“Art in a social universe”: Wilfredo Prieto in Conversation with Leslie Moody Castro
In early June 2016 Wilfredo Prieto returned to Mexico City from Cuba to produce his second solo show since 2012. Titled “No Se Puede Hacer Una Revolución con Guantes de Seda” (You can’t make a revolution with silk gloves) and hosted by Kurimanzutto Gallery, Prieto’s show returns to his language of small yet powerful gestures in a white cube. In this space his gestures are encompassed by the massive gallery, and at times, the building itself, but rather than be overwhelmed by the architecture, the works respond to its subtleties. The day before the opening of the show Prieto sat for a chat, and together we talked space, politics, geographies and contexts.
LESLIE MOODY CASTRO: I had the pleasure of attending your talk at SOMA, and I was really interested in how you spoke about the idea of art and the utopian, and its relationship to Cuba. Can you elaborate a little bit more on this?
WILFREDO PRIETO: Yes, it’s about the importance of art in a social universe, but the reality is that it’s not understood in every society as a Utopia as such. My experience with utopias was also shaped romantically in this sense. Cuba considers art to be a social and philosophical moment, and each of those facets has a hierarchy. I think that placing those conditions on art in Cuba makes us think a lot about understanding art in a different way. It’s not just about concepts, such as education or the existence of a cultural life, but also involves the difficulties that exist in life, and how much art can give back to our life. There is something really rich about seeing art with a different lens and focus.
What are your thoughts on utopia within the context of Mexico? How do you think your work translates in Mexico, and the distinct location of Kurimanzutto Gallery?
Much more than a context, art is something that in aspects of life comes in and makes contexts more profound, rather than relying or depending on a context. Remaining dependent on a context places different conditions, which are clearly reflected differently. Mexico is, of course, a country with an incredible matrix, including chaos and crisis, which are cultural generators. Crisis, paradoxically, generates great artists and great moments. I think Mexicans are good at tempting dialogue, confrontations with artists, and this is what I think is different about exhibiting here.
There is also something to be said about the fact that Mexico is always close to Cuba, in which it has similar direct references: cultural, historical, social, all of it. For me, it is like a school. To come to Mexico and do nothing more than walk through the streets you are continually receiving information and translating this information.
In terms of contexts, what do you think of the United States as a regional context? What are your thoughts on the proliferation of arts from Latin America and Mexico in the States?
I don’t think geography offers a different context but is enriched in other ways. Art is speaking a language, a direct, incisive message, and it does depend a bit on the context of culture of the individual who is seeing it, but not necessarily the location. I lived for a short time in New York and honestly it bored me. I think things happening there artistically, in my opinion, seemed too dependent on what the market dictated, which was creating a sense of self censorship instead of making work in which the market was encapsulated.
It has always been a place that could bring the best from other places, including Latin America. But the best of Latin America is happening in Latin America, it’s not happening in the United States or Europe. I think that’s why there’s a delay: when museums first start worrying about starting collections of Latin American art they are still two years behind in comparison to when the explosions in Mexico, Cuba, Colombia. There’s a tremendous tardiness. There’s a text by Gerardo Mosquera, which I love, that talks about the art from Latin America but not “Latin American Art” and this is also something I think is really important, to not have these things defining tags or limitations.
Well, speaking of these relationships between contexts, people, and places: are you yourself interested in the thoughts or ideas that people project onto your work?
I think that the relationship that one has with the work in the moment is one that offers a relationship as a spectator, not a creator, as one that takes distance and can take someone to a place that they hadn’t even thought of. The work can change the path; it can offer a new route. The public is also so diverse that I think they simply enrich the language of art in a different way than say, criticism can, or any other type of communication. It’s a total adventure, though one that also has certain patrons, and the motives that come with them.
And when you are thinking of a work in a space, do you guide or think of this dialogue that can occur between the piece, the space, and even more specifically, the public?
I don’t necessarily think about the public, but certainly thinking about the space. I think space is another tool for communication. A work needs to live in a real space, which also includes a utopia — such as this exhibition at Kurimanzutto — or there can be others that really need the hierarchy of the white cube, and each one has completely different characteristics. That is to say, I believe the space, the museography, the curation, are also part of the work because they also activate communication.
Some of these tools are also the titles.
Of course, titles are very much tools. I think it is very important, when one constructs an order, that it has levels and each one of these has to be very well conceptualized when it is necessary. You see that you are activating something from a determined element. We ourselves have to move, but there is a compensation of elements that helps you make the idea in the space effective.
Speaking of space and the works, let’s talk a little bit more about the exhibition at Kurimanzutto. There is a very ephemeral piece outside the gallery itself, on the open street, titled Puñado de cobre, níquel y zinc (“a handful of copper, nickel, and zinc,” 2016). This work is almost an invisible gesture with which to open the exhibition and it will slowly become more and more invisible throughout the run of the show.
It will always be there. It will become more and more imperceptible with the soles of shoes walking over it, cars, rain, and it’s something that becomes more and more imperceptible throughout the entire month, and will also be more and more subtle, more lost within the space, but it endures. It really deals with the question of the abstract illusory conscious. The piece is also really made of illegal materials, since it is illegal to destroy money.
It is made with Mexican pesos. The coins have been turned into dust.
Yes, exactly. Yet what should be illegal is the taking this original mineral from its original location in order to convert it into money. That should be illegal. I like this contradiction as social consensus, how we have this concept that is so historically determined that now gives us what we think is a sense of clarity above the consent of its location of origin.