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Carla Zaccagnini

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Oct 01, 2007
Location: Argentina
Topic: Interview with Carla Zaccagnini
Interviewer: Teresa Riccardi

LatinArt:  You have recently been involved in residency projects in cities such as Antwerp (AIR, April-July 2006), Havana (Batiscafo, November-December 2005, and Helsinki (HIAP, September-October 2005). Could you describe some of them briefly?

Carla Zaccagnini:  What struck me most in Helsinki was the language, which wasn’t like anything I could recognize. There I started a series of photographs called Del latí­n [From Latin] (2005 - to date) that shows words of Latin origin found in cities where languages of other origins are spoken. Most are words that indicate a vision of "Latinness" generally conjuring idealized tropical paradises and hedonistic behavior, but there are also words that have been introduced into those languages that make us think of the historical context in which those concepts became necessary to those cultures. And there are Latin words that appear by chance, like a chain of Scandinavian supermarkets called tempo (time in Portuguese), or someone who signed their name Aura at a collective transport stop. The other work I did in Helsinki, A-ç (2005-07), is a video recording of a conversation between a Finnish dancer who does not speak Spanish and a Uruguayan who does not speak Finnish, each speaking in her native language. An Argentinean/Finnish radio announcer translates into just one language. It was done in two parts: in one Sonia translates what Ayara says from Spanish to Finnish and Rijna answers that translation, to which Ayara responds on the basis of what she can guess from the sound, without understanding the meaning of what she hears. In the other part, Sonia translates what Rijna says, Ayara answers trying to follow the conversation and Rijna responds to what she hears without understanding.

My experience in Havana is hard to summarize in one paragraph, but I can say that a touch of claustrophobia was among the many things I thought and felt during the first few weeks I was there. Perhaps that was why, when I went out on the balcony of the first apartment with a balcony that I entered and felt the wind and saw the city from that angle, I told Nico (Nicolás Robbio) who was with me: "It’s incredible how a balcony changes everything, "faz toda a diferení§a!" [It makes all the difference!]. The work I did in the city stems from that observation. It’s a series of photographs of houses that were built the same and that were then transformed through the years, adapting to the tastes, needs and possibilities of their inhabitants. The common structure can still be seen, as can the odd detail behind or to the side of the remodelling that made them different. It’s called Bifurcaí§íµes e encruzilhadas: sobre la igualdad y las diferencias: casas gemelas [Junctions and intersections: on sameness and differences: twin houses] (2005).

The project I did in Belgium also forms part of the Bifurcaí§íµes e encruzilhadas series, which has to do with my obsession of the past few years: things that are made to be the same and end up being different (junctions) and things that in principle are different but come together in some way (intersections). The Belgian version is called Bifurcaí§íµes e encruzilhadas: sobre la igualdad y las diferencias II: a casa ao lado [Junctions and intersections: on sameness and differences II: the house next door] (2006), and I did it for an exhibition called Cité Action, which took place in different venues in Assenede, a town in Flanders.

All the houses in one little street there were being bought up by the municipality; they would purchase one or two a year and kept them closed. It was really strange to see the amount of things left intact, as though frozen in time, which was in those uninhabited homes. The atmosphere was like that of a crime scene, where nothing can be touched, or a feeling of having had to leave in a hurry, as if due to a war or the imminent eruption of a volcano. There was something that reminded me of Pompeii. This work, Sobre la igualdad y las diferencias II, was done in collaboration with two archaeologists: I asked them to do some digging in two o

LatinArt:  And your experience in Stockholm at the IASPIS from June to September 2007?

Carla Zaccagnini:  I couldn’t sleep because of the light-filled nights, and that made me think of how one’s perception always depends on one’s point of view. I believe this reflection was triggered by a comment the pilot made as we crossed the ocean, who jokingly said: "Passengers seated on the left side of the plane can see an amazing sunset through their windows and, so they won’t get jealous, those on the right can now see a beautiful full moon rising". OK, it wasn’t exactly like that, but along those lines. And it was really incredible. It occurred to me that I had to go north, farther north, to film the midnight sun at 360 degrees.

I looked for and found a second-hand record player. And a triple album in which Jan Johanson interprets his selection of music of the past four centuries. I later found the right spot: Mount Nuolja in Abisko, a national park in Swedish Lapland, north of the Artic circle. I took the subway to the central train station, a train to the airport, a plane to Kiruna, a bus to Abisko, and a cable chair to the top of Nuolja. I then walked to a strategic point. I connected the turntable to the transformer and the transformer to a car battery. I put the first record on and the camera on an upside-down glass on the round disc label. I pressed "play" and "rec" and waited, hidden from the camera and the wind behind some rocks, changing the cassettes and flipping over the records as needed. I watched the midnight sun floating a straight line on a range of mountains behind the lake, as I listened to that music,
so precisely dislocated, continuously interrupted by the marked rhythm of the wind. The video lasts 68 minutes and is called "E pur si muove" (2007), the same phrase Galileo uttered after signing the document in which he denied being in agreement with Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, to save himself from being burned at the stake: "And yet it moves".

LatinArt:  You poignantly describe the distress you feel at being displaced and the permanent (dis)location implied by travelling in your work. Could you say that it is a self-styled, current means of creation to reflect on the relations that link topics such as cities, life, chance events and language in contemporary art practices?

Carla Zaccagnini:  Fortuitous events and language are subjects that have always interested; displacement brings that into focus. Perhaps that is why I found residences to be a plausible field of endeavour. In the same way that translation puts language in evidence, a look at an unknown place puts into evidence things that could remain unnoticed in our hometown and our routine. At those peak moments, chance - which always depends on our perception- finds more space in which to move.

Moreover, we must not forget that residences are a means of creating that coincide with the demands of cultural and diplomatic international agencies. A means of producing that tends to lead to representations that are not very corrosive, not very discomforting, of the places that one visits for just a few months; representations that are destined to appear in specialized magazines and exhibitions, thus adding to the visual imaginary of those cities and countries. There is certainly a potential in those immediate responses, but there are also many limits. And I believe it is important to interpolate those moments of transit, of movement, with moments of reflection and analysis. To think about how different pieces fit together, how works interrelate, what approaches remain the same, what is the line that links them. In the final analysis, what is it that we are seeing and saying, and helping to build or deconstruct.

LatinArt:  And what can you tell us about your participation in two upcoming exhibitions in Buenos Aires this year? I’m referring to Vida Pública [Public Life], curated by Karina Granieri and Del arte no politico a la metáfora de los huevos del tero [From non-political art to the metaphor of the eggs of the South American lapwing], curated by Esteban Alvarez at the CCEBA?

Carla Zaccagnini:  Above all, that connection with Buenos Aires is very important to me. Although all my training as an artist has taken place in Brazil, where I’ve lived since I was eight, I think there is something in my work that has to do with Argentinean literature. And with a capacity for synthesis that I think I see in Argentinean art, although I’m not sure if this is one of those generalizations that it is better to avoid. At the CCEBA I showed the video I made in Finland, A-ç. It was screened without subtitles, which placed visitors to the exhibition in a similar position to the two dancers engaged in dialogue, without knowing the full content of the conversation, half understanding only.

In Vida Pública I exhibited a work called Jogo transparente [Transparent Game] (2006-7), which is a poker card game printed on silkscreen on glass vinyl, or transparent plastic. It is a very subtle but very direct way of changing an object with a well-known form and function. Games are social situations in which the rules are clear and have to be followed for the game to work. Making the cards transparent means the same games can be played with the same rules, but they rule out the possibility of bluffing and lying. I like playing like that. And I’m interested in putting it forward as a generalized possibility. Somebody saw me with these cards once and asked me if they worked in foretelling the future. I prefer to think that that they can work in writing it.

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