Interview: Why Artist Gustavo Artigas Wants You To Vote to Destroy a Building in Fort Worth

The México Inside Out exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth features work by 23 different artists, but only Gustavo Artigas asks viewers to actively participate in his open-ended project, Vote for Demolition, Fort Worth, 2013.

Vote for Demolition is what it sounds like. After consulting with a group of local architects, Artigas selected six of Fort Worth’s most undesirable buildings — Bass Towers, the Fort Worth Convention Center, the AT&T building, the Tandy Center, the Texas Pacific, and Westchester Plaza – and invites visitors to the exhibition to vote for the building they would like to see demolished. Viewers can fill out a ballot at the Modern or at various booths around Fort Worth, including the AIA office, TCU’s art building, Hulen Mall and Fred’s Texas Café, as well as cast their vote at www.votodemo.com. Then, on November 19, Artigas will present a lecture at the Modern that includes a virtual simulation of the selected building’s demolition. As a final touch, Artigas will send a petition to the city government on behalf of the citizens of Fort Worth to officially request the demolition of the chosen building.

This participatory work is characteristic of Artiga’s artist practice. In Rules of the Game II, 2000, also in México Inside Out, Artigas elicited a different kind of participant engagement by bringing two Tijuana high school soccer teams to simultaneously compete on the same court as two San Diego high school basketball teams. We sat down with Artigas to discuss the role of game structures in his work, the relationship between people and spaces, and becoming a spectator in his own pieces.

Front Row: Your work deals with layers of social dynamics and you examine the ways people react in conflict. Would you regard conflict as the content of your work or as the medium that you use to create your work?

Gustavo Artigas: I think it’s a little bit of both. It is most like the medium I use, but the material is always, in formal terms, talking about something by itself. It has to do more with relations—not only relations with context or society, but relations between people as well, the way people react and the way people make bonds with the world.

FR: To what extent do you speak with your participants about their reflections on the projects after their active involvement in a piece?

GA: There’s a space where we can share those kinds of comments, its not that I develop a project and then take off running. There’s always a post-match time where we share a little bit of what happened. Since I work with a lot of people, I start to make good connections and good bonds with them. With some people, these bonds survive, and with others we don’t come into contact after the project, but part of the project is having these kinds of spaces where we can discuss what happened. It’s not always part of what people see, but its part of the whole process.

FR: How would you describe the relationship between the conditions that you are creating and the reality of how people react to the event?

GA: The people that are part of the project usually know what it’s about. It’s something that is explained so they know that it’s part of an art project, and that can always change how people can react. There’s nothing behind curtains and there’s nothing under the table, so I am always clear and straightforward about what I want to do, but I don’t know exactly how it will happen. That’s part of the thing. There’s always a big amount of chance and possibility for people to interact in various ways, like in any game. But I try to put people into situations that will make them forget a little bit about the art context. It would be different if you fill out a survey at a museum or at a bar, the reasons you go to these places would be different. I think it’s always good to try open the boundaries of the art experience, but to let people know that they’re still inside that structure.

FR: The Vote for Demolition, Fort Worth piece that you’ve brought to the exhibition asks individuals to engage with their environment by making a judgment call about the buildings in their city. Can we talk a little bit about how you approached the work?

The project started in 2007, when I was invited with a group of artists to be part of the Mexican Pavilion in the Triennial of Architecture in Lisbon. Martin Moreno, a Mexican architect, invited us to comment on Lisbon through some relation that we could make between different cities. The whole theme of the biennial was the urban voice and how to react to it, so I came up with this idea of trying to know the city of Lisbon through a simple question, “Which building in the city would you like to have demolished?” I hadn’t been to Lisbon prior to the event, I had just read about its history, so this project was the way I could relate to city.

For me, the project is a way to approach a city and to get to know it better. As a closing of the project, I make a video simulation of the demolition to see if they might be tempted to actually do it, possibly. It has been developed in Cadiz, Spain, in Los Angeles, in Lisbon, in Cordoba, Argentina, and in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

FR: Given that the project overlaps with election season in Texas, its structure certainly recalls similar civic voting practices that occur outside of the museum. How would Vote for Demolition change if you were to remove it from an art context?

GA: Even though it is a piece of art, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t really happen. The people actually vote, they have opinions, and that’s how I learn about the city. Sometimes I find myself left out of the discussion because I have no roots here, but it’s beautiful because then I learn about the city’s history, its interests, and its politics as well. I don’t consider myself an artist who works with politics; I work more with social aspects of the work. I like the way the people get together to do things, how they react and how they see and how they give meaning to things.

If you see the bigger picture, it’s a landscape of taste of the city, of how people react to places. It’s about taste and it’s about aesthetics, but it’s also about what makes us feel okay or not okay.  You can see a painting and say, “I don’t like it, but it’s a good painting,” or you can say, “I like it, but it’s a bad painting.” The funny thing about architecture is that it’s more clear in that way because you’re passing by it every day, so there’s always some kind of reaction that you will have.

FR: The role that art has played in Mexico’s politics and social reform in the past seems particularly relevant to this exhibition. How would you characterize the current role of contemporary art as a sociopolitical tool in Mexico?

GA: There is always this social factor. Art always happens in the presence of someone else, so you could say that all art is political. The problem is not always around that, but whether or not it’s a good work of art. It doesn’t matter whether it goes far away from the museum or if it’s directly about someone in power, but it has to hit everybody. In Mexico we have a really old tradition of having this social, political work, which is good because it’s one branch of our work, but it’s good to see an overview of the whole thing. I try not to think in political terms because for me, they’re really ambiguous in a bad way, and I try to keep my work really clear, experimental and social. There has been a lot of talk about relational art in the last 20 years or so, and I do agree with some of the stuff but I don’t agree with other parts. Where I agree is there’s always a difference between being related to an object or to a context or to another person, so you can find the different possibilities between each of them.

FR: It’s interesting to note the difference between art being accessible to people and inviting people having a relation with a specific piece. One could say that art is accessible in the sense that people can easily come to see it in a gallery, but asking observers to participate in a project invites a different form of engagement with the pieces.

G: Yeah, there’s always that difference. In the morning I was speaking with a museographer from Mexico, and he told me that he was not really into contemporary art because he thought that it was really ephemeral. So I said, “Well, I understand your point and I think you are right, some of the stuff is ephemeral on any level.” Not only on a physical level, but ideas can be really superficial as well. Then I was trying to explain to him that we as contemporary artists are working with the everyday reaction. I don’t want to sound like I’m generalizing because there are always people who work the other way around, but as contemporary artists we’re not trying to set up any kind of standard for the future—we’re living day by day. And I was trying to tell him that our creations are like that, we try to be extremely intense but with everyday life, through contact with people.

FR: You’re dealing with the every day, but if you were to speculate about the near future, how would you characterize the direction in which contemporary art is heading in Mexico City?

GA: I don’t know, that’s a difficult question. I’d prefer not to try it. I think it’s always better to have that mystery, actually, instead of trying to make some predictions. As artists, it’s good that we can amaze ourselves and maybe amaze someone else, or surprise them in some way. I think I would prefer to have people checking on what we’re doing right now and from there they can try to make their own predictions.

FR: México Inside Out examines regional themes, but within a global context. As viewers come to see the exhibit and as they come to see the various works of art from different perspectives and from different times in Mexico’s history, how would you suggest that they approach the collective body of work in order to make that connection between what is local and what is global?

GA: I think that the selection and the amount of work is really good for having a sense of what Mexico City can be like. I would suggest to people that they come with really open minds, and that they clean their eyes somehow [laughs]. They will find really different things. There are some extremely formal and beautiful works that might not come from Mexico City, but the people who made them come from Mexico City, so it’s really beautiful in the way you can see the complexity of the city and how we react to it. It’s an enormous city in many ways and it’s a monstrosity in some other ways. I would say the best way to approach this would be with an open mind, being really critical, too. I mean, why not? Some of the works will ask a lot from you, not only artistically, but in human terms. It’s good to fight back.

I think it would be good if viewers note which pieces made them think of something other than Mexico, which pieces made them think of something of proximity to them.

 

Image at top: Rules of the Game/Las reglas del juego, 2000. Video still from installation: video (11 minutes), 

2 C-prints, 4 T-shirts, 1 soccer ball, 1 basketball, 

2 tennis balls, 10 diagrams, and 1 trophy. 

Dimensions variable. 

La Colección Jumex, México (Courtesy of the Fort Worth Modern)

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