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SG: That’s an interesting example, because it touches on the usefulness of history in your projects. You work with archives a lot. You revive the structure of certain strategies. Why are we not learning from history? Or, how we can learn better from history, through a look to the archives, or by looking to the older performance projects that are in danger of being lost?
AB: I think archiving accidentally fell into my lap because most of my projects sort of start with an activist that I learn about, just through circles of friends, or I seek out, because I see they’re doing something. And I email them, or I try to get a hold of them.
But what I started finding out was that all of these activists that I would go and interview in videos—because I almost always interview in videos, because I’m trying to create literally an archive of activists, during my lifetime, that I think are amazing and may be underrepresented—but what I discovered was, in all of their closets, or in all of their drawers, were these amazing archives that no one was seeing. So I just asked them if I could scan them. I’d give them all the scans back. And then, that started circling into social media and stuff. And then, I’m collecting all of that stuff, too. But it’s really about under-recorded, underrepresented, under-seen, really important historic events, because activism doesn’t end, right? These actions don’t end.
MR: There’s a trend in academe, and perhaps elsewhere, to critique the idea of collaboration, and participation. And interestingly, a number of these attacks on inclusiveness have come from female scholars, which I always find interesting. I did write a little bit about it in the book that I did on the culture class, in part to agree with the idea that somehow public projects wind up being social management tools for social and political elites.
But it’s a mistake to make a totalizing criticism of a process that’s actually very porous—the idea of inviting other people into whatever space you’ve been accorded for whatever amount of time.
Let’s say you are working with people who have not otherwise been given access to a public space to represent themselves. You never want to speak for people, which is a serious issue. So how to name them in the production of the work? Repeatedly, when I’ve invited other people to collaborate with me, I’ve run into a problem with the curators and the art space who refuse to acknowledge the collective authorship of the work. The problem of saying, “no, it’s not a work by me. It’s a work by me and this person, and this person, and this person, and this person, and this person.”
Noah Fischer, who I see in this audience today, with Occupy Museums, has managed to write a contract in which the institution acknowledges the co-authorship of the other people who have participated in a project, because otherwise you wind up, against your will, with people seemingly in a subordinate relationship to you, because of the way the institution insists on naming the author of the work, whom they call “the invited artist.” This is something not talked about publicly, the way that institutions insist on controlling the record, telling artists, “We nominated you. You don’t have the right to nominate anyone else,”—But the partial departure from that model is what makes this particular exhibition, Agitprop!, unique.
NB: My friends Christine and Margaret Wertheim, who made the Crochet Coral Reef, which has traveled around the world, felt that the reason why some places didn’t want to take their work, and why there’s no market for it, is that they insisted on listing every single name of every person involved as being a part of that work. They would not allow it to be represented as “by Christine and Margaret Wertheim.”
MR: This is a kind of an ossified mindset that comes from people who have been trained, and rightly, to verify historical facts. They become so stuck in the fetishization of the shards of evidence that they have trouble stepping backward to an actual larger event, or a larger piece of evidence. Hence this problem of segmenting out the artist as the one who gets nominated. And everybody else is, well, who the hell are you?
SG: And focusing on the fetishized object instead of the issue, or the moment, or the event that’s being brought up. Speaking of fetishization, I read a number of interviews with each of you in preparing for this. And almost in every case you guys are asked to speak to the efficacy of activist art. “Did you successfully end the war, or stop patriarchy through your work?,” and so on.
MR: Well, activism is a process. And we’re dealing here in a world of objects, art objects.
AB: I mean, activist change is inherently about collectivity, right? We’re back at that idea again. So all you can do is do your part. You do your part. You speak up, as a citizen—
MR: You took the word right out of my mouth!
AB: —and you trust that there are others who are like-minded who are out there working as hard as you are. And together, over time, change will occur. Chris Carlsson, who is an activist from San Francisco has spoken of radical patience, of knowing that it was started before you arrived and that it will continue after you are gone.
MR: Because you asked specifically about art and “did you guys stop the war?” And I want to affirm that I think art is revolutionary. I truly mean that, and I think we probably all do. But art doesn’t make revolution. People make revolution. And it’s as citizens, as Andrea said, that we struggle. And if our art is imbricated and implicated in that struggle, that’s what we do. But it’s still people who make the revolution, whatever that revolution is.
The Trafaria Praia project addresses the commonalities between Lisbon and Venice, both cities that played historical roles in broadening the European worldview during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It looks at the contact zone between them today by considering three aspects they share: water, navigation, and the vessel. Vasconcelos brought to Venice a cacilheiro, the Trafaria Praia, and is presenting it as a floating pavilion. She is, thus, deterritorialising territory, which is intended as an idealistic gesture—a metaphorical circumvention of the power struggles that often mark international relations.
Vasconcelos covered the outside of the ship with a panel of blue-and-white azulejos (hand-painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles) that reproduces a contemporary view of Lisbon’s skyline. This piece takes its inspiration from the Great Panorama of Lisbon, which depicts the city before the earthquake of 1755 and is a quintessential expression of the baroque-style golden age of azulejo production in Portugal.
On its deck, she created an environment made of textiles and light—a complex medley of blue-and-white fabrics all over the ceiling and walls, from which crocheted pieces, intertwined with LEDs, emerge to create a womblike, surreal atmosphere. The installation suggests the deep ocean—something out of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, perhaps, or the Bible story of Jonah and the Whale.
Main Room – Grande Sala
Ernesto Neto: Dengo – curated by Felipe Chaimovich
Exploring sensorial implications and visitors’ immersion in the creation of his work, this carioca artist created a crochet mesh and built a gigantic and colorful structure that will completely occupy one thousand square meters of MAM-SP’s main room, through which visitors will circulate. By entering this type of organism, visitors create unusual relationships with space, provoking a direct perception and evoking the warmth of a caress thanks to the material used in the work. For the first time at MAM-SP Neto creates an installation of such proportion.
…In addition to the works displayed in the Millard Sheets Gallery, a number of projects in Fair Exchange will be dispersed throughout the fairgrounds itself, including works that have been integrated into the Fairs exhibitions of crochet, quilting, knitwear, tablescaping, and Christmas tree decoration.