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Cildo Meireles

Retrato del artista by Cildo       Meireles

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Apr 07, 2002
Location: Mexico
Topic: A conversation with Cildo Meireles
Interviewer: Jennifer Teets

LatinArt:  The following conversation took place on April 7th, 2002 at the International Forum on Contemporary Art Theory (FITAC) in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Fair, Muestra 001 in Monterrey, Mexico.

First to begin, I'd like to speak about your function in FITAC, the International Forum on Contemporary Art, alongside a host of younger artists who are working with similar methods, yet strikingly disparate notions of art-making. For example, that of Swetlana Heger whose intriguing approach engages power structures in a very opportunist manner.

Cildo Meireles:  Do you also mean like the Cubans [referring to the Gabinete Ordo Amoris group]? But the Cubans, you know it was a statement. I have not seen their work. They read the Manifesto [referring to Marx], this was really from the sixties...But, yes I think in some ways it is a movement in fact, right? What I think is that this has been labeled as art. Because in some way this has been done. I think it has a lot to do with New Media which is the web, the net. But, the one thing I wonder about is the control of information. When I was doing Insertions...[referring to Inserí§oes em Circuitos Ideologicos: Projeto Coca-Cola (Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project, 1970)] in the 70's the main preoccupation was to get a system that would not depend on any type of centralized control.

LatinArt:  Like in a sense autonomous?

Cildo Meireles:  Yeah because it doesn't matter if you are doing a fabulous job and you use media forms such as T.V., radio, or the newspaper. Because at some point if someone disagrees, someone who retains power, it becomes their decision. And I think for me the problem is when you start to place what I have seen, the production, like within an internet based context, you come back to a point when you are easily controlled. It can be, it is not, but can be a kind of playground where you want to play, but to the point when it is hard to say no. Minerva Cuevas is running a project like this. It is not exactly the case of Swetlana [Heger], however. There are a lot of young artists who are starting to do that kind of parallel structure work of facing power... But, I do think it has to be tried. It is the only way to know.

LatinArt:  I think it is really interesting, particularly in comparison with Swetlana Heger and her use of those particular means of production [referring to conference presentations]. However, your work is in a way very much the opposite.

Cildo Meireles:  The opposite, yes. In some way yes, but you speak of one work. Because a lot of my work does not address those questions. And also, each work has autonomy which is always original meaning for me. If you go back to a type of style, it does not matter if it is a painting style or a new media style, you are going to be in the same dead end situation.

LatinArt:  You have been noted as an "observer of systems, from colonial mercantilism to contemporary capitalism." Could you explain the Zero Dollar (1978-84) project and Inserí§oes em Circuitos Ideologicos: Projeto Coca-Cola (Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project, 1970) and its relationship as an artistic-financial operation?

Cildo Meireles:  The idea was to operate a system that could have this utopia of being totally free as individual expression. And when I say this I speak about the scale as well, in a very rudimentary way without any kind of technology. And of course all the implications this would have, at some point all the difference towards web-made work which I think is the limit point in the traditional form of the art-object. But it is still something that you take from outside and bring into this art system as an art object. In a sense it privileges the artist's decision. I tried to establish a new direction. But, there was a totally different nature involved in the project. For me as I said yesterday [at the conference FITAC, Monterrey 2002] about Insertions..., it puts in discussion the notion of space for art work of course. It has to do with the Teoria de Ní£o Objeto (Theory of the Non-Object, 1959) [by Ferreira Gullar], the idea of the text. The work is not a matter of an object in space, nor time, but something totally abstract. Of course one of the differences would be material in time. For me, Zero Dollar, is not like Insertions into Ideological Circuits, but it could be approached to the idea of Inserí§oes em Circuitos Antroplógicos (Insertions into Anthropological Circuits, 1971). Because the difference is that Insertions into Ideological Circuits is a kind of action that is done using something that already exists. That goes from here to there, you can use it as a communication system. On the other hand, the Insertions into Anthropological Circuits - in which I completed two or three projects - should be the place for Zero Dollar. Because the idea of Insertions into Anthropological Circuits is that you have to fabricate something that didn't exist before, that way, and put it into circulation. It is quite different than using a circuit which already exists.

LatinArt:  With Zero Dollar did it function more as a public project, were you actually going out distributing the dollars?

Cildo Meireles:  Well I did it in different ways, I even sold the dollars. But, most of the time I just gave them to people. But they could be sold. When I first did the Zero Dollar project I wanted to sell them on the streets. I went to a street vendor in Rio, but then I discovered that the street vendor was part of a huge operation and the police were involved. So then I had to deal with this guy who was a police man. But the idea [referring to Zero Dollar] was to produce an object and then try to put this object into circulation which causes the object to provoke a kind of shift in anthropological behavior. Which is different than Insertions... Even the video that I showed yesterday which featured Zero Dollar, in a way expressed that all of the work is put together in the same bowl to make a kind of soup. But, I think they each respectively belong in a different category of work.

LatinArt:  I'm very interested in your work Olvido (Oblivion, 1987-1989) where a Native American tent is covered in banknotes from different countries in the Americas where native populations have been eradicated. Do you see it similar to the work Missí£o/Missíµes (Mission/Missions [How to Build Cathedrals], 1987) which you describe operates in a very, clean mathematical equation?

Cildo Meireles:  Oh yes, because I was invited for this show which was a thematic show in 1987 in the south of Brazil. There I completed three projects. [Regarding Mission/Missions [How to Build Cathedrals] There was a journalist that was covering the whole story who traveled to Missíµes where we were staying, at a monastery. When we were inside the bus going back to Porto Alegre from San Miguel Missíµes, the journalist entered the bus and she passed by my seat, distributing the hosts that she had taken from the chapel, the monastery. Not consecrated hosts, just the wafers. So, I had this host and when I came back to Sí£o Paulo to begin working on the project I knew I wanted to work on the drawings [for the first piece], but I knew it would be complicated. Below, on the ground floor of the building of the apartment where I lived there was a butcher. Everyday at the end of the day a truck would come by to collect the bones. So then I started, because also the cow was, still is, maybe the most important issue of the economy in the south. And then I was working with this element and I did two projects of the three in total: Missí£o/Missíµes and a kind of variation which was Olvido. But they appeared at the same time. The first piece, which was completed for this show, was acquired at the end for a museum collection that was never built. In late 1988 they called from France saying, "Cildo we would like to have this piece," so I called them to borrow the piece. Suddenly, while on the phone I felt a silence on the other side of the line. I called Frederico Morais who was the curator of the show. I felt strange. He said no, "Cildo, because the original Brazilian show where the piece was commissioned is going to Paris after six months and then of course they are worried about showing the same piece in the same six months." After contacting them again, they said that the piece was in crates, stored, and the guy who had the key had just left for an accumulated vacation.

So, essentially, that's why we did the second version, the one that is in Texas now [at the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin], Missí£o/Missíµes. But, then we agreed that we would produce a new piece for the show in Paris [referring to Olvido], that would be a variation because it has the same conceptual structure as the others: three scenes, material power, spiritual power, tragedies. The only remaining element was the bones. The form changed, instead of hosts I used candles, instead of coins I used banknotes. It was a circular form. Which if I had to remake Missí£o/Missíµes I would do a circle instead of a square. Because everything is a circle, the coins, the bones, and the hosts.

LatinArt:  I think the different thing about that piece Missí£o/Missíµes, however, is that you have this notion of theater, with the curtains that is.

Cildo Meireles:  Those are important elements to the piece. But, I would say that the primary scenes are those three things: the bones, the coins, and the hosts. But, then as it was touring I said that we should have a light control in the piece, that's why the curtain came, because each space would be different. To create independence so to say. This comes from another theme which is a concept that once I took from a newspaper article I had read in the late 60's concerning the history of the circus in Brazil. It was about the decadence of the circus, because it was very important at the beginning of the century. The circus was a place for the touring arts: you have the magician, the singer, and even at one point theater, plays. It was a part of the culture until a point when cinema started appearing, and afterwards T.V. appeared. Well it started in the fifties, but in the sixties the T.V. came to the middle-class in Brazil. The owner of the circus owed money to the artists who participated, so for the payment of debts the owner cut the tent's fabric and gave each individual a piece as payment. And in this way, a new type of show was generated. From that point artists who were together in the tent began doing their own personal shows on a small-scale. They had four good pieces [of the tent] and then created a space where they could charge an entrance fee and do a small show [they gave a name for this variation].

LatinArt:  So this was apart from the circus?

Cildo Meireles:  Yes, when the circus began to dissolve. In the piece I made Espaí§os Virtuais: Cantos (Virtual Spaces: Corners, 1967-68) it kind of had the same system, I mean the same structure. A structure of independence. Independent of gallery space, of museum space. Most of those pieces could be placed outside with few exceptions. They would be done to work a little like [the independent circus variation] to go outside to just do it. Then, later, I took the development of the circus as a model for many of the large scale pieces.

Jennifer Teets, independent curator based in Mexico City, has completed the recent F(r)icción, by David Phillips & Paul Rowley at the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil and is currently organizing a program for the Fourth International Festival of Sound Art, Habitat Sónico, at the Ex Teresa Arte Actual space.

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