Friday, April 24, 2009

Letter from San Juan

Dear friends:
I traveled to Puerto Rico for the opening of the
II Trienal Poli/gráfica de San Juan (I was part of the curatorial team of the first Trienal in 2004) as a gesture of support for a project similar to Philagrafika, and with the intention of reporting for this blog. The second incarnation of this important event was supposed to happen in 2007, but there were several problems regarding the funding, and this event, which was much-awaited by the local artistic community, finally happened after almost five years. There is a website with the curatorial statement and general information:

(some of the links to the works might not be active yet)

The artistic director of the
II Trienal was Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa, who chose to work with Jens Hoffmann, Director of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
in San Francisco, and Julieta González, who was recently appointed Associate Curator of Latin American Art at the Tate Modern in London. Pedrosa also included Puerto Rican artist and curator Beatriz Santiago as guest curator.

Pedrosa and his team chose to explore in depth one line of action among the many that the
Trienal opened up: that of artist’s editions and publications. Indeed, this Triennial consisted almost exclusively of printed matter, with the inclusion of a few sculptural pieces and a video. It read as a cleverly curated show, not exactly as a Biennial-type event (in the sense that it was housed in one relatively small space) and, in my opinion it was successful in that it managed to include many outstanding artists with strong works around a very specific subject.

Perhaps one of the most important features of the
Trienal is something that cannot be seen: the grants they awarded to established but struggling art magazines -which enabled them to carry on with their editing business- and the production money that they gave to twenty artists for the edition of specially commissioned artist books. The Trienal also commissioned posters from several artists/designers, which were mailed in advance to museums and curators all over to spread the word about the event and create a buzz. The Trienal published a magazine, titled Número Cero, which was guest-edited by artists and curators like María Inés Rodríguez, Jennifer Allora, and Guillermo Calzadilla with Charles Juhasz, Magalí Arriola, and Carla Zaccagnini, among others. This magazine was also mailed in advance, and served to create a critical context leading to the Trienal.

Gabrel Sierra´s reading room

All the publications, including the artist books, posters, magazines, and other ephemera were displayed in a reading room designed by Colombian artist and designer Gabriel Sierra, whose credits include the overall design of the Casa del Encuentro for the
Encuentro de Medellín MDE07 and the furniture for the 28th Sao Paulo Bienal. Sierra opted for a labyrinthine maze-like structure made with raw plywood, with nooks and alcoves where the viewer can sit and read in relative isolation. There are racks and shelves for the take-away publications as well as a small video room.

In addition to the publications, the curators put together five thematic shows, all but one of them dealing with different manifestations of printed matter: money, journals, books, archives, and flags. Some of the curated shows felt a little repetitive since the subject matter tended to give the shows (most of them comprising strong pieces by very interesting artists) a uniform look. Also, on some occasions, even though printed matter was the visual reference, the actual work was not a print but a drawing, as was the case with Mateo López’ bills, or Johanna Calle’s newspapers.

Some viewers complained that the decision to limit the entire
Trienal to the Arsenal de la Puntilla (just one of the 13 venues that were used by the first Trienal -and not even in its entirety) ended up in a show that lacks in ambition what it has in coherence. Another part that was absent in this version are the monographic shows, which would have given the II Tienal a platform to fund research into the subject of the expanded field of contemporary graphics, as was the case in the first Trienal with the guest-curated shows of Antonio Berni at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and Beatriz González at the Universidad de Puerto Rico museum, and the very important exhibition curated by Margarita Fernández Zavala, Inscritos & Proscritos, shown at the Museo de las Américas, which presented a historical overview of radical approaches to printmaking in Puerto Rican art.

Jose Carlos Martinat

But overall, the Trienal felt coherent and tightly curated, and included some outstanding works: José Carlos Martinat’s installation, which featured palm trees with tiny printers connected to a software that gleaned information from the web and printed small receipt-like notes that fell from the top like falling leaves; Miler Lagos’ tree stumps, done with reproductions of legendary Puerto Rican printer Rafael Tufiño’s images; Runo Lagomarsino’s sun-printed texts (a "tropical" clin d’oeil to Duchamp’s Elevages de Poussiére); Satch Hoyt’s Say It Loud!, a pedestal made of books where the public is encouraged to speak out; and some classic works not previously seen in Puerto Rico like Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles’ Insertions in Ideological Circuits (subversive slogans stamped on bills to bypass censorship and ensure distribution), Jorge Macchi’s cut-out newspapers, and the posters and flyers of the now-defunct Taller Popular de Serigrafía from Argentina, to mention but a few.

J. Roca.

Miler Lagos

Taller Popular de Serigrafía

Jorge Macchi

Satch Hoyt

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Interview: Regina Silveira

Two works from the Masterpieces (In Absentia M.D.) series.

For more than thirty years, Brazilian artist Regina Silveira has been investigating the ways in which reality is represented, and the codes and procedures used to achieve said representation. She has used various methods of perspectival projection, reworking and deconstructing them to produce paradoxical images, such as shadows without a solid at their origin, or shadows that contradict their referent. Silveira has also used traces and imprints to speak about presence and absence, and has used several printing techniques in her work, which often attains architectural proportions.

Tropel, façade of the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogotá, Colombia, 2007.

I had the opportunity to work closely with her when curating a survey of her works for the Banco de la República Museum in Bogotá in 2007, entitled Luminous Shadow. I recently collaborated with her again in putting together a visual glossary of her work for a solo exhibition she had in Koege, Denmark. This interview stems from a long conversation we have had over the last five years, and was done primarily via email.

J. Roca.

Alejandro Martín, Concept-diagram of Regina Silveira's work.

José Roca: You have been doing editions and diverse forms of prints since the seventies, and those prints took the form of sculptural (the porcelains) or even performance pieces (Corredores para abutres, Pronto para Morar, etc). In more recent years, you have gone to laser-cut vinyl and similar techniques in order to be able to achieve the imprinting of large architectural surfaces. Does printmaking continue to inform your artistic process?

Regina Silveira: This graphic mark has always been detectable, even when I was making the short experimental video films in the seventies. This mark is certainly related to the continued exercise of printmaking, which I practiced and taught for a long time in my professional career, even though in this practice – and also in my teaching – I have been quite unorthodox. For me, printmaking has always been a field open to graphic experimentation, much more expanded and flexible than painting, since it could include practically everything. When making prints, my favorite operations have always involved the hybridization of traditional procedures with techniques and resources from industrial graphics, as well as printing on various supports. But coming before all this, including the printmaking, is what I believe lies at the very basis of my means of operating, which is this strong predisposition, this response, or, if you prefer, this poetic “graphic” approach, of configuring by producing graphic marks – whether on paper, walls, porcelain, interiors or large-scale architecture, even on the urban fabric.

Two prints from the Eclipse series (2005), photo etching.

JR: Were other early works also informed by printmaking?

RS: Many of them, yes. Even my early performances were always intermediated by a graphic element, as the Pudim Arte Brasileira [Brazilian Art Pudding] that I distributed at the entrance to the subway, back in the seventies; the flyer Pronto para Morar [Ready to Live In], a parody of the real-estate flyers, handed out to people in cars waiting at a stoplight at one of the busiest corners in São Paulo, in 1994; and the Volkswagen beetle with the vinyl adhesive in the image of a zipper, which went through the downtown region of the city, interacting with street vendors, as registered in the documentary Blindagem [Bullet Proof, 2002]. Actually, it appears that the graphic icon comes either prior to, or together with, the first ideas for my artworks, as if the insight itself were graphic, no matter what medium I choose afterward. I believe this explains my almost exclusive preference for the color black.

Installation of Tropel (reversed), Koege Museum, Denmark, 2009.

JR: Your work is almost completely devoid of color, obviously because of the nature of your visual research (light and shadow), but is this also because it relates to typographic elements?

RS: In a commentary to my recent installation Tropel (Reversed), a large graphic splotch that I made fictionally invade the internal architectural space of the Koege Art Museum, in Denmark, I was pleased to find the use of the expression “black art,” not in the sense of contemporary African art, or even Gothic art, but to designate graphic manifestations, letters or illustrations made in the color black, traditionally linked to the old typography, or derived from it. I got to thinking that my installations with plotter-cut vinyl could also fit within this lineage of black art...this rubric could include the silhouettes, the tire tracks, the animal tracks, the human footprints, and this entire family of black, indexical images that have occupied my imagination for so long now, and which I have used to re-signify objects, spaces, and architectures of many kinds.

Derrapagem II (2005), Sicardi gallery, Houston.

JR: Printmaking always implies a matrix, a support, and a transfer medium or "ink". Do you consider the digital file a type of matrix that does not lose quality with subsequent editions?

RS: The inclusion of digital practices in my work, starting in the mid-nineties, fully reinstalls the notion of the matrix, now with the potential for repetition, of identical copies without any loss, or with an opening for variants and nearly topological adjustments. This was, above all, important for the recovery of the undesired ephemeral condition of some previous installations, including large-scale ones, in most cases constituted by illusionist silhouettes that I painted, slowly and rigorously, on various architectures from the eighties onward. The use of the plotter for cutting the vinyl adhesive was a good alternative, and also quicker than the results of painting, since the adhesive could be removed and later cut and placed again somewhere else, even in other geographies, almost like a canvas is removed from a wall and can be sent anywhere at all – but with its permanent existence maintained as a potentiality, impeccable and precisely the same, in the matrix, saved in a file.

JR: The use of computer software to plot and calculate deformations of the images in relation to architecture, and plotter-cut adhesive vinyl as the material for the image allowed your work to attain scales that were previously very difficult to achieve, right?

RS: Right. Besides reinstalling the notion of the matrix, the digital graphic resources brought me greater control, especially in regard to the scale and planning, when the work involved covering large architectural surfaces with graphic images, in projects that were many times negotiated and realized from a distance. Within these new parameters, my first adventure of having a graphic work of significant size involving external architecture, commissioned, treated and sent by Internet, to be executed abroad was Ex Orbis. This piece occupied a large element on the façade of the National Museum of Aviation, in Ottawa, at the exhibition Passion for Wings, in 1999. The largest and riskiest, at least up to now, was Irruption: Saga, much more recently. Without a doubt, the saga was also mine and the museum’s, to realize and assemble that huge flow of human footprints, with 1400 m² of cut vinyl, applied to the external architecture of the Taipei Museum of Fine Arts, for the 6th Taipei Biennial, in 2006.

Irruption (Saga), 2006.

JR: What led you to footprints and tracks of animals?

RS: The first provocation came with the invitation from MCA San Diego to dialogue, poetically, with the design of the entrance hall conceived by architect Robert Venturi for the museum’s remodeling completed in 1996. This was when I imagined Gone Wild, that pattern of coyote tracks in perspective climbing the walls, as a specific response to the beautiful pattern of dalmatian-dog spots that had been installed recently on the entrance floor.

JR: In border cultures, "coyote" also means someone that smuggles people across the frontier...

RS: Yes, and the political motives for the allusion to coyotes in that conflict zone along the border with Mexico gained further annotations when the tracks of those wild canines were intermingled with those of many other animals, from different latitudes and incompatible with each other – prey and predators – when I created the image for Tropel, in keeping with the theme of Anthropophagy at the 24th Bienal de São Paulo, in 1998. The anthropophagic voracity of cultures made me create Tropel as the vestige of a fictional event: the escape of those animals out of a gap in the façade, to become lost in the park surrounding the building designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

I think that the introduction of this paradigm of footprints and animal tracks is an expansion of my wide-ranging interest for enigmatic images that serve as indexical signs, such as shadows, photographs, and footprints: enigmatic because they are marks left by light, by events, and because they denote time and absence. The footprints simply pertain to this family of indexical signs I had already explored when doing anamorphic shadows, in many of my objects and installations.

When I appropriated the graphic designs of tire tracks, to couple and form patterns that would invade interior settings and façades –as did the Frenazos in Puerto Rico and the Derrapadas in Montevideo– the configurations of those tracks were more urban, invasive and chaotic. Certainly more playful as well – the tracks of animals were always more “fierce”...

Mundus Admirabilis and other Plagues, Brito Cimino gallery, Sao Paulo, 2008.

JR: In works such as Irruption you take the footprint –the archetypal imprint– as the basis for large-scale installations. Can you talk about that?

RS: The human footprints, which migrated and grew in size, from Intro in Brussels, to Irruption at MFA Houston, and Irruption (Saga) in Taipei, actually originated in the footprints of many children that I printed on sheets of paper in the early nineties, after they had dipped their feet in shallow basins filled with black paint. The footprints printed in black resulted from my negotiations with the children (who also painted their feet other colors) for making a future work – a tapestry that I never managed to execute. These activities were part of a workshop carried out with dozens of children, to compose paths and trails with colored footprints in the spaces and gardens of SESC-Itaquera in São Paulo. Only many years later were these footprints in black scanned and digitally treated to compose the splotches of accumulated footprints that began to occupy the architectural surfaces placed at my disposal for the creation of site-specific installations. Brought together and juxtaposed, they functioned for me as the marks of an uncontrolled event or an invasion, looking like insects, in spatial situations that were completely absurd, or at least unlikely for real footprints.

Some days ago, I read in a scientific publication the news that ancestral footprints were found in Kenya, which researchers believe could belong to Homo erectus. That photo of the isolated footprint, published in the magazine science, in all its details, is the most moving trace I have ever seen.

Regina Silveira working on the installation of Irruption

JR: In recent series, you have used actual objects that seem to project enormous shadows done with laser-cut vinyl; imprinted photographs of objects with graphic shadows; and covered white porcelain with screen-printed decals, all of which defy the traditional format of the printed series. Do you consider them prints at all?

RS: I would hesitate to consider these works just prints, because they are actually graphic hybrids, or better still, works with a strong degree of hybridization, originated by prints or intermediated by them. Some are hybrids between prints and photographs, others between graphics and objects, but most of them operate by hybridization with digital processes.

I don’t know well when this hybridization begins in my work, possibly long before these recent series, at the time when I was considered a “multimedia artist”. Maybe precisely because of this I never wanted to be considered a printmaker, even though I was doing prints all the time. The horizon of graphics was already expanded for me in the seventies, when I screen-printed over commercial postcards in order to make the series
Brazil Today, or when I included screen-printed photographic images in the matrices that I would then copy as blueprints for the Dilatáveis [Expandable] series that soon followed. In this constant mixture of graphic procedures, everything was useful and could be incorporated into the mix. Nor did I hesitate to commission weavers to make artisanal tapestries as the support for large graphic silhouettes in the mid-eighties. Even when I review the videos I made in the seventies -very short, in B&W and without any editing- I can see how everything was made with materials and instruments that I had on my drawing table: scotch tape, letraset, chalk, black cardboard...

Hook (Eclipses series), 2003, digital print and backlight

No matter what hybridization component came before, in my work it is printmaking that contaminates everything. If you add to this my curiosity for old and new resources for the production of images, the result is the hybrid universe that you mention in your question: insects made with decals, screen-printed with ceramic ink to be applied onto white china and fired; digital drawing software used to prepare ceramic tiles; actual objects linked to digitally-printed graphic shadows, and so on and so forth.

I have always had a very free, “disengaged” approach to all media, on one hand mixing them, on the other trying to use them in their essential values. My more important and constant investigation is not about the media itself -for me this would be a wrong question-; my most important concern, more inclusive than that of media, is the nature of visual representation, its function and the role (poetic and politic) of the image as the intermediary between perception and the world.