Adrián Villar Rojas interviewed by Gianluigi Ricuperati
When I met Adrián Villar Rojas for the first time, the first time never arrived—he was installing his Rinascimento exhibition at FSSR In Turin—a petrified forest of symbols and still lifes adhering to stunning rocks and fossils from Turkey, poorly illuminated as a dark side of the Earth.
As always in his bandwagon method, but this time especially, focus and concentration were felt by the artist and his crew as rare and necessary, hence the available time for interviews was decreasing with the passing of weeks.
Combining this scenario with Villar Rojas’s request of responding via mail, written, and my interest in adding a layer of narrative to the interview format, I decided to propose another kind of conversation: one in which artists are not confronted with real questions, but instead intriguing and “curated” quotes from literary texts, especially novels, associating each one with a certain work or a certain aspect of their work.
It’s a longer process, so Villar Rojas could have all the time he needed to think and make connections: I wouldn’t call them “answers”, but more appropriately “reactions”, pointing toward the idea that conversations are chemical meetings and metamorphical encounters.
I visited the Rinascimento building site—“building” being the right word, since the artist asked the foundation to clean up meticulously and change dramatically the interior design of the institution—three times, but the interview never really occurred during those strolls. This format requires a literary intervention on the side of the artist, and literature requires time apart.
My souvenir of those strolls among unfinished stones (a paradox within the paradox of being “stones”, the longest witnesses of evolution, the oldest dead living things on the planet) are of a thin Argentinian poet-star slightly overwhelmed by his own bright light, a kind of allure that can easily produce shadows in terms of invention. A man who more than once told me this was going to be his last show, reminding me of Ziggy Stardust claiming, “This is not just the last show of the tour; this will be the last show I’ll ever do” in the final concert of his career as the fictional alter ego of David Bowie. A young radical collaborator, the opposite of a loner, working with a band and always in dialogue with today’s artists’ confidential counterpart/screenwriter/confessor, Asad Raza, one of the most interesting crossroads figures in our sometimes rigid panorama.
The Adrian who’s answering my non-answers is a wonderful three-headed monster, in his best moment, one of the great sculptors of our time: a consummate, exhausted, hyper-gifted and over-self-conscious renaissance hacker.
1. RETURN THE WORLD, 2012. 2326
“When last century began we asked ourselves ‘what to do’, now at the beginning of this we’re asking our- selves ‘what have we done?’”
— John Berger
Is this the attitude of the onlooker in the world you created?
Adrián Villar Rojas My practice is not traversed by a metadiscursive intention of giving some edifying message to viewers. I think what language calls an “artist” is a reader of his/her time, an animal that eats and digests what happens around him/her without any goal other than fulfilling a feeding cycle. This feeding cycle implies finding, processing, consuming, digesting and turning food into energy which finally reaches the viewers, as well as the excrements and leftovers of this process. The viewers receive everything. If the output of this animal called “artist” has enough proteins and is tasty enough for those other animals called “viewers” to feed themselves, it will take on—a major, a minor?—part in new “feeding cycles” that can under no circumstances be controlled by the animal “artist”. He/ she is just a little—sometimes a big—link in a quite chaotic food chain. We should dismantle this fantasy of a rational and fully controlled communication process, where information transfer is the main goal of the agents. The human animal produces discourse because it is a discursive animal, not just because it has to cooperate in achieving pragmatic goals. This is why I assert that I do not seek any particular metadiscursive purpose. I produce discourse like cats make poop, which later becomes part of many other unexpected processes of energy circulation.
GR “The hell of the living is not something that will be. If there is one, it is what is already here, the hell we live in every day, that we make by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the hell, and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of hell, are not hell, then make them endure, give them space.” — Italo Calvino
Are you depicting the world with vigilance and apprehension?
AVR Talking about hell sends us right to quite difficult metaphorical grounds. I’d rather say that, exactly as dinosaurs multiplied, became huge and fed them- selves until they deforested the planet, human animals operate as naturally as the former masters of the Earth. This is neither good nor bad, belonging neither to Heaven nor to Hell. It is just innocence: the same innocence of a tiger glaring at you with beautiful, lively eyes while chewing on an antelope calf. Human animals are not so different from that. We are far more instinctive than Western thought has always been willing to accept. We have arranged things to stand on top of a pyramid designed by ourselves, and whose only superior level is an almighty entity made in the image and likeness of Western white men.This model is undoubtedly falling apart. Diversity is making its way in this one-dimensional map, developing multiple alternative genealogies to this androcentric and Eurocentric pyramid. The world is now an infinite rhizome; it is an androgen world, with multiple and changing logic. Floating signifiers are constantly redefining their meanings. We are diving deep into the age of flux, but this should not make us forget what is key to defend.
There is a posthumous book by Michel Foucault whose title struck me: Defend society. In Spanish, Defender la sociedad. Foucault died in 1979, but he seems to be warning us that our future enemies would no longer be as clear as a nasty guy with a small rectangular mustache. Every society has a certain ethical responsibility to think rigorously of that (imperative) phrase—“defend society”—with all the risk it has in terms of the possibility of a rightist reading, which is also part of politics. I’d rather give it a progressive interpretation and think of—just to give an example—multinational chains of (not only “fast”, but now all kinds of) food, which I find so similar to para- sites invading societies and attacking their symbolic systems to impose parasitic forms of logic that eventually disintegrate their singular identities. The fantasy behind this global operation could well be to turn the planet into a smooth surface, without ridges or bulges, totally identical to itself: a homogeneous, gentrified world for mainstream tourism.
3. TWO SUNS (DETAILS OF BODIES)
“The genealogical tree of mankind was systematically pruning itself, apparently moving backwards in time, and a point might ultimately be reached where a second Adam and Eve found themselves alone in a new Eden.”
— J. G. Ballard
How cultural is any imagination of a post-cultural physical landscape, a post-everything (or pre-anything) world?
AVR All imagination is cultural. Every mind is cultural. Every realm of the human universe is cultural. There is nothing outside culture. Baudelaire says in The Flowers of Evil that the world is a forest of symbols. Nowadays it is a majestic, brutal, wild, unstoppable jungle growing at a speed impossible to imagine in Baudelaire’s times. We are more deeply immersed than ever before in our own ecosystem of symbols, or rather, of hybrid discourses. But this ecosystem is not neutral; it has on the contrary all the features of a hermeneutic war. We should revisit post-structuralist and post-Marxist thought from Deleuze to Ernesto Laclau—and even go back to Antonio Gramsci—to understand a bit more of this “brave new world” of hegemonic battles to tame public opinion (to keep it in the matrix) or to generate alternative discursive fields of resistance. Once more, I quote Foucault ́s epitaph: “defend society”.
In short, I would redirect reflection onto how our cultural universe—which is essentially hybrid, diverse, multiple, centerless, rhizomatic to the last and deepest fiber—is being constantly pushed to gentrification. “International standards” demand that cultures be pruned until they become decorative gardens for guided tours, or safe landscapes for consumers of artificial adventures. My practice seems to have been opposing this gentrified, domesticated version of the planet. Against this growing homogeneity ruled by these “international standards” I have been trying to propose a heterogeneous version totally ruled by “local possibilities”, as the specific social, geographical, political, economic and institutional contexts are the actual shaping forces, up to the point that the “pieces” themselves have become instruments for measuring the potential of each context. This is what I call a post-human ontology, through which contexts are understood as active forces working before, during and after the “human moment” represented by an agent named Adrian Villar Rojas. All this means that I am equal to rain, wind, a political crisis, a bird pecking the surface of a piece, friendship with locals, or the conservation policies of an institution, to the traditional actions that define me as an “artist”. Everything operates over—or rather, is part of— the complex experiential field called a “piece”, “project”, or “exhibition”, which are also hegemonic signifiers that should be deeply deconstructed. Following Lacan’s way of asserting startling ideas, I dare say “the work of art no longer exists”. In this regard, limiting the transformation of these heterogeneous experiences into commodities has become another key issue of my practice. A commercial circuit with homogeneous “international standards” seems quite incompatible with the essence of these proposals.
4. TWO SUNS
“All profound distraction opens certain doors. You have to allow yourself to be distracted when you are unable to con- centrate.” — Julio Cortázar
Is the fate you depict in your work the fate of an all-too-distracted world, unable to measure its permanence
on a longer timeline? Do you consider yourself an anthropologist of the geological? An anthropologist of post-anthropic world?
AVR The logic of distraction is inherent to the logic of heterogeneity, singularity and difference. Nathaniel Hawthorne says that ghosts can only be seen out of the corner of one’s eye. You cannot think of decentration from concentration. If one’s mind is unable to travel freely, it becomes a repetitive production line. Plato speaks of traveling through the World of Ideas to reach the Nous—the true knowledge. There is movement in thinking, a kind of movement that could well be an exercise of healthy distraction or detour. As Julio Cortázar suggests, I would rethink what distraction actually implies for thought and creativity. Is concentration always preferable? Concentration camps were created to bring together a mass of people for better confinement, management, use and disposal. Concentration camps are, in the Frankfurt School ́s vision, the ultimate effect of instrumental reason in modern societies. The same instru- mental reason that destroys specificities, singularities, diversities and imposes a single model—the market society, Soviet socialism or whatever— with total disregard for contexts. It takes a refined exercise of distraction to capture the minimal difference that can lead us to a new door. Julio Cortázar suggests a certain opposition between distraction as an exercise of vibrant creativity and concentration as an instrument of inner repression. And when we talk about inner repression we talk about the superego, which is always interrupting distraction to save time, to make us more productive.
If saving time and making humans more productive was also the aim of the Taylorist/Fordist industrial society whose most refined product was concentration camps, I dare conclude that distraction could well be the basis for a logic of thought that is alternative to time-saving, efficiency-improving instrumental reason. Distraction could well be the key to releasing the mind from its “chains of production”, enabling us to create beautiful thoughts by free association—which is also the basis for psychoanalysis.
Perhaps this is why I titled the exhibition in Istanbul “The Most Beautiful of All Mothers” . I could have also titled it “The Most Beautiful of All Thoughts”, which is the one that flows—as Cortázar suggests—on a raft of distraction/detour through the World of Ideas. This is exactly the way I organize my readings and my “cultural consumption”, jumping from thing to another, opening and closing books almost at random, watching many films and series at the same time, without ever finishing almost any of them. Books and films for me are places for “wasting time”, camp- grounds for distraction and detour, where I stay for a while to rest and think with a total sense of freedom, like when one plays a guitar at home. They are my shelter against production lines, thanks to a friend of mine—a Peruvian artist named Rita—that taught me to feel free from that compulsion that turns “cultural consumption” into an obligation full of guilt and distress. That non-linear and non-su- per-ego relationship with readings and films—and so on—has turned into an underlying logic of my practice. Isn’t this idea of an alien mind that thinks retrospectively about human culture, the Earth, nature, the Anthropocene, mixing them with total horizontality—i.e., without knowing the difference between Christ, an iPhone or a turtle—a quite radical form of de-centering, distraction and detour? This alien mind is neither making science nor collecting information. It has no instrumental aim. It is just playing with absolute respect and seriousness, as children do. The emotional attitude in this game is thus one of mourning and reparation, never irony or cynicism.
GR 5. TWO SUNS
“And if that match does blaze in the darkness, there will be none to mourn a race that used a power that could have lit a beacon in the stars to light its funeral pyre.” – Stanley Kubrick
Are your sculptures celebrating this kind of mourning?
AVR Firstly, I do not think that what I do is sculpture. I believe we should overcome the language of disciplines. I do not even think that the signifier “art” continues to have a relevant ontological weight in this “thing” we do. I do four-dimensional “things” because I am a human animal living in a world that has four dimensions (including time), just as a shoemaker, a doctor or a sailor operate in that same four-dimensional world and thus are also sculptors. But the same goes for the larva that becomes a butterfly or the dog chewing bones on a carpet. Jorge Luis Borges says that “there will be nothing that is not a cloud”, referring to the changing essence of “things”. I would add that there is not a single thing that is not both a sculptor and a sculpture. I know that human animals have these extra powers which enable them to organize language games, but this advantage is precisely the one from which I am trying to exile myself in order to go beyond certain limits. When I recognize the shaping action of non-human or non-individual elements such as time, chance, animals, weather or complex environments, not only exploring them as marginal phenomena but allowing them to slide into the center of these experiences, in which I myself am trying to fade away as a contingent factor, I would dare say that there is a procedure which includes an increasing awareness of this advantage of being the ones who rule language games, in order to dismantle that ruling as far and deep as possible. The question thrown out by Enrique Vila-Matas at the beginning of El mal de Montano is a synthesis of this decentering operation that obsesses me: How will we be able to disappear?
6. “In five hundred million years, Shakespeare and the worst anonymous writer will be exactly the same: nothing.” — Roberto Bolaño
AVR He is so damned right. And it is so damned beautiful.
 The Most Beautiful of All Mothers, site-specific installation, 4th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul,Turkey, 2015.
at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin
until 28 February 2016
Adrián Villar Rojas “Rinascimento” installation views at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, 2016
Courtesy: the artist and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin.