Berlin, October 1, 2005
Let’s talk about your work Paintant Stories that is in the Daros Latinamerica Collection, of the many levels that this enormous panoramic work has, which contains a whole world for me. I remember the day, a few years ago in New York, when you were working on this piece to present it in Stuttgart and Köln, in the Kunstvereine, and it impressed me. It seemed almost impossible for me to conceptually approach a work so large, so total, containing so many readings. How were you able to conceive a work with this scale, richness and density?
Obviously it’s Rauschenberg in the sixties and his largedimensional works and Rosenquist and the Pop artists… but basically my idea is not about the size or gigantic dimensions of the work, but that a large-scale format offers intimacy in relation to space-time. This element of a multiple scale is one of the key features of my work. Your question has a lot of different levels. In the most down-to-earth sense, the work is about producing a new point of view of environmental painting, it tries to renew the idea of muralism, it is a painting of the digital era. It does not work with the digital effect, the effect of the computer, superficiality, but it endeavors to work with what can be defined as a composition of space-time. It takes time, and some walking, to see these works: they demand a vision in movement in real time and in real motion. The scale is connected with not wanting something gigantic, but to create a vision in movement—a sort of combustion, in which you can’t see the work as an object in its entirety, but you see it zone by zone, and you organize it, let’s say, in accordance with the flow of our lives. It’s what happens with cinema or video, for example, which darken a space and use a space in a parasitic fashion, because they are projected onto a wall or an object and deprive that object of its reality. My works, on the other hand, flow in some way in real space and present a passage across that real space.
What fascinates me is the fact that no spectator will be able to see, conceive, understand the work as you have made it. When I saw it for the first time, I started to read it from a distance, say, of three meters. Then I read it in its entirety, but I couldn’t see it all at the same time, and once I had completed the trajectory I found myself at the starting point again. I zoom in closer and read other parts. And the third time I look from a distance of ten meters and see a completely different work.
It’s connected with the form of composition, because the work produces a first trajectory through the space. For example, when the work was shown in Köln, I was working inside the museum, then outside the museum, and then I went back inside the museum. In other words, it was a public/private passage. The big trajectory was like an urban paint zone that is connected with everything around the museum and inside it. But then there are circuits of vision internal to the work which are like micro-macro and where the painting sometimes suggests compositionally that you take a look from very near, and then from very far away. At times you see certain zones close up and miss things which can be seen from a distance.
That is what enables or produces the proposal of a micro-macro composition and of the form in which the painting can bring dynamism to the multiplicity of visions. Because the painting is there, in tranquillity, and you move like a constantly active spectator. For example, I always repeat the phrase “action painting for the spectator or participant,” in the sense that much is demanded of the spectator, it may be five minutes or hours. Of course, no painting has a time limit, but I try to get a painting to become temporalized in a more organized way. This is the product of a micro-macro form, space-time, in which the experience of moving and looking at the painting takes place. I am very interested in the idea that painting in general, whether modernist or classical, produces a situation of stealing time from somebody. You can’t do anything else while you are looking at it. Cinema is the biggest theft of time of all the arts. If you go with the time in these paintings, you go with the space, and you see the painting as you see the world. That is philosophically the most important point for me, because it is transformed into a sort of art that is more sober, an art that accompanies people’s movement through the world, instead of stopping it. I don’t think that much art does this. Painting stops it short, and so does photography. I am always talking in relation to other media, because I am very interested in this idea in relation to urbanism, architecture, the cinema, but at the same time always within a framework of painting and one that expands the very possibilities of painting, which is static in essence. That condition of being static should not be understood as paralysis, because a composition like the ones I make creates a dynamism of vision like action painting, which is not the painting of American Abstract Expressionism, but which actually shows the action in painting and does not mystify the human action of the painter in its expression, but tries in some way to analyze what action is, what the gesture means in society and in private life, the gesture of a community. I think that this is action painting, rather than Abstract Expressionism, don’t you?
Pollock seems to have done it primarily for himself, don’t you think? And who do you do it for?
There are artists who are like social workers. Other artists are like good producers of objects. Painters, generally speaking, are situated within the tradition of objects, of things, and there are other artists who create activities or impossibilities. Of course, there are plenty of hybrids in the latter group. I’m one too, but I am generally a member of that group of the impossible, I try to situate art in the sphere of the impossible, now that it can be said that everything is possible today, in this age. To return to the work Paintant Stories, as you have said, that work has a multiplicity of subjects, like chapters, in which, as in a film, or in a painting by Giotto, there is a cycle, a series. There are themes that interlock, and certain provisional conclusions.
Pollock, Fontana and Klein are for me the great informal painters who take us from the claustrophobia of the classical composition to the all-over, in the case of Pollock, or to the all-through, through the painting, in the case of Fontana, or to the total space, in the case of Klein. And these three artists are like impossibilities. It’s like an audacity. I try to deconstruct Pollock and to say: “OK, Pollock dances on the work, I think that the public dances on my work.” I’m interested in a situation that is different from the US model of individual liberty, I’m interested in the possibility of collective freedom. It’s because I don’t feel divorced from society. I’m trying to have a community all the time. As an artist, I feel myself to be beyond community. I was born in one country, I live in another, I show my work in another. How can we create a form of community in the global world? How can we define that? For me, art and painting can produce a communion, a coexistence, a co-vision. That’s why I’m very interested in the idea that painting exists by virtue of the fact that you see it and that you are not brought to a halt by a painting, but flow along with it.
Could you talk about your themes and their development?
Basically, there are pictorial chapters in which certain different problems are connected with others, like a network. And while there are big themes, in some way certain semi-themes, or rather micro-themes, are developed that had already developed in other parts. In other words, there is a kind of constant echo.
Like a symphony?
Exactly, it has a lot to do with a musical structure, because it’s connected with the idea of a ritornello, the idea of the return of a theme, the idea of echo, vibration, reverberation, amplification. All these kinds of things turn out to be very interesting to me in this type of new, computer-generated painting, because the computer can create filtered elements of repetition and differentiation, amplification. In other words, a whole dialogue can come into existence with certain things that belonged more to the world of film and music. In the zone that we are looking at now, in my computer, which is a passage between the interior and the exterior in the installation Paintant Stories in Köln, there were moments of amplification, as it were, as if the work was flowing and certain elements which seemed purely pictorial opened up like an urban mural, don’t you think? As if you entered at the micro level, as if the painting was also an organic, living body. I’m very much interested in that idea of action and also the metaphor of painting developing like an animation. There is an animated space in front of you. As if you could capture the painting in a moment of its settling down. As if the painting were acting on its own and you were, like an artist, a sort of director of pictorial fluxes. A lot goes on in that zone of about one hundred by four meters, but at the same time there is so much that has not happened. If you go back over it, you say: “Ah, that’s going to happen in the future.” The canvas opens itself to you and micro-images emerge from inside it.
To return to the central themes, I leave them pretty open as themes. I don’t provide too many clues. Because the work in itself is, as it were, a question of looking for clues, trying to reconstruct, it’s as if it were taken apart, in some way the complete opposite of what happens in a painting of religious edification or in a painting of Mexican muralism.
Which is didactic, which has a direct message.
Exactly. What happens here is that certain moments appear which seem to be agitated thoughts about ideological or historical problems. Obviously there is always an effect of trying to renew the tradition of history painting, but sometimes it would seem that the painting works on its own problem, as if the painting were a dog that bites its own tail. At other moments it scratches itself, at others it is saying something about the world. It’s like a kind of multifaceted entity that transforms itself as it moves on. I’m interested precisely in that situation in which it is simply a space in which only pictorial problems appear and subsequently you get closer to it and see the image of a crowd of people, while you thought it was just a texture. Or sometimes you see an object that seems almost representational and you get closer and it’s an abstract object. It plays a lot with the idea that the figural, the figured or the figurative can be transformed into something that looks like abstract material, or vice versa. I think that the theme of this work directly as I took it, Time Paintants, is the flow of time of the painting or the flow of some possible evolution, and it’s an exercise in the idea of evolution in general.
OK, after all, nothing is abstract in itself and nothing is figurative in itself either. So your work is almost realist, at a slightly higher level.
Exactly. In some way I could create a book or an essay directly, simply telling the things and the ideas that I was putting into the work in order to arrive at certain conclusions, but I prefer to steal the script, as it were… Like when you make a film and you have to have a script, and this work uses a script that was created by mixing and by the work and at the same time it structured one zone and shaped the other, it’s a very dialectical…
…and anamorphic work. A key theme of the work is that you discover thousands of images piled up in a space that seemed to be a non-imaginistic space. On other occasions one of those images develops to become a totality, in which everything is invaded by micro-images. In other words, a large image invaded by micro-images or a blown-up micro-image. There’s a zone in which it works on the idea of the situation of the body in the present in relation to its own evolution, in relation to medical progress and to the depiction of the body in painting, the zone of the nudes…
And of sex.
Exactly. It’s based on a new vision, in a revision of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. Specifically, there is another zone that seems like a total blow-up of a pictorial gesture and of a part of a body. As if the painting attacked a body like a virus and instead of painting a body, we injected pictorial flows into a body. It’s virtually science fiction, as if there were a way in which painting could turn into a sort of self-generating entity.
How do you see your relation with literature? I’m reading a fantastic book by the German writer Hermann Broch, called The Death of Virgil. For me, your work has many analogies with that book, and with books like James Joyce’s. What do you think?
I’m very interested in this, totally. I’ve read a lot of Witold Gombrowicz, a writer who has always seemed to be an influence on my work, especially a novel called Cosmos, which works with a kind of literature of the detail and the totality and details combining and dancing with one another. There is no constant totality, there is no representation or abstraction, everything is suspended in an amorphous space. Within the previous models of painting—Cubism, Expressionism, everything connected with the readymade, manufactured objects—, within the most important paradigms, I’m very interested in what happens to space after Conceptual Art. As medicine became specific and now studies each part of the body, so Conceptual Art became a sort of specific, hermetic art, and it seems that the only people who can understand it, enjoy it, or live it is the community of art studios, isn’t it? And the echo of US Minimalism, which is so specific. Sometimes someone asks: “Can you sit down on this Donald Judd or not?” And Paula Cooper would say: “That’s not a piece of furniture and you can’t sit down.” The public wouldn’t understand it any more. Reasoning in a more down-to-earth way about the possibilities of the paradigms, I’ve always been interested in the idea of how to make the most maximalist work, following the tradition of Conceptual Art, but in such a way that the visual space of the painting could occupy this space in a way that might be called, very generally, post-minimalist.
To return to literature: How do you see Borges? Do you see a relation?
I’m fascinated by Borges, but I think he’s too metaphorical. I identify more with Gombrowicz and with certain elements of Cortázar, with a poet like Arturo Carrera, who is more contemporary, with a certain idea of the Neo-Baroque. When I was in Buenos Aires in the 1980s, I was with people like Néstor Perlongher. At the moment I greatly enjoy the literature of a good friend of mine called Reinaldo Laddaga, who wrote a work called The Euphoria of Baltasar Brum. We’re the same age. Néstor Perlongher was politically involved with the gay movement in Argentina, and at the same time there was a full identification with the work of Severo Sarduy, a certain notion of the Neo-Baroque.
I think that my work is still an attempt to create a possibly internationalist art. It’s not an art centered on one focus. There is still an entire internationalist movement, because, for historical reasons, there is still a certain macro-ism, a form of totalization, of wanting a comprehensive vision.
You have used the term Baroque several times. Somebody might look at your work and say: ‘Yes, but it’s typically Baroque, exuberant, latino.’
I think that there is a good vision of that, and a naïve vision which has a lot to do with the whole Fantastic Realism movement. What I do is much more “sinister abstraction” than Fantastic Realism. My work has much more to do with something liquid, blacker in style, Hispano-Italian.
And at the same time it has a lot to do with the entire history of art and of painting.
Of course. If you grow up on the periphery, you have a sort of history of “Oh, that’s what’s been done,” but I grew up looking at museums and reproductions and minor art, and there’s plenty of that in my work.
How old were you when you left Argentina for New York, and why?
I was 22 years old. Basically I left for different reasons… I had a sketch of leaving for Europe, but I obtained a grant in a painting competition and that enabled me to travel to the United States to further my career. I chose New York because, according to the information available to me at the time, Europe was in this sort of Postmodernist cloud. In Argentina there was the recent democracy, but there was still the influence of German, Italian figurative painting and all that, which has never interested me. My first work, from the early eighties, was more of an attempt to deconstruct that type of irrational figurative painting. So I decided to go to New York for a breath of fresh air. Because I was much more interested in the works that called the media into question which some abstract artists were doing, I remember that I saw several paintings by Peter Halley, by Jonathan Lasker… Europe was condemned to that Postmodernism, Germany had Kiefer and all that, I called them the heavy artists.
Yes, they are very heavy.
Heavy, and I liked Beuys, but I couldn’t imagine that Kiefer was transforming a representation… the Italians with Clemente and the rest, flattening everything with the roller of Arte Povera. I still felt more of a Conceptual Artist and I saw that in a certain abstract painting and Conceptual Art connected with the media, the Americans… all these kinds of experiments were closer to where I wanted to be. They didn’t interest me as an influence, they interested me as mental combustion, as a space that it could be fertile to be in, and I stayed there. It wasn’t an exile, as it had been for other generations. Well, there is a certain economic incentive too. Until the end of the eighties and the start of the nineties, the American space was not going through what we are going through now: re-republicanization. You could still breathe a political space with an Alfredo Jaar, a Gonzalez-Torres. The majority of the progressives were in America. And an artist could enjoy a decent life and get on with his work. In that sense the leadership of the American dealers has always been very aggressive and very much connected with the artist, as if saying: “I’ll make it with you.” That seems to be going on at the moment in Berlin, of course it happened earlier in Cologne, but it happened less than in America. That kind of meritocracy… I think that it’s changing now and that America is in crisis at the moment. Unfortunately in the mid-eighties it was practically impossible to think of living as an artist in Argentina.
When did you realize that you wanted to devote yourself to art? Where did that idea come from? From your family, your surroundings?
My family is typical of the middle class of the sixties and seventies, from when the Argentine middle class developed, and I think it’s one of the things that Argentina should be proud of, that it was a very progressive country. My family is of Italian and Yugoslavian extraction. When I was growing up, my father had a building company that grew from being very small to very large, in Rosario. I remember going out on my bike, when I was very young, to paint Impressionist paintings in the countryside.
I remember my childhood as marked by three activities, three hobbies: making comics, paintings, and taxidermy.
Yes, I worked in all three fields, in turn, I got tired of one thing… Moreover, sometimes I say, for example: “What a pity that I can’t get bored with being an artist, because we’re more professional today!” You have to keep on making art, but in some way I sometimes complain because art is very continuous and you have to do shows. It would be a good thing, I suppose, to have two or three years without making anything, and then come back to it and, well… it’s a different subject, isn’t it? But those three things, that question of dissection, the idea of animating a comic, which is practically like the sketched representation of something impossible, a diagram, it’s still present in my painting, in all my sketches, all my works on what I call the alteration of painting, or all my strategies on how to create a macro, paradoxical space of painting.
That means that you have always been concerned with how one can perform an analysis and synthesis of the world.
Exactly, because my drawings are connected with a sort of mapping. All my work since the early nineties can be seen as a way of looking at the paradoxical in painting. The painting that you showed me in the photo today, is simply a panel which seems to have had a pictorial gesture which was too much for its support. So the gesture somehow overturned or was too big, it touches the wall, and that produces a concatenation of a drawing in the wall, like a productive malfunction. It would cause a paradoxical effect that would be interesting. I’m very interested in what I call the complex space of reality in relation to the complexity of art. What do I do with the complex? In fact, all my sketches are an attempt or an essay on the possibility of non-reduction, but of increasing and trying to understand and maintain difference as something that has to be accepted. If we fight against it, we reduce the most interesting thing in the world: if we embrace complexity and we can hold it, we can be OK…
But we could also call complexity chaos, couldn’t we? You have a tremendous order in the chaos.
When you are in a contemporary city at the moment, you’re carrying out all kinds of mediations. The complexity compared with a person from the beginning of the twentieth century is astounding. It’s as if we had absorbed Cubism. We keep it in our bodies. Well, I’m a Cubist person in the sense that I have an operation, I have an injection of bone in my leg, I have ready-mades, I have chemical prostheses, because I take pills. Basically, we are an amalgam of situations… We confront a computer that has an ever increasing amount of memory inside. Of course, there are big differences too, but the passages between technology, between reality, between forms of transport are getting faster all the time.
And the passages of thought and feeling.
Exactly, I’m very interested in flowing with contemporary thought. That’s why my work seems to be a kind of constant passage towards something else, because I consider that the people who are experiencing my work already have this way of thinking, that they are connected with the work in a neuralgic way. Francis Bacon once said: “I want my work to go straight to the nervous system.” Contemporary thought is very different from what people were able to do before the computer came along, before the cinema, before photography.
You are one of the few artists, and I don’t want to call you a painter any longer, who is reflecting at a contemporary level what is going on at the start of the 21st century. From that position, generally speaking, how do you see the other painters who are producing static works? What do you think of these games without end, of the reinvention of painting, but always with the same structures and the same media?
Obviously my heart is in painting, in the sense that it’s my ground, where I happen to be, but I sometimes say that I make groundless painting, without a terrain of its own…
What was the title of the work that I saw in the Ropac gallery in Paris, that small, white one?
The painting is called Ground Arrangement. How can a painting be done without a ground?
What is the ground?
Exactly, what is the ground? It changes constantly, doesn’t it? Of course, I have fellow painters whom I greatly respect, such as Jonathan Lasker. I think he’s one of the abstract painters who have subjectivized painting in a positive way within the paradigms of abstraction, turning it into a kind of psychological game, of oppositions and paradoxical subjects, which make you say: “How can this coexist with this?” Sometimes I see painting beyond abstract, figurative or whatever painters. I see that Jeff Wall is a great painter, I see photographers who are great painters, I see film directors who are making very interesting paintings. And sometimes you have to resort to photography, or animation, or architecture, to make a painting, but without abandoning the roots. I don’t mind being called a painter, I am a painter. That seems interesting to me, because I still feel that I am involved in a certain dialogue with artists like Richter, Polke, Rosenquist, with a whole family of artists who are more paradoxical, like Artschwager. I have influences which are much more discontinuous, but I think that there is a lot of that at the moment. In the last few years I’ve given a lot of thought to a certain possibility of history painting and I have thought about David, I was thinking a lot about Goya. How can you create an action painting in connection with taking history as a situation of action? How is one to think historically at the moment? What type of history? What is the history of development? There are micro-histories and macro-histories, there are different lines, political development, economic development, there are different things that are developing. Which brings us, of course, back to the metaphor of this work which is development. Instead of seeing the fragment as collage or disarticulation, to see it and accept it in some way as difference, but at the same time as a continuous activity of cleansing oneself, reorganizing oneself. This work, you tell me, seems to contain the whole world. It’s not really the whole world, but the world passes practically in five minutes of our brain fluid. That’s fascinating. It’s like when people say that in a certain mental state you can see the whole world pass by, typically when you are in a situation of danger. I’m very interested in how the work produces something that is precisely more connected with how we think fluidly, a living model in constant change, the model is to see the brain as it functions. And not the brain as an effect of an ideal organ, as mental abstraction conceived it, but the brain as the organ of relation with other people and the chemistry that forms and influences it, the serotonin, the dopamine, and so on.
When and why did you start to call your works Paintants?
It was a gradual development. For example, at the start I called them “the altered genetics of painting.” I started to compare them in some way with what genetics was doing in altering nature, to alter painting in some way and to show a new situation of painting, a new state. Then I started to use the idea of painting as a paint zone, as a zone in which you catch a moment of a pictorial fluid, a pictorial flux, and present a certain altered zone—the painting not as object but as activity. All the works of the 1990s can be seen in this light, as a sort of accommodation of a moment in itself, as a kind of animational space which ended up like that. That is why I have also been making animations since 2000. That then led me to the idea of paintant: instead of saying “painting,” which is descriptive, you say “paintant,” which is active. It’s a neologism, like actant, replicant or mutant. It seemed more economical to me, like when Duchamp said “readymade.” Paintant seemed to me a way of coining and making use of a word that has more meaning.
To go back once again to this work that is so enormous in terms of size, how did you know that it would be more than 70 meters long but less than 150 ? When did you realize that the end was in sight?
It’s connected with the sites that I chose and at the same time with the internal structure of the work. You could say that it’s like endogenous and exogenous. To elaborate certain themes I said, OK, perhaps this one will end up about 50 meters long. But as I was working on it I took certain decisions which made it longer: sometimes the opposite happens and I make a work shorter. For example, the Miami Paintant turned out to be too long at the outset, so I compressed it. It’s very interesting at the digital level, because the work does not occupy a territory until I print it. The interesting thing about the painting you do on a computer is that it has no ground. You do it on screen and afterwards it is given a territory, in the Deleuzian sense of territorialization and deterritorialization. The Miami work turned out to be better when it was smaller, 30 meters. Why? Because there is a relation with the spectator-participant, a relation of duration, which is something I am experimenting on. What does duration in a painting mean? It’s very different from duration in music, it’s very different from duration in architecture. What does it mean when you say that a piece is big or small? They are very different. Your size, the height of the ceiling, the whole situation is one of external and internal elements. For example, this same work was shown in Stuttgart, around a space like a kind of circular panorama, while in Köln it was like a big loft in which the work created and transformed the space. The work created its own doors, went in and out. In some way it determined the architecture. And that’s very interesting, because even in the tradition of the mural, the mural is determined by the architecture, its frame is the architecture. While this painting was frameless, it went through the wall towards the exterior, returned and ignored or involved the architecture, deterritorialized the architecture. And it will have a different way of behaving in Zürich.
How do you see this work in the totality of your oeuvre?
This work is the boiling point of the paintants, the moment of maturity. My favorite installation is still Paintant Stories in Köln, because I achieved a highly dynamic form of pictorial panorama, it was a clean space that was totally connected with the social space of the street. The relation and multiplication of things that functioned well in this work was a higher percentage than in the others.
It’s also a bit brutal, isn’t it, aggressive… It produces both a physical and a mental impact.
Exactly. I always re-view this work before making others. I go through it again a bit to remember it. It’s a totality and I myself discover things without having the faintest idea why I put them there. Because my work is totally controlled in its aspects, in terms of technology, the surroundings… but in another way it is very free. The digital stage has a certain predestination, a pre-organization. There is an internal play that is creative and afterwards the form of moulding the pictorial flows in space entails lots of freedoms. So there are certain stages of creation and stages of reflection. There is an established minimalist, reductionist tradition in painting, but at the same time there is an emerging tradition, to which I feel I belong, which tries to make something expressive and conceptual, visual and mental at the same time. That is what I call “complex,” compounded of abstraction and figuration, that is, all these kinds of contradictions and things that take place by themselves. That the painting can be seen as mediated, but real, that the painting can be seen inside it and outside it. All these kinds of situations have potential for me. A paint space, instead of materialization and dematerialization. All these types of situations, of death and life. It’s all like a total line, animal and vegetable, you can find them all when you look at this work. It has the idea of a vision, of a world that is connected in a mass of monads. And the porosities of the conception lead to a conception of a world in which everything is connected in some way with every part and with unforeseeable concatenations. It has a lot to do with how we conceive situations as scientific, neurological, political…
There’s a lot of politics in it too…
Certainly, obviously many authors have said that every work is political. Simply leaving a mark somewhere is already a territorial act that can be the first step towards unleashing war or peace. There’s a certain moment in Paintant Stories in which there is a continuum and in which you see a kind of fabric of interrelated signs. For example, this zone uses a peace sign connected with fascist signs and in turn relating to biogenetics and the invasion of the body, situations in relation to battles in medicine… What does it mean when we say: “The war on cancer…, you know?” What about war… what is the ground on the war on drugs? What does the word “territory” mean for a military strategist or a painter? Every time Ryman puts brush to canvas, it is a political act. There are limits, but for me it has a lot to do with a live painting, an action painting is connected with the idea of relating to political models, models of community, alternative models, models of resistance. Being able to think of possible alternative models through painting.
How are you creating your work in technical terms?
Technically speaking, it is a very hybrid way of working. There has been a certain development, but it is always a mixture of impression and direct painting. In the work Paintant Stories I used digital painting, printed afterwards with a digital plotter, and then worked with elements that are sometimes made with moulds, prefabricated pictorial parts made using sculptural technique, and direct painting. They are materials that interest me for their contemporaneity and their flexibility. Polymers, silicone. I started working with them as a very specific form of medium without pigment, as a hypermedium, an exaggerated medium. I think that it is not by chance that a painting by Giotto is al fresco, which is a totally natural technique, working with natural pigments and plaster, while later on the haute bourgeoisie and the big modern movement identified much more with painting in oil. And then, for example, all the art of the twentieth century has much more to do with a sort of dry and wet cut-out, the collage. Both Conceptual and Surrealist, like the ready-made, like Cubism itself, like American collagism, don’t you think? And I am leaving that behind, I am going beyond the collage or the Modernist cut-out. I’m trying to create a new continuity, while maintaining the dispersion of difference. Instead of unifying or reducing, you can maintain what is heterogeneous, but presenting it in a more cohesive way. I sometimes talk about “a heterogeneous cohesion,” a contradiction in terms, but it’s a bit like that. And technically there is always a situation in which there is something labelled as deterritorialized and something territorialized. It’s like looking for alternatives within what can happen when you take up again the possibility of history painting after abstract painting. And maintaining that kind of experimental space.
I’m very interested in seeing how people view my work and what they see in my work when I travel to different countries and different places.
And how do they generally respond to your work?
I think that my work is pretty hard to digest, it has a kind of necessity. For example, Jeff Koons is a necessity in America, it’s almost a part of nature. Jeff Koons’ puppy is a work that is practically ecological for the American mind, isn’t it? I’m more hybrid in one sense, because I transcend cultures and my work has both European, American and Latin American elements.
But that ought to make your work too complicated for the North Americans, shouldn’t it?
I think that my work is still read superficially in America. My European reviews, for example, are more sophisticated. The writings of Martin Hentschel, the comprehension of an Okwui Enwezor or a Carlos Basualdo, the context of an Udo Kittelman or this conversation with you are much more sophisticated. In America they sometimes let me play in the big leagues, and at other times they leave me on the sidelines. For example, they don’t know what to make of me in the New York Times. My last show was parallel with one by Matthew Ritchie, an American artist whose work I like, and I think that he’s one of the most interesting of the latest painters. And basically, Roberta Smith wrote in the New York Times how he was fantastic and I was depressive, like an artist of terror, without seeing anything of the logic or merit of the work. To cap it all, they only published a photograph of him… so that the public should just keep on following their agenda… It should not be able to compare the two works! At least as far as painting is concerned, the American scene is disappointing. They want or they need something a bit more provincial, a bit more…
More down-to-earth. It’s a more synthetic space. Jonathan Lasker in the American space seems hyper-American to me. Far more than Brice Marden, who is a painter with a much more European sensibility. In general, the American artists are not very worried. They stick to something for a long time, you know. I have a more stormy development.
More rapid too.
And more convulsive. I often take two steps backwards, forwards, to one side…
Yes, many of them are a part of that linear system.
And more even, more stable. Sigmar Polke, for example who is changing and fearful and unstable.
He was… OK, but at any rate he keeps on… he has a certain discontinuity and informality in the work which is admirable, in one sense.
It’s mental flexibility that is essential for creativity.
But it’s also a situation as a conception of life. Sometimes I say: “I want to make a work that will be parallel to the world,” and: “I don’t want a person to see my work, I want the person to flow with my work for a time.” It has a lot to do with the idea of evolution and my work itself, by virtue of its very structure and essence, has to absorb things. For example, my work in Documenta had a lot to do with the idea of reconsidering the problem of globalism from a different angle. There was a scene called Economical concentration camp, which was connected with the economic crisis in Argentina, with the Argentinean default. It was when Schröder went to Argentina and said: “What has happened in Argentina can happen at any moment in Germany.” It was that situation in which globalism… or rather, the model grafted onto Argentina, the neoliberal model, linked to dollarization, exploded. And it wasn’t simply an Argentinean problem, it was a postmodern problem that can be seen in art, and which can be seen as a mutation of world development.
What is your notion of time and space?
I think that the work is the conception of time in itself. It’s very interesting when you think in painting, which has a synchronic time. To be a little more specific: you can spend a lot of time looking at a painting, but the viewing time of a work is related to the time in which that work was made, and the same work may contain elements to wipe out those elements of time. At the same time the question of the future is raised, in the sense of whether it will last or not. There are an important number of models of time in a work. I am interested precisely in the discontinuous model of time after modern time. At this point, the ready-made would be a kind of logic of the modernist world, of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the sense that you get into a car, and the car transports you by means of an engine at a certain speed to some other place, and the situation arises in which you can travel from one time to another. That’s why the germ of the idea of the deterritorialization of the image can already be seen.
I have a notion of parallel times, as if time were a porous space… Modernism was the great moment of the art of space. That is why we have Minimalism, we have the art of great Spatialism. But I think that you could say that the most interesting art at this moment is a temporal or temporalist art. It is found in painting, as it is found in photography. For that reason, of course, time is connected with an interest in history. What kinds of histories can be told in the contemporary world? And in what way? The cinema also involves all the arts… it dematerializes all the arts and makes a mixture of them which is so typical of film that is so effective. But it’s interesting to form some alternatives to film.
Yours is an alternative.
The work, for example, that I did in Oostende, Belgium, Confine Paintant, I actually did it after the Documenta, and it was a work of more or less 300 meters along the shore, like a scroll. That work was like a kind of mapping. OK, you can do a painting, abstract a sea, or paint a picture like Turner did so marvelously and put it in the museum, go to the sea and then paint it, like a plein air Impressionist painting. But in some way making that painting meant making a painting that will occupy the same space that the sea is occupying. So it had to be big enough to be recognizable as a sculptural work, to follow the people walking along the shore. The public reacted in all kinds of ways. For instance, some people sat around the work and said: “I like these twenty meters of the work, but not the rest.” That work was around a meter tall, more or less. Basically to appear as a sort of horizon, like a scroll that was unravelling a story about the sea, in an ecological way, 100 the sea as a line of combat.
Each part of the painting was like a sort of different conception of the sea. There are far more experimental ways of presenting the painting, aren’t there? And that form of seeing it there—for me they are like philosophical themes. What does it mean to present a painting? To present the painting means to revolutionize it in some way so that it can be seen. When you see a painting that is simply copying a different period, there is no visibility of the painting. I think that the only way to present painting is to do something new. For example, Picasso with the Demoiselles d’Avignon is presenting the painting. Without presenting it, referring to presenting it, like hiding it, Duchamp makes a painting. And so on. How can we present a painting at this moment in time? That’s where the problem lies. Like a passage… my conception is like a kind of temporality that says: “We go with the painting, we enter the painting, we leave the painting.” All these kinds of conceptions are very interesting and are what make the work. For example, the work I’m making now for Buenos Aires is connected in another way with the theme of the temporal event that I’m trying for the first time… to make a paintant about something that happened in a few days. It’s about the massacre of Ezeiza and is made specially for Argentina. It’s a moment when I wasn’t there, in Ezeiza, but I’ve heard what happened from a lot of people and it’s a traumatic moment. Like in Germany when the terrorists kidnapped those planes that the Israeli athletes… or, for example, the Red Brigades in Italy… those big events which mark a whole generation. And I’m trying to find a way of presenting these events.
What is your notion of beauty in art and of beauty in general?
Some time ago I said that my work is connected with a conception of beauty of… I mean working beauty. I don’t think in terms of the concept of beauty, in the classical sense. Beauty is not one of my preoccupations which is before the work. Rather, it’s a result. It has a certain dialogue with the abject.
And in your life? Are you looking for beauty?
I’m looking for balance rather than beauty, but it’s really a balance of chaos, a kind of trying not to reduce, to maintain a complexity. There’s no difference for me between the work and my conception of life in itself. I tend to take an interest in certain cultural effects that may belong only to one culture. There’s a sensuous aesthetic in my work that could not have occurred at a different moment. There’s a certain aesthetic of the organic, of the operation, there’s a half-traumatic situation. What I most admire in medicine is heart surgery. The mastery over the supposed chaos, the fantastic technology… the doctor operating on that living body. I don’t know if this is an answer to your question. The question of beauty and beauty in the world are related to one another and I’m very interested in what can happen… what beauty in the world really means… what an artist can say when science produces ready-mades, and produces a tomato that is much more beautiful than a natural tomato, but has much less flavor. Or the aesthetic of violence accepted as entertainment. The aesthetic of the dissection of bodies or the mutation of bodies as aesthetic operations. The tattoo and the extension of the prostheses… all those kinds of situations mean the crash of a form in reality, don’t they? The accident as an integral part of tranquillity and calm. War as an integral part of peace. Night mixed with day. The digital and the virtual connected with reality. Those seem much more important to me than an a priori about beauty. There is a certain dramatic beauty in an operation, like a beauty of poverty in the sensuous sense. I think that’s a more Latin American thing, because in America there is a certain taste for pop or what is vulgar, and in Europe there is a certain taste for the povero, in the Marxist sense of being poor, Italian Arte Povera. While in Latin America and in the more peripheral countries there is a certain sensuousness of poverty, because the poor wants to be rich, generally speaking, and it’s the rich who can see Arte Povera as in some way refreshing. All these elements I’m mentioning have a lot to do with the complexity of how to consider beauty at this moment. Beauty today is in disarray in the sense that it is facing situations that it never had to face before, not even in the twentieth century.
Translated by Peter Mason