Mexico City 13.03.2015
Bernard Vienat (BV).- How did you come with the idea to gather inside Gonzalo´s Fonseca sculpture “La Torre de los Vientos”, the work of Juan Pablo Macias, Mario de Vega and Arturo Hernández Alcázar?
Michel Blancsubé (MB).- This project emerged like the best ones do; it began as a joke, not so much as a drunken idea, although we had already drunk a lot of alcohol. I cannot and don´t want to exclude Luis Javier de la Torre, the president of the board of La Ruta de la Amistad, who invited us; he came to me to program “La Torre de los Vientos” and this is the first project we did together.
I´ve previously worked with Mario de Vega and Juan Pablo Macias: I included both in a collective exhibition in a gallery (Caja Blanca), curated part of Mario´s solo exhibition in Laboratorio Arte Alameda and also curated Juan Pablo’s solo show, which took place at MUCA Roma. The only one with whom I had never worked before was Arturo Hernández Alcázar.
BV.- How did the idea of the title Sobre Negro come to you?
MB.-The title itself, Sobre Negro, is Arturo’s suggestion. Since I’m black, when I saw the work of these three artists, it also seemed very black to me. To define black in chromatic terms is very difficult, due to the fact that black is not considered a color, but an absence of color, an absence of light. Anyway, everything is very black: the artifacts, the work they produce and also the conceptual and ideological base of their work, it moves dirty water… black water, to put it in a more metaphorical way. For example, the work of Juan Pablo, revolves around re-activating anarchist texts, while Arturo has a very strong commitment with workers, which translates in the use of smelters in this case. It is not a casual aspect of his work but part of Arturo’s fixation, of his coexistence, and complicity with the workers world.
BV.- As museum curator, what is your approach of a gallery’s exhibition in direct relationship with the market?
MB.- I never forget that gallery’s main function is to sell art. These artists, as you can understand, from my point of view are very idealistic; at least they are conscious that behind its market value, an artwork has to carry a strong content. A work transmits more than its corporeality allows, it has an esoteric, ideological and/or poetical charge. Now we never must forget that the gallery has to sell and the artists have to eat. So, remembering the exhibition in marso, in terms of objects, it was very dense. I supposed that many of them had a good chance of being sold; these artists have a complicated economic situation and are not at all stars of the market.
BV.- In such an exhibition, what is your role as curator? I’ve noticed, for example, that a work of Juan Pablo Macias hung upside down.
MB.- Upside down… this was a suggestion that the artist accepted. We discussed all the decisions between two of us, three, four, or even five if we include Luis Javier for the decisions related to La Torre de los Vientos. If now you look carefully to this collage, you will discover that there is only one expression that can be read in a straight up form, which says “state of exception”. It seemed very interesting to me that this was the only expression that could be read properly.
BV.- In Sobre Negro, one can sense the whole political and ideological weight of these works. Maybe as a French curator you could tell us about the differences of expressions that you can find between Europe and Mexico on this matter?
MB.- Ideological, I’m not sure… lately, in another project that I was working on at the same time, I focused on the somewhat old idea of the artist as a seismographer of his time, idea that I found in writings of various famous artists.
I know that there are still people with this romantic idea of the artist disconnected from the world. A romantic image that grew in many aspects during the 19th Century, that of the artist living in his studio, imagining beautiful things in order to allow people to forget reality, the drama of history, etc. I don’t know if there continue to be new artists who are looking for this state, but I believe it’s a fairly conservative image.
Nowadays, the artist is someone who, considering the artists that I know, tends more to look for information. So, if the artist works as seismographer of his or her time, a dramatic vision emerges, one closely related to theater. I believe that we never received news that the world was completely quite; there was and there is always some fire somewhere, with some parts hotter than others. We live in a time of tremendous accumulation of threats, from which the political discourse that we know is originated. There are great confrontations and tensions. Some explode, others don’t. In this case, these three politically awake artists register this information and translate it into their work.
BV.- The political news that can be found in newspapers, magazines, television… are in most of the cases geographically limited. Do you think that it is also justified to speak about these geographical zones in the art world? For instance can we speak of a true Mexican type of art?
MB.– I find it hard and do not really like this type of exhibitions that have taken place since some time, those with a focus on a national scene so to speak. We all know who benefits from this sort of emphasis on a particular scene in a country, and these are basically based on political interests. I think that the artistic community has always been one of the earliest most globalized communities in the world: I am sure that in Crogmanon’s time, the man who was drawing in his cave was thinking while drawing, on another man, in another cave, in another part of the world, doing another drawing. The artist has always been worried about what other artists were developing. And that’s the reason why I find very reductive and artificial to force artists to work together, only because they share a nationality, a passport. Actually, I made an exhibition, which was very sarcastic in this sense: Schweiz über alles. This exhibit was also a provocative and ironic way of addressing the topic of the “national exhibition”.
Is there a Mexican specificity? Not really. Mexico is a very porous country, so I don’t think we could really sell the idea of a Mexican specificity. The action of bringing objects from the street into the exhibition hall is something that has being done in Brazil, in India, etc. I think that in many countries artists understood that the bourgeois has an interest in his garbage only when those are presented in the frame of an exhibition, what can be named a sort of art snobbery.
Mexico is a country with a strong creative population, but little by little it’s losing this quality. When I compare the Mexico I knew in 2001 to the one I knew in 1982, I can see that like in the rest of the world, the gentrification already started. For example, in 2003 the last vochos were produced in Puebla. The law decided that those cars have to disappear as taxis 10 years after shutting down the beetle’s production, in 2013 then. This was a pretty radical change in the look of the city. The classic taxi of Mexico City was this vocho with a white roof, two doors and a green base; those yesterday everywhere, suddenly disappeared. Not only this, but the Mexican has an almost genetic necessity to transform his personal space, so although all vochos looked the same from the outside, inside they reflected the individual personality of each driver. Now, with those new taxis that we have, I see that you lose step by step this capacity of customization.
BV.- Do you think that this creativity can be well exported abroad?
Not long ago, we talked about the eternal Mexican inferiority complex and I think that if there is an activity in which the Mexican has got over, it is in contemporary art. In this sense, there are two people that really changed this feeling of inferiority. First of all, the man I work for since many years: Eugenio Lopez Alonso. He changed it through the money his father allowed him to invest in art. The other is Gabriel Orozco, who used a very interesting and intelligent strategy: he left Mexico for Europe and the United States which he convinced of his talent and came back as Mexico’s prodigal child, exhibiting at Museo Tamayo in Mexico City in the year 2000.
Orozco proved to the Mexican art scene that one can be Mexican and at the same time belonging to the top world 20 contemporary artists of the moment . In the international art world, in the famous mainstream, I think that Mexico holds a very strong and honorable position.
BV.- But Mexico’s political problems have also a strong resonance in other foreign countries. Do you think that this can be considered to be a fertile ground for contemporary artists?
MB.- Sorry if I make this analogy, but I remember the eighties with the scandal of the false bills in the French political world. When this explosion occurred in Marseilles, the city was considered to be a caricature of what was really happening on a national level in France, because Marseilles had this very strong repelling side. Nowadays, if we look at a larger scale, it can be considered to be a coarse analogy of mine, but Mexico looks like a kind of caricature of what is now happening all over the world. We are in a country that benefits a lot from drug dealing, money laundering, etc. Is it so different abroad? Mexico is certainly today the most obvious example in terms of political and mafia scandal.
So, obviously, Mexico is a paradise for the artists! Supposedly the artist as seismographer of his time nurtures from these sorts of strong, scandalous phenomena. Those are stimuli, things that transcend the work itself. With the speed of the media I don’t believe in this idea of the artist revealing a political scandal, nowadays. I think that the artist can hardly reveal something that we cannot know through any other means before.
BV.- But that’s another kind of mediation.
MB.– Yes, it is another kind of mediation, another type of reflection. The work of art should be something that allows you to survive with this disgust or that allows you to look beyond that, to see a light thru a different point of view. The artist has a point of view and plastic mediums, both tools that give him the possibility to help people to look at the reality in an unexpected way, to go beyond and further.
Now with the weight of the market, I have some doubts regarding art as a provider of hope.
What about an artist who critic capitalism and exhibit within a tumultuous and commercial gallery? With the weight that the market has in the art world, the artist is not in a position to make an obvious ethical critique of capitalism. The art world, as a showcase of the most savage capitalism we have known in the history of humanity, has reduced the ethical-political possibilities of the artist.
The day that marso becomes a gallery that sells millions, I think that artists like Juan Pablo Macias, Mario de Vega and Arturo Hernández Alcazar will have to leave if they want to keep on doing the things they do. Otherwise, they will become cynical.
BV.– It seems to me that many artists here work in direct contact with communities. Don’t you think that these types of practices can lead to a double game?
MB.- Yes, totally. On the one hand side they take advantage of the creativity of these communities and on the other hand they turn these things into works of their own. There are artists that do it in a much cleaner and ethical way than others, but these are all first human beings that, when they will get the chance, will surely benefit from that economically. The power of money corruption is very present, and at the end we all need an economical retribution. I don’t imagine artists as objects on a pedestal, as Superheroes. They are still humans, no?