Oscar Carballo interview

Photography: Timmy van Spiegel / Buenos Aires, September 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 though he considers aesthetic fascination as an excess of moral happiness, every work, he says, is a private discourse that grants the public a lasting, genuine and final emotion.

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

OC: In design, shapes are not free issues. They belong to the field of the real. They have specific dimensions and scope. They occupy spaces, they organize them; consider mechanisms, operations. The technology of nature is a good example. Mc Luhan pays attention to this, 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 hallowed ground of an art exhibition.

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

OC: 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 redemption. What I am saying is that 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 at the Beaubourg. She was probably poorly cured, but seeing the fragility and madness of the artist in that neat, kind 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, does the object become definitive?

OC: Not in an exhibition, that happens in the practice of design where decisions are discarding the richness of the smudged. A design inevitably displaces other arrivals to choose only one. Therefore, every object we see is the result of a final relationship. That is the weakness, the choice that we know in advance is broader.

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 detach 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 constraints as parameters, as variables; he restricts the possibilities to deepen one, with greater freedom. Even so, 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 all of 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 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 way. But there is no possibility of splitting form of structure. Now, except for mechanisms that intervene between the work and the viewer or are themselves, the only important restriction in art is caprice, 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 courage.

OC: Well, the joy of doing something useless.

AL: Is that all?

OC: It doesn't seem like much to me. There are countless jobs that can and should only be done to survive. Most ignoble, but appropriate to social life and inescapable.

«Biology relativizes artificial invention: the design of a San Antonio vaquita is definitely the design of its wings and 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 divulged in 1918 that pointed to him as a war pilot at 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 be corrected in the face of the memory of the real dead, in short, all of that ended up revealing a side life where writing was strengthened only by his born talent. Faulkner was not measured at the altar of writers, he worked just enough to sustain himself financially. But the same literary refinement that consecrated him in life, also hid his artistic conduct. The writer's life was an experience surrounded by heartache, drink buttressed by innumerable relationships that sustained his spiritual decline. His idea on the question of art, as something productive, 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 am saying is that an artist, on the other hand, can find enough of that which returns a certain plenitude where obviously there would not be much more than pain.

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

AL: Everything seems to be resolved in a question of class. Some can, others can't. Some have rights, others don't.

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

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

OC: Yes, of course, living off something unproductive. We all carry a social idea about what is useful. A crisis product of the errors that the leading man was putting as stumbling blocks: 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 by piecework and in this way recompose the ineffectiveness of recreation. In this paradox we find ourselves with an amazing availability of time, especially to spend money and a few actually achieve rest. The curious thing is that the question of rest was already raised since the beginning of time. To recognize the insomniac society that we are building, we should retrace the path to understand what was the turning point where, in order to sleep more, a device had to be invented that would take away our sleep. Progress is a nonsense 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 unite those characteristics close to pleasure? Should the rest of society be devoted to a clearly and decidedly utilitarian task? The ignoble tasks of which he spoke?

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

AL: You put a responsibility on the artists, but the governments also fail to stop that fate.

OC: No, I'm not taking it off, let me. For an artist to think that he is building peace by painting a picture is another absurdity. What remains for artists who do not fit into that discourse? Nothing. Nothing remains. Social slaughter is the responsibility of economic power and no one else. The political is articulated in the tyranny of the rules that the world produces; the global world today. The political, to understand how it works, needs a series of arbitrariness like art, some merely practical and others reasonably absurd. But in exchange, a politician must deal with some vaccines, right? With boards of companies that relentlessly seek to turn production into a powerful income, he must deal with educating a people and confronting 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 is an artist: he feels joy through that tension that is irresolvable at times.

AL: I perceive that the politicians you name resemble philanthropists or benefactors. Do they all go into that same box so neat and tidy?

OC: The political and politics are concepts. In its implementation process, it often becomes a 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, no social force that produces for everyone. Men, in the name of politics, often bastardize the path, but that is not the condition of the political. 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 him 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 more luck he may have in completing something of what he thinks he is doing with his effort. Building a table, a glass, an alfajor, 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 alfajor, the glass and the book. And who carries out this task that is by no means silent, 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 from except when it is related to the aesthetic field, with 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: Can art then be seen as a political arrow, an argument that replaces needs with abstract enjoyment?

OC: Well, but not all individuals enjoy in the same way, or at least not all enjoy with the same object of desire or with the same artistic object. We can assume that the one who truly relates intensely there is the artist himself. In this case, the word artist names that ability, not the work, something 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 is emerging from the culture where he works and lives and that it is also worth considering as a path to well-being.

AL: Aren't the institutions and museums the ones who legitimize the artists?

OC: That is a tiny part of the question. The world is vaster. I am talking about a society that enjoys looking at a color, a line or a light. Individuals who burst into tears in front of an anonymous drawing. That is also what aesthetic enjoyment is about and to a more complex degree we can talk about an individual who reads. Read books, things written by others. Individuals that are related to a more borderline jouissance: 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 is still an artistic desire. 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 will, but a reason that allows us to find well-being where before there was no such thing.

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

AL: Is the experience of art a private act?

OC: Even though the reading was only the patrimony of the one who told, 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 tale 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 ultimately do the same with their vulgar objects that they affectively reconsider for innumerable reasons. All valid.

AL: You said affectionately. 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 relate to 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 don't see it as possible to be able to separate the sensible 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 just as Orson Wells filmed them in The process.

«What can scare some, falls in love with others. Memory plays an enormous role in these matters»

AL: Does a work in a museum consider a claim for you?

OC: In museums you can gather the work of a dead artist; and that is a convention, but you can also see the work of living artists. Sometimes institutions adequately protect work to build a kind of near future, other times to provide it with that imaginary and powerful halo that exalts all work at the same time. Olympus artistic. A boutade. But in any case, a work locked up in a museum is a dead work. There is no possibility of canceling it, breaking it or repainting it. Many artists would steal their own work to correct it. I can say in return that I have lost track of my works in there.

AL: But the curators have a specific function in that reservation.

OC: The curator is a didactic functionary; a kind of scribe In some cases he has to reconstruct artistic life through stories and that is very interesting. But as far as curatorship is concerned, it is notorious that some artists have abandoned the objective production of their work to re-enter museums dressed in a different way. Disguised, let's say.

AL: Disguised as curators?

OC: Yes, acolytes. Although it is true that work can also be produced from a look, from a cutout or a specific collection of contents, in my opinion, for certain artists, having become curators for a moment only considered moving an active position towards an absolutely contemplative one. . Not even theoretical; merely executive. It is curious since it is a task that any artist can and should handle naturally or at least should handle. Marcel Broodthaers made a different move; Look: he concluded that it was ideal to create his own museum to gather his questions and little else, because there are very few objects. He Eagles 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 more luck he may have in completing something of what he thinks he is doing with his effort"

AL: Can art be thought of 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, works and the public, supplying the interests of museums and markets. Art fairs display this cocoliche with exemplary distinction.

AL: Is public taste a marginal 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 the wealthy classes learn how to choose the ideal painting to show off their furniture.

AL: How does that education work?

OC: Establishing categories and discourses: support, language, history, 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 experienced personally. When a work is heterogeneous and no one can recognize an artist's work as its own language, as an instant 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 paradoxically his work can be recognized instantly. But that work, have no doubt, was not the result of speculation nor was it thought of in an automatic way; it was simply work; obstinacy. Unfortunately the history of good art and bad art has been studied and is still studied at school.

«The process that tells the story of good art and bad art has been studied and is still studied in school»

AL: For society, 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, improve the appearance of a meal that already existed as such, or make an object as useful as a ladder attractive. In other cases they call a kind of circus illusionist with a big budget and aimed at the coup de effect a "genial artist". That further collapses 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 lines up to see their works, convinced that they are about to understand what is going on in this matter that everyone calls art. I don't like the word "great" at all, because it speaks of certain peaks achieved by certain artistic discourses, 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 obsession. Being aware of being implies a historical view of the individual. And that is very different. Whether contemporary or not, it deals with the mere development of ideas in a technological framework of the time. That determines a shape in the look, yes, but only that. Still 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 look of an era, of a moment, is also the look of those who put the price on the products, let's say what is called the market. An NFT artist works from the scope of a social network, a certain currency, a critical economy and an arbitrary and current technological framework, all tools that coexist effortlessly 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 archives were digitized as future data, today the image is articulated and built 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. It all radically resembles the paradox of free market choice. Nobody buys the product they want, but chooses among those that are offered. There we evaluate costs, acquired tastes, needs, etc. It is clear that there is no freedom in the choice, but a directed choice. That is the market since all time.

«The relationship 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 of 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 language. The image in this aspect has, let's say, complete freedom since it is useless for any purpose, destination or whatever you want to call it. There is no duty in representation; the experience extends to the medium, languages ​​and supports. Design, on the other hand, is pure communication.

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

OC: By definition, a design object does not have any aspect linked to subjectivity. I can use a crystal as a weapon, but I can't 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 these terms and for that it agrees academically with classical geometry as well as composition with formal syntax. This is how we see the world later. This is how we learn and compare it. under that order. The aesthetic field is subsidiary to these configurations, being an argument for contemplation accepted by culture as immovable. In the sphere of art, on the other hand, a crystal can become a threat and in that context appear credible for 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. Anyone who approaches spatial representation understands mainly that the core of the discussion is neither stylistic, nor formal, nor aesthetic, but rather political. In 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 that are 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 is also technical, and obviously political.

AL: I mean the drawing itself.

OC: But the drawing cannot be separated from its goal. All drawing implies a technique, and drawing is designing. Often one thinks 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 are obtained with a recipe?

AL: We already know the answer.

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

AL: Given the differences between a movie set and a space designed for social life, what kind of difficulties, in terms of design, does the aesthetic decision of one or 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 scenario. 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. What can scare some, falls in love with others. Suggestively, we could invert the relationship and say that we experience reality as a stage and we construct a fiction of everyday life. Memory and imagination have a huge role in these matters. Therefore, facing a character's crisis is not too different from searching a social model for a specific reading of her speech and designing accordingly. In both cases it is necessary to define the social actor, give it an entity, know it fundamentally so that the design is an object tailored to it 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 provide it with that imaginary and powerful halo that exalts all work to the artistic Olympus»

AL: But society sees itself 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 is reminiscent of the avant-garde of the middle of the last century. For example, the position of Adolf Loos in decoration 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. For 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 sense, 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 the mystery of artistic creation public and notorious»

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

OC: I think it was Kropotkin who pointed out that Anton Chekhov had managed to perfectly portray the failure of the cultured man in the everyday world. Does that reference explain it? One would also have to wonder if Chandler, with his black narratives, could ever pair up with Faulkner.

AL: Can you?

OC: It is an unfair answer.

AL: Isn't that the question?

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

China Sea, September 9, 2021