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Curatorial Practices
Reciprocity: Interview with Federico Zukerfeld and Loreto Garín Guzmán
by Nancy Garín

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- What is the basic concept behind this exhibition, or rather, project?


In cultural anthropology, the term reciprocity denotes a means of exchanging goods and labor that takes place in “informal” economic systems. It is the commonest form of barter in societies whose economies do not have a formal market, i.e., that do not sell or buy goods or services. Since virtually all human beings live in some kind of society, and everyone has at least some possessions; reciprocity exists in all cultures. Reciprocity or multi-reciprocity is one of the pillars of time banks. All the users participate and benefit, and networks of social support are generated on a fairer basis, since everyone has the option of giving and receiving.

Towards the middle of 2008 stock markets collapsed worldwide and the so-called global financial crash took place, making banking structures stagger and destabilizing local economies around the planet. Neo-liberalism showed its true face and its unequivocal responsibility for the irreversible damage to the health of the planet and the social inequality prevailing in the five continents.

The role played by the State, which for years had been operating following the logic of the free market, changed completely by covering private debts using public reserves and taking protectionist measures to control stock-exchange fluctuations. It was evident that the capitalist system was devouring the rest of the economic systems that tried to work on its sidelines. This supposed international crisis, viewed as unprecedented by economists and even labeled as being “the worst in the history of humanity”, brought with it an uncertain outcome, but at the same time provided an opportunity to rethink, on a worldwide scale, whether other socio-economic and cultural models were possible.

In the field of art, which is hardly removed from these large-scale movements, it is always difficult to adopt a critical approach to cultural models of representation and economic distribution and goods. Before and after 2001, Argentina was a social laboratory, raw material for economic experiments that in some way served to foretell or act as a thermostat with which to assess the consequences of a worldwide economic crisis.

The title of this exhibition, Reciprocity, means “mutual correspondence between people or things”. In economics, reciprocity is the practice of giving another (country) “identical” commercial or migratory concessions to those granted to it. In so-called bilateral agreements, reciprocity is the way the obligations and rights of two parties entering a contract are defined.

In art, where sensitivity forms the basis of our daily production, reciprocal treatment is essential in that it is a means of breaking through the bubble of isolation and individualism that dominates its institutions, and of seeking new models of representation and distribution that can check the insatiable machinery of the culture industry and change the subjective ties between artists, the public, and other participants. We thus submerged ourselves in a blend of specific elements that, taken together, gave shape to something new: ways of being, roaming, transgressing and exchanging. Symbols, icons, theories and actions brought together three conceptual spaces. Those three images coexist and characterize the gallery: “The den of leisure”, “Banks of time”, and “Dancing Stars”.

- What difficulties arise in dealing with this kind of collective show that involves both art practice and interdisciplinary work?

We believe there are always tensions in carrying out such projects in the field of culture: they are part of the dialectic of the internal dynamics of this medium, since we are not presenting a finished product, or appealing merely to formality and beauty. We are dealing instead with a interwoven framework of political-esthetic approaches that enrich debate and the shaping of a critical school of thought, in a sphere where art practices have become so banal that they have been reduced to simple products of the culture industry. Such projects call for a rethinking as to how we want to make use of cultural spaces, their resources and players, over and above disciplines or fashionable trends.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect lay in the communication of the project, i.e., in mediating the reading and dissemination of everything that makes up the ideological positions of the exhibition: the catalog, invitations, press and publicity, these being what cultural institutions target to specialized audiences or to the public in general. This time we were very lucky to be dealing with the Spanish Cultural Center, which extended support and financing for the production of the exhibition and the printing of the catalogs. However, we should also stress the major difficulty we faced in attracting the attention of the local press, due to the disinterest on the part of art critics. It was a frustrating experience that left us with a feeling that there is a media fence that legitimizes certain art practices and excludes those that are not on the list of the top galleries, in order to sustain the hegemony of the art market. In this case, Reciprocity was received with silence.

Those of us engaged in this kind of artwork are following a difficult path, partly because some of the artists, critics and curators that criticize the current system have chosen to establish alternative spaces or their own institutions (almost all of which are financed by private foundations) to create new, independent exhibition and promotion spaces but at the same time refrain from fighting against the hegemonic power of the art circuit. And it is precisely there, in the heart of the cultural industry, where most public funds are allocated. Conversely, a sort of ethical standard is demanded of those who hold critical views: they are expected to operate and remain outside legitimizing circuits; their spaces limited to the streets, neighborhoods or "alternative" spaces.

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