This was Documenta 14 - Learning from Athens, or about hypocrisy [2/2]

This was Documenta 14 - Learning from Athens, or about hypocrisy [2/2]
[Atenas] Greece 04/08>07/16/2017 [Kassel] Germany 06/10-09/17, 2017
metalocus, MATTEO BINCI
Israel Galván, Niño de Elche, and Pedro G. Romero, Untitled, from the series “La farsa monea” (2016), digital collage. Image courtesy of Documenta 14
(Italian text)
1) The Archivio F.X. is an archive of Spanish anticlerical iconoclasm between 1845 and 1945. Each image is sorted by artist and the movement or historical events associated with it. Moreover many images use text which helps to contextualize them and gives more information. Why did you apply this machinery to iconoclasm and what can iconoclasm tell us today? Is iconoclasm just a destructive force or on the other hand does it also have the capacity to create?
Let’s say some things. When the Archive F.X. was made, its aim was satirical. It was called F.X. because it is exactly the Archive, the Museum, the Arche that triumphed as the cultural system and everything suggests their rule (government). So, it has been a question of doing an archive that would not provide the police with informations that help them with their investigations. The matter is not about recolonizing missed spaces or fragments of memories. Art often fulfills its avant-garde function in that sense: art explores the subconscious so that the psychoanalysts can later silence or subdue it; art joins the dangerous suburbs to provide tour operators with new routes of selling; art renovates what you find in crumbling urban centers and offers to Capital an easy way to gentrify.  In this sense the method, let’s say rousselian , which I was employing in workshops, even if there are other precedents in this change of meaning through different pairings, it seemed to me to be the most appropriate method to mislead and to deflect the police investigation.

Of course, this method allowed me not only to talk about the lost, but also to establish other operations in which the image, its appearance, its disappearance and its reappearance were the axis. Obviously, on the one hand it had to show the unknown history of iconoclasm in Spain, mainly from the libertarian point of view but also from other circumstances. Meanwhile, on the other hand, the iconoclastic events in a Catholic country were so enormous that it is almost impossible to try to understand it only through the logic of the Reformation. We also need the logic of the Counter-Reformation.

For example studies such as Iconoclash, in the ZKM, avoided the matter because they did not know what to do with it. I say that, in a Catholic cultural regime, the extreme violence against images and the sacred, even with libertarian communism in the background, could not be explained. Instead, they opted for the excuse of Science, that the world of images and the world explained by Science are incompatible. As if Science does not itself use images to colonize the world!

In the end, I think that what has allowed me this exploration has been to find tools in which the layout of the images, their construction and their destruction is carried out thanks to a regime of knowledge, organization and celebration of the structure of images themselves . It is not from Jewish or Islamic anicoism, neither protestant puritanism or shinto spiritualism, etc., but derives from the inner power of images. In the roman paladino, the same ones who took the images in procession in Holy Week, burned them in the hectic days of the revolution, the same ones! Of course, it's interesting to have these tools in a world where images govern and manage us, right?

2) The archive doesn’t have an immutable essence and a fixed structure. Instead its documents move through a kind of continuously mutating Atlas which tries to create new relationships, connecting together seemingly different elements. Saying that, in which way, starting from the archive, can we reformulate the existing elements and histories?
Yes, the F.X. is somehow a collection, a background of knowledge. There are the fichas of the thesaurus, concrete elements, associations of terms and images. All of these can be used and  recombined in various ways. They are the result of almost 20 years of work and in that way there are so many diverse things which can be done with them, depending on the moment, on the conditions of work, on what poetically and politically appeals to us at any moment. This thesaurus of images and terms operates as a toolbox, something (associations, relationships, links, etc.) from which to depart.

Notice that, right now, the F.X. project has been opened up for different artists and not only Pedro G. Romero, if not other artists, collectives, etc. Now, at the Göteborg Biennial, the works of the Egyptian Bassam El Baroni, the Palestinian Doris Hakim, the Moroccan Yassim Chouatti, the Saharawis of Equipe Media will be presented... there are obviously specific questions, an inquiry about Islam and its culture. And of course the working process is having groundbreaking results; what appears, what twists in the heart of the F.X. is a new meaning formulation.

3) In your interview with Georges Didi-Huberman, you discuss the fact that in order to edit images we first need to forget their essence and then it is necessary to clearly understand how they work. Moreover Didi-Huberman suggests to take into consideration what happens in psychoanalysis where “interpretative assemblages”  are applied. The assemblages are attempts to unify two different things to generate a third one which is the sign that we are looking for. Is it somehow a new form of Dalì’s paranoiac-critical method?
It is true that I have studied and admired the paranoid-critical method. I think that Dalí did his best work when formulating this idea. He advanced to Lacan when he formulated a "Catholic" interpretation of the subconscious that Freud had rejected following Moses’ law. In that sense Didi-Huberman's psychoanalytic references are very interesting, but I think that the key to understanding the idea of montage comes from Eisenstein, from the Soviet cinema, from the FEKS, from Kuleshov, which was so important for the first works of the Archive F.X.

It is actually in that area of Russian formalism, Viktor Slovsky, Batjin, Propp, where the inquiry into the subconscious proved more fruitful, at least to understand the images in the F.X. A certain productivism in which, as Slovsky said, what matters in things is not what they are but how they work. In reality it is a recovery of the use, of the reappropriation of images. What it allows, of course, is a collectivization of images that is not the same as the State’s appropriation.

This recovery of images, beyond their essence, is what allows their destruction and also their reappearance. It is their biological DNA (the costruire apparire….), the images have their own DNA since they are living beings. Warburg clearly understood its functioning, the pathosformel comes to be the understanding of the liturgical functioning of the images and not of its theological essence. The latter (the theological essence) obviously demands its destruction when it is confronted. But its liturgy reappears here and there and then it is that performance that we have to take on board. The situationist détournement had that function, although I have to say that these tools have been functioning in popular Andalusian culture for a long time.

4) In the same interview, the paragraph in which you underline the importance of the empty spaces and void within the archive is interesting. Paradoxically, you consider the best archives to be “anarchives”, archives which are not archives. I would like to discuss “anarchives”, and then examining how this idea fits with the archive F.X.
In truth the worst is the wear and tear that the word “Anarchive” has suffered in the midst of artistic rhetoric. It is simply about the anomie of archives, of the denial of the archive through the “A” as a prefix. But I actually appealed to the common root of archive and anarchy: archive refers to the layout, the arche, the principle that orders our societies; and anarchy is precisely the denial of that arche, of that principle of modern governance. The minimum, of course, when dealing with archives is to take into account that consideration. What operates here is a principle of government, and working with archives necessarily leads us to undermine its organization and its command. Only in this way can we guarantee our knowledge of the apparatus and can we disassemble it.

Any archive, even if it is eliminated, continues to function as a system of organizing things, since its essence is not what it keeps, secrets or lost things, but its taxonomy, its way of operating as a model of organization of reality. The Library of Alexandria, for example, has been undermined not from its fire, but from the work of Borges who has perfectly understood its poetic functioning as a myth and has parodied it, assimilated it, transformed it and, dare I say, released it.

5) On a totally different note, Giorgio Agamben has recently clarified how the greek word “oikonomia” entered the theological argument in the II century A.D. This intrusion convinced the theologists to introduce a distinction between a  theological logos and an economic logos. God was so divided between “ Being and action, ontology and praxis. Action (economy but also politics) doesn’t have any origin in Being: this is the schizophrenia that western culture inherited from the theological doctrine about oikonomia”. Even more importantly, the translation of the greek word into latin: Dispositio, from which the term dispositif derives. In this way the dispositif is a form of authority without being. In your artistic research we can often find the terms “religion” and “economy”. The latter sometimes is considered to be a new form of religion. What do you think?
Well, I have to say that my relationship with Giorgio Agamben's work is intense, at least constant. My approach to his work has been casual. Suddenly someone combined the thought of Bergamín and Debord without making a contradiction in terms. But at the same time, critics accused me of being extravagant for maintaining a similar reading. And this was in the late 80's, even before his major works: the cycle of Homo Sacer. Then there’s the story of when, early in the 90’s, I did a course with Agamben in Seville. Afterwards I invited him to a seminar and, in my opinion, he has such a deep knowledge of the past that I have carefully followed his work given that, I think, the parallelism and interest of his research coincided with mine.

 So the point is not only to read him but to consider the readings that Agamben encourages, for example Georges Bataille and Simone Weil, and it turns out that they were lovers!

So Agamben has obviously taken seriously, as I did, Walter Benjamin's formulation that capitalism functions as a religion. Bear in mind that, in Spain, Benjamin is introduced by Jesus Aguirre who was a priest and then Duke of Alba and these origins are influential when we read Benjamin. For example, it was a joy to see how Agamben arrived, perhaps a few years later, at the work of Hugo Ball who has formulated, from the beginning, this profound relationship between theology and economy, the extension and the organization of the liturgy. For me his "Critique of German intelligence" was a fundamental book ever since. My disbelief at the "modernity" of the avant-garde comes precisely from there. The artistic avant-garde, as Ball said, by losing itself in theological refutations, betrays themselves as collaborators with capitalism, becoming, in fact, capitalism’s most radical avant-garde movement.  

We have to create a better understanding of the “Art dispositif” to operate more properly inside it. Unfortunately the confusion between the display and the dispositif is still today the biggest misunderstanding in the art world. Obviously, the display lets you see the dispositif, even making the dispositif transparent and this must therefore become a critical operation. And yet, this is never anything more than a cosmetic change. All that watered down political art is nothing more than a recombination of images and propaganda. The Situationist détournement was not only a recombination and deviation of images, but also was a matter of alteration of their presentation: it was about make their changes suspicious, criminal. They were not Adams in the Garden of Eden!

In Spain we have Team Chronicle and a whole trail of disciples who reach the conceptual through its epigones. It is true of all art criticism, but often artists repeat the dispositif of power with such efficiency that, shortly after, their operation becomes pure propaganda of the system.

6) In your description/introduction for the Don Dinero dos exposition in the Casa sin Fin gallery, you speak about the libidinal tension of money. Paul B. Preciado considers pornography as the epitome of any cultural industry because it is based on a frequent sequence of excitation-capital-frustration-excitation-capital. Economy lives more and more thanks to this erotic and psychological production of needs. In this context the art market is certainly one of the best at generating profit and desire amongst the public…
In this sense, as I said before, art is the avant-guarde of capitalism, its first child-prodigy. We must at least know the dangers of the tools with which we work so that we lose the innocence that links the artistic activity with the imagination, liberation, anomie. In short, we have to know that we’re playing with fire.

But we need to think that in the origins of modern culture, at a certain point (the thirteenth century), in truth before and after it, money, courtly love and artistic activity appeared together in the same area of the world, between Provence and northern Italy. Money was based on a financial model which allowed us to pay by promissory note and paper money. Here, courtly love also appears through troubadours, Petrarch, Dante, the Muslim mystics’ secularization of divine love. At the same time, artistic activity appears as we basically understand it today, in other words the perspective, the window, the autonomy of making images. Art, love and money are deeply intertwined with social and cultural restrictions that make them operate in a unique way and in similar historical conditions. When money is criticized, love is often opposed to it and some innocents, still very naive, also bring up art. Well, the three elements are closely linked by their common genealogy. Love which is so often presented as the solution to everything, something which gives a clean slate, love as we "use it" at the beginning of the twenty-first century is still deeply linked to money and art.

So, we have to be aware of that when we act, when we do something. Because, of course, something impels us to "act" and, surely, I'm here talking about that acting. Working on this contradiction, of course, it doesn’t mean deserting the world. But working to know the dangers and contradictions of the tools we use has its consequences.

7) In your latest artwork La farsa monea, you make the performative intervention with the dancer Israel Galvan, the singer Niño de Elche and many other artists. The core of the work is the Flameco tradition. It is a reflection on what it means to inherit a tradition. In this case the tradition is an art of the poor, of the gypsies that were born far from the main hegemonic cultural center. How La farsa monea does relate to the body, money and most of all the art of survival?
Well, we were all invited to work together, although we had already done it several times. I have been working with Galvan for almost 20 years and many collaborations with Niño de Elche had already taken places as well. The work at Documenta has been very instructive for all of us for many reasons. In fact, despite the “cultural hegemony”, we have continued to feel the intensity of our work — basically, the machine of cultural production kept us at the margins. And from that perspective, yes, it is a pleasure for me to work.

Many of the flamencos that accompanied us, felt scorn in that action inside the art world. I tried to explain them the importance of the intentions of Documenta, the work in Athens and how that effort aimed to weaken the presence of art and places, in favor of highlighting the political gesture . But they replied that, in a certain way, what we were representing (by staging the gypsies, the lumpen, the practice of the margins), was still operating inside a conscious and hierarchical mistreatment. We are not sophisticated performers of the New York underground or the children of some Latin-American elite, after all: we were true artists of the outlying suburbs of Seville who do not even use the word decolonial!

So we had to deal with such delicate issues too, and it was definitely worth of it, as I said before, despite all of its inherent contradictions. In a sense we could say that the device has been transparent once again. Although what we have lost, the disaster of the organization, the faults, I still think, and it is mid- August, we have some pieces to present! It all goes with the poetic and the political principles that we invoked, a logical consequence of the material we worked with. In that sense, the experience that I have so often called “artistic work” has been intense and full-ranging.

8) At the entrance to the Gottschalk-Halle of Documenta in Kassel there were three groups of three different currencies, copies of currencies from history. In one of them, which dates 1941, it is stamped “El Jinero iberico”. This currency was coined during the Francisco Franco’s regime. The horseman is an allegory of the Spanish people which underline one of the nationalist narratives about being proud to be Spanish. This is typical of the racist ideology. The second currency is linked to charity and stamped “father-mother”. The last one is unique to the city of Barcelona and is linked to a prostitution house. In fact, on one side the name “Priapus" is stamped. What is the consideration and the role of this currency in your artwork La farsa monea and, in general, of the money in your artworks?
Well, it was about putting into circulation, although in a symbolic way, coins, or rather money which have a strong link with Flamenco, with the culture of gypsies and non-gypsies and the lumpen background. In fact, both the coins with the Jinete (Horseman) of Franco’s coinage and the León (Lion) of the republican coinage, were called “perras” (bitches) by the lumpen: the fat bitch and the little bitch, infra-value coins whose melting and mintage ended up costing much more than their actual value. In other words, their value was devalued and became less than their materiality. Likewise the father-mother, which was put into circulation in soup kitchens, confused the bearded saint with the virgin Maria! Or even, the coin La Sevillana with its prostibular symbols, the crescent moon as well as the star of the Venusian priapism. It was firstly a common tattoo among prisoners that later became the cultural symbols of our Muslim and Jewish inheritance.

Israel, El Niño and me shared our researches on coins and their values, and later we began to apply them to concrete situations in Athens, in the genealogies of economy. It is a job that has mostly to do with leaks. There is a center, variegated and dense, an atomic nucleus that boils and there were electrons and molecules starting from it and assuming the shapes of performances, sound tracks, images, coins. So the operational core of this work is to process everything happens and to follow trajectories, not only in Documenta's context but also in La fiesta, the last show by Israel Galván or in the heterodox anthology by El Niño de Elche.

Keep in mind that Flamenco is for me linked to the Archive F.X. and to what I call the PH Machine. Working with Flamenco artists is the experience that mostly helps me understanding my own laborer’s condition, the shape and the way I work. I’ll give you an example that I really like: what once was done by Juan el Camas, a strong libertarian and iconoclastic singer, while I was present. He was already old at the time, reunited with his foreign admirers, and all of a sudden he took a picture of the Virgen del Rocío from his pocket and, with a certain defiance, he broke it into pieces. He later split the pieces among his friends and told them to keep them as something important, a sign of the link that bounded them and him, a memory of those days of experience and life. On the one hand, the image needs to be ripped, destroyed but on the other hand he gave to those fetishized fragments the possibility of being re-imagined. if this word exists, in such a context it wants to underline a boundary, a true symbol. Sure, I learn so much from such things!