In late November 2007 we had an opportunity to chat in Lima with some of the members of La Culpable, an independent initiative that over a period of six years has managed to come together and become an important influence on the contemporary art scene in Peru. Working from a house in Lima's Barranco district, La Culpable [The Guilty One] was a venue for exhibitions, workshops and concerts, local and international artists' presentations, public radio sessions, and publishing projects such as Juanacha magazine. Just two months ago, however, La Culpable decided to suspend their customary activities indefinitely. Given the somewhat uncertain future prospects, some of its members have proposed going back to activism, publishing and public activities. The following are passages from an extensive interview conducted in the usual warmth of the space, in which its members reveal the uniqueness and relevance of their collective effort and work.
María Fernanda Cartagena: How do you work and how do you organize your collective activities?
Gilda Mantilla: We work like a political assembly. We started out as a larger, more interdisciplinary group that gradually became smaller, and those of us that remain are more directly involved in artistic practices. We basically work on the basis of meetings where we program, discuss and assess activities. We don't really assign out activities, but work more on the basis of consensus reaching and basically all in-house. This place is not 100% open to the public all the time, but just for specific activities.
MFC: What's the relationship between your individual practices and your collective work in La Culpable?
Luz María Bedoya: You could say there have been two stages in La Culpable. During the first years there was more "artwork" production, we used to do video pieces, took part in exhibitions outside Lima, and you could say some of us had a certain influence on the collective's creative work. A few shows were done. Then we decided that wasn't really what we were interested in, so we started doing experimental work using different media and situations. We went through a period in which we did what we called Emisiones La Culpable (La Culpable Broadcasts) that were like containers in video format, in which each person contributed a piece done in that format, which were then put together and turned into a video "package" that was shown at the Juanito Bar here in Barranco. The idea was to show the video in a place where this kind of recording was not usually shown. Then there was one experience, one of the best, which was an Internet radio project conducted from a public gallery. It was an invitation from Rodrigo Quijano who was curating a show there, before he became part of La Culpable.
In 2005 we went through a period of review in which we decided not to produce any work but to look back on what we had done up to that point. After that we decided not to do any more visual production but to concentrate on acting as intermediaries with the public in general. Trying to bring some critical analysis of the artistic environment to the space, insofar as that's possible. So we started organizing portfolio presentations that were open to the public. We invited different artists to show their work at the house and to do so however they pleased. There isn't a pre-established format. Most were either living in Lima or passing through. The idea is to gain access not just to their finished work --as tends to be the case in more format-based gallery exhibitions - but to get to know their processes, their interests, a sort of narration of the artist's concerns that would not be known otherwise. And all done in a very free-flowing way, without "authorized" guest artists, without protocols, lights or microphones. That's what we've been doing the past year.
MFC: How are different tasks distributed?
Raimond Chaves: The "hazy joint command" takes charge, which depends on who's around --on who has less work. The programming is very collective, and then we share more specific tasks like publicity, fliers, sending mails or buying beer.
Gilda Mantilla: This ties in with your previous question as to how we balance our individual practice with our collective practice. We have weekly meetings in which the idea is to take advantage of the opportunity to be together in order to give free rein to each of our capacities and exchange information freely. We all keep up our personal production, except for the few initial experiences that Luz talked about where we produced work together. Above all, for those taking part in La Culpable this is a means of supplementing the individual experience of creation.
Philippe Gruenberg: In some way it gives us an opportunity, in radio-type work and now in magazine publishing, to complement the work we do individually with stuff that we'd like to do. It let's us get into things that we're interested in doing but that wouldn't fit in very well with our personal work.
MFC: Does La Culpable help you to promote interdisciplinary practices?
Raimond Chaves: Not so much because they're interdisciplinary, but because they have more to do with having an impact on the context. Individual work has a smaller impact, first of all because it's more concentrated on the work, whereas in the collective the work is not an issue and we can have a clearer impact on aspects of the context that require our attention, such as disseminating the work of our colleagues, generating public discussions, and the future of the documentation centre. Those are things that we can't tackle in our own work. By working in a collective and focusing on these points we have a greater capacity for reaction. I guess we can go further.
MFC: What is it that La Culpable is not? What vacuum do you think you fill in the art scene compared to other independent spaces?
Miguel López: It's a good question because several of the things we've done have operated almost on the basis of negating others. I'd say that several of the activities we've carried out in La Culpable have come up as a means of addressing what is lacking and trying to generate something. For instance, creating discussions to review the work of other artists was a way of addressing the flagrant absence of critical debate in more conventional spaces, or in artistic platforms like MALI (Lima's Museum of Art), which holds exhibitions periodically but is not promoting a specific space for reflection and discussion.