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Martí Manen (MM): You’re participating in the Göteborg biennial with a proposal in which you call into play the need to hide due to immigration laws. What has the process been like to find an immigrant who was willing to play hide and seek with the spectators of a biennial?
Núria Güell (NG): When I work in a context that is different from my own, the first step always consists in locating some collective close and active in relation to the material being investigated in the project. In this case I contacted a group of doctors and lawyers who have united to denounce the abuses of immigration policies and to advise illegalised migrants. Their involvement was key in order for the project to be able to be made, as they helped me investigate the laws and find a legal loophole with which the strategy for the project could be spun. They were the ones who put me in contact with María, a refugee from Kosovo to whom the Swedish government had twice denied asylum. They knew her personally and also knew that as well as having the ideal legal situation to participate in the project, she is a strong woman who has the strength to want to denounce the abuses that she, her family and so many other migrants are suffering as a result of these immigration laws. It’s key for a project of these characteristics: beyond whether the collaborator wants to earn a wage and is interested in the work with the aim of regulating their situation, that they have a militant desire that makes them understand a work that a priori can seem dishonourable as an efficient tool for fighting that briefly alters the relation between dominators and those dominated, something akin to exercising a symbolic counter-violence on the public, who are also the ones who vote for the politicians who apply, or not, these laws.
MM: Is it a performance?
NG: I hardly ever feel comfortable with the concept of performance to describe my projects as I relate it to the stage. Traditional performance implies a public conscious of experiencing an artistic action, that passes in a specific time and place. In my actions there isn’t a public as such, what there is are people who relate to the project but frequently without being aware that they form part of an art project, they experience it as one more event in their day to day. I’m not sure what the adequate term would be but I understand my projects as life stories, as the adopting of a script, not a role, and living it for a period of time. Almost all the projects modify my real life and have an impact upon it, whereas performance is more related to representation than the real.
MM: The Göteborg biennial is the most important in Sweden. And despite the fact that this time it includes the presence of various Spanish artists (Núria Güell, Fernando Sánchez Castillo and Jorge Galindo & Santiago Sierra), I don’t see any Spanish institutional logos anywhere.
NG: A few days ago I coincided in some plenary sessions with Fernando Sánchez Castillo, and he explained how increasingly he feels as if he has fewer institutional accomplices. It’s a sensation that I’ve shared for more or less a year now. And unfortunately I don’t think it has to do with the economic crisis, so much as an ultra-conservative ideological shift, that is marked by central Government and which is reproduced by different workers in the institutions that depend on it. Why they reproduce it is another issue, in some cases there will be an ideological affinity but I believe that on many occasions what there is, is fear and obviously a lack of commitment to culture and a discrediting of the role that art can play in society. In the specific case of the Göteborg Biennial, given the works that the three of us have presented, it wouldn’t surprise me if the lack of institutional support from the Spanish government had something to do with these interests..
MM: The biennial has a marked political feel. The city of Göteborg as well. Does the fact that the context is more prepared for political discourse facilitate the artistic work?
NG: In the last year, two Spanish museums have invited me to work with them, however, the projects in the end haven’t been carried through because the management has alleged that the context isn’t “prepared” for it and that adverse reactions could be caused. So they’ve justified themselves with the context but at the same time they were implicitly accepting that for the very “de-politicization” of the context the work could have more effect. According to what María tells me, in Göteborg some people don’t want to have anything to do with a political refugee, while another minority merely plays, but that the majority want to listen to her, many of whom reveal themselves to be highly indignant and pissed off with their government and the immigration policies that it applies.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)