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Raúl Cordero

Retrato del artista by Raúl        Cordero

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Dec 01, 2002
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Raul Cordero
Interviewer: Bill Kelley Jr.

LatinArt:  As a student at the Instituto Superior de Diseño in Havana, what first attracted you to video and photography?

Raúl Cordero:  I have always been attracted to photography, but after finishing my studies at the Institute in Havana, I studied in Holland through a scholarship and began to have contact with video at museums and at the school itself. I also had an opportunity to see installations, since nothing like that existed in Cuba at that time. My contact with Europe was really important to me as an exploration of different visual languages possessing temporary conditions such as audio and other means of expression.

LatinArt:  You often quote other artist's work directly, sometimes conceptually or through the use of textual quotes. Who has most influenced your work?

Raúl Cordero:  Well, it's not really one particular artist, but a group of artists, above all, American artists. To be honest, my way of thinking changed the moment I saw Duchamp's work, but the artists I'm talking about are John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, and Chris Burden, artists who were working in the 70s and 80s. They changed my way of thinking as regards to art and that I didn't have to limit myself to being a painter or a photographer or a video artist, but rather that each work called for special treatment, and every idea had a claim to exist in a different medium. The result was that I was working in five or six different mediums at the same time, but the common theme is the relationship within the different media with which I work. These form pieces which not only maintain a dialogue with other aspects (human), but also with other items I produce, and with the history of the medium.

LatinArt:  This investigation of the medium is a common theme. Works like Reportage or Zooming Painting have that as a central focus.

Raúl Cordero:  In Reportage everything is a question. One day I was painting in my studio in Havana, on the fifth floor, overlooking a parking lot, and I saw two people arguing so I filmed it with the camera...

LatinArt:  So this video of a couple arguing on the street isn't orchestrated?

Raúl Cordero:  This work is part of that "footage." It is completely real, because the people involved did not know I was filming them and, moreover, I did not know them. I enjoyed taking this "footage" so I began to think a little about the conditions in which the piece was made by asking myself what I had recorded and also how this was related to the rest of my work. I believe "Reportage" is the only work which refers in some way to Cuban art. For me, Cuban art is very much involved with reporting, I don't know whether this is due to the absence of press coming from Cuba, because Cuban artists generally, since the eighties, have endeavored to communicate from Cuba, on the restiveness of Cuban life and on a Cuban's way of thinking. One might say that almost all Cuban art refers to Cuba as the principal theme. This is not interesting...for me art is something else. (after a moment) Then again, they have always seen me as a kind of outsider in Cuba, so perhaps my work is a small reaction to this.

LatinArt:  Your conceptualist lineage might explain some things-

Raúl Cordero:  If I have to relate my art to something that is not art itself. If there is something other than the basic nature of the work I do, it is human relations. This is present or felt in some way in all I do. In fact, if someday I have to do Cuban art as a type, and have to report on something that is happening, I prefer to report what is happening between that man and that woman in Reportage, - which is moreover more international, because it can be understood anywhere. Ordinary and mundane events that have no importance other than that they are happening simultaneously in many places at the same time, are interesting to me. I enjoy thinking about what this phenomenon reflects and what it is to comment on it, what the function of an artist or a work of art can be, and to what extent you can comment or apply a work of art to solve a problem, because once the problem passes, the work remains. That is what is going to happen in the course of time with all the art currently being done in Cuba. All these viewpoints gradually lose effect and interest, and unfortunately the piece loses importance, being subordinate to things completely outside its purpose and conceptual dominion.

I feel very Cuban, but by the fact of being so I don't have to refer to this continually. I don't have to do Cuban art necessarily because I am Cuban. My way of thinking is completely related to connecting art objects and people, that's it.

LatinArt:  The process of art making is also a major theme in your work-

Raúl Cordero:  I made this piece called "Perfect Woman", which took me six or seven years to make. I would place a camera in my room, and every morning when I got up I would record what would be the ideal woman for me, how I would like her to be, etc. I would prepare a small two minute video and send it to the local police to make me a drawing based on my description, just as they do for criminals. I never have any contact with the police, they only receive the tape, make the drawing and send it to me. Thus, in this way, I follow all the drawings with each day's videos and, finally, it is a metaphor of how to find your ideal woman. They can help you see what she is like, and in fact you realize that you don't know what you want. The piece is also an interesting record of how to make art through other people. The way in which this ideal woman changed as she had to pass through the police, from my spoken expression to a video-then that video has to be interpreted by another person-passed on to another media, etc. It's like when you mount an exhibition and on the day of the opening they ask you "Are you happy with the installation?" Well, I've had to change so many things that at times it no longer resembles the original idea. The work explores how the conditions of the different places determines the changes being made to the original. Even after the work is finished, the curator is going to adapt it to his idea and place it next to something, or separate it from another, etc. There are so many factors that are no longer controlled by the artist. This is something that is fully conventional and accepted, it is the nature of the trade.

"Shopworn" is a work that relates to the nature of art contained in the documentary. That is, it's the idea of documenting a lie, something that never existed, and how to make people believe it and give the image incredibility. In this piece, I have written a story on a metal plate below an ordinary dress which states that this dress was in a showcase and was purchased every night by an client for a prostitute. I have seven photographs of seven girls, who are obviously not prostitutes, wearing the same dress, It is hard to imagine such a story, and yet, there it is. Generally people say they have to see something to believe it -the photograph is always a credible thing. The work deals a lot with the process of documenting performances, where only the documentation exists. Often there is no original or the original never existed and there are art-works which you make exist through documentation.

LatinArt:  Yes, and often the documentation lacks the sophistication of the original idea.

Raúl Cordero:  Exactly, for a work which lives by documentation it is much more essential for the documentation to be good, and possibly not the performance. Possibly the work has been very good or the performance was very attractive, but the documentation is dull, then that doesn't work either. This is always a very interesting dilemma to confront.

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