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Art & Social Space
Conversation with Oscar Moreno. My House My Body project
by Sylvia Suárez

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***The Critical Role of Technique***
[Making use of a variety of techniques is one of the critical foundations of the artwork in Mi Casa Mi Cuerpo]

My training as a visual artist has given me certain kinds of knowledge: technical knowledge of the world of images, drawing, photography, objects. However, what interests me in the context of Mi Casa Mi Cuerpo are the things other people know about: for instance, Ernesto learnt his knowledge of agriculture from his father at an early age; later he became a decorator, and he’s always made use of the two skills. When I visited Ernesto’s home I saw the effects of that on his personal life, in the way he made use of space: I found it fascinating that he had different plants arranged around the house because they had certain characteristics, or that he’d alternate between cultivating in high- and low-altitude areas in different seasons. That cumulative wisdom was not a neighborhood discourse in Ernesto but a bodily attitude towards his surroundings and to plants, something that was so much a part of him that he did it intuitively and communicated it to me. I sought a kind of wisdom from him that I wanted to have too. With Ernesto it was agriculture, with Gerlys everything to do with cooking and housekeeping, which is a world unto itself; with Juan it was the whole process of building his house and his attitude to management, which sometimes took the form of a frustrated relationship with politics, which I also found fascinating. With Rosa that wisdom was cooking, with Yolanda it was a talent for finding common ground with her neighbors. What interested me on coming across that type of knowledge was establishing a dialogue with my own form of knowledge. The results of the project are a blend of what they know and what I know.

[…] An object that has been created, whether a photo album, an Atlas or a Casita, was already a critique, without necessarily having to go through academic or art discourses to justify them. The simple act of generating a participatory methodology in which different worlds interweaved involved a whole political attitude. So the power of an image, the degree of collaboration between the people in the project, the act of shaping their subjectivity within the project as active participants rather than objects of study, of not labeling them subjects of research, were critical attitudes in themselves for me […]

When I was given the opportunity of showing that process to the public, to the art world, I didn’t stop to wonder whether or not I should do it, but concentrated on how to go about it.

So I talked about it with the families, with Ernesto, with Juan, and they said yes, this needs to be shown. That’s always been their attitude. Then we talked about how it should be shown. That “how” calls for everyone’s wholehearted participation, because it’s their lives that are on the line. It’s an act of great responsibility in which someone’s life is revealed in public, so that person has to decide what they want to show, how, and what they don’t want to show… obviously there are levels of intimacy that must be respected […] All the objects created involved different levels of participation. I can’t say the same amount of participation and collaboration was involved in all the objects. Our own personality quirks and forms of knowledge determined how the “Casitas” were made, how the photo album was put together, how the stories were written. So Ernesto was a key player in putting on the Alianza Francesa exhibition, whereas Juan and his brother Manuel played more of a role in the assembly of the Centro de Memoria… there always has to be that alliance. It’s a shared authorship. They become authors, and it’s important to be very precise and careful on specifying the credits by respecting what each person did, from the birth of the idea right down to the tiniest details of its accomplishment.

[…] The first thing we planned was to make oral narratives, which were to be recorded and then transcribed. The photography side wasn’t clear… what I had in mind was for us to use drawings for the images, but it turned out drawings didn’t work out. We switched to photography because they appreciated having photos in their homes. They were symbols of union, a means of commemorating the past, of bringing the family together. The photos led to the making of an album and the Atlas. In a way there was already something like an Atlas in several of the homes: there were some niches where they framed photos of different sizes that made up a whole history… this practice led to the idea of making Atlases with the families. The Casitas did form part of the original plan, in that we wanted to project a dream house by making a model of it. These ideas were adapted as we went along. For instance, making building blueprints of the houses didn’t work: since they’re owner-built, little by little, they never take measurements or make an initial plan with measurements and proportions, but instead make decisions intuitively as they walk around the building site, while also taking into account the family’s needs. So they come to decide “let’s build the wall over to here”; two weeks later they feel it’s too dark, so they say “let’s tear down this part of the wall and put a window in”.

Everything’s done as they go along, with a lot of improvisation and learning by trial and error, so making blueprints didn’t work. What worked was to place the bricks on a three-ply board without cementing them, making a front, the sides, the back part, and then making divisions, building “walls” and making decisions on the layout of the ground floor; once they were sure what they wanted, they set the modeling bricks with glue… quite often though, once the walls were set up, they changed their minds so we had to “tear down the wall” and start again. It was all based on trial and error every time.

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