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Magazine

03 May 2021
BNV Producciones Cultural Production Office, Sevilla, since 1988

Mela Dávila Freire

The BNV Producciones cultural production office was founded in 1988 by Joaquín Vázquez and Miguel Benlloch, with Alicia Pinteño joining them in 1990. BNV is defined as a cultural production and intermediation apparatus created with the intention of making its presence felt in the cultural landscape of Andalucía by triggering critical thinking and new ways of producing within the creative sector.  This is an interview with Joaquín Vázquez and Alicia Pinteño.

Mela Dávila Freire –BNV Producciones is one of the longest-running independent initiatives dedicated to the production of contemporary art in the country. It is not easy to summarize your very long career, but let’s start at the beginning. How and why did the idea come about?

BNV – In 1988, after our (Miguel Benlloch and Joaquín Vázquez) progressive disengagement from political activism, precipitated by the defeat of the “No” vote in the NATO referendum, we both decided to “work in cultural production, a field within which it was possible to continue with a certain construction of meaning.” We founded BNV Producciones first as a community of goods with its headquarters in Granada, and then somewhat later as a company in Sevilla. BNV emerged from the desire to influence cultural policies and to expand the dialogue between contemporary artistic experience and the contexts where this practice is presented and generated.

Our first task was editing the magazine La fábrica del sur (The Southern Factory) and to carry out several commissioned exhibitions, especially for the government of Andalucía. We got started in contemporary art with the help of Mar Villaespesa, with whom we carried out El sueño imperativo (The Imperative Dream), presented in 1991 at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid and fully financed by private funding with a contribution from the PSV housing cooperative, dependent on the UGT union.

Shortly after, Mar Villaespesa and BNV were commissioned by the Andalusian Pavilion at Expo 92 to curate and produce a contemporary art project within the scope of the Universal Exhibition. We accepted this commission with two conditions: that it was aimed more at reflection than celebration, and that it took place outside the Isla de la Cartuja (space dedicated to commemorating the Discovery). It was at this point that Alicia Pinteño joined the team.

From here on, the projects we embarked on shared a common trait: they were not just about finding support and collaborations to get the economic resources that would make them viable, but also about creating inter-institutional networks that would help to forge ties between institutions, artists, creators, and cultural agents interested in problematizing their own practices and status, and open to experimenting with new ways of production, creation, and dissemination of contemporary culture.

Mela Dávila Freire – You define your project as a “cultural production office” which, in Spain in 1989, was far from usual. What were your models then, and how did you create something that you would have rarely seen in operation?

BNV – In the Spanish art scene of the 1980s and early 90s, there was no model to draw inspiration from or, if there was one, we did not know of it. There were some sparks, “flames and flashes” as Tiqqun would say, but so brief that many times we did not even glimpse them. We managed to deploy our work in the cracks that existed thanks to a lack of professionalization of the incipient cultural administration, which lacked programmers and managers capable of developing content. Without having planned it, we occupied and filled in those cracks, we inhabited them, not like the conquest of a space of authority (“We make holes to produce movements in the structures of power,” as Miguel would say), but as our rightful space, and as the only way of giving continuity to a project that had become our work and economic support.

BNV’s relations with public institutions (with the exception of Arteleku, Fundació Tàpies and, later, the first UNIA team) could be defined as ‘tense,’ given the logical difficulty of carrying out projects that were not on the official horizon, but also as solid, because both parties were interested in maintaining them.

Mela Dávila Freire – What was your position when you first started regarding funding? In other words, when BNV was created, how did you manage to finance your activity?

BNV – No, there was no fixed or predetermined economic-financial plan. It was rather the other way around: we started with an idea, proposal, or project and then thought about what the necessary resources would be to carry it out, and how we could get them. Our commitment to public culture made us consider it a duty of the Administration to support proposals that, due to their character of poetic or political experimentation, could only be expressed within an institutional framework. In other words, BNV’s work has moved between the inside and outside of the institution, many times with the institution and other times in spite of it, but always expressed and manifested through it.

Thus, our economic strategy was formalized through the projects we wanted to promote, asking for support from institutions that we thought might be interested. The budgets of each proposal already included the proportional part necessary to maintain the small, stable infrastructure of the company.

It is true, however, that if BNV has been able to gamble on risky and experimental ideas, it has been because, while promoting this type of initiative, we also offered cultural services of all kinds, from assisting curators and artists, to coordination, design and the mounting of exhibitions and audiovisual productions, as well as editorial services. We got contracts for work through competitions or calls from all kinds of institutions that demanded these types of services. Amongst ourselves, we called this contracted work, in which our conceptual or creative involvement in the creation of content was minor or non-existent, “food jobs,” and for a long time they allowed BNV to pay its fixed costs, get involved in initiatives with which to provide a sense for its work and to favor proposals that made an attempt to bridge the persistent separation between art, artists and artistic spaces, on the one hand, and city and citizens, on the other.

Mela Dávila Freire – How has your relationship with public institutions evolved over the years? What are the collaboration formulas that have allowed you to move forward?

BNV –In the 2000s, when the network of cultural infrastructures in Spain was already much broader and the country was going through a time of a relative budgetary boom, BNV entered a new period with the launch of UNIA arteypensamiento(artandthought), a project that insisted on the interrelation between context, artists, criticism, production, and public cultural institutions, to which social institutions and movements were also added. For the first time we had an institution, the International University of Andalusia (UNIA), which provided continuous support to a program that was developed in the network formed by UNIA and three peripheral institutions, that is, in geographical and budgetary terms, but related in their lines of action and programs: Arteleku, the Tàpies Foundation and the José Guerrero Center.

UNIA arteypensamiento functioned for almost two decades as a space for research, debate, and reflection on art, creation, and society. We dealt with topics such as changes in the modes of production, mediation and exchange of knowledge; so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture; digital media and technologies and their potential in the incipient copyleft movement; informal strategies for the appropriation of public space; post-feminisms and new representations of gender and sexuality; flamenco as an aesthetic field; and contemporary representations of the Arab world and Latin American.

After the economic and financial crises that have occurred since 2008, however, the situation changed completely. The global credit collapse and drastic budget cuts in public cultural institutions threatened to short-circuit the still-weak channels of contact, incursion, cooperation and financing that we had been using with varying degrees of success. Funds dedicated to experiences of political and institutional innovation began to disappear or were drastically reduced, and bureaucratic processes aimed at channeling institutional collaboration with independent cultural entities and agents increased. As a result, the UNIA arteypensamiento project suffered a progressive reduction in its budget, more than 70% in just four years, and a lack of institutional support, until it was completely dissolved in 2016.

As of 2010, we still continue to produce some large-scale projects, but it was obvious that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find financing to develop our own initiatives, or to receive commissions that would allow us to sustain our small business infrastructure.

Mela Dávila Freire – How would you define your way of working throughout your career?

BNV – The different methodologies used throughout our trajectory can be defined by three main features. In the first place, we favored contexts and the provocation of encounters that didn’t hide the antagonisms between social agents, artists, creators, institutions, independent spaces, activists, and social movements, and which allowed space for debate rather than creating spectacles. In addition, we believed that the challenge of progressive cultural policies did not lie in carrying out programs with political content, but rather in forcing institutional structures and the work of art, their hierarchies and their functions, so that within them projects, programs and actions could be carried out in a political way. And finally, in our collaboration with the institutions, many times based on political commissions or the urgencies of institutional policy (more or less legitimized by the ballot box), although we always tried to meet their demands, we would do it deviously, because we understand that only insubordination that avoids the literalness of the message and the duplication of political discourse allows for a practical relationship between art and politics.

This way of doing things is based on a ‘text,’ that is, a conceptual framework that covers the project, supported by a ‘weave,’ that is, a social and institutional network capable of linking and sharing the experiences and situations that are taking place, and these lead to an ‘elaboration,’ a series of productions that express, formalize and materialize the conceptual work and process that has been carried out.

Mela Dávila Freire – What is BNV’s current situation? What are your plans for the future?

BNV – In 2015, in a context of economic crisis and a disminution of projects and energy, not only did the UNIA arteypensamiento program close, but Alicia joined the Museo Reina Sofía and Miguel’s illness worsened, dedicating his last years to producing, ordering and archiving the materials that constitute his legacy. We began to do some soul searching, to study our possibilities of survival at a time when we felt decapitated and without many ways out, just waiting, abandoning, or settling in.

We came to the conclusion that we are facing a new crisis and perhaps a new failure, and this has made us recapitulate. Cultural institutions are stronger and at the same time weaker than ever. They have ceased to be donors (assuming they had ever been of their own accord) and have become captors. They are self-sufficient but more dependent, and more bureaucratized. The new situation requires changing our ways of being and doing if we are to continue producing contemporary critical culture.

For this reason, we are proposing to build a new institution of our own. We understand that it is no longer a matter of working in, with or against institutions to expand their limits, but of becoming institutionalist as the only way to combat a political offensive that, in the form of paperwork, budget cuts, obstacles, and barriers, imposes institutionality. For this reason, and on the very site that had been our headquarters for twenty years, we are building the Independent Platform of Modern and Contemporary Flamenco Studies, or PIE.FMC. This is a project born within the framework of UNIA arteypensamiento and which has the same goal of becoming a space for research, teaching, and exhibition of the arts, while at the same time it aspires to establish links, relationships, and actions with collectives, institutions, and agents from the world of flamenco, a space that has traditionally been built from a social and anthropological point of view.

Our interest is to move within the central and peripheral space of flamenco. To do this, our networks and alliances have as intermediaries both hegemonic institutions (universities, museums, administrations on various levels) as well as peripheral ones, such as flamenco clubs, gypsy associations, and diverse social, political, and cultural groups. We hope to obtain financing through public grants, assistance and subsidies, but also from private sources (sponsorships and sales, as well). The new PIE.FMC office will be located on the old BNV site, and it will house an archive as well as an exhibition and work room where we will display our programming.

 

Mela Dávila Freire. Recently, a poster advertised her lecture at an art school with this headline: "Mela Dávila is not a graphic designer; she is not an editor, and neither is she an artist...". Combining stages in which she has worked in art institutions with other periods as a freelancer, Mela is treading a path that at first involved translating, coordinating and editing; later she concentrated on archives, and lately encompasses research, writing and curating. Although she still hasn't found a name for her profession, she is increasingly liking the low rectitude of her trajectory.

Articles

03 May 2021

BNV Producciones

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