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Miguel Angel Rí­os

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Mar 15, 2003
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Miguel Angel Ríos
Interviewer: Raúl Zamudio

LatinArt:  Can say you something about your recent video work?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  My recent project which will be shown in New York City during April, titled Ni me busques...No me encuentras, is a three-channel DVD projection and its formal aspects cover lots of ground, one of them being the architectonics of the gallery and can be considered an installation rather than a straightforward projection. There is, however, a cinematic dimension to the work. What interests me is the in-between, the interstitial locality between cinema and installation. In fact, I would like to say that the video that will be featured on is not a video with three images, but three distinct projections that are synchronized. Some of the things that appear in the piece are a group of Mexican folk musicians, there is also a house that I constructed on-site that is split down the middle, and for the first time I used a double. The audio component is very important to the piece as well. In this three-channel projection there is a thematic exploration of landscape and phenomenological possibilities where I can use the visual, that is to say the optical, and take the work into different directions. This work heads into areas where the body is incorporated into the experience of the work.

LatinArt:  A double, really? Where did you find him?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  This is a really funny story, a work of art in itself. I hired a car that one finds in Mexico with a speaker on the roof that transmits audio information as it is being driven. I went through a small town in San Luis Potosi by the desert where I shot the video, and as we drove around I announced: "The artist Miguel Angel Rios from Mexico and New York is researching a film about peyote and is looking for a double that looks like him and that is the same age, weight, height, eye and color of hair as him. If you meet these requirements you should go to the Estancia Hotel for an audition. You will be paid well for your services." About ten people showed up. Some of the potential Miguel Angel Rios’ were drunk.

LatinArt:  After following your video pieces, I couldn’t help feel that your previous work with maps is somehow a part of this. Is this something unconscious on your part or intentional?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  There could be a formal relationship in that the maps are about representations that, for the most part, were imaginary. If you remember correctly, those maps are reconfigurations of cartography of the New World by Europeans. Since the geography Europeans were mapping was partially based on conjecture, the relationship of my video work with the maps is that now I am inserting myself into them in order to create a simulation of something natural; of trying to create a sense of the artificial through the real. In other words, now that I am traversing the lands that were mapped in antiquity, I am finding out how unreal they seem because of their intoxicating beauty.

LatinArt:  Is there a conceptual relationship between the maps and your video work as well?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  There is a Cartesian link in that I am trying to fracture dichotomies and space in both instances. In my video work, I am trying to make problematic the notion of our technological reliance for certainty. This is an old philosophical problem. Today this problem still exists, but now we have technology that tries to aid us in deciphering as well as constructing what's real. In the same way, I guess, that the maps made by Old World cartographers were trying to represent lands that they were not completely familiar with, they nonetheless used scientific instruments and relied on them for "objective truth." But we know that sometimes they were far off in their assessments.

LatinArt:  This leads to my next question. When did you first start moving away from your maps?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  My first piece that deviated from the maps was actually on audio work titled Toloache, Mapping with the Mind. I first presented this in the Havana Biennial in 2000. It consisted of a sort of shanty house where one would walk inside of it; the interior was so dark that you couldn’t see your face. Inside was a soundtrack of a shaman or "curandera" uttering incantations in Mazateco and in Spanish, the former being an indigenous Mexican language. I recorded this in Huatla, Mexico where I participated in a healing that consisted in ingesting hallucinogens. Yet this was far from ethnography, but more about subverting the sense of sight that was so much a part of modernism. That’s why you enter into the structure visually, but then the work is really about an audio-based experience that blacks out vision.

LatinArt:  I remember seeing something similiar, by the same title, in the Five Continents and One City show in Mexico City in 2000.

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  This was another piece related to my first work and it was also titled Toloache. This was an installation consisting of video and audio that was also architectonic. The architectonic consisted of sloping the floor in a room at an angle, much like Vito Acconci’s Seedbed. In fact, most of my work has these sorts of art historical references. On all four walls of the room were pleated photographs of my hands in the act of gesturing that were in the form of a frieze, and the soundtrack was a healer chanting in Nahuatl. All of these elements when combined created a sense of vertigo; most people who experienced the piece became slightly disoriented.

LatinArt:  What about location, where have you shot your work?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  The recent piece titled Ni me busques...No me encuentras, was shot in the desert in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I have also worked in Tepoztlan with persons who spin tops. There is a strong vernacular tradition in Mexico of top spinning. I filmed about 30 players engaging in this sport and they were spinning black tops onto a white grid with a mesmerizing violence; this piece is called ’Til Death (2002). The grid as you probably know, has been an important part of modernism exemplified in the work of Mondrian, Malevich and others. I tried to set up a tension between a vernacular tradition and modernism, between the regional and the cosmopolitan, and between the periphery and the center. My next project will be shot in Mexico and Peru, particularly in the high Andes, where the San Pedro cactus is consumed which gives one the feeling of flying.

LatinArt:  So has the use of drugs also been a part of your work?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  I am interested in what I call alternative epistemologies.

LatinArt:  Have you ever thought that maybe your pushing the limits in certain dangerous ways when you use drugs?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:  The only thing that I have done that could be perceived as irresponsible is that one time I had my film crew take hallucinogens with me under the guidance of a shaman. I didn't force them, but they were interested as technicians on how they could capture what I was trying to conceptualize and make concrete into the work. There have been numerous artists who have explored the creative potential of intoxicants. Some that come to mind are Carravagio and his excessive drinking, or Degas and his consumption of absinthe, other 19th century artists and their use of laudanum and opiates, or Blake, etc. The difference with my use of intoxicants is that they are part of an artistic strategy that is also political. It is political in that the hallucinogens that I use are part of Mexican indigenous traditions. These traditions are marginalized, not because they are illegal but because they are associated with the social periphery. In other words, cocaine, heroin and designer drugs are trendy in the cities and are highly addictive and destructive; right now I am interested in intoxicants for their philosophical possibilities and the ones that I use are natural rather than synthetic. This could all change tomorrow and I may never use them again.

LatinArt:  How do you conceive of your work? Some video artists begin with a story board?

Miguel Angel Rí­os:   I have a particular idea and where I want to shoot and then story-board it. However, before I commit anything to a plan I go on location and try to get a feeling for its social, cultural and physical contexts. I always keep in mind the ideas I am trying to get across at this early stage. But things can change at this stage as well. More often than not concepts remain...usually. My recent piece went through various changes, but my initial inspiration, whether it was intuitive or more thought out, transformed itself and materialized into something that feels more natural to me. In fact, I had Ni me busques...No me encuentras scripted and realized I was getting too rational and logical and the piece was fighting against this. It began to take a life of its own. I find that way of working refreshing, but also a gamble because the stakes are higher. Unlike a painter who can scrape the canvas if things are not working right, when you are committed to video revisions can be costly.

Raúl Zamudio is New York-based art historian, critic and independent curator.

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