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Alexander Apóstol

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Dec 01, 2003
Location: Venezuela
Topic: Alexander Apóstol: The paradoxes of modernity
Interviewer: Karina Sainz Borgo

LatinArt:  You have utilized satire when dealing with the prejudices and stereotypes around Latin American masculinity. From "Gallinero Feroz", (1992-1994) to "Lavados Caseros" (1995-1997), "Amor es..." (1999), and "W.M Jackson, Inc" (2000). "What I am looking for?" deals with messages exchanged in chat rooms between Latin American and European homosexuals where there exists, at least for the Latin Americans, the hope of moving to Europe to be with a new found sexual partner. Are you continuing to dismantle the masculine image or have you reached closure on the subject?

Alexander Apóstol:  The masculine is something which has always interested me from the beginning. Previously I was a little more concentrated on the individual, now I’m interested in how these concepts behave spacially and within their contexts. In "What I am looking for" you have a first reading on how boys interrelate on the Internet, however what really interests me is how three different landscapes converge. First the European landscape in the fantasy of the Latin American, then how this announces itself through the pre-determined clichés already known by Europe, and lastly the virtual landscape in which both stereotypes and communication flow together. In the end, it is a work dealing with the landscape itself.

LatinArt:  Félix Suazo, curator of the VI Salón CANTV de Jóvenes with FIA, says that "What I am looking for" confronts one "with the fictitious case of five Latin boys who daydream about humanity and landscape through the Internet, from a land without a place, installed in an indeterminate point on the web (...)". How do these different landscapes live together within the work? What brings them together, possibly that "no place" on the web referred to by Suazo"?

Alexander Apóstol:  It is evident that they are brought together by the web which is, in turn, the virtual landscape itself. The persons on whom I based this work are, culturally speaking, quite similar. They come from Latin American countries, almost none have a defined profession nor visited Europe before. It is for this reason that they resort to the clichés on "Latin America" to express themselves and consume European clichés in order to be able to approximate a European mindset.

LatinArt:  Your first photographic works in the eighties characterized recreated scenarios, while your more recent series carries the paradoxical vision of unsuccessful projects. Can you talk to us about these different works?

Alexander Apóstol:  My training as a photographer occurred during the late eighties, however, it was only at the beginning of the nineties, and specifically with the series "Gallinero Feroz", shown at MACSI in 1994 when I decided to take on certain matters of overwhelming personal interest. In that series, through prepared takes, I examined the space of the family as the center of ideas encompassing sexuality, nourishment or religion. I am enormously interested in the context in which practically all my work has been located since that time: the city of Caracas during the high Modernist period (’30-’50). Huge oil profits and European and internal migrations, coincided with enormous social changes that took place. These changes in the physical space of the city and the moral perceptions they generated went hand-in-hand with changes taking place in the rest of the world. The contradictions which arose at that time are those which permit me to keep working on these ideas.

LatinArt:  In the series "Amor Es..." (1999), you took different images from the Internet (boxing, cockfighting, and other exaggerated masculine traits), and interspersed with phrases from old collectible photographs known for their sentimentality and kitsch. However, in "W.W, Jackson Inc©." (2000) you began to deal with identity and elaborated on masculinity from other viewpoints that included the 50s decade as a space for cultural and collective configuration. Outstanding in this series are eight selected and modified maps, through which new figures and spaces are discovered around the identity of the region and its assimilation of heroes. What is your aesthetic restlessness with re-elaborating on images already exhausted in their own references?

Alexander Apóstol:  I feel there are many similarities in both series, because there is a re-elaboration of the hero in different formats. In "Amor Es..." I speak of love from an absolutely masculine viewpoint. From the masculine to the masculine, going through one’s own ego. In "W.M.Jackson, Inc ©", I took physical maps originally pen-drawn of Latin American countries which I had previously visited and changed the course of the rivers and mountains. By doing so, I plant silhouettes of situations between people. I find the situations draw a parallel with preconceived ideas we share about these countries. Due to my interest for the processes of modernity, I look for maps made during that period. For the re-elaboration I make regarding love in the series "Amor Es..." I look for mass media photographs known by everyone and widely found on the Internet.

LatinArt:  In the context of visual overproduction, where the image has come loose from its original recording function, and the diversity of media puts forward new approximations to reality, is the image the base on which paradoxes are reconfigured? What role does this play in the re-contextualization of known references?

Alexander Apóstol:  Since my work is enormously referential, it is extremely important that my ideas not only refer to a specific image or point I’m making, but that they refer to the ideas of others, of those who buy the work. I am attracted by the possible contradictions arising within the game of "known references". It can help draw you closer, in some way, to what you perceive, outside in the street.

LatinArt:  After the announcement of your award in the VI Salón CANTV de Jóvenes con FIA, you said you were struck by the numbness of art in Venezuela. Where do you perceive this coming from? Was it always there or is it just expressing itself now? If that is the case, how did you come to this awareness?

Alexander Apóstol:  The numbness to which I refer to and which I believe is very much there, is tied to the treatment of art and culture by official Venezuelan centers and their dependent museums. Everything is at a standstill and there is no interest in providing them with government support. Obviously this is largely due to the final spectrum of art in Venezuela, in the work of the curators, critics and, above all, of the artists. In the end these groups have had to do the best they could despite this crisis in order to be able to emerge unharmed from this immense social quagmire. In any case it is an evil which already exists.

LatinArt:  Outside of the cultural institutions, can you say the same of the creative processes in Venezuela?

Alexander Apóstol:  As I said, there are a lot of influences. If an artist has to exert a lot of effort just in living every day, then it's evident that his production is affected. And the same applies to curators and critics--and I say this without taking into consideration the accompanying frustration one goes through. It is always said that rejuvenated ideas emerge from critical social moments and such moments can actually launch an artistic rebirth. This can occur if it is stimulated by true social or political change, the Spanish movement or current art in eastern Europe, for example. In Venezuela we are living out the opposite effect.

LatinArt:  Which trends or themes would you, as an artist, consider most persistent among young contemporary Venezuelan artists?

Alexander Apóstol:  I believe there is a growing interest in regards to addressing our social reality, but perhaps from more elaborate perspectives that are not so obviously "censurable". In the eighties the divorce from context was disturbing, perhaps an endeavor was being made to delve deeper into the origins; nowadays I feel a better connection, or at least interest, in coming closer to what we are and what we live for.

LatinArt:  The thought of progress and its connections within a context such as Venezuela, where the modernizing project was to a certain extent frustrated, is dealt with in "Residente Pulido". In this series of digital photographs of modernistic Caracas buildings you left a sealed block of their remaining facades covered by a patina which makes them look like fragile and abandoned monuments. Now, with "Residente Pulido," "Fontainebleau" and "Caracas Suite", how has the subject been dealt with?

Alexander Apóstol:  The "Residente Pulido" series covers not only the modern Caracas buildings you mention, but also two other series dealing with the Caracan huts (hovels) and modern buildings of Sao Paulo that are similar to (and distant from) those in Caracas. I speak of them in the decadence of this process within the context of the city. In "Fontainebleau" I took very well known and almost heroic photographs of the modernistic and emblematic spaces of Caracas while transforming the public fountains into enormous geysers or water totems, which reached higher than the buildings. "Caracas Suite", is a group of five videos in which very emblematic buildings that proposed a social development (not achieved), are "erased" by the effect of the water from the musical fountains and the dancers before them.

LatinArt:  "Caracas Suite" was originally invited to be shown at the recent VIII Havana Biennial. Despite the fact that curator Margarita Sánchez, clarified that the work was not the object of censure, she could not deny the fact that it was an "inconvenience" because of the text written by Eva Grinstein for the presentation and the contextualization regarding the political relationships between Cuba and Venezuela. A clear ideological line was broken which led to restrictions and rejections. Does your resignation and that of Priscilla Monge, together with the repudiation by some curators, evidence the illegitimacy of this biennial as a conceptual and artistic space for interchange?

Alexander Apóstol:  Margarita Sánchez has always tried to clarify that she did not have the intention of censuring the work, however "Caracas Suite" is a group of very metaphoric videos which, from a context as broad as an international Biennial, needed a clear text to place their readings rapidly. The text of Eva Grinstein, who prepared it with a great deal of influence from my ideas, is very clear as to what occurs with the piece. Margarita had her ideas about this and I had mine and despite our attempts to reach an agreement, this was impossible. Awhile ago I mentioned the "Utópolis" showcase in Caracas; this showcase had to close early by reason of pressures from the recently-arrived Chávez government (which arrived after the showcase had been inaugurated). This year, government officials censured the work of Pedro Morales for the Venice Biennial. There is a kind of witch hunt going on in the cultural environment (not to mention others), which has swept away successful projects and people. The cultural guidelines designed by this sectarian and censorious government have evidently lost all legitimacy. It is inevitable. However, for an international biennial, on which the eyes of the world are fixed, taking these kind of measures are far riskier. Although one can imagine that what is truly risky at this moment for the Cuban biennial, is to be completely plural and open to the different opinions of invited artists.

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