Mexico City 06.02.2015
Bernard Vienat (BV).-Several of your works show a particular interest in anarchism. How is it that you were able to focus on José Oiticica work, when it hasn’t been translated from Portuguese yet?
Juan Pablo Macías (JPM).-My interest in anarchism arose in 2005, when I begin a series of curatorial and artistic exercises where I aimed to use these cultural grammars as micro utopic displays, indirectly appealing to anarchism, as a sort theoretical framework that could inform my own grammar. Towards 2009 I started working with this subject, after the eviction of an anarchist library in Mexico City. From that moment on I became further involved in the matter and created a series of platforms for research and for the creation of situations that looked directly upon this legacy of thought.
Later, on 2012, while gathering some transcripts regarding previous works on the Social Library “Reconstruir”, I launched the TIEMPO MUERTO magazine, a collection of my research and readings. This publication, although avoiding certain dualities, such as art-and-politics, and focusing apparently only on the anarchist legacy in which it was based, did had an interest in the relation between the diverse representation systems and the affections that lie outside their grid; an interest on representation, which somehow belongs to artistic thought.
José Oiticica, arrived to the magazine around the third issue, along with other authors. His last name obviously caught my attention; he was Helio Oticica’s grandfather. I finally got his book, which was written in Portuguese in 1925, and with TIEMPO MUERTO, which was a self funded magazine I began translating some fragments to Spanish (so I could read it myself) English and Czech (with some self-funding, some actual funding and some fund diverting from other institutional art projects).
In 2014 I received an invitation to exhibit at Villa Romana in Florence, in a German institution, and I decided to use the time and money provided by the institution, in order to start my own publishing house: WORD-MOIST PRESS. Its inaugural publication was the translation from Portuguese into English of ‘A Doutrina Anarquista ao Alcance de Todos’ (“The Anarchist Doctrine Accessible to All”) by José Oiticica. The project I presented to justify the use of the money, was a sort of retribution to the space, by writing during 38 hours the English translation on the walls of Villa Romana, and displaying the video of the book printing with the heat affixed seal which I used in the cover, as well as the book itself.
There are several things worth noting, such as the fact that I used institutional money in order to talk about anarchism, which seems to be one of the cardinal sins of anarchism itself, or the fact that I didn’t end the creative process with a standstill, collectible object. First, I think that capital as dead labor, a job that has already been produced and exchanged its value, is in the end, a job made collectively, and I experience great pleasure in using the money from these institutions in order to satisfy my own desires, as a reader first, and second, in exchanging the value in “gold”, so to speak, of this funding, for value in “knowledge”. I.e. I put this money back into circulation in the form of a book that people will take home and read. It is a kind of alchemy, an aim for the continuing transformation of matter. Sweat turned into money turned into a paper wall, or liquid ink transformed to information and to codes.
BV.-How do you build bridges between anarchist literature, libraries and your artwork?
JPM.-There are two libraries in my work. One is an actual library, founded by a Catalan anarchist exiled during the Spanish civil war: Ricardo Mestre. He died in 1997 and in 2009 his library was evicted along with his heirs. It was at this point that I began my research on this topic and produced a series of situations, actions… anarchist meetings in a network involving artistic practice and cultural institution, in order to create crossroads and tangent territories. I was interested in establishing a platform for discourse production, and mainly in producing such situations that might strain the relationship between artistic practice, cultural institutions and the social sphere.
Parallel to this work and this series of situations with the library, I started researching anarchism online and found a project, set in motion by a group of corporations, devoted to the digitization of the book collections of several American universities. Since 2009 I have been downloading the books digitized by these corporations. I understand they were made available thus, for the internal consultation of the university staff and students. But this action created a new concept of “right” of “ownership”, not upon the book or its copyright, but upon the digitalized copy. I printed these digital books and bind them in sandpaper creating a sculpture that somehow lives on as a metaphor of the inconsistence of being, on the one hand, a cultural product meant to be spread, to be read, and on the other hand, of establishing itself as a work of art, a commodity, which is finally rendered inaccessible.
BV.-Do you see an activist posture in your work?
JPM.- Not in the way the term is normally used. I am a person who is active, yes, but without the ‘ism’ that is hung to the term. To me, it is important not to confuse the practices I use as an artist with political militancy. They are different territories. It is as if in this compound term of art-and-politics, both terms were already given without recognizing the different layers that make each of them up. When one is aware about his/her own situation as an individual, this already implies a certain political awareness, it implies a certain disposition in regards to art, sex, relationships among persons, objects. Who do we want to show a certain political situation to? Who do we want to make politically aware? I do not understand this paternalist obsession of certain artists or curators when people experience the catastrophes of politics first hand. How do the context and the political situation affect artistic or cultural practices and vice versa, how do art and culture operate if it has been seen that they depend on specific economic and political situations, that they operate from fields of certain permissibility and institutional ‘freedom’, these seem like more urgent matters to me.
BV.-Regarding your interest in the dissemination of texts, how have you now come to focus on the dissemination of seeds in Banca Autonoma di Sementi Liberi da Usura – BAS?
JPM.-I did that in Abruzzo, Italy in 2014, during a residence called GuilmiArtProject. During that residence I wanted to publish another edition of TIEMPO MUERTO and write quotes and conceptual maps of the editorial process on the city’s walls, but when I arrived there I found several factors that seemed very clear to me… that both text and seeds are subject to copyright, patents, monopolies and that their use determine the reader’s and the farmer’s universe. I started making a territorial mapping, documenting it on video, about the people who were preserving ancient seeds that didn’t come from the agroindustry. Later on I conceptualized a bank with a statute that specified a usury free economy, accumulating their heritage: the seeds and the knowledge they imply, to these people, and about the bank’s management by the same people. And it works, its capital continues to grow and people keep joining.
Physically, the bank is a seed refrigerator, a leaflet with the manifesto and logo stencil painted. The seeds inside come and go, generating different situations among partners. They’re now doing the first plantations. They will give the bank a physical space, and works autonomously, that’s to say, without me. At the time of the project’s inauguration, with the video projection, the empty refrigerator and the manifesto inside of it, all the seed pushers came, the audience witnessing the moment. In an almost ceremonial way, they described the seeds and placed them inside the refrigerator, building its capital, symbolic and economically loading the appliance. Now I’m finishing the edition of TIEMPO MUERTO, an issue dedicated to the problem of food production and monopolies to various anarchist authors, like Kropotkin, for example, and will compile the whole Abruzzo project.
BV.-So, the audience was essential to this project. How do you think of your audience while conceiving one of your works?
JPM.-Every audience is different. If you show your work in a museum you are obviously subjected to a specific format and audience. If you get invited to a small town in Abruzzo, where the audience is formed by the townsfolk who are mainly laborers and farmers, etc., then everything changes. In this case I am interested in generating a specific situation and creating the work taking into account the place’s inhabitants.
BV.-Aren’t you worried that the institutions behind this will get some sort of economical benefit, that certain private sponsors, such as banks, for example, may take advantage of your work in order to improve their cultural image?
JPM.-“There, where danger dwells, salvation grows as well” and, nowadays, evil is everywhere. Either you kill yourself or you try to establish some dialogue with this miserable world. These are the kind of mediations between work and reality that I was talking about, as long as I satisfy my wishes, as long as I fulfill my affections, I don’t give a damn about the institution”.