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X. Andrade

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Mar 16, 2007
Location: Ecuador
Topic: Interview with X. Andrade
Interviewer: Lillebit Fadraga

LatinArt:  Full Dollar: Representing!

This interview arose out of the interviewer's interest in the work of the above-mentioned Full Dollar Corporation and the affairs of its Chairman-for-Life, His Excellency Mr. X. Andrade, following their first meeting at the Clarion Amón Plaza Hotel. This on the occasion of the Estrecho Dudoso (Doubtful Strait) exhibition in Costa Rica, where one recognized the other thanks to the following signs:

A: Interviewer was wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Art Unlimited"
B: The Chairman was residing on the exclusive fourth floor of the hotel (VIP Floor), as befitting his hierarchal position vis-a-vis the other artists in the exhibition.

Question: What were the origins of the Full Dollar Corporation?

X. Andrade:  It was born in March 2004. Its original incarnation: a symbolically appropriated gallery space in an empty building within an urban-renewal area in Guayaquil. The city is Ecuador's main port and a radical example of the privatization of a public space, that carries with it the hyper dynamics of security and the creation of a generic urban landscape. In the words of its Mayor and the director of this process: "I wish we were like Disneyland" (and I'm not kidding!)

The building was chosen for other reasons as well. It had a sign advertising rental telephone service before they were handed over to transnationals. The dilapidated condition of that sign - which is now our logo - and of the abandoned space - which for years had been a warehouse of recyclable objects collected by the unemployed, and also served as a place for them to stay - led to its appropriation. In fact, in our different urban interventions we have stressed the illusory nature of urban renovations by visualizing the ruins that make them up. To that end, as with our symbolic setting, we have captured fragments of the city in order to ridicule their arbitrary use.

LatinArt:  What is the current status of the Corporation, where is it based, and who are its members?

X. Andrade:  The company continues to have its symbolic presence on the original site. Of course this is now a horrendous building, typical of the proverbial bad taste of local architecture. We also exist on a virtual level, thanks to an elaborate system of strategic alliances with brotherly institutions such as experimentos culturales (cultural experiments, who maintain our website), sapo inc. (video artists who provide us graphic support) and fundación adopte a un escritor (the adopt a writer foundation, which provides situationist ideology and an extraordinary sense of humor). In our projects we sometimes make use of unemployed labor, or sometimes private-sector sponsorship; we have worked with hotels in Mexico City and San Jose, Costa Rica, and are currently working with a sanitation company in Guayaquil. Likewise, our academic outreach is made possible through an agreement with dpm gallery to carry out a monthly activity involving discussions of visual arts beyond aesthetics. As for FD's organizational chart, the Board of Directors consists of one Chairman and two street dogs, which simplifies the decision-making and planning process enormously.

LatinArt:  How was it that Full Dollar took part in the Estrecho Dudoso exhibition in Costa Rica?

X. Andrade:  ED created a specific section, "Tráficos" (Trafficking), devoted to projects that lead to art from other disciplines and vice versa. In fact, "Tráficos" served to start up a dialogue motivated by the concern that many of the participants felt about the future of public spaces in different parts of the planet. BijaRi in Sao Paulo, Antoni Abad and Rogelio López Cuenca in Spain and Latin America, M77 in Buenos Aires, Luis or Miguel in Havana and Barcelona, among others, shared that interest. In some cases, such as our own, we are people whose work is based on fields other than art. The invitation extended by the curators Virginia Perez-Ratton and Tamara Dí¬≠az Bringas - aware of the dual nature of FD - was to provide an academic service in the form of a talk on the future of public spaces in today's cities, and make a specific statement based on the traffic of ideas, objects, and people who are normally outside the contemporary art circuit.

LatinArt:  What's the difference between this exhibition in Costa Rica and the event in Mexico City where you had already worked with decorative pictures and the staff of a hotel?

X. Andrade:  The method is the same. The project deals with trafficking within the legitimate spheres of art with works that normally would not be seen, or be viewed indifferently, by an eye trained in contemporary art. Working with managers, bellboys and the cleaning staff is a key part of that process since they see things differently and have a different relationship with those objects and those aesthetics. Naturally, this is the result of dialogues that arise from an ethnographic condition: from our point of view the hotel where we are staying is a matrix of social interactions and a power structure where certain meanings and readings are either sanctioned or silenced. The reinstallation of these pictures is an ethnographic exercise guided by a deep respect for the people we anthropologist address in "the field." In this case, initially a hotel, and subsequently our colleagues in contemporary art.

The organizers in Costa Rica, TEOR/éTica, were familiar with the piece we did in Mexico City in 2004 as part of the Localismos: Veinte artistas, veinte miradas sobre el Centro Histórico (Localisms: Twenty Artists, Twenty Views of the Historic Center). On that occasion, since it was a workshop/residence held at the Virreyes Hotel - a particularly evocative space given its refined and decadent atmosphere - we decided to engage in dialogue with the cleaning staff to make them think about the meaning of the pictures that decorated the hotel. As it happened the dominant motif was of seaside landscapes so we set up a display of them, those most meaningful to the staff, in an old Pepsi warehouse whose corporate colors (blue and white) blended very nicely with the pictures. In San Jose, thanks to the support of the Clarion Amón Plaza Hotel, we were able to establish the same dynamics. This time, however, the main challenge stemmed from the fact that 95% of the pictures decorating the walls of the hotel's 90 rooms were the same reproduction of a little rural landscape. The serial nature of the image had to be respected, so we set up a display of 16 of these reproductions in a public car park. Of course, the surreal nature of arriving at a car park, parking your car and being met with a collection of identical paintings sparked humorous comments and questions. We concluded by placing a plaque on the spot from which the picture had been taken originally --the hotel rooms-- explaining that they were not hanging there because they were being displayed as contemporary art. Every institution, whether it's a hotel or a car park has its own codes, and the circulation of those pictures was the subject of intense negotiations and even internal arguments between managers who had divided opinions as to the meaning of the project and the decorative chaos it had caused inside the hotel.

LatinArt:  You were trained as an anthropologist. Why did you enter the art field?

X. Andrade:  The main reason is that academia is boring but necessary if one seeks to understand a social reality. My entry into art, however, is the result of years of dialogue with visual artists in New York and of learning about the social life of images in societies such as India, where I lived for a couple of years. That led to an ethnographic look at the trivialities of daily life and the effects of urban spaces on my condition as an urbanite, a view that also teaches one to relativize the status and critical power of mere academic knowledge.

LatinArt:  At the conference you gave in San José as part of Estrecho Dudoso, you talked about the Malecón (Boardwalk) 2000 project in Guayaquil, where a traditional, recreational urban space is being violated and converted into a claustrophobic, elitist space under the repression of law enforcement. In Havana also we now have "gated parks" that we had never seen before. What's your opinion on these issues?

X. Andrade:  The erosion of the modern ideals of a city (characterized by the promotion of spaces for spontaneous encounters between different people) and the establishment of privatizing, monitoring dynamics is certainly a sign of the times. In Guayaquil, for example, you are greeted at the seafront with signs that say "We reserve the right to refuse admittance." At some point streets were franchised out for direct control by private security companies. It is the Bratton-Giuliani model in New York, copied in Mexico City, San José, and Sao Paulo and in some European cities as well, of course. The appearance of fortress citadels - spaces designed to safeguard homogenous niches in terms of class and race - is a worldwide phenomenon. So the most interesting aspect for me, at Estrecho Dudoso, was the concern over a type of urbanism that is giving rise to greater social polarization and is made possible by unfair practices in the distribution of the funds allocated to these new spaces, and, at the same time, the creation of sterile spaces, devoid of humanity, typified by a spirit of commercialism that promotes a new sense of citizenship: pedestrians who stroll through what was "their" city as if they were in front of a shop window, but not like Walter Benjamin's flaneur, able to read different layers of a story, but like blind, disciplined beings incapable of reclaiming their right to public spaces.

LatinArt:  The challenges of the informal economy were one of the main curatorial criteria of Estrecho Dudoso, as reflected in Antoni Abad's work with Nicaraguan emigrants in San José, or the work of Bubo Negron and the Alhambra group, who recorded a pirate CD, to name just two examples. In your above-mentioned essay you refer to this idea, which you have called a process of sociological cleansing. Tell us about Guayaquil's particular case and some of Full Dollar Corporation's "activities" to fight against this process.

X. Andrade:  Urban renewals involve the displacement of undesirable populations, in keeping with the notions of sanitized space that they promote. Our company's original slogan, "private capital at the service of contemporary art and sociological cleansing", sought to ridicule a concept that stigmatizes those who have no other option for survival than the informal market. In Ecuador's case we are talking about more than half of the economically active population. Working in the informal economy is criminalized, an aspect that is evidenced in Costa Rica in the work of Danny Zavaleta (who made posters of informal vendors as delinquents), as the outcome is to be condemned to a state of increasing poverty and exposure to training in new forms of subsistence that can eventually be completely criminal, as the encyclopedic universe in Jhafis Quinteros' work shows (a book that compiles the paraphernalia used to commit crimes and consume drugs in prisons). In some of the activities we make reference to the sorry situation of informal workers by pointing to the hiring practices to which they are subjected. We also did this as part of the piece that was installed at the Clarion Hotel in San José, where we invaded the Business Center with 65 amateur paintings by an informal vendor, portraying issues such as terrorism, prostitution, and drug use. We ended up outlining the social life of those works by depicting the vendor's life story imagining his exhibition as part of the ED event: in it he paints me becoming internationally famous (next to Andy Warhol), while he continues to be subjected to the same repression while trying to sell his paintings on the same old corner in Guayaquil. The last painting closes with caustic irony: in it I am reading a newspaper whose headline is: "Full Dollar: contemporary art has never been this badly represented." And I agree fully, to the extent that that has become our latest corporate slogan. In fact, our existence in contemporary art is an extension of anthropological questions on the status of such art in the context of the increasing privatization of cities, the micro practices that constitute it, and other questions along those lines. At the same time, art circuits and the mechanisms that make it legitimate provide the possibility of pushing our interpretations to critical limits that are only possible thanks to epistemological liberalization and art policies.

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