Artists Art Issues Exhibitions About Us Search

featured artist
Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP

interview transcript

Date of Interview: May 19, 2010
Location: Chile
Topic: A conversation with Trabajos de Utilidad Pública, TUP
Interviewer: Federico Galende

LatinArt:   I see there are new members in the group who I didn’t know, but others are missing.

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  The thing is, we’re not a group, we’re a work zone, it’s a label or description we’ve all taken on or with which we all agree. This means that people join, people leave, that some people were in the first projects but are no longer here, not for any particular reason -- they just stopped coming. And sometimes they show up, because the thing with TUP is to get conversations going, conversations that don’t define us along an artistic, anthropological or sociological line. We play with the idea of starting conversations on topics of interest or conversations that sometimes leave traces, marks, and sometimes receive funding such as from FONDART, or the funding we received for the Ciudades Ocasionales (Occasional Cities) project. That’s why I’m not very happy with the collective thing.

LatinArt:   You don’t like the word “action”either?

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  Yes, as long as it’s not accompanied by the surname “art”. We like the action of conversing, not just conversing among ourselves but with people with whom things occur that take us to other points and subsequently return to it, to the conversation. I think the projects we’ve done are always along those lines: we converse for action, but the action is an action for conversation. I think the resources we use, those of anthropology, sociology, design, visual arts, para-architecture or architecture, are all resources to put in motion a desire for encountering that we all develop in our own way and then place in the work area. I think one of the advantages that “work area”has over “collective”is that it’s more open.

A work area is a table we have in common. This group is made up of people involved in different fields, and although some of us have an academic background, many don’t. On top of that there’s a sort of variable topography in which there’s no expectation of consensus or any wish to hold a common point of view. Nothing of what we do is regulated by consensus, but by the idea of conversation, which also allows silence. We’re not inspired by any kind of horizontal, plural, democratic dynamic. Those words are too modern, they’re words that either don’t mean anything to us or don’t interest us. What was it that triggered Proyecto Fachada, for instance? A building in which working with the faí§ade was the issue. So however much we do the genealogy now, we won’t reach any conclusions, because everything that came up, that comes up, that’s the way it happened. We went out onto the streets, some people came up to us, and that in turn made us think of something else…

LatinArt:  But that happens even in academic art, in the sense that the author or the artist is always the retrospective part of a process that could not be explained at that moment. What I mean is, there’s not an artist and then a work, but rather a process through which someone becomes an artist or author, or whatever.

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  That’s true, but if the idea is to have some kind of a plan, my personal wish is that whatever we do comes under the heading of "work area." Not under the heading of artist or collective. If we must have a vision, well, that’s it.

LatinArt:  Pato (Castro), for example, speaks of “making visible.”Making what visible?

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  Making discussions, conversations visible, because our work has developed on the basis of visibility, with artifacts, connecting tissues that gradually come to light. The idea is to objectify certain processes all of a sudden. We were eating sausages and suddenly someone showed up with a photograph, and someone else had a scanner. We already had some frames so we started scanning some photos. The operation is carried out as it comes up, with the passing of time, and is triggered by an action. The participants talked about different things, reached different conclusions. Some said it was important to bring a photo to put in an album for posterity’s sake, others said it should be framed. “They’re going to frame your photo! They’ll frame your photo over at the corner!”- someone said. All those different ways of representing something made sense to us when discussing which way to continue.

When we did Ciudades del Hechizo (Home-made Cities), we started with the idea that what’s done on the spur of the moment has its charm. Ciudades del Hechizo is exactly that. Well, it’s that, but a lot of other things can be that too, because it’s interesting that we’re always trying to get others to join us in whatever inspires us at a given moment. Pato was thinking about the publicity posters for the city and we started talking about it, taking it all very seriously. Why? Because they were things that we cared about or that we continue to care about. And at the same time dozens of projects ended up going nowhere. I remember one that consisted of collecting dust from some of the city’s iconic corners and analyzing it chemically, or another in Zanjón de la Aguada, where we wanted to do some archaeological digging. The thing here is that there’s a desire, a permanent desire to issue an invitation, which is why the point of a work area is to spark ideas, to engage in conversation.

LatinArt:  Inhabiting is a word you’ve referred to in a number of ways, at least since Proyecto Fachada, but this is rather curious in a group that constantly rejects the idea of a dwelling. Because for you a dwelling, a home, inhabiting, would be a sort of falling into a discipline, being labeled, pigeonholed, something you’re always running away from, so it would be good to talk about this apparent paradox a little.

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  That’s not altogether true, because inhabiting doesn’t have to be thought of in terms of a place. If there’s a place par excellence that’s identified with inhabiting, it’s a home or a dwelling, but what TUP addresses is not the dwelling itself, but the part of a dwelling that interacts with the outside. A faí§ade interfaces with others, hence the very interesting idea that only mortals inhabit something - that only those of us who know we’re going to die someday inhabit. That’s why it’s no coincidence that we’re identified with neighborhood issues, which is very much in fashion; the importance of what TUP does in a neighborhood. It’s a problem, because there’s a fascist quality around the neighborhood issue.

LatinArt:  Why do you say that?

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:   Because it focuses on a view of inhabiting that’s very reactionary, the idea of a dwelling. What that evokes is the death of the city, because the city is about size, openness and contamination, and in that sense the legitimate other is part of a question. Whenever something to do with neighborhoods and communities comes up we’re invited to participate, and that’s not what we’re about…

LatinArt:  In other words, since you reject it all, you’re accepted everywhere.

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  (laughter) We’re always thrilled that they can never appropriate what we do. That interests us. For instance they wanted TUP to take part in a project called “I love my neighborhood”, a program that forms part of government policies aimed at recovering neighborhoods from crime and harmoniously reconfiguring the social fabric in the interest of good neighborliness, like that, in capital letters, so we attempted to do that a little and finally Pato ended up working on the project and the whole dynamic changed. There’s a nice anecdote to do with that, very traditional and everyday. It turns out that some women and men who promote the cueca - because it’s the national dance and because that particular national dance is the root of Chilean identity and all that - saw that there was a place where rappers and graffiti artists came together and told us: “we want to do a project too, where we stand on corners, do a little tour, do the cueca, and hand out empanadas.

So these people get together with the others, the rappers and graffiti artists, who supposedly do something rather more modern, as part of a collective activity that is then visited, as might be expected, by an authority whose first gesture is to hang a banner that says Government of Chile. But when they’re going to show a video, which is a register of the activity, they take the banner away, and since there’s no banner and no Government of Chile, the authorities have to say, well they're out of here, because they’re making improper use of a public asset. So a little episode like that turns into a major conflict. Those are the things we’re interested in, the things that bring us together and that we can identify with as things that we share. None of us talks about what they’re doing in personal terms, there’s no need, because what we talk about is the stuff that’s just beginning to appear. And this is not something invented by TUP; it’s a sign of the times. We’ve met a lot of people in Concepción, in Valparaí­so, in different places and of different ages, who are addressing the great failures of modernity. They’re rethinking action and taking it down strategic roads, talking with less conviction about where things should be headed and just playing or focusing on enjoying whatever comes up, without thinking that it must be turned into a new story or anything like that. The problem is that the residue of that other way of understanding action, that way that is so modern, wants to appropriate these practices. The Catholic University invites us to do something, government ministries invite us to talk about participation, how to encourage participation. And we’re not talking about participation…

LatinArt:  I was thinking about what you said about the neighborhood, about how fascist it was to use the word, because personally I think there’s something interesting in the way the city gets blurred in a neighborhood.

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  Yes, but that’s dangerous, because that’s where the ghetto comes in.

LatinArt:  Well, as Foucault would say, the city’s just a looser-fitting ghetto.

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  Yes, it’s true, because the city regulates everything.

LatinArt:  It’s the biopolitical recourse par excellence isn’t it? And it’s also important to consider that resistance to dictatorship takes place through a direct confrontation between the neighborhood or population and the city.

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:  We’d just have to decide what city we’re talking about, because it’s not the conversation in Walter Benjamin’s city.

LatinArt:  I imagine so, but also in Benjamin’s city, as they call it, I don’t know if they converse that much, because as I understand it the figure of the narrator, which is the figure used by Benjamin to talk about what conversing would be, is outside the city. In the narrator it seems there is no city, so we could ask ourselves where the myth arose that in cities one converses. We could think about it the other way around, that what defines the city, as George Sorel said, is the fact that we can talk about the weather in an elevator, or that we can sit on a park bench without seeing who is beside us.

Trabajos de Utilidad Pública TUP:   Sure, because the city is a deafening hustle and bustle in which nobody talks to each other. That’s why we say we have to define what city we’re talking about, because in the register you’re proposing, the city is the end of conversation and the neighborhood appears to be the place where old ladies chat while they sweep. The reign of rumor -the place where a good neighbor reports the guy who plants marijuana in his little garden to the police, or the good neighbor who sends the local drunk to a rehab center, or the place where the military man lives too. The neighborhood army man. I think that image of a neighborhood does run counter to the city. Although there’s this example too: here, in the downtown streets, in the equivalent of this country’s Wall Street, is where the people who fix papers work. And we might say: but this isn’t Barcelona, we don’t have an influx of immigrants that makes it necessary to have businesses that fix papers. What papers do they fix here? Well, the papers people need to secure a loan that they can’t get for some reason. And for that there are guys who fix signatures, forge papers, etc. And this all happens in the middle of an area full of banks, notary offices and businesses. That’s all happening in the center of the city, it’s all part of what there is, right?

back to artists