The advent of modern art in the mid 19th century is tied to an expansion of discourse about art. The growing availability of texts and statements – criticism, essays, biographies and manifestos – also includes interviews with artists. Throughout the 20th century and particularly from the 1950s, precisely when more programmatic texts in which artists announced their plans of action begin to become rarer, the practice of the interview gradually becomes stronger.

In the next two next decades, during the shift from the modern to the contemporary, interviews begin to be considered as more direct sources of contact with artists’ thinking, as if discussion seems, if not an alternative, at least a complement to the texts of critics, historians and even theorists. As the Italian critic and interviewer Gabrielle Detterer puts it, interviews foster “a desire for transparent communicating”, noting that, “statements and interviews (…) offer no final solutions or interpretations; they are working papers that assist the person interested in art in a methodical approach to the process of making art; and they are sources to be explored in search for answers to questions about the origins and determinants of artworks.” [1]

In the following interviews, three young artists – Andrei Rubina Thomaz, Daniel Escobar and Marina Camargo – do not offer exclusive and irrefutable readings of their own works, but rather, in discussion with the other, share doubts, discuss the possible sources of their works and interests and review the paths of artistic invention and training. Choice of the email format was determined by distance (each was in a different city: Andrei in Porto Alegre, Daniel in Belo Horizonte, Marina in different parts of Germany, the interviewer in Porto Alegre). The rhythm is different from that of physical conversation, responses can be more refle ctive and considered, but they in no way lose a sense of spontaneity or the flavour of a meeting. Comparison of one interview with another reveals great differences, but also proximities between the three artists. More than anything, the desire for transparent communicating is reinforced.

 

Eduardo Veras, Summer 2011

[1] DETTERER, Gabriele (org.). Art recollection – Artists’ interviews and statements in the Nineties. Ravena: Danilo Montanari / Exit / Zona Archives Editori, 1997.

 

Interview with Marina Camargo, by Eduardo Veras (2011)

 

Eduardo Veras: Let’s start with some biographical data: where were you born? What did your parents do?

Marina Camargo: Let us start with the origins, then! It is interesting to begin by talking about my life; I usually leave information aside and focus on other origins of my work (such as conceptual origins, or issues that were relevant for the work I came to do afterwards, for instance).

I was born in Maceió, in the state of Alagoas, and at a certain point in my childhood we moved to Porto Alegre. This change was really striking for me, but I only came to realize that later, when other changes happened. Every time I live in another city, even if temporarily, it becomes clear to me that my origins are not only in Porto Alegre, but also in other places, such as in northeastern Brazil. With the beaches and amusement parks of small towns (whether in the Sertão or on ‘untouristy’ beaches such as Paripueira), the circus, which was an essential activity in a city that had no attractions other than the beaches, and of course, a whole lot of sea, sea, sea. Even today when I arrive in a city I do not know, my references are often the ones I had back in the seasons we used to spend in Paripueira.

I don’t come from a family of artists — my mother is a pharmacist and my father is an agricultural engineer. My mother had some family down South, that’s why we moved to Porto Alegre.

This change of city and the constant coming and going between cities during the holidays (leaving friends, family and stories on each side of the country as each summer came to an end), I think it ultimately made me into a bit of an expat, but in a good way. Porto Alegre is the city where I had almost all my training, but it is not exactly where my whole story is.

Over 20 years ago, Maceió was a small town with few cultural events. When we moved to Porto Alegre (my mother, my sister and I), my mother took us to every performance she could, from operas and popular music concerts to plays and exhibitions, etc. Porto Alegre was, for me, a very exciting city.

 

What could have awakened you to the arts? What was the moment when you realized something was art and that maybe you were interested in doing that?

I couldn’t pinpoint the moment I became interested in art. My earliest memories are from kindergarten, a Montessori school where I remember having a great individuality and freedom to do my own thing (I wouldn’t say it was art…). The experience of autonomy and creativity is certainly striking. However, I could not — or dare not — define what makes an artist become interested in becoming an artist.

Around the age of 15, I took art classes again, and around that time I started painting and reading everything I could about art history. The desire to attend UFRGS’ Instituto de Artes came from a firm belief that I had, even back then, that art could not be just a weekend activity for me.

At that moment, I had no idea how I could make a living on art, but I knew that was what I wanted to do.

Finally, I think that art was really essential in my life; perhaps it was a necessity, something that is the center/axis of life itself — though I’m a little reluctant to say it, because of the saccharine tone it evokes…

 

What or who was decisive during your time at Instituto de Artes, in Porto Alegre?

What was remarkable about my time in Instituto de Artes was essentially awareness in terms of issues regarding art itself. Not the historical aspect (also important), but mainly the critical aspect regarding art and the art system (not in terms of criticism, but in terms of building a critical thinking oriented to an artist’s own work).

 

Is this critical thinking in relation to one’s own work what keeps an artist from ‘mindless making’? I ask this because your work in general appears to have been carefully constructed and planned. If there is some power of chance at play there (I am thinking, for example, of those photographs in which you collect the letters that fell out of the acetate sheet with your hands), it is much more oriented to an initial moment of the work, and never to its final outcome.   

I wouldn’t know how critical thinking changes “the making” of an artist, but it certainly changes the way that artists stand in the world, in art history in the context of contemporary art. I don’t see this clear opposition between a ‘mindless making’ and a ‘critical making’, for example. And I say this thinking of the many works that, at their ‘making’, seemed meaningless. But their meaning eventually became clear, in relation to other works and even critical issues or issues that were intrinsic to the work itself. In other words, ‘mindless making’ can be very important in an artist’s working process and, during this process, issues that are more important to the artist’s work and investigation arise.

I mean, up until now I have been talking about the working process. But it is also important to mention that this process takes place among many choices, experimentation; like “fumbling” your way until a certain point when you find a more accurate configuration (whether of shapes, images, ideas, thoughts, references, etc.).

I agree with you when you say that the chance factor in my work seems to be more concentrated at that initial moment. Many of my works have stemmed from totally unpredictable, uncontrollable situations, and that has had great impact on my production. These photographs of letters falling from the transparency are a good example of this.

It was a situation that, when it took place, it didn’t prompt me to think about turning that chance into a work, but it marked my perception about the letters, about a text printing falling off a sheet. It was only years later (maybe about five years) that I resumed work on that, which was documentation for a project, and then I produced the Letras caindo (Falling letters) photos . It’s as if chance contributed with relevant issues for me to think about my work and, before that, for me to actually do the work. It does not mean that chance is noticeable, although it is there, latent as a memory of the work process itself.

 

I am enthusiastic to notice how smoothly you move between media, between languages: photographs, maps, collages, overlays, texts. I’d like you to comment on how it feels to have the possibility of this free transit. Was there was a point when you realized that this was a possible path? 

This is an important issue for me. It was not a deliberate choice to move from one medium to another, but rather the need to resolve every project within the question that was intrinsic to the work itself. That is, I really don’t care much whether a work will take the final form of a photograph or a typography, but it matters to me that the formal solution is somehow “embedded” in the conceptual question or thinking involved in the work.

So I never thought of it as a path to take; it was something that ultimately just happened because of the development of the works I did and do. They are conscious choices, yes, rooted in a specific context of art. I have always believed that, amidst the apparent diversity of media and references, there is a “center” or an axis of interest, which is what really matters in an artist’s work. Through a seemingly diverse production, it becomes clearer what an artist’s issues are — of course, this requires knowing a series of works by the same artist.

In my final project at university, I approached the issue of how it would be possible to talk about the artist’s working process by creating a sort of process genealogy.  The way I found to address this issue was through graphics, drawings. And finally, the image of a spiral contained the idea that an artist’s diverse production makes it seem that they are circulating across various fields, but that movement always shows a convergence (or divergence) of a “center” (in other words, this same idea that at some point we can see the convergence of issues in works that are apparently different).

In reality, this “transit between languages” is more of a problem for the market than for the artist. It is more comfortable for the art market that an artist produces similar works, in which authorship is easily recognizable. Maybe that still shows an idea of style that is characteristic of modern art. After all, what would style be, in an artist’s production? The repetition of shapes? Or the consistency of certain issues?

 

It seems that your work always (or almost always) maintains a close proximity to drawing. Was drawing something crucial in your career path? Does drawing currently affect your way of seeing things?

Drawing is certainly paramount to my work and especially to my training. It is a subject I am always interested in studying and writing about, but currently I prefer not to try to understand what I do only through the bias of drawing — I prefer to think that other possibilities can make me understand different aspects of my works.

When I talk about “drawing” I’m not talking about the traditional drawing with a pencil on paper. I am talking about a broader notion, about drawing in terms of its connection to the formation of visual thinking.

People talk about “sculpture in the expanded field” (referring to Rosalind Krauss) but I believe that the drawing has not only the potential to expand as a “field” but also to be understood as a flexible, permeable, porous field. When I talk about drawing, I often have the impression that I’m talking about thinking, which indeed seems appropriate.

Finally, these are issues I have elaborated during my Masters and I intend to continue studying the subject.

All of this to say that drawing could be the basis for my work — this drawing that defines visual thinking (and vice-versa). This does not necessarily mean that everything I do is drawing.

Drawing is, for me, very close to the realm of ideas, the formation of ideas and the perception of the world, and this process is not always visible or noticeable in the work that is shown.

 

You mentioned that you currently prefer to think that other possibilities, beyond drawing, can make you understand certain aspects of your work. Name an example of that.

The representation of things in the world as a way of apprehending the world. I think a lot about these representations as we know them and about how some shifts from their original meanings can change (even if minimally) our perception of the world around us.

I am talking about representation in the original sense (and not necessarily about the issue of representation in art history): if a convention is established in which element X instead of Y will represent X, one replacing the other, then there’s representation — in a more primary sense, of course. Language is an example of that: it is agreed that a sound represents an object, that a graphic code represents that sound, and so on. Language is formed by representations. The same applies to maps, as drawings and that represent the urbanism of cities or the geographic shapes of regions.

Let’s think about the issue of overlapping or crossing over two different languages that can create a noise between them or create new meaning from this encounter.

 

You said: “Drawing is, for me, very close to the realm of ideas, the formation of ideas and the perception of the world, and this process is not always visible or noticeable in the work that is shown.” There is something odd here: the possibility of drawing keeping alive, in the contemporary context, that characteristic of sketching, mark-making and drafting, which art has held so dear since its beginnings.

Yes, and that seems to be a typical characteristic of drawing. When I look at the drawings made at any point in art history, I get the impression that they always contain something timeless, as if the styles of each age don’t ‘burden’ the drawings; it’s as if they have a sort of autonomous life in the history of art. Anyway, that’s just my impression. But the fact is (and I believe that is what leads me to view drawing in this way) that drawings have always been connected or close to ideas, to thinking. This makes drawing timeless in some way (when I say timeless I don’t mean they don’t have the characteristics of the time in which they were created, but they keep a certain “freshness”, a feature that in a way always keeps them close to what is contemporary — whether it is a drawing by Da Vinci, by Ingres, or cave drawings; even detached from their original contexts, they seem relevant today, and not a dated art form from a certain time and place).

 

The written word — or even before that, the letter — then appears as an important element in the constitution of your work. I wonder how this started. Do you remember what was the first project that pointed to this possibility? How did it happen? Did it come from the realization that the word — or letter — is also a drawing?

The first projects with letters also involved ice, such as Caça-nadas (Nothing search), which was a word search puzzle in which rubber letters were frozen into blocks of ice, and as the ice melted, the letters got mixed-up and the words that were initially there were lost. There was also a video with the letter “E” in ice covered with kerosene; I kept trying to set fire to it, until the letter slowly melted.

These were a couple of the early experiences with letters.

Looking back on it, I can see that the issues that interest me to this day were already present there: the loss of an original meaning of known elements (such as letters or words), and “how” this meaning is lost or minimally displaced is very important to the work. The ice took care of this “transformation” from one meaning to another (or none), of a certain organization that was transformed by the ice melting. Then I went looking for other ways to treat the same issues, not always using letters.

The interest for letters does come from this perception that they are, originally, drawings. From the perception that, when we write, we are drawing. However, they are like forgotten drawings, since habit causes us not to perceive them as drawings anymore, but rather as elements of a word, creating meaning and signifiers, like a code.

There was also the case I already mentioned, of the letters falling from the transparency during a presentation of a project, in college. By chance, the letters began to fall off the transparency, sliding down the sheet and, little by little, sticking to my fingers. Although the situation was embarrassing at the time, because I was losing the text then and there, with the letters shuffling while I had to talk about the baroque from Minas Gerais, it was also a striking situation for my perception of letters as graphic elements, which are in a way solid (even if they were only as solid as the minimum thickness of the layer of ink on paper).

That situation somehow brought me an idea about letters.

 

The map, like the word, is another element that is very dear to your work. Maps are drawings — codes — that speak of our condition in the world: what we know, where we are, what belongs to us. What led you to the maps?

Trips led me to maps. The first projects I did with maps were during the time I was living in Barcelona (2003-2004).

It was a time when I began to look for a sense of guidance in the maps, not only in space but also as a way of realizing something greater, which was the experience in the cities, plus the feeling of shifting, which was constant.

During this period I started collecting maps of cities and also maps of the sky. If urban maps delimit a space, sky maps tell us about time, they mark the passage of time (since each configuration of the sky corresponds to a period or to a moment in time). Both types of maps concerned, in an abstract way, this sense of shifting. Maybe it is like a way to mark a place in the world, a way to perceive a position at a given time and place.

During this period I did the projects Cidades apagadas (Erased cities) (which later unfolded into Eclipses, a collaboration with Andrei Thomaz), Fundo do mundo (Bottom of the world) and the first city maps drawn with letters such as Mapa I (Paris).

Then came projects such as Tipografia/Urbanização: NYC (Typography/Urbanization: NYC) (also related to another travel experience) and Atlas do céu azul (Blue Sky Atlas).

The works that have references to instruction manuals are also related to the works with maps, in the sense of bringing an objective, and even linear, view to talk about another kind of experience or relationship with reality, such as Sentimentos distraídos (Distracted feelings) and Brancusi no ar (Brancusi in the air).

 

To the extent that they evoke cities that do not exist, or cities that have been changed, your maps lead, through different paths, to, the theme of utopias — not just the representation of “other possible worlds,” but perhaps more importantly, the taste for appropriating a code and giving it a twist. Is that right?  

I do not usually think about utopias in my work, although the idea may sometimes be there. But with the maps, I don’t think in this utopian sense of creating another possible world. For me, the code appropriation and that shift of meaning that can be triggered by giving it a “twist” is much more present.

However, it would be naive to think that this shift of representation could happen without consequences. Between what I propose and what I accomplish, spaces of interpretation or even of initially unforeseen meanings are created. Sometimes my works surprise me by opening other paths I had not thought of or expected.

In my recent work with maps, a relevant issue has been, indeed, thinking about another urbanism for cities, about possibilities to play with the structure of cities. Or like in project Open Horizons. Through the project website, people from different places around the world are invited to submit photographs where a horizon is visible. The photos are displayed on the website itself, aligned across the horizons, in random sequences that are determined at each new visit, i.e., every time you visit the website, there is a new configuration of images. For me, this project is utterly utopian.

In fact, the very conception of what a horizon is has something utopian about it: a line that forms in the landscape, but isn’t anywhere, that does not actually exist as a place or space, only as a point of view regarding the landscape itself.

 

In the case of works that use instruction manuals as reference, what was your motivation there?

What I find attractive me about instruction manuals is the objectivity with which information is given; it is the way actions and meanings are simplified and schematized so that people can understand it quicker. They are drawings par excellence, which coexist in the realm of ideas — but in a very objective sense, which is the odd thing about them.

Lições de escultura: Brancusi no ar (Sculpture lessons: Brancusi in the air) is a manual that teaches you how to draw Brancusi’s sculptures with your hands, showing what would be the necessary movements to represent some of his most famous sculptures. The format of Brancusi no ar (Brancusi in the air) is like a “cordel book”, the ones that are sold at fairs in the Brazilian Northeast, hanging from a wire. Sentimentos distraídos (Distracted feelings) is a poster made for distribution, where the drawing of an assembly manual for a toy car is combined with a text from another instruction manual that teaches how to assemble and clean a car engine. In this text, the word “engine” is replaced by “feeling”, which gives a nonsense meaning to the text while evoking sentimental advice. I like to think of these works as something that people can have around, take home, read or throw away.

 

These works that work as instruction manuals are not quite funny or amusing, but they have a certain sense of humor, a strangeness that comes from the fact that they are not expected to be where they are. Is humor an issue for you?

The question is relevant, yes, but I have never thought of humor as a specific element of the work. I think the issues that are important in my life ultimately transpire in my works, whether or not I want them to. Whether it is the relationship with the places where I live or have lived in, books I have read, landscapes I have seen… And the same goes for the sense of humor or irony, even as the shift of seeing something that is not entirely expected in an everyday situation, such as reading an instruction manual. In any event, sense of humor is indeed essential in my life.