"Making art and being an artist is a philosophical task than merely producing objects."
©Mario Garcia Torres. Today… (News from Kabul), 2006. Courtesy of the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels
Click Here for an interview with Mario Garcia Torres
The Brussels gallery Jan Mot says he is “as mischievous as he is thoughtful”. Some magazines described him as a “branchitude” (trend-itude) artist from L.A. But today he is neither trendy nor mischievous… jetlag kills his charm and my questions on “history” makes him a serious school boy. Sitting in the café on the 6/F of Pompidou Centre, with a light yellow pullover around his neck and a white T-shirt that goes only with a pair of worn-out blue jeans, Mario García Torres enjoys the best view of Paris and the gentle sunshine of the early Parisian summer.
"I love Paris," he starts. "I have nothing planned for these few days but I always look for an excuse to come and see Paris." Is the excuse this time being no direct flight between Basel and Barcelona? In Basel, he showed two pieces in the art fairs – one with Jan Mot Gallery in the Art Basel and a 35mm slides of Pocket Scratching with Proyectos Monclova, a Mexican gallery in Liste. What about Barcelona? “I will have a show in a gallery there. They asked me what I wanted to do and I said I want to see bull-fighting!”
García Torres has double personality, but he never suffers from schizophrenia. On the other hand, he integrates well the dual self and finds its exorcision in art. His work bears a weighty historical allusion but executed in a playful manner not without wit and humor. In a highly regarded work, What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax (2004 - 2006), the young artist sets himself the task of tracking down a forgotten myth in the history of conceptual art.
In 1969, Robert Barry was asked by David Askevold of the NSCAD in Halifax to instruct the students in a project class. Barry’s instruction to the students was simple: to decide upon a “shared idea” that would be kept secret from Askevold and himself, and that “the piece will remain in existence as long as the idea remains in the confines of the group.” García Torres’s research was an attempt to discover whether the work of art still existed on its own terms. He could only inquire about the work’s existence, not its nature, so as not to kill the secret. The artist describes his task as to “set up some sort of research limitations that only allowed me to deal with abstract thoughts, stories, and mysteries. I felt like it was a real detective task.” He eventually initiated a reunion of the former students in the location where the piece was initially enacted. With the fleeting of time, the erosion of memory, the diminished number of student, the quest apparently failed. “I am interested in how a bunch of facts, memory and subjective readings of facts, and probably the real story, collapses.” García Torres once said, “the void left by things is sometimes more interesting than the information they had.”
In another piece, A-never-seen-by-the-artist- sculpture (2004), a work determined to erase the authorship by delegating the work to someone else. The curator contracted with the artist that he would show a sculpture created by a chosen third person under the name of the artist. The artist will not be allowed to see the work before the opening and if so happened, the work will be destroyed. Today, three pieces of such work still exist. “The idea is to test how far could one go in making circulate a work of mine in the artistic system without me actually seeing it.” A challenge to the artistic system? A Duchampian parody? For García Torres, to think about museum and art institution is a very fundamental thing to do.
I imagined García Torres a great story-teller though he said he wasn’t sure. In Some Places I Had Seen Before Moving to L.A. (2005), the artist started a location scouting through L.A. in search for the image of the city he has seen in films or reproductions of conceptual art works. The final film of a collection of sites such a sidewalk where Douglas Huebler made a mark in his Variable Piece No. 11, the bank located just across the sidewalk that is robbed by Al Pacino in Heat; the park where Robert Barry released Krypton in 1969 for his Inert Gas Series is shown alongside the park where Jack Nicholson spotted the villain of the historical film Chinatown, etc. “It is not only the circulation of images that interests me but also the space between reality and fiction and the way fact and fiction coincide,” García Torres said.
García Torres’ work tells stories, stories of artists, of places, of histories, of art. Intriguing, yes, but they never mean to be entertaining. Most of his slides shows are black-and-white photographs, and his 16mm silent films are again austere black-and-white images with some sober typeset subtitles, a classic typography of the 60s conceptual art. They demand attention and time from the audience as they are the results of a highly sensitive and critical mind.
Adopting a strategy based on the re-enactment of conceptual art gestures in the 1960s and 1970s, García Torres wants to test the impact and the resonance that they can still have today. His work is largely research-based and very often, an open-end conclusion which expands the perception of the subject. Some of García Torres’ works have an intrinsic organic character which allows them to keep growing and rolling as time goes by. In his latest publication, I Promise…, the artist writes, "I promise to do all I can to make the publication […] as incomplete as I can – by adding as much as possible to it in times to come".
When asked why he decided to become an artist, García Torres said it started from a mistaken concept of being an artist – as an alternative of the routine of 9 to 5. Yes, he is right and he has well chosen his career now that he realized he is working 7/24.
As a full-time artist, García Torres is now trading his dull images for the White Cube and Jan Mot clients’ equally sensitive mind.
Selina Ting for initiArt Magazine