Mexico City 15.12.2014
Bernard Vienat (BV).-One of the linking threads of works like Ocupación and Exhaust lies on the treatment of social issues. How is it that your immediate social context influenced and continues to influence your work?
Marcela Armas (MA).-Ocupación is a project from 2007. It is a performing action project that I developed in the street. I built a portable kit with a series of horns attached to it, through which I carry out my occupations. I walked, using my body as a device to occupy the space which is normally intended for vehicular purposes.
The question that rises at first is related to social space construction. A sort of internal debate and the notion of the city as a mechanism, an economical one that privileges mobility, velocity through the machine, which is the automobile, subtracting little by little the space for social encounter.
BV.-Why did you choose to do this project in Porto Alegre, Brazil and not in Mexico? What led you to this decision?
MA.-Actually, the original project was developed here, due to the fact that it is a project that emerges out of my personal relationship with Mexico City. I am from Durango and before moving to Mexico City I lived in various small cities. For me, it was extremely shocking to come to a city where so many things happened, such a huge city able to mobilize so much human and material energy.
The Porto Alegre Biennial sent me an invitation to participate with this particular project. Before, I had thought that it would be impossible to develop this project in another context for many reasons. Nevertheless, it was also very interesting to explore the possibilities of doing it in another context and seeing how compatible it can be to other realities. Also my interest comes from the parallelism between social, political and economical circumstances in another Latin American cities and how our own contexts and social constructions have developed. It’s also interesting to see what happens when you transfer an experiment to another setting.
BV.-In relation to your project Ocupación and the development of your work Exhaust, in which way can the space reveal another form of occupation and a different sensorial experience?
MA.-Exhaust is a project that was developed in 2009 as part of an ongoing investigation of the urban machinery, the car, and the way in which it can be used to explore certain critical questions about the space in which it unfolds: the city. Ocupación and some other pieces emerged based on the car horn as a device and the sound that it produces. I was interested in the exploration of sound as an invisible emanation, which nevertheless is part of the environment. The sound is an element that radically transforms the spaces we inhabit, as well as an expression of their vitality.
In the case of Exhaust, it also had to do with the exploration of the automobile and its relationship with the urban context. The intervention consists of placing six cars under a bridge and a plastic container which emulated the form of one of its structural elements: the column. This container had the function of locking inside of it the diverse combustion gases emanating from the running cars, thus containing the residual gases of this machine, which historically holds a specific economic purpose within the process of circulation and the capital realm as well as an aspirational aspect that has within the urban context.
The intervention lasted around 24 hours, from the moment that we began building the installation to the point where the column was filled. Afterwards, the gas is liberated by using active carbon filters until it disappears. The only thing left of this action is the documentation, register, video and some photographs that testify what really occurred. Exhaust was an intervention that finished a series of other small interventions that were built in other points in the city: Plastic spherical and cubic containers, but in a smaller scale, which generated places of obstruction. For example, there is another piece titled Obstrucción a dos tiempos, where my interest was to treat these residual gases as agents of space obstruction and not only with the possibility of making this visible.
BV.-How come that working with an immaterial and invisible substance led you to a particular form and how did it transformed through the use of this substance?
MA.-This point was much more important to me. Many people ask me: why did you start with obstruction experiments and ended up with a figurative form, a column? My reason was that my study process tried to integrate the urban language and the city in this residual machinery, pointing at these structures as signals. It does not mean that the bridge is the only symbol, but it seemed to me a very strong and powerful one, which could show the residual aspect of the city and the economic machinery that it implies. It’s about the machine, and remembering Georges Bataille’s The Accursed Share, I conceive the city as a consummation and continuous expenditure machine, an expense that is finally related to the production of surplus and waste.
BV.-I can imagine the connection between this movement that you’re talking about and a defective social Mexican status. But how do you approach this topic within your daily life and how is it that you manage to give to your artistic work a poetic and activist character?
MA.-It changes. We are dynamic beings. When I began to develop these projects, there might have been an activist impulse, but it has transformed. I’ve always been interested in this link and the possibility of making poetic and symbolic constructions. It seems to me that poetry itself has a transgressive aspect. In this sense, these material constructions, though maybe not necessarily transgressive in its physical specifications, are so in the field of ideas at the moment they become nature symbols, in this case: urbanity. It seems to me that they bear a certain transgression potential, something that has to do with these symbol’s capacity to enter into our consciousness. But at this point, what I am more concerned about is to understand rather than transgressing. To try to understand the conditions and the context in which I unravel, in Mexico as in the rest of the world. I think it´s very important to understand that everything that is happening to us is an expression of the human spirit state. In an individual, but also in a collective level, the question is how do we conceive and build our relationships with life, our values and beliefs systems and the way we categorize everything and we identify ourselves with models that are still exclusive, hierarchical and vertical. I´m not so interested in interrupting spaces like I did with Ocupación. Now I need another processes which will lead me to a dialogue, collaborative processes where many voices have something to say and a place to experiment our way to weave relationships.
BV.-I would like to speak about Vórtice, considering that it is one of your most recent works, which also holds these political and social aspects of your work as a background.
MA.-Vórtice is a project that I started about 2 years ago. Is an inquiry into the material of official school books in Mexico, objects that are part of an over 50 year old tradition. These are books, which are distributed nation-wide and that represent the position of a univocal vision of history. A very important question to me was: How could a book which relates a single version of the facts be distributed all over Mexico, such a diverse and heterogeneous country?
I am from the north, but I have lived in the centre of the country for many years and I also have travelled to the south to find out that we are basically many small countries within a larger one. When I came across the new school textbooks I realized that they are made out of recycled paper. After researching, I found out about the existence of a governmental program that started in 2004, which makes a federal decree, obliging all public administration dependencies in the country to destroy their dead archives. All the bureaucratic paper, from the operations of all the country’s public institutions would have to be destroyed, based on an ecological approach, recycling all unused paper in order to produce paper for new school text books for the children. I went to the General National Archive to try to understand this process, a process regulated by the State, where all dependencies must follow a series of requirements of regulated safekeeping of the archives to finally donate the archives that are no longer functional, without an obvious social purpose, to be destroyed to produce new books. This process implies certain discrimination by sorting which archives have historical value from the point of view of the State and society. In this assessment of value and within the symbolical level in which I work, there is a very interesting part that has to do with who decides what is history and where do these documents come from.
The result was a documental video of the book’s industrial production process, based on the provenance of the paper. In the documentary what we do is to trace the paper, beginning with the recycling plant, where we saw how this paper, which for us never ceased to be an archive, is destroyed, crushed and bleached to finally obtain an apparently new paper, which works as a sort of invisible archive, which later is going to be used in order to write a new history.
BV.-Do you see in this project a critic towards the book’s content and its publication as a political message?
MA.-I realized that there are a series of very strong contents that needed to be revisited in this historical reading that we were doing. I decided not to go through the classical revision of the books, due to the fact that there is already enough literature on the subject. What interested me was to make an observation of social transformation, of the evolution of communication media and production. To understand how the economic conditions, society, people, nature and relationships are constantly changing. We did a study about the contents and a classification attending their chronology. Editorial contents were selected to make them visible; we worked with over 150 books published from 1959 to 2011, afterwards, the entire books (with all of their pages) passed through a resin process in order to be transformed into engines which later conformed a moving mechanism: a machine as an allegory of the Mexican educational system.