Tuesday, 20 November 2007

MR. DE LA BARRA AND HIS PORTUGUESE INTERVIEW



Interview by Filipa Ramos

photo by Carla Verea

English version bellow:

FR: You are what one could can an "artoholic": you are an artist as well as a curator, you run the program of the White Cubicle Toilet Gallery, in George and The Dragon pub, here in London; at the same time, you are a full time galerist of Blow de la Barra and the sole editor of Pablo International Magazine.
How do you manage to have all these different activities and to move within such different platforms at the same time?

PLB: I had never thought about that concept. I like the idea. Maybe a next project would be to set up a group of Artoholics Anonymous! Yes I do many things. And it causes me great problems with my boyfriend, who wishes I was more still and had more time for him. I sometimes try to think/deal with it. Is it that I try to do too much or that I can’t focus on one thing? Or is it that different concepts need different forms of visibility, and that different projects contaminate, intersect or complement each other. Sometimes it’s like a juggling game, in which different ideas exist in a kind of balance, and in which some projects become alter ego of others, existing in tension between the intellectual and the superficial, the poetical and the political, the local and the international. It’s like different layers. In this way the different projects exist independently but coexist rhizomaticaly allowing for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points, for dialogue and complementation. For the moment I’ve tried to narrow the projects down to three, Blow de la Barra a commercial gallery in London, White Cubicle a no budget art space in a toilet in pub in London, and Pablo Magazine, a periodical publication on art, men and architecture. But, I’m always thinking of new things and new projects. I would get bored if I didn’t. For me there’s a great moment, and it’s the moment when you have nothing, or you have different parts disassembled, and then there’s a magical moment when you have an exhibition, and this normally happens just before the opening. It’s the moment when time stands still and the different parts come together. It’s a similar process with publishing. I guess that with doing different projects I try to avoid the void of post exhibition depression, thinking about the next thing keeps me going. This doesn’t mean that everything is automatic, there’s also a sense of critical auto-reflection...

FR: When you came to London, you created a project called 24/7, that included the activity of organising a show every day of the week. Can you tell us a bit more about 24/7? How was it born, for how long did it last, how it was developed and structured...

PLB: 24/7 existed from Summer 2002 to January 2005. It was set with Beatriz Lopez and Sebastian Ramirez, two artists originally from Colombia and leaving in London at the time. I met them at the Red Lion, in Hoxton Street, the bar where they used to work and which was run by Richard Battye who later owned the George and Dragon. 24/7 came to life partly because of the frustration of not being able to access a hermetic London art scene. You know, I remember before coming to London, in Mexico, foreigners were happily received and integrated into the art scene, no credentials were asked, but I guess there are not as many foreigners arriving to Mexico in search of opportunities as there are in London. In London, it seems that to be part of the art scene you have to go through the right art schools, or if not, you are imported because you have prooven your success as artist or curator somewhere else. And then even foreigners become kind of anglicised. So 24/7 was a response to this cultural isolation. The original idea was not to organise a show everyday of the week, but to have art that was shown 24 hours 7 days a week. The first exhibitions happened in the façade of the house where I used to live then, in Redchurch Street in Shoreditch. When I was kicked out of that house because of the exhibitions, different exhibitions happened in different places, in the flat where I moved, in a borrowed gallery, in the George and Dragon pub, under some arches, in the street... Contrary to the original idea they also became quite ephemeral events, many happened and disappeared in the same day. You had to be there to experience the aesthetic proposals. We basically worked with artists, most of them friends, who were passing through London as tourists or because of other projects. We then put them to work. The no budget and the ephemeral nature of the project gave the artist the opportunity to experiment in a way that more formal spaces don’t. 24/7 soon gained cult status and was followed by many London artists and curators. I guess that for them the experience was so fresh compared to a sometimes stiff art world. Some of the artists with which I work now at Blow de la Barra came from 24/7: Stefan Bruggemann, Carolina Caycedo. With others I continue collaborating in different ways. At the end 24/7 achieved it’s mission and fulfilled it’s lifespan. I moved on to Blow de la Barra, Sebastian is now an institutional curator in Cambridge, meanwhile Beatriz went to live to Mexico and then to Bogota, where she now runs an art space and organized an amazingly honest and interesting art fair called La Otra. They both continue to work with artists with whom we worked in 24/7 or with relationships created through 24/7. Sebastian recently exhibited La Culpable from Peru, and is working with Chemi Rosado from Puerto Rico, meanwhile Beatriz showed Manuela Viera-Gallo and more recently Galeria Chilena. A similar methodology of working that existed in 24/7 forms part of the White Cubicle, a later independent project that developed from the 24/7 experience. The Toilet gives the opportunity to known and unknown artists to experiment with a small format and with a public which is not necessarily an art public, but people that drink at the pub. In this way it is a very very local project for a very specific local public. Projects are done specifically for the toilet, and what all the artists have in common is that they all drink at the pub.

FR: And before coming to London? What were you doing in Mexico? And what took you here?

PLB: I left Mexico in September 1997, 10 years ago. I had studied architecture but had become involved in the art world after finishing my studies in 1994. At that time there was a very big economic, social and political crisis. There were also no jobs. With a group of friends we started doing art projects in an abandoned house. Most of them were very innocent and auto-didactic installation art. The art world seemed to be a natural environment in which to develop projects in a context of crisis. There were also other people doing similar projects at that time with whom we related, Miguel Calderon in La Panaderia and Stefan Bruggemann in Art Deposit. There was (is) a great curator, Guillermo Santamarina, almost anybody who is someone in Mexico, exhibited with him for the first time. He was (is) amazing, he would pick up people from the street and transform them into artists. Most of his curatorial projects were very intuitive and made no sense. I consider him one of my masters. Still Mexico was too small for me and I wanted to see the world. My dream was going to New York, but I landed in London by mistake, which was good, because it was so far away from any reference in Mexico. At the same time the art scene in Mexico was becoming snob, people were sensing a new boom happening, curators and galleries started to commodify and market. The scene started to become (and has become very) competitive. Although some of the art made there is still interesting and/or amazing, artist are a bit like hungry dogs fighting for the same bone. They are all secretly desiring to be the next Orozco, and because there is so much money involved to be made in the market... The lack of an internal economic and symbolic market means that most of the art works are done for the international market, and many of them are not even exhibited in Mexico. But going back to leaving Mexico, I guess at that time I didn’t really belong, I was kind of peripheric, doing some kind of art that existed between art and architecture and that the art scene there had difficulty in understanding. I had to leave Mexico to let some ideas mature, but also to liberate myself from a context and a personal and national history... And then in London, the lack of spaces for exhibiting made me turn into curating, and then one thing led to another, through curating I met Detmar Blow in 2004 who invited me to open a gallery with him...

FR: Pablo International Magazine touches very different areas, from art and architecture to gay culture. How do these themes relate within themselves? What kind of audience do you have?

PLB: The first issue of Pablo Internacional Magazine came out in the spring of 2005. Although the idea of doing a magazine called Pablo was in my mind for a while before. It might had come from the first time I saw Marcelo Krasilcic’s Purple Sexe magazine in 1999 where he shot people he met naked in the most natural way and still manage to give me an erection with it. It might also had come from the lack of proper masculine representations with whom I could identify in the magazines I read or the ones I collaborated with at the time (Purple in Paris, Wallpaper in London, Celeste in Mexico). Definitely it was inspired by the memories of the Playboy’s and Penthouse’s my father used to hide in the closet or that I used to read when I was 12 at the barber shop, where political or intellectual articles (by Chomsky, or Monsivais, about Carter and Reagan and about the oil crisis or Afghanistan) were combined with centrefolds and a section called Forum in which readers would share their reality sexual experiences (which on rare occasions would be homosexual/bisexual). I think the other influence was the magazines my mother bought like Good Housekeeping or more recent ones with the names of the editors like Oprah and Martha Stewart’s Living, offering advise on every day’s issues to today’s readers. Then there was STH from NY from the 70’s and more recently BUTT, both which share a similar format, but with a much more Northern European-North American viewpoint. And also Macho Tips, a magazine with similar format from the late 80s in Mexico but with native brown skin models instead of blond blue eyed stereotypes found in the magazines in Mexico today. At the end, Pablo Internacional Magazine mixes very contradictory topics: art, men and architecture, the macho with the not rough, the serious with the superficial, the erotic with the intellectual, the tropical with the topical, all with a very personal view. Pablo Magazine is distributed in about 20 cities in one or two shops in each city, sometimes it’s in a cool shop and a gay shop, or in a fashion shop or a gallery. I wish I had a structure to produce and distribute it more regularly, but then it’s also a very personal publication, about things and people I like and with whom I’m in dialogue. The audience oscillates between art public and sex public and somewhere in between. I don’t think that the whole world population would be interested in Pablo Magazine, but within it and because of it’s strange and contradictory content, maybe the reader can learn and bump into things or ideas that they wouldn’t expect and expand their intellectual, aesthetic and sexual horizon. In a similar way to White Cubicle gallery, Pablo Internacional Magazine explores the relation to very specific groups, in the case of White Cubicle creating very local networks, in the case of Pablo Magazine international ones.

FR: Still in relation to Pablo Magazine, I have been feeling that the most interesting approaches to contemporary art come from platforms that have an indefinite topology on the chart of contemporary culture, drifting from fashion to music and to more mundane practices. What is your view regarding this issue? Is, let us say, Purple Magazine replacing Afterall in terms of interest, freshness and actuality?

PLB: Yes and No. Yes, there is an immediate contact with contemporary experience which is awarded by more superficial practices and which more intellectual thinking sometimes does not understand, dismisses or over-elaborates. On the other hand there is always the risk of over simplifying with trying to use more mundane methods to reach wider audiences in a more democratic fashion, and that discourses become slimmed down. I guess part of the demand of aesthetic practices is to be able to negotiate with these conditions and exist between the intellectual and the superficial. In the case of the magazines you mention, I think Purple sometimes is too fascinated with the cult of personality and the glitter surrounding it, while Afterall is to busy in trying to find the unknown, criptic, obscure and mostly European-NorthAmerican artist. I think both complement each other and there is the possibility for both postures to coexist.

FR: Within two years, Blow de la Barra has managed to install itself in the hard system of London's Contemporary Art. Your gallery is seen as one the most interesting spaces that establishes a dialogue between this city's activity and a great quantity of artists that are quite new and recent to the English market. What is your approach in the gallery? What are you aiming for with the program you develop?

PLB: Thanks for seeing it this way. I guess we only try to do what we think is right. For me it’s very important to try to respond to the existing London art scene with a dialogue and practices that are non existent in the London scene. It would be boring if we attempted to repeat or replicate something that already existed. Sometimes I think that the London art scene is over commodified, the city is a market, and people go to art school to produce art products. I guess we try to introduce artistic thought, discourses and aesthetics that complement to this and which insert preoccupations to aesthetics that go beyond romantic fetishism. It’s not easy. Blow de la Barra is also a collaborative project with Detmar Blow, which means that the decisions and the programme are also part of the dialogue with Detmar, but also part of the teamwork with Carmen who works with us and with the artists with whom we represent. I guess what we are trying to do is to operate like a formal commercial gallery, but within this introduce surprise and change within the gallery system, presenting exhibitions which look conventional but which always have a twist. People are starting to understand what we are doing, and that is good. I guess that is one of the advantages of being in London, the possibility of the coexistence of many different discourses and practices. It is not as if there only was one scene. And then the effect of what you do gets amplified... I also really like the blog part of the gallery, I think the web also amplifies the discourses and exhibits and gives continuity to proposals and artists which are sometimes not possible within the exhibition space.

FR: You have a strong relation with Brazil, which can be seen through 'OS Barbicanistas', a proposal of an exhibition that never happened that you made together with the Italian curator Francesco Manacorda, through the special issue of Pablo Magazine #3, on the Copan building in Sao Paulo, also the most recent show in your gallery was of Erika Verzutti, a Brazilian artist. What about Portugal? Do you have any relations or any cultural interchange with our country? Do you have a view and an opinion of the Portuguese Art Scene?

PLB: Yes, there’s a strong relation to Brazil, but there’s also relations with other places and contexts: Mexico City, London, Puerto Rico, Spain, Paris, Athens, Bogota, Caracas, Los Angeles, New York, Chile... It’s like a constellation of places in which I have invested aesthetically and sentimentally in the last 10 years and where I have been building relationships and discourses with aesthetic practicioners. I guess in the case of Brasil, it has become an adopted intellectual/aesthetic home, partly because of the legacy of modernism there, partly because of the relationship to the work of Helio Oiticica. Mexico for example is much more weighted down by history, and you didn’t have such revolutionary aesthetic practices there. Then Sao Paulo feels like home, it’s a bit like Mexico City but with taller buildings. What impressed me so much of it the first time I was there was the possibility of a cosmopolitan megalopolis which was not North American or European. Then I have many Brasilian friends living in exile in London, many of them from Sao Paulo, more than Brasilians, they are Paulistas, and they are very urban contemporary, not favela chic cliché. I’m in constant dialogue with them, and they are part of my public. Rio is another story it’s more sensual, like being in a dream state, and also with a much more visual social inequality, and then Brasilia is like being in a past future... I guess more than a link to Brasil or any idea to national identity, it’s some ideas that exist behind and which i’m interested in exploring, the idea of tropicalisation, anthropophaghia, etc. I guess what once linked me to Brasil was the contact with Lisbon. I met Lisbon before being to Brasil and I was fascinated. If you go to Lisbon there is this weight of history, and this sadness, and then Rio is like the alter ego of Lisbon. It’s like if Portugal and Lisbon liberated themselves once they crossed the Atlantic and got tropicalised. You see the same black and white stone patterns on the street, but while in Lisbon they are geometric and medieval, in Rio they are organic and flow freely. I don’t know much about the Lisbon scene or context. I’ve only been there twice and very shortly two times in my life, in 1990 and in 2005. I get the impression that it’s quite a hermetic and internalised scene, with not much dialogue with the international context. But then again it’s only an impression and I might be mistaken.

FR: And what's next in the agenda? New projects, shows, activities?

PLB: I don’t know. I guess Pablo Mag, White Cubicle and Blow de la Barra will continue for a while.
Sometimes I feel like I want to be a bit more serious, guess I’m growing up...
I would like to do more publications, independent of pablo magazine, some of my visual research stuff that has been accumulating for the last 10 years, but also some artists publications, some old artists texts and some new research work...
I would also like to rethink more and more the role of the commercial gallery in the production of culture, and the involvement of the artist with the gallery system, something in which the gallery assumes less a paternalistic role and more of a partnership horizontal role, maybe something more like a cooperative with a more open and flexible structure...
Also to rethink the role of the gallery within the art fairs, accepting that art fairs are shops for art products, how to insert intelligent discourses within them...
I would also like Blow de la Barra to continue acting internationally but locally, and opening temporary spaces like the one we had in Athens, in different cities. Maybe this could be an opportunity to engage with Lisbon...
And then a continuation of some curatorial projects I’ve been developing with others in the past few years, one of artists and the idea of home with Maria Ines Rodriguez, one on Sao Paulo with Ligia Nobre and Catherine David, a possible one on Latin American contemporary practices with Stefan Kalmar...
And always surprises, if things get boring, if I became too professional or serious, or became only interested in money, I would rather retire or change profession...

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