My interest in Boetti began in the United States. I lived there during the war with Afghanistan. I suddenly felt the need to say something about the war. I remembered that Boetti said that he had lost his house in the previous Afghan war. It seemed to me that this event, in poetic terms, could help me to express something about the situation I was experiencing.
The first piece I made was “The Boetti Lesson (Searching for One Hotel, Kabul)”. It is comprised of nine faxes telling a fictional story: a journey to Kabul to search for One Hotel, the hotel where Boetti lived. Through the faxes, I report what I supposedly found there, while at the same time pointing out a great number of historical inconsistencies in Boetti’s project. In this first phase, the story ends with me not finding the hotel and, nothing happens. From then on, however, I realise that the war allowed me to get to know Kabul and to find the building where the hotel was. When you take a look through the photographic history of this city, you find lacunae, moments which were not photographed because the radical Islamists, when they were in power, prohibited photography. However, during the war, the media sent along their correspondents, who created a large amount of photographic material. This means that in the history of photography in Kabul there are very specific times in which there aren’t any images, and others in which there are. In this process I was plagued by doubts as to whether or not, within this framework, it was ethical to take on this project. Though I thought it was madness, I became obsessed and went ahead with it.
The method of finding the hotel was to trace out a map in which the neighbourhood could be visualised through the images of others – photographs from combatants, soldiers, people working for NGOs – which allowed me to create a fairly accurate portrait of the space. Many of the photographs were very specific, many were taken at random. As a result of all this, in addition to it being an investigation in narrative form, I also consider it an essay on photojournalism.
Several years ago, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev came to see me in Los Angeles. At that time she was preparing dOCUMENTA13 and became interested in the project; she had been researching Arte Povera and had been close to Boetti for some years. Part of her research consisted in going with artists to places which the artists suggested, which could prove interesting for their work. And that was how her proposal that we go to Afghanistan together came about, without any concrete plan.
On our first trip we found the hotel and managed to rent the building. There were some structural faults in the building, but we repaired them, we did up the garden and so on, and right away it became a more habitable place; people came to drink tea, we chatted to them, explained what we were doing. We thought about buying it and turning it into a cultural centre. But in the end we dismissed the idea as it made no sense to transform it into a museum, since no Afghan would be as interested in the place as we were. That’s why we decided to rent it until the end of dOCUMENTA13. In poetic terms, it was important to take care of the place in an intimate and personal way, but at the same time to accept that this place, rather than being turned into an object of beauty, had to go on with its own life. All that lived experience of the process culminated in a film.
A similar process took place with “Me suena a aislamiento” (Sounds like loneliness to me), about the composer and musician Conlon Nancarrow, presented at Proyecto Siqueiros: La Tallera (Cuernavaca, México). Unlike other projects, I wanted this one to be exhibited in Mexico. There were various reasons for this: many of the people involved and Nancarrow’s family live in Mexico. He’s still unknown in his country.
In my artistic practice there is no methodology: things just happen. In this case, a friend invited me to collaborate on a magazine to write about the relationship between Nancarrow and the architect Juan Narbona. When we visited the composer’s house to get more information, I started to get really interested, and that was how the collaboration with the magazine turned into a new project.
The Nancarrow piece allowed me to tell a story in a way that was less linear, more open, in a different form than before, a different way of working… Instead of creating a new history, a new object, I was interested in reproducing existing objects. But, why make a new film or a new photograph…? My work was like that of a copyist, someone who produces facsimiles. From there came other questions which still interest me today: To what extent is there a degree of authorship in the copy?
When you decide to do something related to history you have to question what your position is in it. Little by little I was discovering that, in temporal and geographical terms, I don’t mind taking events from the past and reviving them in the present, bringing the two times closer together. My objective is not to become a historian, since a historian seeks to tell true facts. For me, the important thing is the way in which the story is told, and being able to do that which a historian would never dare to do. Many of my works attempt to place facts within fictional spaces, with the aim of making relative the importance of both my contribution and the contribution that a historian could bring. Ultimately, it’s about rethinking history as a space capable of fiction. Or rather, it’s like saying: Look, this also exists, let’s take a look at the world through a wider perspective.
One of the most important things to have happened to me is that my work has become a platform where a number of important people with similar interests can come together. For me, art is much more than an object: it’s a confluence of interests. In this sense, many of my works are the fruit of conversations and dialogues with people who share with you their story.
I think that, very often, though not in a direct of literal manner, my practice is a reaction to the policies of the very museums or cultural centres where they are exhibited. When I put on an exhibition, I’m also trying to redefine the function of the museum. It has to do with erasing geographical barriers and thinking of the museum as something which radiates these histories. Erasing the limits between what is research, what is the work, and what is the educational programme.
“Nobody Walks Away from True Collaboration Triumphant or Un-bruised” was the first time I’ve worked together with another colleague. Occasionally I collaborate with other people, like musicians, film editors, etc., but with Ryan the collaboration was more horizontal, although pitting two egos against each other turned out to be very complicated. Our work started to gain a degree of attention at the same time, so I feel like we’re part of the same generation. Our respective practices may seem very different from a formal perspective, but they come from many similar interests and influences. This meant that we kept being coinciding in group exhibitions, and that we worked with the same curators, critics and collectors. Over years of conversations we discovered that there were echoes in our works, or that there were objects that we’d created in a similar way, but with different concepts. From there we began to work towards the idea of putting on an exhibition together. It’s very rare to find someone else as passionate about a subject as you are. For example, the Boetti project: it was clear that that had to be a unique, solitary and intimate voice, since it dealt with a very personal obsession.
When Ryan visited the MACO art fair in Mexico we used the opportunity to organise this exhibition. The process was pretty quick. We decided to create a number of structures which would interact with each other, rather than producing something together. What seemed very interesting to me was when you propose something like this, you then have to deconstruct how the deal works, try to understand it. At the same time, you have to do the same thing to yourself, and this manner of questioning is the richest part of the process. Many of the pieces ended up being a commentary on this dynamic of deconstruction of the other and deconstruction of the self. On the other hand, this dynamic also helped me to learn to put my own processes into perspective and do things I normally would not do.
The project “Moonwalk Lesson (Rigo Style)” matters in the sense that it’s a negotiation between several things: to what extent it’s a document, to what extent it’s text, to what extent one wants to influence.
The piece came about from an invitation made to me by my gallery owner, Jan Mot. He had taught classes in an art school for some time, and much of the material he used he asked for from artists from the gallery. The project took as its subject Rigo Tovar, a Mexican musician and singer, creator of a very particular style of music, which brought together genres like cumbia, rock and ballads, played with instruments associated with 1970s psychedelic rock. Through a multimedia slideshow, we establish that Rigo Tovar was unquestioningly the first to dance the famous moonwalk, which Michael Jackson is credited with creating.
The project itself is a set of instructions allowing students to learn to dance, and to pay tribute to a much-loved figure who the hegemonic history of the US music industry has forgotten.
The work itself became a set of instructions, and the text, an experience.
Though my work contains historical references, these references are excuses that allow me to talk about other things. To me, a reenactment has the same value as something new. It’s clear that in a reenactment I’m never going to experience what was experienced the first time round, but why should one have to create more when there is already so much? Interesting stories can be retold millions of times and be different every time. Though I’m not interested by the work of Sophie Calle, it serves as an example to illustrate this idea. The English theatre group Forced Entertainment performed a piece based on one of her works. Two people are each sat in a chair, reading continuously, first one, then the other. They read the same letter written by Calle’s ex-boyfriend, which relates the break up of their relationship. In spite of the fact that every person reads the same words, the act of reading itself turns it into something different.
I find it easy to explain myself through a text. When something interests me I take notes like sketches; sometimes, they turn into something clearer; other times, they become more abstract, more poetic. Quite often they turn into nothing. I try to order my ideas in this way.
The document could be a thousand things: a film, a photograph, a video. You have to ask yourself through the gesture what you are really doing. When you are researching, you have to define how you are going to document it, how you are going to share it. In the Boetti piece, for example, I worked with faxes, a format which disappeared after 15 years of existence. This concrete format allowed me to reflect on the technique, on the positioning of my narrative with respect to this history. Over time, the story told on these pages will disappear and we will be left with blank pages, implying an absent narrative.
I’m interested in the history of documentation, the way in which people document the artistic gestures they carry out. I’ve always worked with the mindset that documentation isn’t just the register of something direct, but rather, in some way, it also shares that which I think happened: my thoughts stemming from a fact. The work is never a film; the work is the act which one creates in a particular moment or a particular place, be it a studio, an interaction, or research.
The place in which I work doesn’t determine my work. Obviously, I work in a different way in Mexico than I do in New York, but those influences come from social matters. What dictates my practice is common interests with other agents. Perhaps the form that the interactions take could be different. You could have a folkloric image of Mexico, painted in pink, for the tourists – but this isn’t my vision.
Conversation with Mario García Torres, March 2015, in his studio in San Miguel Chapultepec, Mexico City.
García Torres (Monclova, Mexico, 1975) has exhibited his work in dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel (2012); 52nd Venice Biennale (2007); 8th Panama Art Biennial (2008); the Yokohama Triennale, Yokohama, Japan (2008) and in institutions such as the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2010); Barbican Art Gallery, London (2008); Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna (2008); Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (2004, 2005, 2007); Jeu de Paume, Paris (2009); Tate Modern, London (2007); and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2007).
Interview and photography: Zaida Trallero
Editing: Beatriz Escudero, Zaida Trallero, Diego Gándara
Translation: Lindsey Ford