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interview transcript

Date of Interview: Apr 15, 2008
Location: Mexico
Topic: Interview with Laboratorio Curatorial 060
Interviewer: Gabriela A. Piñero

LatinArt:  In the presentation of Frontera [Border] you refer to yourselves as a collective interested in "questioning the ideas that define and are contained in contemporary curatorial practice", can you tell us more? Are there any references you’d like to discuss or bring up?

LC060:  Javier Toscano: We’re attracted to the idea of curating as a medium, just another medium. We’re not interested in curatorship as a hierarchy, a position taken by an individual engaging in a dialogue with creators, in some sort of dyadic structure, but rather in finding collaborators with whom to generate ideas. Sometimes the projects end up without artists, it’s just us doing things with people or in a given context, and sometimes we do find the possibility of making an idea develop and doing something more complex.
Daniela Wolf: We’re not interested in the classic figure of the curator... who chooses and brings together art works and artists and presents them, but in actually working in collaboration. Sometimes we play the role of curators; sometimes we’re more the artists.
Lourdes Morales: We’re against specialization or the functionalization of fields of specialization. We like to place ourselves - if possible- in ambiguity. We don’t believe in that "white space" that neutralizes intentions or in the cleanliness, on the contrary, we always view it as a political space. But it’s something we’re always playing with as a reference; we always have a dialogue with it. And it’s because of that dialogue that we prefer to go out into the streets, a space that’s already there, with some or a lot of contamination, full of politics, economics, society, where different social groups interplay. We prefer to play with ambiguities or the momentary spaces that cities create, and from there raise questions on the non-specialization of curatorship. When we did Tráfico we called it "a curatorial action" and it was one of the approaches that led us in a direction we wanted to take. A "curatorial action" as such does not exist. It was something that we were trying to raise awareness about, given the contamination between curatorial practice and the practice of art.

LatinArt:  On reviewing your projects one can see a progressive overflowing, a progressive distancing from the traditional role of a curator. And in your last project (Radio Killed the Video Star, CUE Art Foundation) in New York your presented yourselves as an "artists’ collective" and changed your name to Laboratorio 060.

LC060:  LM: We’re playing around with that. It was the first time - in public terms and as an impression - that we said "We don’t want the curatorial part to figure in". It was the radicalization of the role of curator, which is supposed to be a bridge between the artistic concept and its explanation to the public.
JT: There they let us play as artists, and they invited us as artists. But we returned to including a sampling of the curatorial role by inviting composers and musicians to air their work on the radio. And there we were mediators again: ambiguity but on the side of the artist.

LatinArt:  What did this New York project consist of and under what terms was it carried out?

LC060:  DW: We exhibited at the CUE Art Foundation. They invited Pablo Helguera and he invited us, arguing that we worked right on the line between art and curatorial work. We presented documentation of three projects we had done: Tráfico, Se busca Venus [Venus wanted] and Frontera [Border]. In the piece we did specifically for New York, Radio Killed the Video Star we played with the idea of ourselves playing the role of curator-artist. We issued an invitation to submit a music composition, in any genre and language, but that could be interpreted by the three of us, who have no experience in music. The only promise we made was that it would be broadcast on the radio in New York.
LM: We played around a lot with that idea of showing up and making a lot of noise, but also with the idea that there would be an inevitable dissolution of anything we did, as it would end up blending with the 40 000 openings that take place every night. Playing with the idea of radio also meant inserting a little noise, to engage in a mini-interference in the public space that is the radio spectrum... It was more of a gesture, something minimal and momentary.

LatinArt:  Can you elaborate on the idea of non-definition that you consider as your starting point?

LC060:  DW:It’s about presenting ourselves as open bodies.
JT: That provides the possibility of coming up with other kinds of practices that can be critical at some point. Playing with the expectations of those who invited us has also worked for us.
DW: We’re not reactive in the sense that we go after oppositional positions or against the expectations of whoever invited us. But I think it has happened sometimes, without our doing so deliberately.
JT: When we were invited to take part in the electronic-art festival Transitio MX 02 last year, they expected something of us and yet, we weren’t part of the electronic-art circuit. Rather, we were trying to investigate the scope of those practices, trying to engage in a dialogue with that, taking it out of place whenever possible. We made use of other practices that had nothing to do with electronic art. For most people that ran against grain. For us it means playing games with these public spaces, exhibition spaces.
DW: We don’t want to be pigeonholed, so by extension, we don’t want to pigeonhole art into, for example, "electronic art". We want to be free of that system.
LM: For instance, we invited a neurotics-anonymous group to hold a session on the hub. The museum had to be closed to hold the session and maintain people’s anonymity. It was an intervention, a curatorial gesture. The authorities gave us their support, but when they realized they would have to close the museum, they tried to negotiate. And that was the point.

LatinArt:  Can you point out a particular line of interest that runs through your work?

LC060:  LM : Yes, there’s an interest that we’re investigating that we’re delving more deeply into with every project we do. Our aim is to generate theories and reflection around curatorial practice and the practice of art, but also concerning the possibilities that art holds for affecting society. We believe art has the capacity to make you think about certain things and also, even if it’s only for a few moments, to interrupt the flow of continuity, be it metropolitan or social.
JT: I would sum up our interest in terms of critical practices. Critical in the sense of an analysis of context and of what an art practice can do to achieve effects, even if only on the surface, in the system in which we're trying to do something. We've taken a lot of interest in certain practices that take place in other places, public spaces for example, in which art is not the predominant discourse because it comes into contact with other discourses where it is on the same or inferior footing. In public spaces you have to enter into negotiations. And we’ve found a certain pleasure in entering into dialogue with others, with entire communities in fact, with urban practices, etc.

LatinArt:  Could you explain the way you work and the way group dynamics work in different contexts?

LC060:  LM: Wherever you go you have to negotiate with somebody, who is not necessarily asking for that negotiation, or requesting a dialogue, or paying attention to you, or thinking about contemporary art. We have focused on seeing how we can establish dialogues, find things in common with someone we don’t know.
JT: We’ve taken an interest in investigating different work dynamics. We realized from the start that things started taking shape from the work dynamic. At first we used to invite more people because we thought it would be very easy to include other points of view. Lately we’ve found it works better to look for accomplices but not necessarily as members of 060, to engage in a dialogue with them somewhere and do something else...

LatinArt:  What were the basic notions behind the Frontera project and what issues did you want to bring up?

LC060:  LM: We started by asking what it would mean to take contemporary art out of its usual sphere. The idea was to take some of the structures of art out of that rather protected, normalized sphere, so as to test whether art could establish dialogues between people. The question was whether art could establish a topic of interest or a common topic between different individualities. We were very aware that what we could have theorized or imagined would be profoundly changed by whatever happened there and by the experience of dealing with an indigenous community, with all the social and economic implications it entailed.
Ever since Tráfico we had been talking about how the modern State has imposed itself overwhelmingly through nationalism and the urbanization of rural areas or autonomous indigenous areas. And the way this has been the imposition of a pseudo-utopia. Frontera Corozal and other villages were founded in the seventies: people lived in different parts of the jungle and all of a sudden, rather by force, they put everyone together to live in a more delimited place in order to be able to tap the jungle’s natural resources. It is this sort of utopia, based on the imposition of lifestyles and forms of production, of a kind of urbanization and models of progress that seeks to "train" the individual. A lot of questions were being raised around that.
DW: We had already discussed the center-periphery relationship on one occasion, and in Frontera Corozal we went to the periphery of the periphery... this discussion made no more sense there. What’s more, this is the only settlement on the border and when you look north you're looking at Guatemala, not the United States. It changes the whole north-south paradigm of power, economics, etc.
JT: It’s a complex set of issues. The idea was to raise questions rather than providing answers. There was also the idea of thinking in terms of science fiction: arriving there and sharing with people and negotiating with them. There were very utopian, very hopeful projects. Others were very critical of the project itself. All the time we were battling with this complexity: there were many aspects that may be very refined at a theoretical level, but when you’re there it’s right in your face. There certainly were arguments with all the artists, we were arguing about a whole pile of things every night.

LatinArt:  When one thinks of Frontera one is immediately reminded of inSite: works that are site-specific but "on the other side" (of the border). When you were planning Frontera did you have this form of exhibiting in mind?

LC060:  LM: It was a clear reference, although we didn’t delve deeply into it.
JT: We are very critical with inSite. We didn’t want to do another sort of biennial. Our research process lasted a year and a half. The process of activating the pieces was also very slow, it took two years. We made five trips to produce all the pieces. We became pretty much mediators. It’s a really inaccessible place; it takes seventeen hours to get there, and the actual business of getting to "the middle of nowhere" gave rise to another series of problems. We had a very limited budget and had to negotiate with the artists. But at the same time, since we didn’t have an opening date, the projects didn’t have to be ready on a specific date. Each piece arose out of its own needs and this made the process very organic.
LM: In inSite the degree of urbanization makes it all very scattered, you’re always constrained by institutional devices. Frontera made us all be a community beforehand, as there was no institutional space for us to hide behind.

LatinArt:  You talk of negotiation in terms of tension and conflict, and you speak of dialogue also. How did you make contact, present the project and negotiate with the Frontera Corozal community?

LC060:  JT: Not everything is a given in a negotiation. There are tensions. In that sense it’s a political practice, it’s a practice in which you arrive with something, you come to exchange, you want to share something, but there’s always friction in that sharing. You’re not going to accept what the other is offering right away, and the other person is not going to accept what you’re offering. For instance in Frontera, when you go beyond being a tourist who shows up, consumes and leaves, you touch that fabric which starts to create frictions. We can’t conceive a political practice in which the agent is fully identified or defined: that’s neutralizing political practice, establishing it in terms of a straightforward opposition.

LatinArt:  The idea is for those tensions not to be hidden away in the process, but to be evident in the end product, if there is such a thing.

LC060:  LM: We do hope to state the issues pretty clearly through the documentary and the book about Frontera, although we don’t have the material ready yet.

LatinArt:  Maybe the problem is in trying to put a lid on something that escapes from you and overflows on all sides.

LC060:  DW: But the idea isn’t to close it. For example, for the New York project [CUE Art Foundation] we invited someone to give Frontera another slant. We thought that since Chiapas has a significant oral tradition, we would invite someone who was not familiar with the project or a part of it to narrate Frontera on the basis of information we gave him (...) we’re very willing to go on with Frontera... or perhaps just let it escape.

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