The experience of art

By: Daniel Céspedes Góngora

Conversaciones sobre arte
Conversaciones sobre arte

It is not the first time that I write about Rafael Acosta de Arriba. However, familiarity with his person and his books places me once again in an intellectual responsibility that goes beyond the closeness of the friend. Well, although he prefers the friendship of a good human being to the legitimacy of his knowledge, I am aware that perhaps it is the latter that could awaken someone’s condition and true sympathy. I respect vain intelligence if, despite this, it motivates the programmed gathering or perhaps the smile of a hermit. Malicious knowing is something else. I can’t get along with the person who owns it at all. Conversations about art (ArteCubano Ediciones, 2018), the recent book by Rafael Acosta de Arriba, combines the rigor of the researcher and exegete of art with the generosity of the admirer not only of heterogeneous artists but also of valuable critics. The author returns to generate the debate of ideas through the interview, one of the genres in which he usually moves with mastery and pleasure.

Being the recurring practical interview in Acosta de Arriba, I do not know in essence or under what weighty reason Danilo Vega Cabrera, the author of a book of interviews such as La soga y el trapezista. Talking about Cuban art and criticism in the nineties (ArteCubano Ediciones, 2016) he decided to bypass such a constant and influential intellectual. In a selection or anthology the author has the right to choose those that will appear as soon as it is supposed to be the most select of a branch of knowledge. Inattentions are often committed that, after all, are forgiven, but the major mistakes weigh. Not all the representatives of a specialty have to be there, but if there is going to be a dialogue about Cuban art, curatorship, art criticism… in a book made in Cuba, Acosta de Arriba is key to the narration of that story. Still today there are those who open the important volume of Vega Cabrera to find out what the writer of The sign and the letter said, Paths of the look, The spiral of the image … Such an absence is not understood. Dialogue with Acosta de Arriba, an unavoidable interviewer due to professional experience and innate qualities, would have enhanced the book of yore.

Conversations about art confirms the concerns of its author to endorse the multiform, changing and transnational fabric of humanity that has the creator as a common denominator. Here the art critic is at the level of the more established artist. It is one of the few occasions in which a book on art contemplates both the passionate and political person as well as the creator of the symbolic image who knows his technique, aesthetics and poetics. Is it strange then that among sculptors, painters, illustrators, photographers … writers about art are interspersed?

In favor of the interviewee, Acosta de Arriba accommodates the situation. He may be influenced by the circumstances in which the interview was devised. However, he manages them at will for the role of the one who gave in to the dialogue. The ego can then calm down to show that swing between the intimate and the professional. The interviewer does not now separate what, without discussion, is already complementary: life and work. He usually begins with short questions about the origins of the vocation. This happens when there is a friendship for years with the interviewee. Then he inserts the reflection that he provokes, such as the cases of the artists Tomás Sánchez, Roberto Fabelo, Jorge Luis Santos, Harold López, Rubén Rodríguez … and even art critics like Manuel García and Hamlet Fernández.

However, in Fernández – whom he knows very well – he inverts the way of asking, since he intentionally changes the frequent dramaturgy of at least the interviews of the names mentioned. He asks Hamlet Fernández: “Could the career of Art History be considered a source of training for future critics?” represents knowing how to involve at the same time and, from the beginning of a dialogue, experience and thought. This is what he does when interviewing other thinkers of art and culture of the rank of Gianni Vattimo and Hervé Fischer – also a visual artist – or other creators such as Ambra Plidori, Claudio Parmiggiani and even Herman Puig, with whom he had to achieve that kind of interview of remembrance to present a photographer of worth but unknown for several generations. Fortunately, we find in Conversations about art different ways of interviewing according to the links, always critical, with the work and its author. “Like graffiti on a millenary wall”, the interview with Julio Larraz, would be the most daring of the volume. From Louise Bourgeois to Guibert Rosales, twenty names responded to Rafael Acosta de Arriba. He closes a period of thirteen years because each talk was given at the appropriate time.

An interviewer friend of much more experience has advised me not to incur in questions or broad headings, since the protagonism is strictly speaking. In all fairness, the length of how much one can ask does not guarantee the quality of the answer but it does mean, of course, how much someone can answer you. Short questions or preambles – those that paraphrase or quote an author or the same author who is being interviewed – are sometimes more interesting because they are effective, since they either take the interviewee out of the comfort zone or condition him or her to confirm something that perhaps it will be denied by the confusion of a new confession.

Consequently, a compromise of two is convenient, because the excellent interview is that: plot of different but not distant characters; oasis found and shared; buttress just as if waiting for the appearance or arrival of the other who, deep down, surrenders to the risk of improvising the story of memory is ensured. It is improvised from the known, although the most ingenious and even witty responses demand quotas of the imagination. What it is then is that the completed questionnaire or the transcribed version of the sensorial to the paper, which interview according to the “old school”, is restructured in order to reveal two human beings who, separated for an opportune moment from the daily task , it seems that they dialogue for today and tomorrow. That is why there are interviews that will also be like classical authors: they will not grow old, while others will attest to an era very well, but will remain anchored there, without the slightest favor from the echo.

I think I have written as much as I can about the interview as a genre. Although I read them with great respect and passion, I would have needed hours buttocks to be credited with manuals on how to make them. Simply put, if it comes to manuals, I have zero behavior. It will be necessary to respect the basics when interviewing, but a single formula does not exist: it would generate suspicion before the possible “decalogue” of the good interviewer. This and other reasons encourage me to welcome more those who interview with the preparation of detectives than those who choose the primary questionnaire, trying to accommodate anyone who comes before them. The first prudence in an interview is preparation. But the card up the sleeve is the intuition always in suspense, which should be preserved during a dialogue or conversation. That is the reason why I follow Carmen de Eusebio, the interviewer par excellence of Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos.

More than one book of interviews I have commented or presented. It has been continuously the reader and not exactly the literary critic and even less the specialist who pointed out the variations in the insistence. I do not consider myself a literary critic and less an expert in interviews. Now, as a reader, I realize that, in principle, the variations are erected as constants that shape the prevailing, the canon. According to my readings, constants in the interview would be the following:

The interview usually pleases the reader because it outlines an existence and reviews a creative footprint. Confessing or not, the interviewee responds even by silence.
The interview is a particular chronicle, a condensed and amputated biography, perhaps by virtue of the importance of another topic that, fortunately or unfortunately, depends on how much (and how) the interviewee says it.
The finding is the first of the neighborhoods or frankness. Hence the shock of the interview as a genre, since remote preambles, the (mis) correct questions are not those that seek desirable answers, but the spontaneous ones, the unforeseen, perhaps the unsaid until that moment.
In the interview, delivery and choice, search and knowledge, enjoyment and sharing cannot be separated. Deep down, speaking out also hints at the possibility of the other’s attention and exchange.
Bear in mind that the ability to confess supposes a good dose of mutual trust between the questioner and the respondent. Confidence is a feeling of familiarity or better, of shared longing, of the belief in that person who knows how to arrive and motivate, perhaps for the first time, so that the other, already positioned or not, guarantees the words that can and deserve to remain.
The interviewer should seek that the questioned says and insinuates, even if he is a little laconic. Looking for surprising answers, on the other hand, implies an open and mutual seduction where trust prepares the way of confession, like the seasoned and active reader who chooses a book and begins a dialogue with it.
It may matter who interrogates and who reveals, who inquires and who (is) exposed. But it is the questions and answers that, in an apparent none of the people involved, will make the third participant fall in love or upset: the reader, supposed and apathetic aggregate. Dead or alive the interviewee, his words remain, they resist immediate oblivion in an objectual extension: the book.

More can be said about the genre in question. I do not doubt it. Rafael Acosta de Arriba legitimates in a big way what I have been writing down for some time about the best interview books published in Cuba to date. Conversations about art is part of this privileged list, although not very extensive. At this point, will just admitting it be enough? As long as some continue to think that the interview between two or more people equates to the dialogue of a neighborhood queue, there is still much to be published. Only in this way will it be understood that revealing correctly at times is due to prying with art.

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