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Gustavo Artigas

Retrato del artista by Gustavo        Artigas

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Jan 01, 2002
Location: Mexico
Topic: Interview with Gustavo Artigas
Interviewer: Bill Kelley Jr.

LatinArt:  At Insite 2000 you had two basketball teams from San Diego play each other in an indoor field and asked two soccer teams from Tijuana to play soccer on the same field at the same time! The result was exhilarating.
After seeing "Rules of the Game," the idea of games and how the readjusting negotiation of space comes into play takes on different meanings. It certainly brings to mind how games are a part of everyday life...Can you expand a bit more on this?

Gustavo Artigas:  OK, first let's try talking about games: I like them because I use them as a starting point to look at, and look for relations, because ultimately I still think of art as a common human experience.
I also like systems of complex realities because there is always something happening at intercrossing levels...I like that "that something happening" could sometimes be art. These elements or relations are about sharing, interchanging, and finding ways to express a collective attitude (and the individual but viewed as a part of a collective).
The "games" I work through are always played out over tense situations. These could be disasters: social and natural, frictions or even antagonized elements. In this way there is always a big space that opens up when the work is well linked: from a disaster to a game there is always a big space for experience. This new space in experience could be seen as my work or what my work looks for.

LatinArt:  Could you talk about your work at the 2000 Havana Biennial and your work while in South Africa?

Gustavo Artigas:  In one of the Johannesburg projects for example I used a particular tension in one social aspect of South Africa. Some red zone bars were closed by the government because of the growing illegal alien population coming from other African countries (the same is happening in Mexico). In the project called Geeta vs. Sage I develop a ceramic piece by firing the mud used in a mud wrestling fight in the Roxy Rhythm bar in Johannesburg. This piece works on many levels: the places where art happens, the tense situation of illegal aliens in some countries, the problems of tolerance and competition among others.
In a different way, the piece On the Air presented in the 7th Havana Biennial was a game proposed first by instructions. Following these instructions you had to leave an ID with the security personal and they would give you back a model airplane and a portable radio receiver. After tuning to 90.1 FM (Where I was making a pirate radio broadcast) you were able to play while listening to the original sound of 7 air disasters. This piece was a game situation where the evidence of risks and impossibilities of flying for Cuban people were working at different levels. Even for a normal foreign visitor to the biennial, both elements (airplane playing and sound of disasters), were used to create an intense experience.

LatinArt:  The idea of a game seems also to bring risk along with it. Part of your work and observations take place in arenas that could potentially be risky...which makes us, as participants and/or observers all the more receptive and engaged. Perhaps this space is more "conflict" than "risk?" I find this theme even more compelling now after recent events. Can you talk a bit more about all this?

Gustavo Artigas:  These works or kind of schemes of relations are presented in a way that temperature is one of the most important factors. I like these last pieces because they could go wrong and that is part of the possibility that the work holds as well. What I like most is an impossible to measure human factor helping the pieces develop. All these works started as hypotheses and structures where relations came out in different directions. I prefer these works because of the possible surprises they possess. There are questions to be answered and the answers are always different. And they are challenging, even for me, on all levels.

LatinArt:  I'm also interested about your critique of national categories...In an increasingly international art arena it seems that what makes art from one place appealing in other places is that it is exactly foreign in some interesting dichotomy! I see exhibitions mounted that ten years ago might deal with "the other" but now are more interested in other more personal or scientific proposals. This whole phenomenon is very intriguing. Is this a relevant question? Can you talk about this a bit?

Gustavo Artigas:  The first and maybe the only criteria for art is to be art. When you try to mix or superimpose some other criteria it becomes something else and then it has to engage some other form of discussion. Of course the context is important and the particular background will help some works but there is a problem when having a distance from the works because of an approach thinking first in anthropological or nationalistic terms instead of artistic terms. I believe it is the handling of, and approach to, the elements which carries a piece to success or failure. The readings made from the work will be discussions on its elements, but my basic problem as an artist, above all else, is to make art.
I believe your question arises from the recent presentation of the piece DUPLEX in the "End of the Eclipse" exhibition at the Fundacion Telefonica in Madrid (2001). In this piece I play with the possible validity that a Latin American art exhibition organized in a European (or any other) country may possess. My participation in this exhibition was announced at a conference on the inauguration date (a event all too common at an art inauguration), mentioning that it would deal with the problems of artistic identity evaluated from the viewpoint of nationality. The viewers arrived at the place mentioned and met with a person physically very similar to myself who introduced himself as Gustavo Artigas. Obviously no one knew me physically before that day (except for a few of the organizers), and after beginning the introduction to the talk and proposing the reading of the problem of artistic identity from the viewpoint of a multiple personality disorder, this speaker abandoned the platform and was replaced by another participant with the same physical characteristics, dressed in the same manner. After developing the theme yet further, he was replaced by another identical participant and this one in turn by another, and so on successively until a total of 5 persons, each of whom said he was Gustavo Artigas, had given the conference. The commentary on the piece was, to say the least, ironic as to this type of classification concept, without ceasing to be a piece. It is curious to think of it as a series of portraits or as a possible multiple portrait.
There are some strange perceptions inside the art world about nationality and this work, DUPLEX is a critical investigation into some of those terms. It was funny to have a small invitation of people who looked like me in Spain because of its logical colonial reading. The participants were chosen by way of a casting call organized by the Ogilvy-Bassat company that is in charge of Telefónica publicity. I am interested in having experiences of antagonism and surprise. This piece gave me the chance to create an event around all these kind of events. A kind of meta-play. I believe that some divisions made in the territory of art foster a dangerous ghetto idea (as often occurs, for example, with digital artists), and an impossible and erroneous vision of homogeneity.

LatinArt:  I'm also interested how you display your works...How do you exhibit a performance? There are intriguing esthetic issues that your photography addresses that make it seem more than documentary?

Gustavo Artigas:  Well, there is always a question of space and time delayed on these kind of works. I will call them events or situations (in the problematic or controversial sense) instead. Of course you have some big steps when the action itself is developing but there are materials that are elements of the work that should be seen as a whole along with the actions. I try to insert the actions in bigger events like group shows where you can have a better view and a wider audience for it. Inside these shows I try to find a strategic point from were to release the event to have a better approach to beholders. There is always a large editing component (in the traditional and metaphorical way).
In this process there are always expanding and contracting chapters. The way of presenting an action depends in these and other specific elements. After the action takes place there is still a contraction and expansion of chapters and other ways of presenting the experience by other media. I like to work and re-work editions and installation possibilities and I also enjoy having spaces for showing sources, small productions, incidents inside the events, props and products because of the complexity sphere that this kind of action supposes. Such as, for example, the wraps used by the mud wrestlers with their names embroidered on the back in the piece Geeta vs. Sage, or the trophy and the uniforms especially designed for the combined basketball/soccer game event of InSITE 2000. I enjoy having spaces to show sources, supporting materials and products, because they reinforce the environment of complexity presupposed by these events.
In my next piece, entitled Emergency Exit, I try to jump forward, in regards to documentation, by incorporating the cinema format for registration purposes. In this piece, exaggeratedly brief but spectacular, a stunt man will be hired to go up the access ramp of the Carrillo Gil Museum in Mexico City and penetrate through the first wall of the museum, in order to subsequently fall in the parking area. The action will last only for a few seconds and will be captured by high-speed movie cameras. The film will be shown in show motion, marking a contrast between the speed and violence of the action itself and the exhibition of the moment suspended in time. The hole in the wall will also remain as a reminder within the museum during the period of the exhibition.

LatinArt:  You have had a very busy year or two. To those who are not art insiders, you look like you have kind of exploded on the international scene. How do you see all this international attention? How does it affect your work?

Gustavo Artigas:  I am starting to have a better view of things. The good things and the bad things too. Anyway, where I am now is a better place for making choices. And of course, you have better choices to make. There is always a element of hard work and an element of luck that could be thought of as a synchronicity between inner and outer desires. What you call international attention is an agent to catalyze because you can have a bigger scope of action and better timing of/for reactions. If I think of this as explosions it reaches deeper and farther.

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