Artists Art Issues Exhibitions About Us Search

featured artist
Fernando Bryce

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Oct 01, 2005
Location: Peru
Topic: Interview with Fernando Bryce
Interviewer: Viviana Usubiaga

LatinArt:  Would you say that the greatest contemporary informant of your work is the political scene?

Fernando Bryce:  On the one hand, yes. Though not exclusively political, but that these political aspects are married to cultural manifestations and economic production, which are other factors I take into account. I am interested in images that show the construction of a country in official terms. In the end, what appeals to me is the question of representation. I take images from magazines, flyers, posters, logos, newspapers, pamphlets, travel brochures, official communiqués--an endless supply of primary materials. I believe that the contemporary slant is found, perhaps, in the friction between the cultural and the political. Also in the establishment of the criterion that all the primary materials are documents, and like such cultural facts inscribed already in the order of the archive. My research is a kind of exhumation, an archaeology of texts and images that, ultimately, are ideological representations. The point is to give them a "second existence", if you will, by way of drawing, as an image to meditate upon; as a reflection. As I mentioned to you, there exists a cultural perspective regarding the political, and a political perspective concerning things cultural.

LatinArt:  In this case, the technique also gives you a pretext.

Fernando Bryce:  Yes, of course. The technique, the function of drawing as a tool that always tends towards the abstract, no? I believe that this and the sign are very similar. The drawing, the black and white, homogenizes the images and prompts comparison, as if everything was to be judged by the same standard. Drawing allows me to depart from the originals, to take them out of context and convert them into other things, in this case within drawings.

LatinArt:  How do you go about the selection process? You must have looked at thousands of images.

Fernando Bryce:  Well, it takes on a life of its own. For these 544 drawings that make up the Atlas Peru, I began the selection process in 1999 and finished in 2001. You can imagine how many images I must have seen. Now, there exist distinct criteria that define the working process. The perspective is predetermined by a search for emblematic images, by an idea that one has regarding a history. One comes with a pre-existing reading of the history although, in the physical moment of contact with the documents, the sensitive relationship with them may result in the modification of the selection criteria. For example, the publicity surrounding the emerging field of aviation in the 1930s linked to the indigenous-colonial discourse, as an image is fascinating. Or image-landmarks: the inauguration of the Residencial San Felipe in the 1960s that was linked to the urban development of the period and to a certain ephemeral golden age of the middle class. Other images I envisage or rescue as a counterpoint to the visual discourse that is developing, whether it's because I find it amusing to place something here beside this other image, or because I consider the contrast of images and their association to be relevant. I also occasionally introduce an image for purely personal reasons. I give everything its place but I try not to lose sight of a certain objectivity. Finally, the images of the "Atlas Peru" are images from the discourses of power that create a national mindset that is forever in discrepancy with the real development of things and correspond to them only from the standpoint of propaganda. This is what seems relevant to me since, in its rough state, all this material and all these fantasies that they talk about have an almost "natural' existence. What interests me is establishing a difference between them and eventually engendering reflection, which, in this case, is articulated via the perspective and the drawing as a copy. I have named the reordering of all this the method of mimetic analysis.

LatinArt:  To what degree is urban history a determinant factor?

Fernando Bryce:  What determines the sense of the work is the conscious act of working with the official discourses. It's not that I am more attracted by the urban than the rural. I'm interested in what these images signify as representations. Don't forget that the official images are emitted from a source that is, in this case, the city. Without a city there is no political order. The images of the "applied anthropology" experiments carried out by Cornell University (USA) in the Andean community of Vicos interested me as an anthropological and political project, not because it was situated in the countryside. True, it was a rural anthropological project, but what appealed to me was its modern-colonial ideology, which highlighted the post-war era of the 1950s and to which the images of the International Petroleum Company constantly make reference. All these things make up this history, as seen from a political standpoint. In the seventies, the dictatorship of General Velasco and his discourse of reformist propaganda were like the reverse of the other, but always in the same authoritarian logic. There are also disruptive moments in this history that are marked by discontinuity. For example, the great national strike of '77 I have represented with only one image.

LatinArt:  How do you view history that is closer to our own times?

Fernando Bryce:  Well, my interest in this is different. I feel more involved in the images from the eighties. Above all, from the nineties onward, I take an interest in the history of the political goings on in a more certain, a more specific manner. Perhaps, for a question of contemporaneousness also, because they are periods one has lived through, and, in fact, there is a very different perspective and identification with regard to things the closer they get to the present day. Nevertheless, yes, from the eighties to 2001, I have been interested in how all this politico-economic propaganda apparatus operated, and in the analysis of the institutions as a counterpoint that seemed to me to be fitting.

LatinArt:  And along general lines...

Fernando Bryce:  Along general lines, I must say that the Atlas Peru project, which covers the 1930s through 2001, has been determined by the material that I found in libraries according to the distinct periods. In the process of working, I began to incorporate images of a distinct nature that came together as "rubrics" that appeared constantly. Just as an illustrated magazine is constructed, shall we say. Then I also tried to rescue aesthetics of fashion, design, architecture, etc. The ads used for promoting the wireless telegraph or the first electric kitchens from the 30s are repeated, in a certain sense, in the ads for the first video cameras in the 70s, or the fax or the first cell phones in the late eighties and early nineties. The same goes for the innumerable development and assistance projects throughout the decades. Lastly, part of the intention has been to show this as being one case more, but with a particular history that is the history of a country imagined situated in a global context in a subordinate position. And, as I said, this particular history is marked by discontinuity. In that sense, for example in the seventies, the work of exhumation has a more spectral character. There, I have rescued the images of the culmination of the national industry that later was mercilessly dismantled by the new global economic policies. The number of firms, brands and businesses that no longer exist and that, in their moment, helped to create the illusion of a type of modern nation-state is impressive. Sure, all of this has its correlation also in the images that speak to us of social development and of its permanent crisis. The images of Vicos are, in the end, the same as those of the poor "assisted" by the dictator, Fujimori, alongside the spectacular figures for exports in the primary sector, that, for certain until now, haven't really benefited the legitimate owners of these resources, who are obviously the citizens of the country. When they talk about a dignified citizenry and of democracy, these things must be always understood, in my opinion, in terms of power.

LatinArt:  What is it, would you say, that distinguishes your perspective throughout the visual discourse?

Fernando Bryce:  The Atlas Peru begins with images that are far from official and that correspond to those disruptive moments that we spoke about. It begins with images of the Aprista party rebellion of Trujillo in the thirties and the brutal repression of what was a fledgling attempt to overthrow the oligarchic and anti-democratic order in Peru. Similarly, it ends with the images of the toppling of the Fujimori-Montesinos dictatorship in 2001. Finally, there are always images that recur throughout this history, suddenly there are new situations that have to do with mediating power as a cultural factor, the mediation of policy and the inclusion of our countries into a remodeled global power system. This restructuring took place during the nineties and all of this is included as an image in the Atlas Peru. It wouldn't have made sense not to look beyond a strictly local history, formally limiting it to governmental epochs and, as such, parodying the lamentable tradition of school textbooks that generally present us with an acritical history regarding the traditions, the culture and the complex and violent historic formation of the nation-state that, for the rest in Peru, is just an illusory facade as far as its solidity and coherence is concerned. This work took me two years to complete, from research to production. For me, it has been like going back in time by way of a process of rewriting, if you will. More or less, as the confirmation of a failure appropriately designed and constructed on a base of images and words. Finally, with the publication of the book Atlas Peru, that reproduces all of the drawings of a series of the same name, I feel that a cycle of my work has come to a close.

LatinArt:  What relationship does the "Atlas" have with the "Hawaii Museum"? Can you explain the function of this museum for us?

Fernando Bryce:  The Hawaii Museum is more than a real or a virtual museum; more than an idea of a framework or space where work and reflection are registered. It's the idea of reuniting that which has always been seen as separate, while, in reality, has forever been connected and interdependent. It's the idea of approaching the world of cultural representation and production and its objects as one who proposes to rebuild an engine, paint a still life and with the disposition of one who is about to tell a joke. The artistic practice is that which differentiates the Hawaii Museum from the museum of cultural representation. In any event, there exists a strategy of reverting the exotic or genre-driving perspectives toward that which involves all of us. The inventory must be restored from an historic perspective, although starting out with present necessities; with the certainty of not aspiring to new canons, only different interchanges, both symbolic and real.

The reasons why, in the Lima of the eighties, the unknown director of an itinerant museum of curios gave the name of Hawaii Museum to his precarious institution, where he exhibited the remains of didactic material from the Peruvian Police's investigations from the school of criminology, including wax portraits of famous dictators and wax representations of sexual organs afflicted with venereal diseases, remains a significant mystery today. The evocation of the paradise of the colonial perspective associated with this unusual hodge-podge of objects intrigued me. Only later, with Rodrigo Quijano, did I resurrect the idea of the Hawaii Museum, almost as a defining moment. Parodying the Maoism of that era, and by extension, there modestly arose the idea of Hawaiian Thought as a thinking guide to the construction of the Hawaii Museum. Later, I discovered that, in the Quechua tongue, the word "hawaii" alluded to perspective and vision.

back to artists