Oscar Carballo interview

Fotografia: Timmy van Spiegel / Buenos Aires, Septiembre 2021


Oscar Carballo He was born in Buenos Aires in 1959. A visual artist, writer and film director, his work, heterogeneous and practically hidden, has postulated a strong divergence between the visual arts and design, two disciplines in his opinion, irreconcilable. Even when he considers aesthetic fascination as an excess of moral happiness, every work, he says, is a private speech that grants the audience a lasting, genuine and final emotion.

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Aftermath laika 

AL: In the visual arts the shape of an object (s) consider its geometry; still its volume. In design, on the other hand, the word form (here) refers only to the concept of structure. Can the two modes meet in the aesthetic field?

OC: In design, forms are not free affairs. They belong to the field of reality. They have specific dimensions and scope. They occupy spaces, they organize them; they consider mechanisms, workings. Nature's technology is a good example. Mc Luhan pays attention to this by saying that it is not about creating organic functions from efficient artificial machines, but about imitating the invention itself. Since the operation is inherent to the design; and geometry and structure are aspects of the ultimate goal of an object, the form must be organic with respect to common sense, and not as an added value. But the problem of forms is even more complex. It is social rather than aesthetic, even in the sacred field of an art exhibition.

AL: An object in an exhibition or the exhibition itself?

OC: An object in an exhibition is not a shape, but a thought. Seeing an exhibition is like going to mass, the space is spiritual, silence produces recollection, the object of redemption. What I am saying is that the geometry, the visible, which is nothing more than an envelope, could become a decorative limit. I once saw an exhibition of drawings by Antonine Artaud in the Beaubourg. It was probably badly cured, but seeing the fragility and madness of the artist in that neat, friendly and rigid space predisposed me to rejection. Those painful drawings didn't seem to have anything to do with the place. Obviously I am not proposing a setting in return, I am simply saying that the display frame is a structure that cannot reject the object.

AL: In an exhibition the object becomes definitive?

OC: In an exhibition, no, that happens in the practice of design where decisions are discarding the richness of the blured. A design inevitably displaces other arrivals to choose only one. Therefore, every object that we see is the result of a final relationship. That is the weakness, the choice that we know in advance, is wider.

AL: Is the aesthetic limit a consequence then?

OC: Tomás Maldonado maintained something that for me is still valid: «design is not an art and the designer is not necessarily an artist». He sought to take off the aesthetic factor as a formal idea, especially to point out that a design object should not have an aesthetic but a social purpose. In practice, the designer establishes restrictions as parameters, as variables; restricts the possibilities to deepen one, with greater freedom. Still the final geometry, if the visible result can be called that, does not mean the only possible conclusion. In any case, biology relativizes artificial invention: the design of a San Antonio vaquita is definitely the design of its wings and of all its wonderful biology.

«An object in an exhibition is not a form, but a thought. Seeing an exhibition is like going to mass, the space is spiritual, silence produces recollection, the object of redemption »

AL: Are there restrictions in the art environment?

OC: Regarding the language, the supports or the economic limit, it seems to me that it works the same. But there is no possibility of splitting form from structure. Now, except for mechanisms that intervene between the work and the viewer or are themselves, the only important restriction in art is whim, doubt.

AL: In your opinion, what is the merit of art? Because there must be something behind the stubbornness shown by so many individuals in pursuing something that cannot be objectively shown as the task of an entomologist or the function of a scribe, but that in he pursues as much work as those, with total conviction and boldness.

OC: Well, the joy of doing something useless.

AL: Is that all?

OC: It doesn't seem like little to me. There are countless jobs that can and should only be done to survive. Most unobtrusive, but suitable for social life and unavoidable.

"Biology relativizes artificial invention: the design of a San Antonio vaquita is definitely the design of its wings and of all its wonderful biology"

AL: Artists in general don't think of their work as useless. Or if?

OC: Faulkner lived 40 years pending his failure and if something really worried him it was his virility or the story he disclosed in 1918 that marked him as a fighter pilot in the service of the Canadian RAF, something that is not very well known if it finally happened. , but that romanticism that also included the myth of having been wounded in combat, and had to correct in front of the memory of the real dead, in short, all this ended up revealing a lateral life where writing was strengthened only by its innate talent. Faulkner did not measure himself at the altar of writers, he worked just enough to support himself financially. But the same literary refinement that enshrined him in life also concealed his artistic behavior. The life of a writer was an experience around the anguish, the drink propped up by innumerable relationships that sustained his spiritual decline. His idea on the question of art, as a productive thing, useful to society, was lapidary. In a conference he said that being a writer in his country could be seen as a purebred dog, everyone would like to have one around but it is useless.

AL: Useless is not ignoble either.

OC: There is a real defeat within some tasks. What I'm saying is that an artist, on the other hand, can find enough of that which returns a certain fullness where obviously there would not be much more than pain.

«In design, forms are not free affairs. They belong to the field of reality. They have specific dimensions and scope »

AL: Everything seems to be resolved in a class question. Some can, others cannot. Some have rights, others do not.

OC: No way: it's the other way around. Beyond the question of talent and, as we have seen, of a natural capacity, everyone can be an artist. I made a different point to him. For example, artists also find pain in their work, but that point is a category common to the human. It doesn't help them much, but the artists are clad in a basically invisible but very expensive gemstone.

AL: Are you referring to the plain and simple question of living from art? 

OC: Yes, of course, living off something unproductive. We all carry a social idea about usefulness. A crisis product of the errors that the leading man was putting as obstacles: progress, development; problems that made life increasingly complex and absurd.

AL: Is progress absurd?

OC: The human is absurd. To remedy unproductive leisure, we design a world without rest where we can produce piecemeal and thereby recompose the ineffectiveness of recreation. In this paradox we find an astonishing availability of time, especially to spend money and a few actually get to rest. The funny thing is that the question of rest had already been raised since the beginning of time. To recognize the insomniac society that we build, we should retrace the path to understand what was the turning point where to sleep more it was necessary to invent a device that would take away our sleep. Progress is a blunder that can be clearly understood with technological improvement.

"Many times, because it is not always fulfilled, the political border becomes something magical, as if it were an unattainable dream"

AL: So only dreams and art could meet those characteristics close to pleasure? The rest of society should be doomed to a provably and decidedly utilitarian task? The ignoble tasks he was talking about?

OC: No. There is a catch there. I did not say that the work of an artist is not necessary. Not everything you need is useful. Perhaps the most inconvenient thing would be to start discussing categories, this yes, this no; This is not an artist, this one is; etc. But the day an artist with a work saves a life; or is close to doing so, the world will be different. So far art does not prevent a bomb from falling in Lebanon or anywhere else and children from dying. Art in any case is a kind of stubbornness, but not much more.

AL: You put a responsibility on the artists, but the governments are not able to stop that fate either.

OC: No, I won't take it off, let me. For an artist to think that he is building peace by painting a picture is another absurdity. What is left for artists who do not settle into that discourse? Any. Nothing remains. The social slaughter is the responsibility of the economic power and no one else. The political is articulated in the tyranny of the rules that the world produces; today the global world. The political, to understand its operation, needs a series of arbitrariness such as art, some merely practical and others reasonably absurd. But in exchange, a politician must deal with vaccines, right? With company boards that are desperately seeking to convert production into a powerful income, he must deal with the education of a people and confront them with new technologies and discourses, he must fight against ignorance of which he is also a part, must resolve and provide service and infrastructure to a society that understands these arguments as a right, which it should be. Many times - because it is not always fulfilled - the political border becomes something magical, as if it were an unattainable dream.

AL: For society or for political management?

OC: For society there is always postponement. It is evident that politics is an art and a politician an artist: he feels joy through that tension at times irresolvable.

AL: I perceive that the politicians you name resemble philanthropists or benefactors. Does everyone fit into that same clean and tidy box?

OC: Politics and politics are concepts. In its implementation process it often becomes caricature. But the political is that field that Sloterdijk names about the art of the possible. Without that tension, there is no discourse, no reality, or social force that produces for everyone. Men, in the name of politics, often bastardize the road, but that is not the condition of politics. That is a question of the ethical field or simply of individual morality. The respiratory system cannot be defined from the damage produced by nicotine.

The human is absurd. All his concerns have been functional to remedy leisure or make it more active »

AL: Is there any human determination that does not seek well-being in what it does?

OC: The smaller the world that an individual encompasses, the luckier he will be in completing something of what he thinks he is doing with his effort. Building a table, a glass, a gingerbread, printing a book, consider a simple universe if you think about it in the face of the vastness of social assistance. Feeding the world implies a complete articulation between the table, the gingerbread, the glass and the book. And the one who carries out that task that is not silent at all, but plagued with painful evidence, is politics. When we eat there was someone who was previously in charge of giving us a table, a concept whose reality society detracts except when it is related to the aesthetic field, to economies. Think: the table is beautiful, the table is expensive. Or with the design: the table is comfortable, practical, light. But the truth is that the table is an order that precedes us and will continue to precede us forever after we have completely disappeared from the face of the earth.

AL: Art then can be seen as a political arrow, an argument that replaces needs with an abstract enjoyment?

OC: Well, but not all individuals enjoy the same way, or at least not all enjoy the same object of desire or the same artistic object. We can assume that the person who really interacts intensely there is the artist himself. In that case, the word artist names that ability, not the work, which we could agree not to. It is the artist himself who carries out a belief so powerful as to indicate to the rest of society that his work emerges from the culture where he works and lives and that it is also worth considering as a path to well-being.

AL: Aren't institutions and museums legitimizing artists?

OC: That is a very small part of the question. The world is bigger. I speak of a society that enjoys looking at a color, a line or a light. Individuals who burst into tears in front of an anonymous drawing. This is also what aesthetic enjoyment is about and to a more complex degree we can speak of an individual who reads. Read books, things written by others. Individuals who are related to a more frontier enjoyment: the words that narrate life. In any case, there is also a modulation on art and the ways of finding new questions and that of course does not stop being an artistic will. What happens is that this concern does not respond to the will of an elite, but to a general will. The experience of art consists of a private reason; secret if you like, but a reason that allows us to find a well-being where such a thing did not exist before.

"Artists are clad in a basically invisible but very expensive gemstone"

AL: Is the experience of art a private act?

OC: Even though reading was only the patrimony of the one who counted, that listening also granted an intimacy; a personal sense. Emotions, perception are particular interpretations. The collective experience is in any case of transmission and operates as a repeater; quite imperfect. It tells the story of the man who saw the man who saw the bear, right? In visual art, museums select pieces to make that enjoyment a public culture. In other words, they enclose them within a space of worship, but societies finally do the same with their vulgar objects that they affectively reconsider for innumerable reasons. All valid.

AL: You said affectively. Can art consider the sentimental?

OC: Not as a pretense, that would be pathetic, forced. The reality is that it is not necessary to enter a museum to interact with a work. In the same way that a cathedral parodies the image of God so that neither the meaning nor the importance of worship escapes us, the classical world has museums to make the mystery of artistic creation public and notorious. It is clear that the institutions are the crown of the artists, their private church. But in any case, I do not see it possible to separate the sensitive from his work, from the history of the mechanisms of art. Artists cry sometimes, but especially outside of museums. I speak of feelings. For some, recognition represents heaven itself; for others hell. Museums remind me of Kafkaesque spaces, but as Orson Wells filmed them in The process.

«That which can scare some, falls in love with others. Memory plays a huge role in these matters »

AL: Do you consider a work in a museum a pretense?

OC: In museums you can collect the work of a dead artist; And that's a convention, but you can also see the work of living artists. Sometimes the institutions protect work adequately to build a kind of near future, other times to endow it with that imaginary and powerful halo that elevates all work to the Olympus artistic. A boutade. But in any case, a work locked in a museum is a dead work. There is no possibility to cancel it, break it or repaint it. Many artists would steal their own work to correct it. In return I can say that I have lost track of my works in there.

AL: But curators have a specific role in that safeguard.

OC: The curator is a didactic official; a kind of clerk. In some cases, he must reconstruct artistic life through stories and that is very interesting. But since it refers to curatorship, it is notorious that some artists have abandoned the objective production of their work to re-enter museums dressed in a different way. In disguise, let's say.

AL: Disguised as curators?

OC: Yes, acolytes. Although it is true that work can also be produced from a glance, a clipping or a specific meeting of content, in my opinion, for certain artists having become curators for a moment only considered moving an active position towards another absolutely contemplative . Not even theoretical; merely executive. It is curious since it is a task that any artist can and should naturally handle or at least should handle. Marcel Broodthaers made a different move; look: he concluded that the creation of his own museum was ideal where he could gather his questions and little else, because there are very few objects. The Aguilas Museum it is a humor that conceptually crowns a complex and impressive work in an implicit manifesto.

"The smaller the world that an individual encompasses, the luckier he will be able to complete some of what he thinks he is doing with his effort"

AL: Can art be thought outside of official mediation?

OC: Every aesthetic field is defined by a political game. Therefore his mandate is the builder of public taste; a rather opaque relationship that subordinates artists, work and the public, supplying the interests of museums and markets. Art fairs display that cocoliche with exemplary distinction.

AL: Is public taste a fringe category?

OC: On the contrary, public taste decorates the art marketing device. The marginality is represented by small galleries and the so-called independent artists. Art fairs are a kind of school where well-off classes learn how to choose the ideal painting to show off their furniture.

AL: How does that education work?

OC: Establishing categories and discourses: the support, the language, the history, the price, but always protecting certain environments. Not everything produced is suitable for the discourse of art. It must first be consistent for the system. There is a curiosity that I have personally experienced. When a work is heterogeneous and no one can recognize the work of an artist as its own language, as an instantaneous and visual signature, that work is uncomfortable. The art medium does not accept the aesthetic field as an argument but as a visual stamp; a kind of immediate recognition: what you are seeing is a work by Mariko Mori, by Ligia Clark; you see a Siquier, a Silva, a Tomasello, a Stupía, a Paolozzi. I name him artists that I really like and his work can paradoxically be recognized instantly. But that work, have no doubt, was not the result of speculation, nor was it thought out automatically; it was simply work; obstinacy. Unfortunately the history of good art and bad art has been studied and is still studied in school.

"The process that tells the history of good art and bad art has been studied and is still studied in school"

AL: For society, do established artists have a different category from those who keep their work out of recognition? Are they legitimized? Is there genius?

OC: Art is a matter of faith, but society tends to call certain people "genius" or "artist" for the simple fact of producing what others could not imagine. For example, improving the appearance of a food that already existed as such, or making an object as useful as a ladder attractive. In other cases they call a kind of circus illusionist with a big budget and doomed to the coup d'état a "brilliant artist". That further demolishes any question about art. But as can be seen, it is none other than public taste who puts this type of artist in the exhibition halls while the crowd queues in long lines to see his works, convinced that they are about to understand what this business everyone calls art is about. I don't like the word "great" at all, because it talks about certain peaks that certain artistic discourses achieved, worlds that societies probably rejected or discussed at the time. Perhaps although it sounds unattainable, the key to art lurks in being as consciousness. In a possible synthesis, we would say that it is about producing with the tools and devices that society itself put there for other purposes. Objective limits. But the relationship of the artistic object with the human is abstract, irrational. Without purpose, except of course, the artist's own enjoyment.

"Institutions are the crown of artists, their private church"

AL: Do you distinguish between being contemporary or not?

OC: It is impossible not to be contemporary, except living in a bubble, a time capsule or in a state of severe stubbornness. Being aware of being implies a historical view of the individual. And that is very different. Being contemporary or not, is about the mere development of ideas in a technological framework of the time. That determines a shape in the look, yes, but only that. The same there are nuances. And that aspect can lead us to another discussion.

AL: What kind of discussion?

OC: Proposing a look is also the task of designers and artists. And that poetics is political. But the gaze of an era, of a moment, is also the gaze of those who put the price of products, let's say what is called the market. An NFT artist works from the scope of a social network, a specific currency, a critical economy and an arbitrary and current technological framework, all tools that effortlessly coexist in the market. There is no greater or lesser freedom in the tools, but a specific work on a standard accepted in advance.

AL: Does this mean that there is no aesthetic alternative? How do digital platforms influence the current image?

OC: Twenty years ago the archives were digitized as future data, today the image is articulated and constructed multidimensionally from a very high global availability. This creates spaces of uncertainty, of discussion about the real as an end or the artificial as a means. I believe that if we had the tools, the freedom and the knowledge to create our own technological development, we would be investigating different strategies. Everything radically resembles the paradox of free market choice. Nobody buys the product they want, but chooses from those offered. There we evaluate costs, acquired tastes, needs, etc. It is clear that there is no freedom of choice, but rather a directed choice. That is the market since all time.

«The relation of the artistic object with the human is abstract, irrational; without purpose, except the artist's own enjoyment »

AL: Spatial geometry maintains a precise application from the Renaissance. Could you think of some kind of break that allows a new way of documenting a design?

OC: In principle, the purpose of this break would have to be defined. From the communication and design environment, for the moment it seems impossible to imagine a consensus regarding any crisis of classical representation, even avoiding defining the image as a fictional field. In the art environment, on the other hand, that crisis has been used as a language. The image in that aspect has, let's say, complete freedom since it is useless for any purpose, destiny or whatever you want to call it. There is no duty in representation; the experience is extended to the medium, the languages ​​and the supports. Design, on the other hand, is pure communication.

AL: So the spatial representation responds to a market rule?

OC: A design object does not by definition have any aspect linked to subjectivity. I can use a crystal as a weapon, but I cannot sell it as such since it was created as a crystal. Objectively its design has nothing to do with death. The representation of an object in design refers to an objectivity in those terms and for that it agrees academically with classical geometry as much as composition with formal syntax. So we see the world later. This is how we learn it and compare it. Under that order. The aesthetic field is subsidiary of these configurations, being an argument of contemplation accepted by culture as immovable. In the sphere of art, on the other hand, a crystal can become a threat and in this context it can be credible to that concern. Contemporary music, radically removed from a formal academic language, articulates its technical notation through abstract drawings or strange schemes. But although the instruments are not formal, nor do the performers necessarily read melodies, the scores are visually coherent with the discourse. Whoever approaches spatial representation understands mainly that the core of the discussion is neither stylistic, nor formal, nor aesthetic, but political. In the poetics there are still spaces for discussion.

“Everything radically resembles the paradox of free market choice. Nobody buys the product they want, but chooses among those offered. "

AL: Can you draw without technique?

OC: In any case, understanding a narrative matrix is ​​more powerful than drawing academically well. The beautiful or the unpleasant are nothing more than historical categories. Designing implies the convergence of different disciplines, including economics, and that too is technical, and obviously political.

AL: I mean the drawing itself.

OC: But the drawing cannot be separated from its objective. All drawing implies a technique, and drawing is designing. People often think more about pleasing than proposing. Are you referring to a procedure to achieve an optimal result? Well, that result could not be more than something superfluous. The question could be this: What kind of results do you get from a prescription?

AL: We already know the answer.

OC: We all know it. A single result, of course. And formulas are the blind eye of art.

AL: Given the differences between a film set and a space designed for social life, what kind of difficulties, as a design, does the aesthetic decision of one and the other face?

OC: The specific character of the fiction they face. However, there is not, in my opinion, a substantial difference between everyday reality and the fiction of a scene. The field of the real adjusts to certain aspects of perception; dimensions and colors are knowledge that respond to an immediate construction. But we do not all perceive in the same way. That which can scare some, falls in love with others. We could suggestively invert the relationship and say that we live reality as a stage and construct a fiction of the everyday. Memory and imagination play a huge role in these matters. Therefore, facing the crisis of a character is not too different from looking for a specific reading of his speech in a social model and designing accordingly. In both cases it is necessary to define the social actor, give him an entity, know him fundamentally so that the design is an object tailored to him and not tailored to a brand, a formalized aesthetic. Art naturally does not try to adjust to these aspects.

"Institutions protect work adequately to build a kind of near future, other times to endow it with that imaginary and powerful halo that elevates all works to the artistic Olympus"

AL: But society is represented in those aesthetics, right?

OC: It's true. And that is the strongest crisis of meaning facing both art and design.

AL: Your position recalls the vanguards of the middle of the last century. For example, the position of Adolf Loos in Adornment and crime.

OC: The current conditions are already different. Loos spoke fundamentally of ending ornaments, irrational emotions, the superficiality of decoration against function and science as the status of design. The postmodern world accompanied us to the gates of hedonism and left us there. Today aesthetic diversity structures the form of the human and nothing escapes its envelope. While in the XNUMXth century, aesthetics was debated as a condition between poverty and aristocracy, objects, clothing, architecture, today it is a capital shared by all social classes. And this is due to the socialization of technologies and social networks: the artificial environments that Mc Luhan spoke of. At the moment the aesthetic field as a classical discourse is winning the battle. And that can be seen in the field of design where the form, that is to say, the meaning, hides the final purpose, which is simply that of consumption.

"In the same way that a cathedral parodies the image of God so that neither the meaning nor the importance of worship escapes us, the classical world has museums to make public and notorious the mystery of artistic creation"

AL: Could a digital work be considered in the future in the select gallery of cultured art?

OC: I think it was Kropotkin who pointed out in Anton Chekhov that he managed to perfectly portray the failure of the cultured man in the everyday world. Does that reference explain it? One also has to wonder if Chandler, with his dark narratives, could ever be paired with Faulkner.

AL: Can you?

OC: It is an unfair answer.

AL: Isn't the question so?

OC: No, it is not a moral question. At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the cinema was an improvement over creative leisure: an improvement in the time related to boredom that the theater proposed and the long social evenings around tiredness. From the current perspective that proposes to watch a movie online from a cell phone, that episode has no relevance.

Aftermath Laika, China Sea, September 9, 2021