Watch this video titled ‘Performance Air’, held in Honduras
Restrepo has collaborated with other artists, as well as neuroscientists and educators in order to create elaborate performances that explore different aspects of how we make and perceive art. In this interview, he talks to Federico Rosa about the role of a contemporary artist, how to make art political, and the importance of collaboration.
Federico Rosa: There is a debate in your works about interdisciplinarity. The artist as an educator, as social critic, as a builder of relationships with other artists, as researcher, as curator. All of these roles have become facets of your work. Do you feel that this is part of a general trend in contemporary art?
Jorge Restrepo: When I read your question, the first thing that occurred to me was to paraphrase it and find an answer: ‘the educator, the researcher, the social critic…as an artist’’…. The real interdisciplinary motivation in my work stems from my intrinsic nature, my interdisciplinary professional training, and the need that I have to establish cooperative relationships with other human beings and to integrate different fields of knowledge.For years I have done this in my art, as a professor, as a manager in the areas of science and socioeconomic development, and in my personal life.
Not only do I organize performances based on networks, inclusion, collectivity, but I also live, practice and need to work in groups, to be interactive and to bring about the convergence of various disciplines in order to feel productive –whether this means that others are involved in the workper se, intervening in it, touching it, contributing their bodies or participating in its construction.Given that I include various philosophical or biological views or foundations in my work, they are sounder if this is done with a direct invitation to the experts.In other words, what motivates and strengthens me most is interacting with others.
I do not believe that interdisciplinarity is a generalized trend at present; rather it is an option that some of us choose as part of the opportunity that contemporary art provides for working in an innovative way.
Do you consider your work to be politically active? Why or why not?
All work should be analyzed within a context.During the time I lived in Honduras as a professor at Zamorano (Pan-American Agricultural School), I carried out a series of actions that made reference to the political moment that the country was experiencing (the Coup d’Etat of 2009), and that at the same time was a healthy questioning of the institution of Zamorano with respect to its passive stance in the matter. From that standpoint, some of my actions were activist, but not confrontational; they were pedagogical.Likewise at Zamorano, my actions that addressed environmental aspects were not only pedagogical but also a remonstration and an entreaty to the institution in the sense that it should have more clearly defined policies regarding the teaching of agriculture within a stronger framework of an environmental philosophy.
Why is it important to create collaborative works with other artists, educators or scientists? Is this shift toward a more utopian version of art? To somehow end the prevalent individualism of our society? Or is it perhaps a more aesthetic reason? Are you trying to expand the artists’ field of action or trying to confirm its scope?
For me it is undoubtedly the richness that is achieved from cooperating, not just as a contribution to the work itself but also to the personal growth of all those who participate.This cooperation can be quite broad; and to the extent that it integrates people with more profound and specialized knowledge, it generates a more structured and consistent direction toward the formation of complex thought, a competency that I consider to be vital for building the integrated development of humanity. There is also richness in bringing together people with different kinds of knowledge, but what I primarily seek is diversity. I don’t need to confirm the breadth or scope of art given that this is supported by the whole gamut of plastic expressions that we are seeing at present. What I am promulgating is the depth of the concepts that should move artists. I believe that an artist should be –today more than ever– someone who is erudite and in a permanent search for building a very solid background for his or her work.
Except for anintimisteartist or one who is dedicated to presenting his or her contemplative experiences, all those who take a step outside at this point in time to address economic, social or environmental topics require specialized inputs.The provision of these inputs can be obtained through interdisciplinary projects that articulate the thoughts and knowledge of different specialists.
What should be the artist’s role in our contemporary Latin American society? Should there be a role in particular?
I believe that each artist is free to define his role; what is not valid for me is an artist who produces without being aware of his contribution.It is clear that given the advances that humanity has made today, those roles are ever more difficult to define in order to receive recognition as an artist.Your question refers to what is Latin American. It is hard for me to think of a transcendent artist who does art for a limited territory because the world today is open; thus I believe that we artists need to consider our impact on a global scale.
I believe that it is important to leave challenges for the observer; moreover, in this way, very distinct and enriching interpretations are created. Sometimes I write something about a project, and I think that is better not to polish it so I limit the explanation to the objectives.
On the other hand and in a contradictory fashion, without any explanation of the metaphor or the symbolism, I am, in some cases, interested in orienting the participants about how the work contributes to the development of their competencies and of course each time I seek to integrate my work with other professionals that can help me in this explanation.
Your work deals with the environment, from both a scientific and an ethical standpoint. There are other artists such as Keith Tyson, Matthew Ritchie or even the post-impressionist Georges Seurat, who through their interest in the discoveries of science make inquiries about our surroundings. Do you consider your work an investigation of some type or scientific extension?
My work makes a scientific contribution in the form of a series of experiences that can be read each day with greater attention from the perspective of neuroscience, as for example, what occurred in the minds of the people that had an ‘embodied’ experience in a collective action that represents climate change. That is the reading that interests me.With respect to environmental studies, I do not contribute knowledge to those sciences, but rather to their pedagogy.I also contribute to socio-psychology in understanding how we humans interact. In economics is there a representation about the formation of networks that could be modeled mathematically with some interest?
How do you think that the gap between the audience and spectator of contemporary art in Latin America could be closed?
This has been a constant concern for me, and not just in the case of Latin America, but for the whole world. I believe that there are multiple ways of doing this, among which would be to make the teaching of art history in schools appealing, that the leaders understand the importance the languages of contemporary art have in the development of humanity, and to explain what art is today in a didactic way.There is a permanent coexistence with poor-quality art, which also confuses people; for example in certain tourist oriented cities there are zones with art galleries, containing thousands of works of very poor quality, whose buyers are in a way paying for something that has no future value.
Planetarium I (2008),Performance colectivo, Honduras
Jorge Restrepo is an educator and artist residing in Bogotá, Colombia
Federico Rosa is a visual artist residing in Brussels, Belgium
Image Courtesy: Jorge A Espinosa