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Graciela Carnevale

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Aug 01, 2007
Location: Argentina
Topic: Interview with Graciela Carnevale about the Tucumán Arde archive
Interviewer: Ana Longoni

LatinArt:  How is it that you took part in Documenta 12?

Graciela Carnevale:  I was invited to take part with the Tucumán Arde [Tucumán Is Burning] archive and the "encierro" [confinement] piece.
My participation in Documenta 12 came about as a result of the curators' interest in Tucumán Arde from the moment they became acquainted with the archive through the Ex Argentina project (Ludwig Museum, Cologne, 2004) together with other works shown at that exhibition. Many of the artists taking part in Documenta had already formed part of the exhibitions that Roger Buergel and Ruth Noack organized and that traveled to different cities (Barcelona, Vienna, Miami, Rotterdam) based on a selection of works and artists featured in
Ex Argentina, to which they incorporated other artists.

LatinArt:  How was your relationship with the curators?

Graciela Carnevale:  In an exhibition called Again for Tomorrow organized in March 2006 by curatorial studies postgraduate students at the Royal College of Art in London, Roger and Ruth were invited to give a talk and they talked about Documenta. I was invited by Claudia Fontes, who had been asked to participate as a representative of the Trama archive on the Web, and who in turn asked me to share that space to present the archive. I went to listen to their talk; they were partly basing their Documenta strategy on Tucumán Arde as a paradigmatic model. When the talk ended we started chatting and they commented on their interest in my taking part in Documenta, which they had already hinted at on a previous occasion. From the time of that chat to my communication with Documenta contact was very sporadic, if not negligible or non-existent. It wasn't until the end of March 2007 (and montage began in mid-April) that I received an official invitation to show the archive and also do the "confinement" action that I had performed in Rosario as part of the Experimental Art Series in October 1968. In locking up the public invited to the opening, I did a violent action by making them prisoners and forcing them to find their own way out. I displayed a photograph at Documenta that shows a moment of the action and a text that went with the performance.

In Kassel my relationship with the curators was warm and direct. I was given the freedom to propose the montage of the archive materials in a designated space. There were a few discrepancies due to misunderstandings and differences of opinion that were later cleared up.

LatinArt:  How was the archive shown within the context of this exhibition?

Graciela Carnevale:  In Documenta the archive was displayed on the first floor of the Fridericianum, in a large room divided by panels where there were many artworks or records of works done in the 60s and 70s, most of them black-and-white photographs displayed together with more recent pieces using different media and languages.

The montage of the archive differed from the other records displayed in Documenta in that they were set up in a less orthodox way, by being pinned directly on the wall without following a strictly linear display. I viewed it as a large body of images and texts with no pretense of following a museum or aesthetic format, but rather as a sort of informal arrangement on a wall. I chose texts, photographs, newspaper articles, etc. that would provide clues with which to interpret not only the group's ideas and positions but also the context and that moment in history. I approached it not chronologically but in a fragmentary way, without a chronological order, in which each element was linked to others as an incentive to try to understand a complex whole where active participation was expected of the viewer.

LatinArt:  In what context did your contribution take place? What other pieces surrounded or were engaged with the montage of the archive?

Graciela Carnevale:  One of the guidelines of the exhibition used by the curators as a device was that artworks should relate to each another not only visually but in some cases through sound. The panels were placed in such a way that they did not form closed-off spaces, to preserve their continuity. This approach was used for a lot of works in other pavilions, since they were scattered in different spaces to form a relationship of closeness or dialogue between different authors.

The set of records documenting works or actions of the 60s and 70s is very interesting and I believe one of the most intense spaces in the entire Documenta. Thinking about how to display the archive in Documenta made me feel very vulnerable and gave rise to a slew of doubts. I did not want to include explanatory texts: instead I wanted the documents - texts and photographs alike -to contain enough information to provide an idea of how the group became more radical both aesthetically and politically.

I considered it important to avoid a bare, minimalist approach and opted instead for an emphasis on over-information similar to that used in the Tucumán Arde exhibitions both in Rosario and in Buenos Aires.

I decided the documents should be placed on the wall, with the loose leaf translations piled on a small table for the public. I was also interested in the possibility of engaging in a dialogue with them by inviting them relate the practices of the 60s to current conditions. These new contributions could form part of the archive and the montage could then grow and be redefined. Not being familiar with the context and behavior of the public in an event of this kind made me hesitate and I opted for a controlled form of participation that I believe was not effective.

Your comments and opinions and those of Brian Holmes, Marcelo Expósito, Claudia Fontes, Mauro Machado, Lorena Cardona, Luján Castellani and Matthijs de Bruyne - who also took part in the montage - were very important in making those decisions and helped me to think about the presentation of the archive in a context such as that of Documenta.

LatinArt:  Wasn't there a minimum of text needed in order to place these actions that were so distant geographically and chronologically into some sort of context?

Graciela Carnevale:  On the one hand, the curators stated that this kind of event does not lend itself to stopping and reading lengthy texts. On the other hand, they felt that the works should speak for themselves and that the public should view the exhibition as a direct aesthetic experience rather than through a manipulated version of the work.

That criterion is debatable because it undoubtedly emphasizes the material work, thus taking it out of the context of its time and the conditions under which it was produced. It can also be read as a criticism of the entire system of manipulation that has been established around the work, in which an elitist group (i.e. critics, curators, etc.) provides the lone opinion and presents the truth. This places the public in a position of being mere consumers of that imposed uncritical point of view. Rescuing or vindicating the role of a public, that acts as such, with a thoughtful, critical attitude would give it back its leading role and approach the aesthetic experience as a subjective process. I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud!

LatinArt:  What are your expectations regarding your involvement in Documenta?

Graciela Carnevale:  These records should enable a broader public to become aware of these experiences during the 60s, experiences that I think are still valid and contemporary, due to the issues they address and their openly critical attitude towards the system and its institutions. They call for a critical, reflective art practice working within their own circumstances and contexts.

I hope these presentations are useful for discussing and comparing different points of view, in contributing to the debate as to the meaning of art in our society, and in creating awareness of how the market structures ways of creating art and subjectivity. It would be interesting if this forum, which is the focus of many artists and intellectuals who work in the field of culture and a broad public, could serve as an opportunity for debate and a platform for a kind
of art that challenges itself in the search for new ways of changing society and imagining new ways of living. This is important even if this means doing away with a concept of art to which we are accustomed and adopting a practice that might not be recognized as being artistic based on the current institutional canons. This would create a new image of an artist that would have more to do with being a researcher, an activist, a creator, rather than the idea of an enlightened artist basking in a position of false, narcissistic prestige within closed loops of power.

LatinArt:  We could view this latest exhibition of the Tucumán Arde archive in the context of previous exhibitions like those you just mentioned (Ex Argentina and the exhibition in London). Could you tell us how and when you started being invited to international events? How do you perceive this recent international interest?

Graciela Carnevale:  I can't really remember when or how I began receiving requests to send material, but it was as recently as Ex Argentina that I've been invited to take part in international exhibitions and events. I had been receiving requests for documentary texts and photographic material of Tucumán Arde or the journey of the Rosario group from researchers and critics interested in the process of radicalizing or politicizing their practices. At first this continuous exchange and sending of material took place when technology was not as sophisticated as it is today.

If I had to make a list of the requests for information or materials off the top of my head (it will have to be done), I would mention Lucy Lippard (for her book "The dematerialization of the art object"), Jean Clay (of Robho magazine), Mari Carmen Ramí­rez and Jane Farver (for "Global Conceptualism"), you and Mariano Mestman (for your book "Del Di Tella a Tucumán Arde" (From Di Tella to Tucumán Arde), and Clare Bishop (for her book "Participation"). Apart from you, Guillermo Fantoni, Mari Carmen Ramí­rez, Justo Pastor Mellado, Alberto Giudici, Alice Creischer y Andreas Siekmann, Nancy Garí­n, Marí­a José Herrera (to make the video "Tucumán Arde"), Mariana Marchese, Marcelo Expósito, and postgraduate curatorial students of the Royal College of Art in London, among others, visited the archive.

Exhibitions in which materials were displayed began in 1984. There were also numerous times in which I, or other members of the group, was invited to talk about my experience in gatherings on avant-garde art, or in presentations of the "Del Di Tella a Tucumán Arde" book in relation to art and politics, or more recent activist practices.

LatinArt:  Within which distinct curatorial discourses did this recovery take place?

Graciela Carnevale:  By and large the events I mentioned arose out of approaches or projects that questioned or incorporated Tucumán Arde from different perspectives. They focused on certain aspects of the work and its effort to break away from and criticize the world of art and the political situation. Mari Carmen Ramí­rez included it as an important component of her vision of Latin American art. She saw it as a different production with its own ideas that were not dependent on the central countries, while also giving particular importance to Eduardo Favario's work. The Croatian curators of Collective Creativity placed emphasis on group production. Ex Argentina viewed it as a historical precursor of art as militant research, which is linked to the activist manifestations at the outset of 2000. In the exhibition Arte y Polí­tica en los 60 [Art and Politics in the 60s] promoted by Giudici, it was viewed as one of the most radical manifestations by a group of artists regarding the concepts of art/politics and art/life.

It is important to say that the first exhibitions just showed a few images of Tucumán Arde, whereas in the past few years the entire archive, the archive as such, has been displayed, which puts forward another viewpoint, another appraisal of these documents.

This also puts me in a different position, in that I'm no longer someone who simply provides material, but someone who is invited to present the archive. This gives rise to another set of issues and brings up the question of how to exhibit it, thus viewing the montage as a political act as well. My responsibility here is two-fold: one is the presentation of documents of works created collectively by artists of which I was one, and the other, which is closely linked to the first, focuses more on another kind of construction, this being the way the archive is constituted, the way it takes shape, materializes as a whole that is significant in and of itself.

LatinArt:  It could be thought that the transition from showing Tucumán Arde as an art work to showing the Tucumán Arde Archive has to do with tackling the difficulties and impossibilities that arise from reincorporating into a museum various experiences that had transcended and questioned it. Would you agree?

Graciela Carnevale:  I think so, but I also think that it has to do with an international shift towards the way archives are appraised and the preservation of documents as a means of reading or interpreting history in different ways.

I think Tucumán Arde is not suitable for museums, only the remaining documents are. Tucumán Arde was an action that was directly related to a context. It was not the exhibition but all its stages, and the displays shown at CGT [Confederación General del Trabajo - General Confederation of Labour] are linked to an institution and a context that cannot be recreated. In fact, even when people speak of presenting Tucumán Arde they were always referring to presenting the documentation of the different stages of that movement. By way of an anecdote, there were even people who asked for Tucumán Arde to be "exhibited" again. It is therefore the archive format that is appropriated by a museum. Here one would have to ask in what sense Tucumán Arde is being presented again and whether these experiences can be viewed as facilitating independent ways of thinking that question the generalizing, timeless criteria viewed as being apolitical by the institution itself.

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