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Martí­n Sastre

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Oct 01, 2004
Location: Uruguay
Topic: Interview with Martin Sastre
Interviewer: Anamarí­a Forteza

LatinArt:  What work did you present at the recent Sí£o Paulo Biennial (September 2004), and how was it received by the critics and the public?

Martí­n Sastre:  The work we presented is called "BOLIVIA 3: Confederation Next", a video which completes the "Ibero American Trilogy", which is comprised of a series of videos based on the "Ibero American Era", a future stage of Humanity in which the Ibero American culture becomes the predominant culture on Earth, as the North American culture is today. This video takes place in the year 2876, by which time Hollywood is a swamp, and from this location Tom Cruise - who at this time lives as a vampire - tells us of an event which happened at the present time and which changed the course of the war "by controlling fiction" - since, as he himself explains in the video: "he who controls fiction, controls reality." That event, which changed the order of the fictional factors, is a sword duel between Matthew Barney - the famous North American video artist who sold a piece of video at the record price of 2 million dollars - and Martí­n Sastre, also a video artist, but Uruguayan.

The critics and comments have been excellent, couldn’t have been better. A few days ago I received a letter from the organization saying that the Uruguayan pavilion was one of the most visited of the entire showcase and that my work was among those that made the greatest impact on the press and the general public, so that’s great. They even selected us among the 15 best works of the Biennial for a traveling exhibition. However, my greatest satisfaction was to meet up - by sheer chance - with Matthew Barney himself- who is probably the most well known and successful artist of the generation prior to mine-, and to see him leave the Uruguayan pavilion applauding like a kid. That was really very entertaining because in the end we became friends and to the astonishment of everyone present he bowed to me. That is, a gentlemen’s duel, without a doubt.

LatinArt:  Your work reflects a marked criticism of consumerism. How do you manage to have criticism be art which, in turn, will also be consumed?

Martí­n Sastre:  Tom Morton -editor of the English magazine Frieze- once wrote something about my work which answers your question perfectly, maybe he asked himself the same thing. Here is his text: "The artist, as subject to an empire and a system, is able to disarm competition and keep the change. The last and fatal irony in Sastre’s project is that global capitalism (a system on which the art world depends and of which, up to now, only false and ineffective criticism had been made), is exactly what validates and nourishes this with addictive poetry. This is a Faustian pact, that is for sure, but a pact in which, for once, Mephistopheles is not going to have the upper hand."

The truth is that I look at everything quite can say I’m a very "analytical" person. I like to check the information I receive and even to link together events that at first may seem arbitrary and unconnected. Just yesterday a friend said to me, " there anything you "really" like as a whole? And yes, there is, but it can always seem not so because I never believe everything "completely". I always take another look at things because I see pitfalls in reality. I suppose it is for this reason that I used to make my sister think that Jesus Christ spoke to her when we were little, or at birthday parties I spent my time watching how the magicians hid things up their sleeves. I don’t know...because of my doubts I prefer to be Uruguayan but vegetarian, I don’t drink mate tea and above all I am not a fan of any football team. I like to re-interpret everything around me...that’s why I believe in the Chinese Horoscope.

LatinArt:  What is or was the Sexy Movement and what did it represent in your life and your work at that time?

Martí­n Sastre:  The Sexy Movement was, above all, a wonderful period of time. It came about simply out of a need to get together, as artists, and work, since at that time no forum existed in Uruguay that was aligned with our idea of what art and artistic or cultural activity should be. It is a stage in my life I will always remember with great affection, since you ask what it meant in my life. Because it signified, more than anything working with friends - not just with colleagues - friends that are to this day still bound by very strong ties - even those of kinship. For that reason I don’t think the Sexy Movement will ever cease to exist, and because of that its "promised return" will always be latent, like in the Alien movies. To work as a team is always a fundamental training, and something I have observed is that in other countries, in Spain for example, it is very unusual because the basic need to do so does not exist. Throughout history there has existed an image of the artist as an individual, which appeals to the ego because the artist is regarded as a creative force. The Sexy Movement taught me to understand other viewpoints and to be more try and understand shared points of view instead of seeing the differences in each artist.

LatinArt:  At 28 years of age you have already participated in three important international biennials (Havana, Prague, Sao Paulo). Without doubt this is a very important recognition of your artistic career. Are you aware of this privilege?

Martí­n Sastre:  Yes, absolutely. However, I don’t believe I am as aware as others. It’s like when you are small and people say to you, "How big you are!" Even though you know you are bigger you aren’t completely aware of your growth. I have experienced everything in a very natural way as part of a logical and normal process. However, when Angel Kálemberg -curator of the Uruguayan pavilion at Sí£o Paulo - told me that I was the youngest representative sent by Uruguay to any biennial, I felt a great responsibility - not only because I am representing my country, but primarily for an entire generation which is beginning to articulate the future of our country. Secondly, I am conscious that I am not only the youngest artist from Uruguay, but I was among the youngest at the entire biennial. It’s something that takes other artists years and decades of work. I always use the same example - but, as Mirtha Legrand says, "The public is always new." I always knew from the time I was a child that I wanted to be a world-renowned artist, and when one respects one’s childhood goals one always achieves them. Like the blind skater from "Ice Castles", one tends to give one’s best, but without realizing it.

LatinArt:  How long have you lived in Spain? What led you to move there?

Martí­n Sastre:  I have lived in Spain for two and a half years, although I always return to Montevideo every four or five months. Specifically, I came to Madrid through a scholarship from the Spanish government, from the Carolina Foundation, which the King himself, Juan Carlos II, presides over. There I found myself in the right place at the right time and in a very natural way I remain there, and Madrid has become my second home. Let’s say that Montevideo is the city where I was born and grew up and Madrid is the city I chose to develop myself in, not only as a professional, but also as a person. I don’t want this to sound negative, but I always knew that if I stayed in Montevideo my whole life it would be like not abandoning your village because of the security one gets from belonging to it. Like living in your parents’ home all your life. That is why I always recommend to people from my country to travel, however possible - so that they can discover other realities. We live in a very self-centered society that believes that everything happens here, when exactly the opposite is true. We have to remember that our society was formed by foreigners and that is our greatest wealth and diversity. Not to maintain this and end up being a town like "Twin Peaks" on TV would be the end of our culture. Because above all, more than football, more than the beaches of our coastline or the grilled steaks, the activity which has always made the Uruguayans--and any society that values itself--stand out, was and will always be its artistic production. Even in times such as these, when it is preferred to minimize its importance and not see what is happening.

LatinArt:  Do you see better opportunities for development as an artist in Europe? It seems obvious. What is your life there like?

Martí­n Sastre:  In a video I made a number of years ago I used a phrase, "Art is a Western invention", and that is an absolute truth. "Pre-Columbian" Art, for instance, is studied by anthropologists, not by art historians. Everything connected with art - western and contemporary - has as a common axis, the symbolic and cultural production of Europe. To be successful in Europe is vital for the development of my career, or that of any other artist. That is what has made me one of the most widely recognized artists of my generation at an international level. I don’t think this would have occurred if I had developed my career in Uruguay, Brazil or Nicaragua, because the channels of communication, both now and for several centuries, happen on the other side of the world. But also, living in Europe is a fundamental experience, because people from all over the world come to live there, making life there a rich in experiences.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity offered to me by Europe is that presently, I can live purely and exclusively from my work, which is a basic right of any artist. Although in our country, unfortunately, the belief still persists - even among young people - that artists must live from other sources of income and that the plastic arts are not a valid type of work. I mean, don’t we live in a capitalist society? Not attributing commercial value to plastic activities is to undervalue them in the BROADEST sense of the word. That is something I have never been able to understand, or accept. It is more than just immoral to me, but acts as a barrier to overcome. Now that its done, it is distant, but at the time it took a great deal of work and effort, such as for example, having to acclimate myself to another continent and to another medium.

LatinArt:  What artistic currents interest you the most? Which artists have impressed you most at this Sí£o Paulo Biennial?

Martí­n Sastre:  The same thing always happens to me... What most impresses me is the "Off Biennial". In Sí£o Paulo I discovered some incredible electro-clubs that are more modern than those I know in Europe. Life in a megalopolis like this seems impossible, however I am amazed at the tranquility of the people, the human rhythm of things and the daily relationships. The same thing happened to me with the artists taking part in the biennial, the best things were the parties, the encounters where the true meetings of biennials take place. I don’t like to talk of works, rather of artists, and in this sense the one I found the most points in common with was Miguel Calderón, of Mexico, who made a video piece consisting of a soccer game between a Mexican and a Brazilian team, in which Mexico won 17 - 0, really very entertaining. I also had a great time with Fernando Sánchez Castillo, representing Spain, who is also a good friend and who also presented a video. However, the artist who most impressed me in Sí£o Paulo was not at the biennial, but on television: Xuxa, who currently has a very surreal program, a clown circus...

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