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

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- As part of this curatorial process, how have relations been between artists and institutions? What has your experience been?

Reciprocity is an experiment. When we began conceiving this project we realized it was as alive as we were. The project began as an invitation to exhibit, turned into a collective-exhibition project, and ended up as the beginning of a far more extensive program involving a constellation made up of artists, collectives, creators of images and icons, thinkers and activists, each using their own, dissimilar languages.

Dichotomies between differences in the participant's generations, styles and nationalities were of little importance: we viewed them as useless criteria lumped into old-fashioned categories. Instead emphasis was placed on an attempt to keep clear of territorial, media-imposed, formal definitions. Intentions and intensities were based on the internal tensions of each of the works, texts and images and their relationship to one another. The aim was therefore not to “cut” or standardize styles, but precisely the opposite, to engage in a relational chaos reflecting the dialectic movement produced by the set of materials on display.

On asking ourselves what approach we should take to our intervention in the exhibition, we went through many possible un-definitions: as individual artists, as an artists’ collective, as cultural activists, curators or alchemists? This was obviously a trick question that just leads to the establishment of hierarchies and defines fields. Instead we were nourished by the processes of collective construction, in which dialogue, debate and discussion led to reciprocal correspondence, thus empowering relations of mutual exchange.

- How does the exhibition dovetail with the local and international social, political and cultural context?

Let us speak of the way symbolic power can be used as a powerful instrument of cultural domination. One has only to switch the television on for a few seconds to see all the ways in which creative capacities have been used to boost consumerism through advertising and marketing.

The media monster gains ground every day in the war over real-estate territories to convert public spaces into private domains. The terror campaign created as part of the symptomatology of insecurity in urban spaces expands on the model of social cleansing based on the use of images and speeches. Everyday the media creates the image of urban settlements (asentamientos) as danger zones (poverty). Nowadays fenced-off squares and gardens are battlegrounds against delinquency and drug trafficking, and governments around the world have become the front men of these mega-businesses, promoting indiscriminate violence in favor of urban reorganization and “value enhancement”.

A clear example can be seen in the installation “Sin Estado” (Stateless), a collaborative work by the Democracia collective, “Todos por la Praxis” and Santiago Cirugeda, consisting of a multidisciplinary intervention involving art and architecture in the context of illegal settlements in Cañada Real in Madrid, whose inhabitants were evicted and their housing destroyed. The population in that area has been growing and interacting in an increasingly chaotic way, with drug trafficking coexisting with new construction businesses on public land. Substandard housing and illegal hotels are juxtaposed with future country clubs and country houses. The title of this project, Stateless, has a double meaning, referring on the one hand to the use of public funds allocated to art for interventions of a social nature in a space where the government refuses to provide public services of any kind, and on the other to a marginalized, deregulated territory with no legal and administrative structures. The story of that settlement in a European city reminds us of the permanent struggle for decent housing in Argentina, where shanty towns and squatter housing are the interests of new investment groups, so the works of Democracia serve to describe a situation that is not alien to us.

One of the pieces that had the strongest impact on the public was that of the Austrian artist Oliver Ressler, whose video installation “Fly Democracy” (2007) was inspired by the speeches used to justify the attacks that took place during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which were fundamentally based on the slogan of “bringing democracy” to those countries (to divert attention from geo-strategic interests and control of oil). During the initial military campaigns, U.S. combat planes not only dropped bombs, but also pamphlets aimed at the population.

The pamphlets urged enemy soldiers to desert and warned civilians to keep away from military objectives. The video takes the rain of messages a step further by symbolically transferring them to U.S. territory, thus reversing the scene while using the same method of propaganda. The piece is completed with the texts contained in the fliers spread on the floor, with antagonistic phrases referring to resistance movements. The piece left the local audience with a strange sensation, since in this case the fliers were fragments of different ideas as to the nature of democracy, designed to question our notions of democracy while also referring to the existence of other possible forms of socio-political organization. These pieces, along with others in Reciprocity, seek to switch contexts and highlight their contradictions among viewers of the exhibition.

As a final thought on the future, we can emphasize that following years of neo-liberalism and postmodern thinking, the private sector has managed to gain greater ground in all fields. The capitalist economic system and the international art circuit have melded into one, leaving social interests (sensibilities) by the wayside and becoming mere decorative merchandise as the current historical period becomes outdated.

It is shocking to see how art often acts as a means of legitimizing social hierarchies in constructing models of representation that respond more to the interests of the rich and powerful than to those of marginalized sectors. It has even led artists to forget their role in the culture industry's chain of production, thus generating the illusion of belonging to a status to which very few artists or cultural workers can truly aspire. We see a clear-cut need to coordinate collective action strategies internationally in order to keep privatizing policies at bay in local and global culture. We intend to continue engaging in this kind of art and collaborative projects so as to regain public spaces and strengthen reciprocal links between the public and creators of culture.

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About the artists, curators of the project:

Loreto Garí­n Guzmán (Chile) / Federico Zukerfeld (Argentina) are founders of the group Etcetera… at the end of 1997, together with other artists. In 1998 they moved into the house-printing shop of the surrealist artist Juan Andralis, who in the 50s and 60s played an active role in the Paris group led by Breton. Etcetera… uses the premises as an art workshop and laboratory and during the 90s took part with artworks, manifestos and actions, in organizing “escraches” (a type of demonstration or sit-in in Argentina by activists seeking to denounce human-rights violators outside their homes) in the human-rights movement together with the H.I.J.O.S. group. Since 2002, Etcetera… has taken part in international shows, presentations and conferences in the so-called “Art-Politics” field. In 2005, along with artists and intellectuals from different parts of the world, they founded the International Errorist movement, which vindicates errors as a philosophy of life. In 2006 they joined the coordination team of La Normalidad (Normality, the third part of the ExArgentina project).

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About the Author
Nancy Garín holds a degree in Journalism and Social Communication, and in Art, Aesthetics and History. She completed her education with the Vanguards in the Twentieth Century doctorate seminar directed by Ana Longoni and Marcelo Expósito in Buenos Aires, and in MACMA's Independent Studies Programme. Member of the Etcétera... artists' collective since 2001, and of the Internacional Errorista.

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