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Galería de Comercio

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Feb 08, 2013
Location: Mexico
Topic: Interview of La Galería de Comercio
Interviewer: Raquel de Anda

LatinArt:  I’d like to begin by providing a context, so I’ll ask you to tell me how Galería de Comercio came to be formed. What was the collective’s starting point?

Galería de Comercio :  
Nuria Montiel: All of us in Galería de Comercio have done projects dealing with public spaces or with self-managed ways of organization. This is something that brought us together from the beginning. At the outset we had the idea of taking over the corner of José Martí and Comercio streets in Mexico City. It’s a corner like any other, but at the same time it has a series of characteristics that are of strategic importance to the project. On the one hand it’s in a low-income neighborhood, it’s downtown and it’s a very busy corner. There are lots of businesses there, such as the Escandón market which is next door, a drugstore, a bar, etc. Furthermore, it’s behind a school which gives us greater freedom, since it’s a very public corner where we don’t need a permit. The space is free most of the time and we only use it temporarily. Since we’re not selling anything, we haven’t had any problems.

LatinArt:  And how do you view money and formalization in the project?

Galería de Comercio :  
Jimena Mendoza: We haven’t wanted to accept any funding since the beginning. At one time we were offered a 500-peso (less than US$50) budget, but we didn’t want to fall back into the paternalistic thing again, with the institution acting as an intermediary.

There was an event with the artist Ben Kinsley (The Spot, 2011), who decided to bury the budget like a treasure. He changed the 500 pesos into 50-centavo coins, placed them in a box and made a very abstract map of the city that was then shown on the wall. A note was also left in the box for people to contact us if they found it.

NM: So if anyone asks us for money we just hand them the map... (laughter). But we should point something out. When we decided to abandon the idea of receiving the 500 pesos what was interesting was to wonder whether we could devise a strategy for holding monthly events on the corner without money. Although it’s at a microscopic level, the general idea here is to generate an economy other than the capitalist one based on monetary exchange. Part of the challenge was to invent a way of making our project work on the basis of what Martín called "human capital": the effort devoted to the projects by us and the person organizing the event.

And over the past three years we’ve shown that there’s no need for anyone to give you a single penny to carry out programs on the street. There have been times when we’ve been offered financial support from institutions and we’ve decided to refuse because not being dependent on institutional support makes us free to do whatever we want without being accountable to anyone.

LatinArt:  And what do you think is important about this work in regard to the current cultural panorama in Mexico City with genres such as public art, ephemeral art, collective art, art that is separate from institutions?

Galería de Comercio :  
José Luis Cortes: I joined Galería a few months after it was launched and found it very interesting, without believing directly that it was necessary or needed. At the same time, I think the initiative itself highlights a number of issues that we, both as artists and as people who have to deal with institutions, have raised – financing issues, the supposed alternative nature of these kinds of spaces, and other institutional matters.

That’s still a deeply-rooted idea in Mexico, there’s still a supposed alternative reality, and sometimes it’s rather vague, it’s not a specific field of endeavor. By and large, we’re taught to view it as a polarized abstraction - being part of or outside a "system" - but I don’t see it that way. I think Galería de Comercio raises issues not just about that idea, about a way of producing that may or may not have to do with relations between artists and institutions, or independent, commercial, etc. approaches -- maybe it touches on all those areas at the same time.

We’ve often said we’re institutionalized – we have an identity, we’re a group of people affiliated to a certain kind of work and we take decisions within the Galería de Comercio by negotiating with artists. That’s an institutional identity too, one way or another. So we don’t really have a problem with that, but I do think it’s a different way of looking at it, as an aspect of identity that’s flexible and changeable. Rather than following a model, we’re inventing our own way of working.

NM: The street corner has also become a kind of pretext not just for holding events, but for sitting down to share things and talk about them. La Galería de Comercio doesn’t just present art. It has also presented the work of biologists, sociologists, defenders of human rights, etc. The idea is pretty much to show what’s going on in Mexico City outside those market platforms and reinvent another approach that gives us a chance to see what’s happening. It’s become a space for discovering things that are going on in the city. This to me seems very important.

JLC: Yes, it’s a wide-ranging production model. It’s a sort of a workshop or community space where we can get together to interact with more like-minded people. People from the art world predominate because that’s the field we move in the most, but our curiosity about other fields prompts us to invite other people working in different disciplines to visit the corner. In a more traditional sense we could say it’s like a laboratory or a testing ground.

LatinArt:  Many of your programs involve everyday and popular culture experiences such as skateboarding, dancing and beat boxing. On deciding to show such programs, how do you take the work beyond the form? Are you interested in coming up with something that could be of value to the art world?

Galería de Comercio :  
NM: We can’t deny that art is our circuit. But our interest doesn’t lie in deciding what’s art, it’s more about creating experiences and a broader community.

JLC: Bringing things that interest us to the street corner means more than validating them, because the purpose of the corner is not really to validate anything. Fortunately it isn’t a space with an established public where the things that are on display will be legitimized. Instead I think that we do what we do in order to get to know things, to focus attention on them, even if only for a while, rather than providing a space for them. In various events we’ve invited people to come to the corner and have them feel they’re free to use the corner however they want. It would be very different if we started laying down some kind of guidelines.

JM: At first we were a lot more open but lately we’ve been asking ourselves a lot more why this project, why this corner, why this neighbourhood rather than someone’s house, or Mexico City’s main square, which is also an open space.

NM: We’ve also thought of changing corners so as not to concentrate on this one specifically. But actually it’s interesting to think of what happens when a place starts making its own history. I’m reminded of an artist who was concerned as to how her project would be viewed by the art world if she did it at the Galería de Comercio. She talked about our history and we were a little alarmed by the idea of the Galería de Comercio being used as a show window. But at the same time it’s interesting to see that we seem to be generating a buzz in the art circuit just because we’ve been around for three years. Personally what I find interesting is the effect that’s been generated in the neighborhood. The lady who sells tacos knows exactly who we are, and so do the people at the bar. And this makes it a lot more interesting for me: what starts being generated at the site after being a constant presence there.

LatinArt:  The idea of creating a history is interesting. I’d also like you to talk a little about the histories that came out of the spaces that existed during the 90s and the shadow they’ve cast on our generation. How do you relate to the spaces that defined a period, spaces like La Quiñonera, La Panadería and Temístocles 44?

Galería de Comercio :  
NM: Well, everyone has their own views on what those spaces meant. When La Panadería was in existence I was in high school, and from my point of view it was proposed as an art space, as was La Quiñonera. It was an attempt to open an alternative space to a generation of artists who weren’t represented by any galleries and needed a place to exhibit their work. And it became a place where everyone could do their thing, and gave rise to many important artists. It had the structure needed for art, a white cube where art was displayed just like that, but it was all part of the art world. I think that’s where the main difference lies. Our aim is not to provide an alternative space for artists, but to occupy public space for all kinds of concerns involving different fields that we feel need to be heard. And I think different considerations come into play between a private space and the street. For instance, even if a gallery is public it belongs to someone and someone’s running it, and the objects in them have been made as artworks, whereas in our case one of the basic rules is not to have objects that can be sold or stored.

JM: Those places had more legitimacy too. They had a super community, and in the final analysis they were spaces that had visibility and legitimacy, whereas the Galería de Comercio is aimed more at raising questions, not just about art, but about cultural and social issues, and is much more open-ended.

JLC: Exactly, and the spaces you mentioned were also places where they could display their own work. La Galería de Comercio was never meant to be a place for us to show our work. That wasn’t the main reason; it wasn’t born of a need to find spaces in which to exhibit. In that sense too the question of alternative spaces I talked about before is viewed very differently 15 years later. Those spaces pertained to a generation and an education in which people in Mexico were a lot more uninformed than they are now. One way or another they had to generate information that would flow between them and that they sought to keep up with. Now people are better informed. They’re in a position to travel, gain access to books, meet artists, so there’s not so much need to put information out there. For us the Galería de Comercio’s approach does not revolve around our own work but is a means of being in contact with more people who are not necessarily artists.

LatinArt:  Yes, we’re living in different times. That’s why I’m interested in finding out how we’re shaping our identity through these spaces. I’d also like to know what Abraham’s role is in the group, since he belongs to another generation and is a well-known artist in the art world.

Galería de Comercio :  
NM: In the final analysis Abraham is the only one who knew us all, but he really hasn’t been around much because he’s always traveling. He always gives his opinion when we exchange mails and all that, but there’s no mentor hierarchy. He’s a friend just like everyone else.

JLC: That’s right, and I think the difference between Abraham and others of his generation is that his approach to learning is by being in contact with people of all ages. He became friends with each of us at different times, and for reasons that he finds dovetail with this project he proposed that we create the Galería with him. I think it was also a way for him to connect his work with ours. This is valuable and I find it enriching because I haven’t had a chance to become familiar with more people of his generation at this level.

NM: For me the most valuable aspect of Abraham’s involvement are the questions he asks. Sometimes when we’re about to make decisions he’s asked good questions based on his experience. For instance when curators have taken part in the Galería de Comercio process we’ve found it a little difficult to shape our vision of how to involve Galería in the structure of the art world. That’s when Abraham’s posed some good questions as to how far we want to take it, and we’ve addressed them together.

LatinArt:  Another thing I like a lot about Galería is the curatorial process, because you’re playing with the idea of not having any specialists and creating a situation in which you can be artists, curators, critics, writers, etc. How do you see this process? Do you believe you engage in curatorial work?

Galería de Comercio :  
JM: Well it’s not really what we would call curating. We sit down and talk with whoever’s going to do a project, ask them how they’re going to present it, and share what we know about the things that happen in relation to the Galería. It’s all more of a chat about how the events are carried out. It’s not really about directing or choosing, etc.

JLC: I think that’s what our practice is about. It’s where our art production runs hand in hand with a form of practice. For many of us it has meant learning and experimenting as we go along, and very often it all comes together during the actual production of the event. After all, we’re the ones who propose and carry them out. Otherwise someone would have to make a choice and say "do this and do it however you can". We’re very much involved in the production of each event, which in most cases makes it very different to the role played by a curator.

LatinArt:   You’re also artists in your own right; many of you were trained in art institutions or have received government grants to study abroad. How do you apply those experiences to the Galería de Comercio process? Or do you feel it’s independent from your individual practices in terms of acting separately from institutions and placing emphasis on experimenting?

Galería de Comercio :  
JLC: I think it’s necessary. Everyone has a different perspective and I’ve always thought it’s necessary, perhaps because I’ve never felt satisfied with being connected with institutions. I’ve always looked for ways of working outside the institutional framework. I think it’s healthy, particularly so as not to be involved with, and always thinking in terms of, a gallery or museum or negotiating with an institution. Everyone has to do that every day anyway at the bank, at school, at work. So in fact art is a way of creating a tool with which to generate a community, knowledge, experience, as we’ve been saying here. La Galería del Comercio can act as a space where you don’t have to contend directly with an institution, but focus more on personal relations. This is a great experience because we’re all coming from different places and fields.

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