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Carolina Caycedo

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Mar 15, 2011
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Carolina Caycedo
Interviewer: Bill Kelley Jr.

LatinArt:  Can you start by talking to us about your early work with Colectivo Cambalache, and your early interest in bartering and community?

Carolina Caycedo:  It started in 97 with Cambalache in Bogota in this run down area called El Cartucho. It was comprised of 7 square blocks right near the Presidential palace. The black market, guns, drugs and so many other things were centered there but so were the recyclers. There were huge recycling bodegas where people would bring recyclable material after touring the whole city in their wooden carts to sell them. Cambalache understood the importance of this economy. Why did we get interested? The city was planning to tear it down, there was a huge urban renovation program that later managed to get rid of this place, and rename it "El Parque del Tercer Milenio" but at the time, we were interested in gathering evidence that this places existed and studying the social dynamics of how this underground economy flowed.

We realized that what these people where doing was really important. At that point, Bogota didn’t have a recycling system- it still doesn’t- and it was really important to see how gaps left by the Government or the system, were creatively filled by people. This is how we started trading with them. We figured out that the best way to gather evidence was swapping things in good condition like books, clothes, toys. There were many children there, entire families living on this street economy. We bought a recycling cart and we called it El Veloz, or The Swift. It was our little mobile museum container and all the exchanges took place around this little cart. The street museum was a paradoxical museum that didn’t museify the objects, we would go to other parts of the city and display the contents on the street in a sort of flea market fashion.

So this was a way of planting little seeds of El Cartucho in different parts of the city and making sure that it would keep on existing within the flow of the city. This is how my interest in bartering and alternative economies started. We spent a lot of time there. These people had nothing but disadvantages, they lived in and from the street, and at the same time they were generous and let us in their community. They were kind enough to be our friends. At the same time, it was also very sad, sordid and very hardcore; there were a lot of drugs. But we were not interested in showing this part. We only had the objects. We were learning from their "rebusque," which means to always be looking for something, re-search.

LatinArt:  After experiences like that it’s kind of hard to fall back on a gallery practice, is your non-object based practice tied to these experiences?

Carolina Caycedo:  Oh yeah. I’ve never been a gallery or a studio artist. I was still a student when we started this project and the street seemed like the most obvious place for me to develop any kind of idea and contact with the public. The gallery is not a place where you can engage easily with the public. Even though you can open it to interaction, it still has certain codes. Instead in the street you can redo or reinvent any code you want in any given situation. Yes totally, it’s tied to these experiences. The gallery is a comfort zone but the street is THE comfort zone for me, because I can redo the rules. Instead of the gallery there are other rules I have to comply with.

LatinArt:  Elaborate on what those rules are.

Carolina Caycedo:  There are rules in terms of formality, like proper installation. People do change their disposition at different times of the day. Instead in the street you can set up your camp at any moment, in any place. The gallery is also more static, in terms of time and geography. And then of course there is always going to be a gallery owner, so you have to negotiate how this is going to work, if you are going to be doing participatory-based projects, how is he going to feel about it.

It also has to do with the public. When people go to a gallery or a museum, they switch on some sort of art appreciation switch. People come to see a show predisposed, whereas in the street, the common passerby is taken by surprise and may have a more sincere reaction to any given intervention. The gallery is an elitist environment; the street is a more democratic one.

LatinArt:  Can you speak briefly about the daytoday project you are doing here in LA?

Carolina Caycedo:  Daytoday is my personal continuation of the street museum. After working in Bogota for a few years, I was invited by the Secession in Vienna to do a public art project. They approached me so as I could give them more visibility in public space. I was living in London at that time and trying to make ends meet, you know, working hard. I figured out it would be the perfect opportunity to continue this bartering practice and evolve it from objects to services. It was kind of a natural step. I proposed to Secession that I wanted to be in Vienna for three weeks without using money, except for a van and gas they should provide. I didn’t want to trade with corporations for gas.

This is how it works: There is a list of things and services that I offer, and then there is a list of things that I want in return, so people can match their necessities with mine. It also seemed like a good methodology for getting to know a new city and how people inhabit it. So the project is about bartering and trading, but it’s also about making my own mental map of certain cities through the personal encounters I have with people.

LatinArt:  In a previous conversation you mentioned that you were no longer interested in doing these traveling stops in cities and that you were possibly interested in having a more sustained presence, maybe in Puerto Rico?

Carolina Caycedo:  The LA intervention was successful in terms that I met people and I got objects. But I felt I was putting my energy where it wasn’t needed. There are a lot of organizations and community work happening here in LA whereas there is a lack of that back home. After experiencing LA I feel I have to work harder in my own hometown. I think it’s also going to be more satisfying in the end. Daytoday gives me personal satisfaction, but within the community it’s just a one-month appearance, then I am gone. It’s not really going to change the dynamics of this place. I can do something in my community though because I am not going to leave, I am going to stay there. It is going to have an effect in real life.

LatinArt:  So that will fundamentally change your practice.

Carolina Caycedo:  Referring to this specific project yes. It doesn’t mean I am going to stop doing community based projects in other cities! What it means is that I am going to start looking more towards my hometown and working there outside the art context, without being invited to do so by an institution. It does seem like a good moment to close this project that has been going since 2002. All this energy in trading in other cities; I should be putting in my neighborhood, swapping with people I know and with whom I can develop long-term relationships.

LatinArt:  Do you see the relationship developing more as an artistic collaboration or as a working partnership outside of an art practice?

Carolina Caycedo:  I think I see this outside the art practice; it’s collaboration with my neighbors. Which doesn’t mean that eventually the artistic element cannot come in at some point. As an artist I may be able to show in an art context whatever comes out of this. I don’t want to set apart the possibility of art, but it’s coming out of a more real concern about what is happening in Puerto Rico right now politically and economically. It is very dysfunctional, and if we keep on living this way we are going to sink in the middle of the Caribbean.

LatinArt:  What about the activist element that people might see in your work? You have said that you’re not interested in being an activist. But hearing you, from the outside, it does seem that your priorities are changing. Activism and art, as you’re defining it, intertwine sometimes, but they have different forms of engagement and parameters.

Carolina Caycedo:  Yes they have. I do have an activist interest and a real concern for well-being and equality. Most of the people I relate to in Puerto Rico are probably activists. However, I wouldn’t like to step out of the art world totally, because activists move in the realm of politics, and there is a lot of power involved there. And sometimes as hard as you may work or advocate for a certain cause it can be very frustrating to not come through with your project. Instead the art world is a safer zone for me, as an artist. I feel I have more possibilities to succeed with my projects.

LatinArt:  You want to write your own rules.

Carolina Caycedo:  Exactly and if I was an activist, I would be responsible for others; I would be working for others. As an artist I can brush off this responsibility somehow, and be more selfish. I think the difference would be that as an activist your starting point is the well-being of others. As an artist I have to watch out for my own well being, then those of my closest friends and family, and if time and space allows it, then others as well. The starting point in art can be really anything at all.

LatinArt:  There is a high level of precarity, risk, and also a level of vulnerability that is engrained in your work. I am thinking of daytoday in particular, you have to depend on the kindness of strangers…is that a good way to put it?

Carolina Caycedo:  Totally, a lot of my projects, and this one in particular, have this element of trust - this sudden trust in a stranger. There is a momentary trust that runs both ways. This is very political in a way, you are dealing with power and how you relate to other people and you have the power of putting your ideas out there for them. In daytoday I am kind of stripping myself from that power- though not completely and actually just inviting people to share with me. I’m kind of taking responsibility off myself and putting it into whoever wants to participate in building the moment, the concept, the trade, or the limits of the project with me. So this invitation carries risk, not only on a personal level, but also in the sense that anyone can basically come and format the situation formally and ideologically. That is probably a bigger risk.

LatinArt:  I know that some of your works deal with your mixed background and your experience of being an immigrant. How much of these issues are you still interested in fleshing out?

Carolina Caycedo:  That is a big interest I have right now. I’ve always been interested in that, and also the creativity people have to muster to cross and transcend geopolitical and cultural borders. For example, all sorts of illegal immigration and border crossing, fake marriages, fake visas...

LatinArt:  Kind of like being an artist in the art world, maybe?

Carolina Caycedo:  Maybe, yeah. But now my interest is shifting. Before I was more about the global situation. Now I am more interested in the dynamics of Latin America. I came back to Puerto Rico 5 years ago, I was living in Europe before. And now that I have visited LA for the first time, I see that Latin America doesn't stop at the Mexican border, I don't know where it stops, if it ever stops. I am interested in constructing my own landscape, soundscape, mentalscape of this phenomenon. It may sound crazy, but I kind of feel more Latina than ever... I don't want to sound like Chaves or something, talking about pan-latinoamericanismo, but I feel the necessity to learn more about Latin American history and politics; how the differences and similarities work within latinoamerica, and how this territory relates to the rest of the world. The Latino territory, that is probably the best way to put it. It happens in Puerto Rico also, Puerto Rico extends beyond the island. El barrio in New York is Puerto Rico. As an immigrant myself, I am interested in the cultural baggage you bring along with you when you leave your country. You carry it with you and take it wherever you go.

LatinArt:  That is part of the diaspora experience.

Carolina Caycedo:  Yes. Another thing I am looking at a lot is the native/indigenous culture in Latinomerica. I don't know how this is going to come up in my work, if at all. But let me tell you why I am exploring this. In Colombia right now, the indigenous are probably the only ones doing serious civil resistance under a very fascist government. I do feel there is an uprising there and I sense, in a very intuitive way, that they are going to be one of the bastions for change. They talk about protecting nature, they have small, communal and local government nuclei, they fight for our natural resources and against neo-liberal exploitation. They are much more respectful towards nature than we are in our capitalistic setting.

LatinArt:  Are you interested in moving back to Colombia? I am sensing a little nostalgia.

Carolina Caycedo:  Yes, but not right now. I need to stay in Puerto Rico for a couple of more years. There is a lot of work to do there. Art helps people to regain consciousness in every day life. One of the primal tools of colonialism is the erasure of the past, people in Puerto Rico live the day to day consumerist life. They are so dependant. I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but if I can touch a few people with what I am doing, and collaborate...then I’ll be happy.

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