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Olga Engelmann

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Jun 01, 2005
Location: Peru
Topic: Interview with Olga Engelmann
Interviewer: Viviana Usubiaga

LatinArt:  How did you come up with the idea of linking printmaking and fashion design? Is this the bridge between your clothing collection and the gallery?

Olga Engelmann :  Since 2000, my traditional technical printmaking work underwent a series of transformations. Questions arose regarding what I really wanted to communicate and the meaning behind my graphic work; to whom was it directed, of what use was it, and where was it situated. From that, I developed one of my first performances. As a result of initial questions such as, from which culture did I develop as an artist? I based myself then on the culture of consumerism. We all share the same feelings when buying, be it clothes or food or whatever. I thought then of creating a similar system of consumerism in art in order to integrate myself into the society to which I belonged. Instead of struggling against what I couldn’t change, to join it. This first presentation was titled Consume in Moderation (Have a Taste), inspired by outdoor advertising. This was performance and closed circuit video, installation, silk screening and construction of the first garments, which fulfilled their function to communicate my message, making use of collective memory, as terms such as spot were by then registered in the memory of the consumer.

LatinArt:  How do you define PLK, your clothing label?

Olga Engelmann :  PLK is a product that is 100% Peruvian, a fact that we use in our advertising in order to say that Peru rocks! It’s a pineapple, an apple, a cob of corn but from which country? It’s all of this, as well as being a line, several years in development, that springs from the idea that art and people should interact It’s a line that began at ground level, that is assembled by hand and that attempts to reevaluate the city’s jobs. It aims to show the distances between global consumerism and art consumerism that exist today, and uses concepts such as that of the one-of-a-kind garment. PLK wants art to become fashionable, such that it ceases to be something extra, or to stand on its own feet and be of some use to the society that surrounds it, to participate in the changes and to represent an example of struggle, made of cotton, with backstitching and a new appearance.

LatinArt:  Is the integration of disciplines the central theme of your work or is it, perhaps, the silk screening?

Olga Engelmann :  It starts out with creating a record in individual and collective memory. Silk screening, for me, was always a means to an end and not an end in itself. The label was created in order to make an imprint on the minds of the people. The central theme involves the technique of silk screening, not as a technique in itself but more to rescue the concept of printmaking: to register, to record. The theme with PLK (my clothing line) was to leave an impression in individual and collective memory, by way of a label; to leave an imprint in the memories and hearts of the people. The theme of FOLK is the video, where my function as videographer is to record the time in which I live. The objects and the final product would approach the artisanal by their reproduction in a series. Integrated art and work joined with other disciplines is similar to communal work.

LatinArt:  What was your trajectory from the creation of the PLK label to the Folk series of works?

Olga Engelmann :  Since that time and up until the present, my work has been that of leaving the label registered in the people’s memory with the Evaluation of the Useful (2004) and later with Folk: A Contemporary Vision (2005). The course, or the development if you prefer to call it that, was as follows: First, I create the strategies for belonging to the consumer society, then I question the function of the artist in society. To exhibit is to sell... then I create a label in order to fulfill my objectives from conceptual prints, passing on to digital and video recording where everything is make recordings... practically. Later, I compare myself to an artist with those informal jobs lacking a specific place in their society, and receiving little support. At first, I concentrate on the bricklayers, the stevedores, money changers, and I propose a job that allows me to be useful to my society and enables me to evaluate my work. Thus, in evaluating the work of others, I evaluate my own. In Visual Solutions to Social Problems I interviewed different groups and made them polo shirts so that they could identify themselves with the image that they wore: gas fitter (a person that repairs various types of pipes), laborer, electrician, etc.

LatinArt:  Is this where your concern with identity begins?

Olga Engelmann :  That’s where my search for identity began, by way of equality. Equality... I saw that it is difficult to broach the subject of identity in a country so complex and varied. I reduced my theme to the search for my own artistic identity, as the public had dubbed me a fashion designer without my being one. The difference being that art for me shouldn’t be merely a product of buying and selling, but should obviously do something for the country. Then I found that the pituco boys could use the same polo shirt as the bricklayer. I discovered Puno, Folklore capital, the celebration of work, the trades again. My commitment to society goes hand in hand with improving the place where I live, and to accept once and for all that there is no work due available to Lima’s over-population. Before, people celebrated jobs that provided them with an identity, today they celebrate an identity from the past and the new jobs that appear in Lima lack any kind of identity...

LatinArt:  And how did this concern for identity and social problems in Folk play out?

Olga Engelmann :  In this work I wanted to recognize some characteristics of the city of Lima and of one notable transformation, starting with its population and concluding where it almost seemed that everything had to redefine itself. Here then, I suggest strategies for interpreting this process in which primary personal initiatives are subject to certain activities of the past, with respect to work, consumerism and the media, thus changing the expectations of the present. Entering the province of Puno, I found myself esconced in a market-oriented society, which had replaced past routines with new activities and, perhaps, with new necessities as well. The real necessity is to work together, and take responsibility for, new ways of living together, from belonging to the social order to cultural expression.

What’s missing today is the possession of an identity in the present, however that may be reached by way of identification and celebration of jobs and valuing the usefulness of work. We have difficulty in identifying ourselves as a nation due to cultural, social and racial diversity and out of habit. This impedes what we are looking for but, by way of the jobs, our identification may be more direct.

LatinArt:  How is this group of jobs carried out in the Evaluation of the Useful and Visual Solutions to Social Problems connected at the same time as the carnival? How do you interpret folklore?

Olga Engelmann :  To me the group represents a reflection of the present situation. They are works viewed in the open air, where the racial theme is seen affected by the sun, reflected in the skin tones (race) creating an Andean-coastal race, and they are by now part of the folklore of Lima. Understanding folklore as something commonplace, inserted into the culture by its permanence, and seeking identity via equality. As an artist, I feel that I am an equal of these workers, since I have no place to work or be other than a gallery recognized by society. I’m resourceful and I invented the trade of clothing designer as a result of the need for survival, however, in spite of the fact that it’s not common knowledge, I focus my work on what is useful to society.

I created Masquerade Peru Red and White, Unifier of Nations, in which the central masquerade was designed by Olga Zaferson (red and white petticoat and ponchos) and my characters were "burlesque cucumbers" that interacted with the dance and the audience, confusing it in order to later be useful in reordering it.

The origins of many dances, from their movements, are based on jobs. Due to a lack of time, I was not able create these individual choreographies (the trade of bicycle-taxi originated in Juliaca and there is a monument to this job there: a sculpture of a bicycle-taxi and its operator). The idea was to bring these new functions to dance, to a festivity that is wrapped in an identity of the past and, in so doing, to create the present.

LatinArt:  Would you tell us about the Myth of the New Sun?

Olga Engelmann :  It is this: "They left their lands and fields to come to the capital in search of a new sun! As an urban god, his fame was such that only he could evaluate the people’s work. Those who wanted to know him had to work... And so, those who left their lands, animals and chickens very, very far behind them, didn’t they know what to do There in the capital, there was no land left, nor were there animals, nor houses where they could wait out the drought. Work? To get it? But how? It was thus that they created the false suns and false coins, and people began to cheat each other. However, there was a punishment for creating false suns and so they were condemned. Now they go wandering about the street corners looking to get a hold of the new sun anyway they can. Over time the crisis made them creative and, little by little, new jobs were created: dateros*, dollar changers, stevedores. In the year 2005, they saw five apparitions that brought with them a message: the error must be fixed at its origin. For this, they had to travel to the capital of folklore and together with the first manifestations of art, to celebrate work – bestower of identity and dignity, so that their jobs would be part of the past and, thus, a part of the present... Look for the artisans that today are called artists, the musicians, the creators of clothing. And it was thus that, heroically, these functions, previously undervalued, made the coin a uniting implement of the people...this is my friends...a new sun for everyone."

LatinArt:  What is your interpretation of the myth?

Olga Engelmann :  The creation of the myth is to suggest an example and to explain events that take place in our society according to very personal impressions, taking as a reference point three films from national television channels. The myth explains or highlights that we see the changes taking place in our society without paying too much attention to the reasons for things. We see poverty or disinterest and, as an artist, I believe that solutions exist but that we have to learn from past mistakes in order for the present to be good. I’m faced with a public accustomed to viewing art in an insufficient way, a fact that makes me disappointed in art. The myth then fulfills the function of providing an explanation for the appearance of new jobs, jobs that exist in the streets, outdoors as a product of necessity.

Dateros: People who, along a particular route, provide bus drivers with logistical information designed to improve their profitability, e.g., their proximity to the bus in front and its seat availability. The driver pays a few small coins for this service.

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