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Marcos Ramirez ERRE

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Jan 10, 2011
Location: Mexico
Topic: A conversation with Marcos Ramí­rez ERRE
Interviewer: Felipe Zúñiga González

LatinArt:  Marcos Ramí­rez ERRE is probably one of the most emblematic artists in the Tijuana-San Diego area. His work, recognized internationally for more than 15 years, is not limited to his role as a visual artist but has spilled over into other fields such as the highly important role of cultural promoter.

This interview took place as two conversations, the first in August of 2009 at the well-known Estación Tijuana (Tijuana Station --ERRE’s studio in the Federal neighborhood of Tijuana, Baja California), and the second at the worksite/home/studio that Marcos is currently building. Before starting on the interview, I would like to provide a brief outline of Estación Tijuana (awaiting relocation to another part of the city in the not too distant future).

On the one hand, throughout 2009 a series of talks called REVISIONES (Revisions) took place, in which producers working in different fields (visual arts, architecture, dance, performance, criticism, and literature) on both sides of the border showed their work in a spirit of critical exchanges with their fellow creators.

On the other, Estación Tijuana’s curatorial program included important exhibitions, among them the satellite show of the Orange County Museum Biennial (OCB ’08), ET IN ARCADIA EGO, and the Dream Addictive duo’s Deep Thought. Its last exhibition, held in August 2009, was an extramural one, since Estación was invited to take part in the Subvision Festival in Hamburg with the show “Vestigial Constructs”featuring works by Javier Ramí­rez Limón, Sebastián Mariscal and Luis Sánchez Ramí­rez. Having set the scene, here is the conversation we held with Marcos.

* * *

LatinArt: My first request is to ask you to contextualize what Estación Tijuana was, both as a place and as a project.

Marcos Ramirez ERRE:  They’re part and parcel of the same thing; it’s very difficult to draw a line between one and the other. As a project, Estación Tijuana took place at a time in my career in which I felt a need to begin helping or focusing on other people’s projects, as an ego-shrinking exercise; working with others to benefit the artistic community as a whole.

LatinArt:  When did you decide to open your studio as a space for other artists?

Marcos Ramirez ERRE:  Around 2003, I think. I’ve been in that building in the Colonia Federal district for about eight or nine years, but only for about five or six in the upper part. Once the space was ready, it became a perfect site for organizing other things, instead of just art pieces. We started out with a cinema club and informal get-togethers, and the possibility of undertaking rather more formal projects with other people gradually began taking shape. Not just the film club, but inviting curators, then over time we secured some grants and that’s how it took on a more solid profile. Although it was never fully structured due to my disorganized nature, I liked that too. We only got the grants toward the end. We did some projects out of the classes I gave at UCSD (University of California San Diego) and at Cal Arts. An enormous amount of creative energy was generated, because we’re talking about 10 to 15 artists who had the possibility of coming to a space in a different country, in Tijuana, and meeting other people. We’re talking about a Tijuana that was not in the run-down state that it is in now.

The other part of the answer is the space itself: to give you a reference to the layout and location of the building, the idea of doing binational projects came up because the place is right at the pedestrian entry to Mexico from the United States. This meant you could show up, park your car on the American side and enter another country, almost in a figurative sense. It was a platform or station that gave you the choice of returning to the U.S., or to explore Tijuana some more. That was up to the people who went there. That’s what I think made the place such a success. Initially it was very difficult to get there, but afterwards it was easy to know where it was.

LatinArt:  I’d like to change the subject so you could tell us about your last work, “El cuerpo del delito”(The Body of Crime, 2008) and how it relates to what we’re going through currently in Mexico.

Marcos Ramirez ERRE:  I really believe that one always ends up doing the same piece in a thousand different ways. At first I was really frightened by the differences between the first and the second project, then between the first and the third. But after five or six I realized that the first and the fourth were similar, the second and the fifth were similar, the third wasn’t similar to any other, but when the eighth appeared they did seem alike. In the end I think I address the same issue or topic using five or six formal variants. What is reflected in the pieces is the period during which they were produced and their degree of maturity.

Initially I was interested in work involving protest, provoking unease, addressing something that people didn’t like, in a confrontational way, to make myself heard. Little by little, I became interested in the philosophical reasons as to why such and such situations arise. In that sense, my last piece has to do with the violence that broke out in the north - initially - of Mexico. “The Body of Crime”project features several media: sculpture, video, photography, installation and music. It portrays or narrates an event involving an execution in which an individual is shot by a killer or drug trafficker and the crime is investigated by a policeman. The point is that I, as a performer, play the role of the three main characters in the story.

One way or another, there is a semi autobiographical connotation in that I could have been any one of those three people at some point in my life, given the right conditions or specific circumstances. From a more general perspective, I think the piece is a way of taking on a responsibility that we have shirked for a long time in our highly conservative, very prudish, joyful but violent, hospitable but cruel Mexican society.

For me there was a need to accept my degree of guilt, not just responsibility. That guilt, which goes beyond responsibility, has to do with not doing anything about a society like ours, which is so worn out. This becomes a sin of omission, and goes beyond responsibility. So I wanted to conduct an analysis of conscience: an exercise to analyze the situation, initially by dealing with it on a very personal level and exposing it to the public, for the public to grasp the issue and be its judge.

Now, from a more specific perspective, the piece becomes all the more important because it serves as a reminder of what is going on throughout Mexico, one example being, the recent events surrounding the appointment of the new director of the Tijuana Cultural Center, which was challenged* by many members of the community. This action was based on the generalized perception that the nominee does not have the required professional profile. In this case, we witnessed a return to something we thought was a thing of the past: the traditional “dedazo”(“pointing a finger”, i.e., appointing someone on the basis of cronyism), a longstanding custom in Mexican politics. That is how this designation was carried out. In that sense, the piece reminds us that not all such practices have been overcome; we must continue working to improve this country because if we let down our guard just a little, the old practices that ruin everything will be back.

LatinArt:  During the course of your career you’ve implemented different strategies, on the one hand by making use of public spaces to create site-specific comments: not merely seducing spectators, but confronting them. You’ve tackled tangible issues dealing with the location in question. On the other, in the context of institutional structures, you’ve made critical comments that often go beyond their specific connotations. What’s the aim behind this set of initiatives?

Marcos Ramirez ERRE:  First of all, I think making art is essentially an exercise in freedom; although that may sound pretentious, I hope the second part of my answer won’t. Once you realize that and decide that’s what you want to do, you look to where you can exercise that freedom. Public spaces are an option whereby due either to fashion or one’s conviction it’s possible and necessary to take art to the people as opposed to taking people to where art supposedly is to be found. For artists who don’t have access to institutions, public spaces are the only alternative.

Conversely, once you’ve dealt with a series of controls and bureaucracies that are prevalent in the institutionalized structures of the cultural world, you have to push hard to be able to exercise that sense of freedom. That’s one of the necessities of my work, due to my emphasis on criticism, which includes personal criticism: for instance I make use of my defects and shortcomings to illustrate situations that I feel need to be highlighted. I’ve taken advantage of that freedom to emphasize a given topic and make people think about it.

I think both spaces are equally important. But in the final analysis, what is truly important is for that artistic freedom and freedom of expression - where the essence and nature of our job lies - to exist. Conflict arises when you begin to see that the conditions needed for that free practice to take place do not exist, whether on the street, in cyberspace or within four white walls. That’s when you start to worry and start to look for other forums where you can be free, since freedom is a primordial need for human beings and therefore for artists.

LatinArt:  In conclusion, could you give us a glimpse of the immediate future, a little diagnosis of what direction cultural developments will take in the region: what are some possible scenarios you see coming in light of recent events?

Marcos Ramirez ERRE:  Judging from the brief cultural history of this city, of which I have been a witness, I’d say this is a place where artists are accustomed to self-management. It’s always been like that. Artists have always done work that in the end has no commercial outlets. Until recently, there had been a possibility of channeling all that energy. There was also a response, national and international acknowledgement of the talent of local creators. What I think will happen with the setback that’s occurred with the new administration of the Tijuana Cultural Center, is that creativity will explode outside the Center and more independent spaces will spring up: no dam is big enough to stop this wave. If the institutions prove incapable of acting in concert to channel this energy, then the countless city spaces that reflect the intense creative experimentation of artists in the great social laboratory that is Tijuana will. That’s the way I see it. And if we manage to regain the institutions, well, they’ll serve to continue channeling those efforts.

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