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Lacy Duarte

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Jun 22, 2005
Location: Uruguay
Topic: Interview with Lacy Duarte
Interviewer: Anamarí­a Forteza

LatinArt:  From Mataojo (1) to the Venice Biennial is a long journey, geographically speaking and otherwise. It is a major recognition of an artist’s work, a consecration. How do you view this period that you are now living? What images and life memories does it evoke?

Lacy Duarte:  For me, this trip to Venice was a surprise. In reality, if it weren’t for the fact that I already had work on hand, because I’ve been working for years, I would have turned it down. You can’t prepare for a Biennial in two or three months. I’d been producing work along the lines of the Biennial’s theme since at least 1990.

I began studying painting at 15, coming from the countryside with the Hungarian Jose Cziffery, who had a solid artistic background - he was a pupil of Matisse – although he wasn’t an academic due to his being an expressionist. I went through the same learning process as one would in any studio. Art was part of my life, it was all surging. I never imagined that I would get to Venice. I never even thought that they would notice me in Montevideo. I dedicated some years to teaching and, later, spent some time making tapestries as I was thrown out of the country during the dictatorship (2). In ’81, I returned to Montevideo and began working with paint. Many people gave me assistance and direction at that point.

LatinArt:  Was that the setting for the work entitled "Rituals, Myths, Mirrors and Lies"?

Lacy Duarte:  Prior to that I created an exhibition of mobiles with wires. They were like indirect enclosures. It was 1982 and we were in the middle of the dictatorship. One person who came to see the exhibition, a military official, said, "What drove you to hang all these things up?" In 1986, I had an exhibition of paintings. It was a painstaking process to reconnect with myself.

LatinArt:  You have had an artistic career that began in adolescence with a lot of activity, and then a quiet period outside the country, after which you returned to Uruguay in the ’80s. Is there a rupture between the first period of activity and that of the ’80s? What internal changes made you catalogue your work as difficult or neo-expressive?

Lacy Duarte:  I believe that that the idea of a difficult painting is due to the fact that, in reality, I never foresaw how it would be received abroad, only that it was my struggle with what I was doing. Earlier, in Salto, we did portraits, still life and everything that is done in a studio and a very well-known painter, Leopoldo Novoa, invited me to exhibit in Montevideo. After that I didn’t paint for a long time. I was teaching until I returned to making tapestry. But changes in my personal life were manifested in my painting when my husband died and I moved to Montevideo. I was always looking at paintings by artists who had come from the same school as I had. Expressionists like Süskind, De Kooning, Bacon. When I traveled and saw De Kooning’s originals firsthand, that I had admired until then only in books, I still liked them but I came to understand that their world was not my world. That trip to Europe and the United States changed me, but moreover, it fundamentally changed my therapeutic process. It was the period of "Rituals, Myths, Mirrors and Lies". At that time, when I returned to Montevideo, I felt very much an outsider, displaced. In the interior, I was a life-long political militant and when the dictatorship began there I found a lot of my companions to be so conservative that I said, how are you going to change the world with those square heads? In therapy I reevaluated my relationship with my mother; I reevaluated myself as a woman. It was a whole process.

LatinArt:  In the ’90s, you began to experiment with new techniques such as installations and objects, the theme of your childhood in the countryside, the rural woman.

Lacy Duarte:  I left my home in the country at 15. I always felt that my mother never forgave me, and I felt that there remained something unsettled in that regard. In therapy I rediscovered my mother and that she was also a creator. My work in the ’90s had me returning to my infancy and adolescence in the country and I began to recreate the objects that my mother had made, like our toys. With all the work she had to do she still made time for creativity. I don’t think she did it only for us. She worked with pieces of wood and made little horses, and dolls fashioned from bread, wood, rags, and clay. She mixed earth with the juice of tunas (fruit of the nopal cactus) and painted the house with it. It was a need to create, discovered when she was getting on in years.

So, I began to work with this theme and with the realities of the rural woman. And this work that I took to Venice had several strategic connections: the use of relief, the use of small loaves of bread that relate to my childhood, the covers, which are called traperas (3) that are made in the countryside out of old clothes.

I got hold of a trapera made by some old women and covered it with my own drawings and things and placed it on the stairs of the Uruguayan pavilion. In one interview I did there, they told me that when they saw it for the first time, it appeared to them as insufferable aggression. Afterwards I began to understand it because it was the poorest thing in the exhibition. I said that it isn’t poor art; it’s simply from the poor. That trapera creates an image confronting the opulence of the environment. There were people who couldn’t step on it and people who did step on it. In fact, that was what it was for; to be trodden on and destroyed. And in reality, are they not walking all over us? There, you really feel a xenophobia that can’t be real.

LatinArt:  What experience did you bring away from the Biennial? Did you see anything of particular interest that to your mind stood out?

Lacy Duarte:  I was happy with people’s receptivity. Now, if you ask me questions about what happened to me at the Biennial, I must confess that I didn’t get to see everything. The feeling is: who’s making something more novel, more original, newer, bigger? The theme of the Biennial was the experience of art. Art for me is a way of life, a way of alleviating life. I never worked in order to compete with anyone, or in order to exhibit in a given place. When I work, I am not thinking about what comes after but about what I’m doing and what it signifies to me.

For example, at the Biennial, there were a video and photos by a Japanese woman of impressive subtlety. They were of women’s clothes. They were of a subtlety that really struck you. Even though hers was a world so opposed to mine, it was just as moving. Later, there was a Belgian woman who had made a video piece. It was a space full of videos about everyday things and had all the cables and apparatus showing, everything out in the open. And opposite this, there was a blue space, about 8 x 8 x 8 (meters), without edges, empty. I don’t know what her intention was, but if art has anything it’s that the observer plays a part, and for me it suggested that feeling of emptiness that one sometimes feels in many things; of a world in crisis - that thing in which the human being participates less and less and the machine more and more.

LatinArt:  May it be said that your art is a protest against a society that denies its own realities?

Lacy Duarte:  I think that was the case when I used a lot of color. It’s not that you intend to make a protest, but I had a very involved reaction (to everything that constituted the political reality of the country). When I painted I felt a lot of anguish. When I make the dolls, the loaves, the traperas, I don’t feel the same anguish - it’s like a game. But I need to paint. I believe that more of the unconscious comes out in painting. I paint and I have no objective, although, logically, there is an intention. When I used a lot of color it was like I was shouting, and now it’s like I’m whispering.

In my last exhibition, called "Clean Hands", I made country shackles. Like the masses (of humanity) put in a shackle - because I believe that now, in this era that provides the greatest opportunities and means for communication, there is less communication between human beings. I made a sheep shackle and put a kind of fish tank at the end with the heads of dead sheep inside, and a photo of sheep going in and out of the shackle. The exhibition was called "Clean Hands" due to the fact that nobody can butcher an animal in the countryside without soiling their hands. In other words, each individual is responsible for their own actions. Nobody can do something and then later wash his or her hands of it (in a figurative sense). We all make mistakes, but each person is responsible for what they do. Who has clean hands?

I don’t know if what I do is a protest. It is my way of looking at the world and I try to do all of this for myself. I have no intention; it’s neither a message nor anything else. It’s what I’m able to do.

LatinArt:  How did it go over there as far as your work is concerned, aside from the anecdote about the trapera?

Lacy Duarte:  I was well accepted, but I don’t know what the verdict or criticism was. I’ve been told that the work is very powerful, introspective, and that that is a tendency found in today’s biennials. There are people who criticize the introspective, but truthfully, I now get more satisfaction out of reading a book than viewing a piece because it is so cold. The human being is so on the outside.

LatinArt:  There are several young artists In Uruguay that are currently being talked about, while in some ways there are other artists, those noted for maintaining a leftwing political stance, that are being ignored.

Lacy Duarte:  Young artists must be supported in all areas. But don’t just place value on just being young. I believe that there is a learning process. In reality, young people today break new ground better than we do. Today, if you’re not seen you don’t exist. The older ones have to get with the times, show their work. We can’t isolate ourselves. I can’t complain though, because each time I’ve shown my things I’ve received sufficient recognition such that, as you see, I’ve now been selected for the Venice Biennial. And I managed to go due to a great collective effort because without that we wouldn’t have arrived.

However, I believe that in this country nobody cares about culture. I am absolutely honest about that. There are people going hungry and that should be considered first, and I have fought all my life for that. But in general, no country can prosper if it ignores culture. You don’t effect change by ignoring culture, education, and the arts.

In other countries, the market opens the way for the artist, the galleries. One gallery I believe spent a minimum of a million dollars to bring a certain Brazilian artist to the Biennial. But that’s another story, even with the inequalities existing in that country.

Uruguay is the Switzerland of South America in terms of culture. Great intellectuals and great painters come out of there, in spite of having no support. But some of our painters, like Barcela, had to leave the country yet in Spain he was the golden boy of intellectualism. Barcela didn’t have support in Uruguay because there is nobody who is interested in sponsoring a Barcela, an Esposito, a De Simone, a great artist of ours. Everything about the art market is very perverse. This country is a very strange case even though it continues to produce important people. In literature there are extremely valuable people who struggle to make it day by day. I also don’t believe that money ensures that one will become an artist. I continue to paint because I live off a pension and am an absolute penny pincher. I don’t live from painting. I make an occasional sale to an American and with the profits I built myself a studio. In fact, I set him a price and he told me that he would pay more because my price just wasn’t credible. But the sales are occasional. Living from one’s work is difficult. They invited me to Germany to the Kleinpastik FellBach Triennial (2002) - a meeting of critics and invited artists. The catalogue is impressive and I am with the century’s most important people. But here you could exhibit to God Himself and nobody would care. I won the Figari Prize (Uruguay 2002) and do you suppose anyone came to buy a picture? No.

I don’t have a gallery in Montevideo. No gallery is interested in my work because it’s difficult; because it doesn’t create a following. I sell from home. In Venice, several Germans gave me their cards because they were interested in my work after the Biennial, but there’s no interest here.

1. Rural area in the Salto Province, located in northern Uruguay.
2. Military government 1973 – 1984.
3. Handmade blankets or bedspreads, made out of old clothes.

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