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An interview with Martí Manen, curator of the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Bienale (2/2)


02 June 2015
This month's topic: The Biennale in layers

An interview with Martí Manen, curator of the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Bienale (2/2)

It’s curious the presence of four Iberian curators in the national pavilions: Chus Martínez in the Catalan pavilion, María de Corral in Portuguese one, Katia García-Antón in the Nordic and you in the Spanish pavilion. I’ve not seen the national press defend this at any point . I would have loved to read a dialogue between the four of you.

I would also have loved it, but at the moment there are certain critical positions that are very happy saying how bad the curators are, so it must be of no interest that we talk or comment on anything. In any other place in the world they would be celebrating this curatorial presence but in the peninsula it’s brushed aside. Three national pavilions and one official collateral event, with a major presence. Four ways of understanding curating, with the option to talk constructively about what is international, about contexts and what could be done.

There are the usual denigrating overtones about the Spanish Pavilion. In your case it has ranged from; that the artists make what they usually make; that its shoddy, that Dalí didn’t merit being taken to a pavilion…Why isn’t the art discussed?

The art isn’t talked about and there is no in depth discussion as it’s much easier to talk about other things, and at the same time, complain about the lack of criticism and space for criticism, in particular from the last spaces left in the traditional space allocated to such things. To enter into contents implies first paying attention, being open to observing and taking a risk by giving an opinion. I see very little real opinion really and very little analysis. As you so rightly say the pavilion by Dora García was directly eliminated , as was Lara Almarcegui. That of Santiago Sierra I remember in its moment also generated an interesting silence preceded by the disdain of the artist for his links with the market. Now, 15 years later, it’s seen as an excellent pavilion (when it already was in its time). .

Of ours I believe they are still trying to discover where to shoot. They are in total agreement, from different positions, that they have to destroy, but for the moment any real arguments are conspicuous in their absence. The interest lies in attacking the curator, although evidently this was more than predictable. I hope we reach the next stage and that it’s possible to talk about the content. I’d love to read a well formulated criticism of the problems with the pavilion, but to say there is a television screen that is too big is to say nothing, when you don’t know what’s shown on this screen because you haven’t even looked at it; and to talk of bars and things of the scene, well it’s evading the issue and losing an opportunity to write seriously when what is proposed is precisely debate. Let’s see, we have a complicated and paradoxical subject like Dalí and we have a genealogical reconsideration; we have a desire to approach problems and we have three diverging and complex artistic positions. Go in to this and begin to talk, but go into it. And really, I’m delighted to receive negative criticism. One already knows that appearing in public signifies accepting this possibility what’s more I hope to learn from it. I’m calm about the project but I’m aware that it is one possibility in the face of many others.

It’s clear that when we’re labelled as the curators of a generation with a certain camaraderie, as a powerful sect, it’s not born in mind that even though we have a healthy respect for each other, we also have healthy debates about our projects and occupy positions that are even antagonistic to each other. Suddenly it seems that we are only valued for the positions we’re granted in a given system, as if there were only a few checkboxes to be filled. Is it a problem in just the Spanish scene?

I’m interested in giving my opinion and understanding the channels, precisely in order to pervert them. I’m interested in a type of writing that is also bastardised, midway between criticism, theory and the experiential. I’m moving increasingly closer to this field (a field which in the Spanish context is understood with difficulty). I’m interested in applying another type of reference and referents and I don’t need to quote Baudelaire as we’re no longer in a first year class of criticism the whole time. On the other hand, I believe we are living in a medial stage in which the speed of interaction at times demands a reaction. If someone says something it is perhaps interesting to respond, even though you are “breaking” the assumed codes. As the curator of the pavilion I can respond in a conversation in Facebook and also eliminate in this way the distances that are applied, distances which in reality are inexistent. We are all constantly changing roles so to maintain a logic of opinion and express it to me even seems healthy (within the insanity of the web, that has bouts of evil).

About the differences between the agents, it’s true; they put us all in the same generational bag, when we are not even the same generation nor do we have the same references. But it’s true we can talk through the differences. It has to be said with some more than others. I’m comfortable with people 15 years younger than myself and 15 years older than myself, it’s a case more of attitude than age, it’s something like understanding the situation from a global and proactive point of view (with all the inadequacies of this word). I don’t work from friendship, I understand affection as something that forms part of the work and believe that it’s key to understanding the emotional part of the exhibition and art as an element of knowledge, but I don’t take decisions based on friendship. Nor for strategic reasons, which you sometimes see happening. Personally I have the sensation that I don’t occupy any checkbox, that more than a possibility I’m a problem.

The conservatism of consolidated politics and its interventionism are modes of protection, which as an historian I dare to interpret as the end of a regime, although this doesn’t mean to say that it will change for the better. I have the feeling of being immersed in a second Cultural War. And it isn’t just in Spain.

We’re in a moment of uncertainty, so the conservative positions tend ever more towards protectionism and a closing of the ranks. In opposition to this I believe we have to be very clear and transparent in order to contribute another vocabulary. The dominant vocabulary is closed and the options are being eliminated, so it’s up to us to reopen them. It’s once again necessary to win over things that were already won but which we let slip. And yes, it’s not just in Spain so much as something that is evidently occurring in the whole of Europe. For this reason I want to insist on the linguistic contribution if you will, in opening up the field, to permit other possibilities and other realities.

On the positive side: what is the greatest support you have had?

Venice in itself is hard –there’s no getting away from it. It’s very big and you have this floating sensation that you are putting so much in play that undoubtedly you are going to fail and you’ll have to retire after this fall. What aids and abets this is the national desire for disaster, but when you see that what is really interesting about Venice is the possiblity of international exchange the weight is taken off these minor moments.

I’d like to know about the relation with the other countries and even with the overall curator himself, Okwui Enwezor.

Okwui can’t opine about the pavilions, as it’s not his field, so relations are cordial and markedly distant. We met up with all the curators of the pavilions and him to recount the projects and vice versa, but when we’d already made up our minds about most of it. Afterwards, during the montage, it depends on how stressed you are and the rhythms marked by each country. We talked to people from other pavilions, shared moments of post-montage and spritz, and talked about everything and nothing. We’ve done it with those who were following the same schedule as us. In general shared communication and working together isn’t really foreseen, as it isn’t about working together. You also talk to the artists you know who are setting up in the general exhibition and you see how alone they are. A graphic example, returning to the pavilion: it’s Spanish territory, not Italy, so the Italian police can do nothing inside its walls. The distance reaches this level.

And finally, what do you take away with you? Any immediate effects?

Things are already happening with the artists. I also take with me the experience of having seen a machine of this type from the inside, which has nothing to do with analysing it from the outside. On my part, I was lucky enough to work in Bonniers Konsthall the day after flying from Venice to Stockholm, so I haven’t had time to fall into the traditional post-Venice depression.

Manuel Segade is an independent curator from Spain, who despite having managed to work more beyond Spain than in it, still passesone month a year, at least, reduced to rice. Lately he’s been really interested in the way the performativity of curating can trigger new forms of institutionalism.

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