"Making art and being an artist is a philosophical task than merely producing objects."
©Mario Garcia Torres, Preliminary Sketches from The Past and for The Future (Stedelijk Museum), 2007. B&W slide projection. Courtesy Galerie Jan Mot, Brussels
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In this interview, Mario Garcia Torres talks with us about History.
MGT - Mario García Torres
ST – Selina Ting for initiArt Magazine
ST: Since when are you interested in history?
MGT: Well, let’s say I was first interested in art then in history. I started to discover that a lot of responses to my doubt were in history. But it was only since the last four to five years that I become more conscious of historiography and started to think about the implications of history. My approach is to question things from a very personal position but never intended to throw everything away. It’s kind of an expanded version of history but never judge that one is better than the other.
ST: In What Happens in Halifax stays in Halifax (2004 – 2006) and Some Places I Had Seen Before Moving to L.A. (2005), are you revisiting history in the sense of living it, experiencing it yourself? Is there any nostalgic feeling in that?
MGT: I am editing a certain version of written history and sort of bringing it back. To see that edition differently; to change certain perspective of certain periods, of certain artistic gesture, certain facts. It’s less about the experiential part of these works but a re-editing of a larger narrative and to say : there are these things that should be taken into account as well. But the experiential part is not the first concern when I work.
ST: Can you elaborate the idea of “re-editing” with these two projects?
MGT: What I mean is through my projects, you do not live the older works again, you just call into attention what happened before, but you actually experience my work not the quoted ones. So I am not trying to re-create something that I wanted to be part of, but sort of editing and bring back the forgotten things by saying you should think about it again. Does it make a difference?
ST: Yeap… That makes it less self-indulge and more missionary!
©Mario Garcia Torres,What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax (In 36 Slides),detail, 2004-2006, b/w slides, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels
©Mario Garcia Torres, Some Places I Had Seen Before Moving to L.A. (2005), Courtesy of the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels
On Artist’s responsibility
MGT: Well… I believe that’s the artist’s role as well. As an artist, you have been given by the society a certain space to think outside certain canon. You have to pretend that you are part of the society and you have to be responsive. There are certain responsibilities in being an artist, because people pay attention to what they say.
ST: Do your artists-friends think in the same way?
MGT: Most of my friends are very serious with what they do. I don’t know in what sense one can measure it but they have a commitment to the society. I don’t think they are ironic or playing with it but I believe that for most of them, they do believe in what they are doing.
ST: Being playful doesn’t mean not serious…
MGT: Well, it came up several times in interviews that how my work relates to artists like Marcel Broodthaers or Martin Kippenberger, who were seriously engaged, tried to break some codes and loosen the artistic system and they played with that. I am not doing that. I do honestly believe that the rules are functioning and could function. I am not trying to break them but to develop them. That’s a different strategy. I keep on viewing their work but that doesn’t mean that I am doing the same thing.
ST: Do you believe in art’s impact on the society? Is your work changing anything so far?
MGT: From the tiny little things, the responses that I got from people, I think there are changes going on, though little. My works doesn’t appeal to the mass media, one can only hope for making somebody change and there is a possibility of going on, rolling on. Not necessarily changing everything.
ST: Compared to artists in the 1960s, do artists today have more or less possibility of changing the society?
MGT: I don’t know if they had more or less possibility compared to artists nowadays. It’s different context. But I think the art world in the 1960s was much smaller and the fact they were small, they had the potential of being taken seriously. It’s funny that now, like what my work is saying, even one’s work is seen by small group of people, it still has the potential of making them think from another perspective, about something else. What I always try to do in my work of re-enacting historical projects in conceptual art history is to see if these works still have some effect in the society in someway today. On the other way round, in historical terms, I have to believe what we are doing now have the potential to have an impact in 30 years. But I don’t know if this would really happen.
ST: How would you position your work in the history of Conceptual Art? What are your contributions to it?
MGT: It’s difficult to think in those terms because of my reluctance to think that art has to be backed up by the idea of the new. I don’t ask myself the question if I am doing anything new, or discovering anything new. In modern terms, I don’t see there is a generation of things, with people of my age, my friends. I think art becomes a more complex system and I am just part of the huge thing. I don’t have that kind of paranoid, or desire of some artists to find a position in history. I mean, for example the materials I used, I never decided upon how long they can last. If I think in those ways, maybe I would just employ things that would last. I just don’t have the potential of protecting and making them intact. Maybe they have different life afterwards, and that’s fine.
ST: In What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger (2007) where you examined Martin Kippenberger’s attempts to establish a Modern Art Museum on the Greek island of Syros, and in A Brief History of Jimmie Johnson's Legacy (2006) where you staged a record-breaking visit to a museum, and you actually have created your own museum in Mexico, are these works imagining an utopia system for museum? Can you start by telling us about your museum in Mexico?
MGT: The Museo de Arte, Sacramento it seems, could end up being a utopian museum. But I didn’t intend that. I honestly believe it can be done, but it’s really hard, so the project has passed from being an actual initiative to become a conversation among artists. It’s a museum in a real but remote place, and artists are asked to do site specific projects to that space, which they don’t know. Several rules are applied to it in order to make all the works become just instructions for the public. So far there are 3 or 4 works in the collection.
I am trying to think of different ways that the society approaches the system, that museum are not necessarily to be that huge physical structure which is difficult to adapt to new work and new strategies. I am trying to imagine that museums could have very different functions and we can have more things to do with it.
©Mario Garcia Torres, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger (2007). Courtesy of the artist, White Cube, London and Jan Mot, Brussels
©Mario Garcia Torres, A Brief History of Jimmie Johnson’s Legacy (2006). Courtesy of the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels
ST: What about the project Open Letter to Dr. Atl (2005) which you showed in Venice Biennale in 2007. Can you tell us the background of the Open Letter Project?
MGT: Open Letter to Dr Atl is an essay film, type of work. It deals with representation, the use and abuse of landscape and its starting point is the fact that the Guggenheim pretended to open up a branch of the museum in Mexico, in the outskirts of Guadalajara.
ST: How does this work, together with Some Push, Some Hold, and Some Don’t Even Know How to Take a Picture (2004), related to your museum critique?
MGT: These two works are from the same period. Open letter can be seen as the fundamental work of Some Push. Open Letter is a struggle with many different things, one of them is tourism and art tourism, and the perception of works around in different places. It’s about how people perceive things and what people are prescribed to see as a tourist. The Kippenberger project is related in this sense. It’s a museum in an island where tourists don’t go. They are not taken to the island because it’s not famous, not beautiful. As an artist, I am attracted to those things. It’s something that has been in my work in different way.
ST: How did you get the images in the Some Push project? How did you present them?
MGT: They are just found images transformed into a slide show. In terms of strategy, it comes from the idea of the 1960s. When you see a series of things, different meanings start to bring up. When you realized that these pictures have been taken many times by many different people, you know that things happened between the images. One can believe that certain meaning comes from it by pointing out that things have been done over and over again.
©Mario Garcia Torres, Some Push Some Hold and Some Don’t Even Know How to Take a Picture (2004). Courtesy of the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels
ST: How many images did you find?
MGT: After couples of year, there are all together 60 to 70 images.
ST: It must be very funny to see all the images together.
MGT: Yeah, lots of people find it funny, ironic. I never think it in that way. But I can understand why they think so, and hope that they get the meaning after a good laugh.
Time and Contemporary Art
ST: Is this a general difficulty for conceptual art that as an audience, you have to know the context of the work in order to understand it and to go beyond the image to the level of meaning?
MGT: You mean if that’s a problem?
ST: Well, yeah. I tried not to use the word “problem”!
MGT: Hahaha… I think it goes back to the question of responsibility. I feel at the same time I also request certain attention. I like people to invest time if they are interested in the work. I think art only becomes more interesting when you are willing to spend time with it. Works are not just what artists intended to be, but huge network of what’s happening in the world. Your role is to trigger things… I mean, works are just excuses for other people to write, to talk about. Those things still keep shaping the world, what the world ends up being. Sometimes artists are more or less involved and you decided how much you want to get involved, in what way you want your work to be understood by people who don’t know anything, etc. There are many layers. I am personally not interested in the first impression towards my works. I really want people to research and read something if they are interested, and spend time with it.
ST: Is the fast-food habit the greatest danger to contemporary art?
MGT: There are people who are doing more popular work. That’s nothing wrong with it; just that we have very different strategies. What’s interesting is that, they might mean to catch attention, but then how do they use that attention, this is more important.
What’s happening is that art is getting more and more popular and people feel themselves as part of it. So the more people involved the better, but there are not many people who can really spend time on it. I am not adapting to that but I don’t pretend to reach everyone neither. If there are a few people who get trapped by… haha… that’s great!
ST: Is your art more adapted to elitist audience?
MGT: I am doing the other way round. I am asking them to invest time and to try to understand the context where the work comes from, thus to understand my work. It’s like science. Science is not made for everyone, because not everyone has the time and knowledge to develop science. So, laboratories become the abstract places where we don’t have license to. There are people who are doing that, developing that and eventually have an impact on the society. Art is the same. You can’t expect what you said to be understood by everybody. It will be understood by a few, and hopefully that impact would keep developing into something else through those few.
ST:… Because your work demands a great deal of attention.
MGT: Yes. Then it’s for the artists to set up their own rules as well. There is certain interest in my work that is driven by the economy of attention. People want to know it because somebody else knows, because somebody told them to know. So they go and try to know something, and they leave happily saying “I know this”. I felt that just now in Art Basel where I found out new people being totally invested in the work. It’s gratifying to know that. I have to think that setting up certain rules pays off. You don’t get too many people interested, but the ones that get interested in it do ask questions and invest time on it.
ST: Thank you very much!
About the Artist
Mario Garcia Torres was born in 1975 in Monclova, Mexico. Lives and works in Mexico after spending years in Los Angeles. García Torres received an MA from the Universidad de Monterrey, and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. García Torres was recipient of the Cartier Award in 2007.
Some of his recent solo shows are, Je ne sais si c’en est la cause... / MATRIX 227 at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley); Il aurait bien pu le promettre aussi at Jeu de Paume (Paris); a self-titled show at White Cube (London); Early Color Video Tapes, Proyectos Monclova (Mexico City) and All That Color Is Making Me Blind at Jan Mot (Brussels). García Torres has also exhibited in the 52nd Biennale di Venezia (Venice); the 8th Panama Biennial (Panama), the Yokohama Triennale (Yokohama) and institutions like the Kunsthalle Zurich (Zurich) the Barbican (London); the Museum of Modern Art Syros (Syros); Kadist Art Foundation (Paris); Tate Modern (London); Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (Vienna); the Kunstverein fur die Rheinlande und Westfalen, (Dusseldorf); the Frankfut Kunstverei; and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (Amsterdam). He recently organized The Title of This Show Is A Long List… at Jan Mot (Brussels).