Nuria Enguita Mayo, Santiago Eraso

Nuria Enguita Mayo in conversation with Santiago Eraso

Nuria Enguita Mayo in conversation with Santiago Eraso
title: Nuria Enguita Mayo in conversation with Santiago Eraso
year: 2003
place: Sofia
publisher: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia
ISBN/ISSN: 954-8334-72-0
language: english
author(s): Nuria Enguita MayoSantiago Eraso
source: Manifesta and Us, 2003, Sofia: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia, ISBN: 954-8334-72-0
supported by: Национален център за музеи, галерии и изобразителни изкуства; Швейцарска култрна програма в България

Nuria Enguita Mayo: As I mentioned on the telephone, I would like to have a conversation with you, which will be published in the catalogue for Manifesta 4. From the very beginning we have attempted to distinguish our practice as a part of a complex framework within a network integrating many of the people who have collaborated with us in defining this project. In my case I was particularly interested in talking to you about the tensions you have generated from Arteleku in recent years, and about some of the projects we have worked on together, both from within and without the respective institutions we have formed a part of, that have contributed to setting up a network in which to develop new formats for production, presentation and dissemination.

Santiago Eraso: At last I'm able to sit down in front of the computer and begin our conversation. When you sent your message I was only able to read it as we usually do our reading, in a rush, somewhere between getting a taxi and a plane, half-way between a phone-call and a working meeting. This observation may seem obvious, yet as days go by I am increasingly convinced that it lies at the base of many of our problems and, by extension, of the institution for which we work: art. Somehow we do not allow ourselves to suspend time in order to endeavor to intensely experience creativity. The idea of holding a conversation requires a willingness for dialogue. The lack of communication in cultural transactions and in intellectual practice is one of the keys to the crisis in which we are immersed. You know better than anybody else the haste with which you have been obliged to work during the past few months on elaborating the working schedule for Manifesta 4. And somehow, behind that urgency, a chain effect is produced that affects the whole framework of subjects taking part in the project.
Ultimately, as you yourself point out, the decisions made regarding the selection of people you wish to work with are the result of adding or subtracting data accumulated along a path that, in theory at least, is proposed as an informative experience. This journey, anticipated as another form of knowledge and processing of information, is in effect organized like a network or a map of connections. And aware as we are that our authorship is diluted in this informative framework, we adopt the network as a form of organization and a space in which to deposit all  sorts of documents (oral, written and visual). In this recognition of the network as a
complex framework where decisions are made, you allow a glimpse of a meaningful critical disposition regarding the role of the curator as the ultimate person in charge of the event – in this case, Manifesta 4 – and as the author of the discourses. We cannot pose a revision of modern idealist postulates on which the figure of the artist has been consolidated without doing the same in the case of curators who, as you have often pointed out, establish themselves as authors of the projects. To be sure of this point of departure is the first step on the way to opening up a debate that, similarly, will enable us to understand the present engrossed situation of artistic practice. This way of proceeding obliges us to consider the internal decentralization of our institutions, in order to adopt flexible structures of co-operation and horizontal, agile authority; the collaboration between small institutions that combine their resources in order to reach a much wider, diverse and dispersed range of citizens, not necessarily linked to the very architecture. It also obliges us to transform the administration of resources in the attempt to work within a variable geometry of co-operation and competition, according to each place, process and project. It's a question of a flexible organization of activity, constituted around specific processes undertaken by networks of varying composition and origin. I believe that the old dynamics of inter-institutional co-operation must be replaced by others constructed from the projects and agents themselves, from the works and their actors.

N.E.M.: It's now one year since we began our joint work for Manifesta, and three months before its opening in Frankfurt, many of the practices and desires we intended to set in motion are still difficult. As you say, the pressure under which we have been working runs the risk of making our work reflect only the echo of our own presences in the different contexts we have visited, instead of provoking dialogue among the actors. Our intention is to make the work processes visible, the debates that generate the projects and the variations these are subjected to. And so we come back to what you mentioned about the need to give ourselves time, and to define new places for visual culture, which are issues that concern both of us. The experiences of the process are not adequately visualized either in museums or at great international events; but in the networks of people and places they are produced, and in a discursive sedimentation that is gradually processed and that can have a bearing on a social context via the dialogue with their active agents. In the conversation we had following this exchange of electronic messages we spoke of the difficulty of art in making itself visible save through traditional structures of representation like museums, galleries, biennials and large fairs. How can we achieve this visibility outside hegemonic places? How can we engender new formats and fight against the interests of the cultural industry, understood as a phenomenon for the masses, a spectacle and tourist attraction? Some time ago I said in writing that group shows were non-places, and now I think they are also non-time, for they avoid time. I think working towards changing that should be the task of all cultural projects. Manifesta has a potential that enables us to define new working formats. The very speed of our time requires new solutions.

S.E.: But there is a risk of this activity being invisible, that it should not be visible as art, understood as a cultural effect producing a certain tension in cities.
Because, all things considered, what I am really concerned about is generating tensions in society, tensions among individuals capable of structuring these antagonisms surrounding agreements and laws that strengthen the democratic framework. To paraphrase Chantal Mouffe, democracy is constructed through the articulation of differentiated identities, adversaries, discrepancies and conflicts. It's a question of recognizing the tensions, of making them visible through art and culture, and making it possible for them to appear in a pluralist system capable of being moulded into a democratic dialogue.

N.E.M.: What we should work at is this tension, to make sure it expands. The fact that such processes are long-term is what has to be changed. From the very
beginning, we have attempted to posit Manifesta 4 as a process in construction, the very course of which will generate its final structure. We are short of time – our
intention of setting up relationships between the artists and the city, opening up debates, requires time. We should be engendering many more encounters between the parts involved. In our project we have endeavored to find each subject's own place – often constructed through nomadism, as you have mentioned – and we have prioritized what we regard to be strong proposals in different contexts, fleeing from others favored by a globalizing and standardizing discourse. Sometimes such proposals are materialized in very immaterial ways, as incisions in the social fabric, preferably that of urban areas, provoking fractures within established practices. In some cases they are very direct, while in others their understanding is marked by a greater complexity, yet we still have to face the absurd need to favor frontal understanding. Manifesta moves; every two years it takes place in a different city, in a different country. We must work more on differences, studying in each case the global potential of the local and influencing, if necessary, the cultural fabric of the city, working more with, and for, each city.
The urgency of reconsidering the approach is growing; Manifesta 5, which will take place in 2004, its tenth year, must redefine itself in conjunction with local and regional agents, and must proceed in its search for new formats of production, presentation and dissemination.

S.E.: From my point of view, Manifesta 5 should revive the initiative that characterized its origins, and be seen as an opportunity to modify anachronistic models of organization; it could be structured as a map of genuine relationships, capable of processing information and knowledge in a new way. If we really were to adapt other models of operating, based on communication, shared authorship and intellectual interdependence, the system would be affected and would have a bearing on all processes of creation and representation, as well as on the exchange and distribution of cultural resources. Therefore the characteristics, the mode of functioning, the information, would all be modified, just as our own work and our way of relating to artists would also change. As for context, its importance is basic. Once again, it raises a very important issue derived from the multiplicity of conflicts generated by the local-global duality: the difficulty of making certain universal values compatible with the peculiarities inherent in all human beings, in all parts of the world. In the work of certain artists – and this is the case with Ibon Aranberri and of Jon Mikel Euba – this double way of contemplating things appears quite clearly. On the one hand, their nomadic, itinerant, traveling readiness has provided them with a universal language nourished by the sources of information stemming from the most generic form of internationalism. On the other hand, however, their discourse is subject to local codes, inasmuch as they cannot deny their need to be linked to a specific set of problems that can be interpreted in a universal key despite belonging inevitably to a concrete reality. This local-universal duality places them in a prominent position from which to confront their projects at Manifesta 4. In addition and in relation to the contextualization of works, the inescapable presence of the space-time concept in the enunciation of works and artistic projects is becoming increasingly obvious.

N.E.M.: Yes, I agree. There is a number of such cases, like Ion Godeanu from Rumania for instance, a founding member of The Construction & Deconstruction Institute. His work responds to very specific issues linked to either the total inexistence of an artistic context, or to the difficulties surrounding the development of such a milieu in his country. Even though he plays autobiographical keys, they form a part of a very contemporary and universal radical discourse, with regards to both its forms and its meanings. This is the case of many others: Andreja Kuluncic, Oliver Musovik, Haegue Yang, Fernando Bryce, Apsolutno, etc. In my own case the urgent need is to become familiar with all this, because it allows the unifying discourse to be interrupted and favors the surfacing of antagonism. Our intention with Manifesta 4 is to assemble this diversity of cultural practices stemming from different contexts and realities, so as to establish a dialogue capable of generating tensions in a given place and time – the city of Frankfurt (basically a city for passing through) in the summer of 2002. The issue is to define diversity, the multiplicity of discourses, and bring these face-to-face in a common ground, searching for legitimacy outside the limits of a fixed, pre-established discourse.

S.E.: The diversity of cultural practices is seriously threatened by the definitive mercantilism of culture, by means of the commercialization of all cultural experiences. They are all targeted by large companies that try to gain access to them so as to transform them into products with instant profitability. One of the important issues for future years is examining whether we can survive a broad reduction of the sphere of public, state-financed culture. In a world in which access to cultural diversity is increasingly mediated by large global companies, the question of institutional power and freedom of choice proves more important than ever. The absorption of the public cultural sphere by the commercial one can have worrying consequences for the democratic future of society. It is important to develop plural forms of social and political commitment that favor the preservation and broadening of the rich cultural diversity, promoting spaces of cultural fertilization. In this sense, Manifesta is an exceptional opportunity for developing contents. Bearing reality in mind, this may well become one of the most important tasks for the immediate future, given that the cultural meaning of the system can be modified according to the relationship of forces established. If all initiative is left exclusively in mercantilist hands, the unification of the cultural landscape will be absolute and the possibility of diversity will be reduced to a minimum expression. The model of business culture applied to the control of media can have important consequences. It seems necessary therefore to configure spaces in which culture and art can propose differentiated discourses that allow the multiplication of forms of free and autonomous thought. Otherwise, the following stage of the project of democratic degradation will be the commercialization of politics and its capitalization by companies.

N.E.M.: I agree completely with the issues you have raised, and such an “imperial” strategy must be faced up to as we work on the possibility of an autonomous cultural production with a strong presence, able to have a bearing on the mechanisms of control and communication in the global discourse that legitimates the new world order. To seek this visibility of experimental cultural projects in hegemonic spaces is, in my view, our main task. I end this conversation in Frankfurt, at an advanced stage in the production of our project, which, as I said earlier, is a process in construction, defined by dialogue and confrontation with each new agent. We have already been accused (in March) of lacking a structuring concept. Personally, now that the project is becoming defined and the results are beginning to surface, I feel satisfied in realizing that we have been considered as occupying a position of resistance. You are well aware of my aversion to the great curatorial ideas that reduce individual proposals to mere illustrations, neutralizing the potential of meaning in each author and placing their propositions under a theoretical alibi that encourages a quick, digestible reading. Our process has been different; departing from a broad range of issues that interest us as individuals we have sought out the ways in which others have introduced them into their work. It is the search for shared authorship we were talking of earlier. We have combined complex discursive works with others of a more symbolic nature, not to mention many others that consider the experience and construction of history from very specific places and contexts. As a projection of how this can be articulated in Frankfurt I certainly envisage a rich fabric of proposals which, by means of incorporating different realities, will encourage keys of rupture within this global discourse that is constantly validating itself in the process of its own communication.

Translation from Spanish to English Josephine Watson

Santiago Eraso is a cultural manager, born in San Sebastian in 1953 and currently residing in Tolosa, in the Basque Country. An arts graduate, until his appointment as Director of Arteleku by the Diputacifin Foral de Gipuzkoa his work was centered on the administration of public culture, a task he combined with the teaching of contemporary art and history. For the past fifteen years he has run the Arteleku art center in San Sebastian, taking an active part in different encounters and forums to discuss the central issues of contemporary thought. Likewise, he has collaborated with several publications, contributing to the debate on the function of art and culture in the society of our times. At present he is also a member of the program team of UNIA Arte y Pensamiento, a section of the Universidad Internacional de Andalucia.

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