Iván Argote is a Colombian artist, born in 1983 in Bogota. From a coffee shop in La Courneuve near Paris, he talks about art and public space, politics and culture, activism and colonialism… in front of a very “intimate” public.
His work “deals with the way that man relates with the myriad changes that take place daily in the historical, economic, political and moral realms.”
His works has been shown in various venues such as the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale (Greece); MUDAC, Lausanne (Switzerland); Centre Pompidou, Paris; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; 30th São Paulo Biennal (Brasil).
Colonialism complex and public spaces
Conversation transcription below
Michela Alessandrini: Iván Argote, thank you very much for participating to this interview.
Iván Argote: Thank you!
MA: What does interest you about people, public spaces and people in public spaces?
IA: I think that what interests me about that it’s probably the question “what are we supposed to do in public spaces?” Public spaces are owned by the public, by people like us. My question has always been “what can we do in a public space and how do we interact with other people in it?” Many works I’ve realized are related to these questions. Can we make interventions in public spaces and who does define what the so-called public space is? The city decides which parts of the public space you can walk on or not, they make monuments to mark their history…what is our place as pedestrian inside history and architecture? I think that most of the cities don’t let people modify the public space: we are just supposed to be there and pass by and not to leave a trace. Many of my works go in that sense. Whether we are a single person or a group, not as old or historically important as the city we are living in, we should have the opportunity to play in that space. I think that public space is very authoritarian. I’m interested in how to defeat, modify and negotiate with this authority. Then there are some sentimental issues: I’ve always lived in big cities. The feeling of be together with 10 million persons is quite particular, you are never alone but you feel alone. Big cities, but small cities too, create barriers between people. We do it too. So how is it possible to feel alone with so many people around? Some works also talk about that.
MA: What is your experience of the colonialist complex?
IA: I think we discussed this notion in our previous conversations.
Being Colombian, living in Europe, I have a lot of questions about identity and how to criticize colonization. I have a European lifestyle but historical and personal roots in Colombia. When one talks about colonialism, he/she should consider the place he/she’s talking from. I think that being honest about our own opinion and its origin can be a good starting point. Very often we talk about colonization from an intellectual point of view, a theoretical one, but everybody has an idea of colonization. It is important to talk according to our own experience, even from the sentimental point of view. How am I relating to Spain, being a Spanish speaker coming from south America, when I am going there to work? How am I even relating to Colombia, since I’ve spent 9 years away? I don’t want to avoid those issues, I kind of treat them frontally instead! I try to be honest with the place I am coming from and question myself about my own opinions. That’s what I wanted to do with this film, “The Messengers” (2014), bringing these two guys from New York, these two militants with fresh ideas about politics, genders and ecology, to this very local reality in a little colonial town in Colombia, and then in a little town in the south of Spain. They were sharing contemporary ideas about the future of the planet, testing their resistance in these local folkloristic towns… The video questions the notion of colonization: when you talk about it in the south of Andalusia, during a religious procession, what does it mean? When you are talking in a giant tropical river in a south-American colonial town, what does it mean? There are still traces from the Spanish colonization and the American cultural and economical influence. I wanted to talk about these issues being honest and facing them as complex as they are. This complex is probably about complexity… we should talk about colonization in an honest and, at least, fair way. You can’t talk about Spain without knowing what is the actual life in a small village in the south of Spain and how it is related to the globally recognized ecological or gender ideas. I don’t know if I’ve answered to the question… I was wandering off…
MA: Yes, in a COMPLEX way! To conclude: last time that we saw each other we were talking about activism and art. I would like to know if art can be a form of action and/or reaction. If so, what do we use art for?
IA: Everybody in my family is a militant – my father is a politician in a left wing party in Colombia, so I know what militancy is… at least in Colombia, and I even participated in some actions when I was a kid and an adolescent. I think that art is a place where you can generate thinking. I decided to become an artist, instead of philosopher (that was my first choice), because I don’t necessarily use language to produce thinking. I rather use gestures and images and objects. I think art is a place where you can generate thinking through visual forms of expression. I distinguish between art and militancy but I also feel like all the fields are permeable. I think you can think to militancy through art, and to politics as well. Actually I was in Colombia just… yesterday! and had a meeting with the cultural institution’s director IDARTES of Bogota (a very important institution, more than the Ministry of Culture, because Bogota is such a big city!). I was telling him that since I am working in the art field I’ve realized that artists are connecting different publics – the government, the public institutions, private collectors, people supporting or simply enjoying art, artists from different social backgrounds. I was telling him that art could be this place where all these people with different political point of view can talk. Art is a good place to generate a new consciousness, even political. People with economical power cannot negotiate with politics sometimes, but through culture and art you can put them in dialogue and make them understand their social responsibilities. Art could also have a bigger impact on the political level. Art has the power to make all these people talk. I don’t know if I do that through my work but I surely do it besides it. I would like to participate in more initiatives, at least in Bogota since I know the context very well, in order to gather different people around art.
More info on Iván Argote on http://www.ivanargote.com/