncture of Reforma and Niza in Mexico City, in connection with the water problem in Mexico City. Instead of a sculpture here, an enormous palm tree has survived that we all know and which, in what was the ancient city of lakes and palaces, has now become an oasis in the desert of the city. For this reason, I am going to sink the tree in a dune of sand in order for it to actually appear as an oasis and reinforce it with spectacular photos, where the entire avenue is already covered with desert sand in which the cars have all sunk.

With this car in Chicago I am beginning to work with the car not only as an archaic object more related to insecurity than otherwise, but one where the installations come from actual accident themselves. I work not only with cars, which are the product of the junk yard and really come to my hands through an accident, but it is this accident which speaks in this re-semantic version of the object carried to its greatest contradictions. I believe that what is going on in the world today is posing many questions on globalization and the values which have governed technology, and in this sense, the car allows me to put forward a dialogue on the uselessness of the objects and values which move us in the big cities.

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