As you may know, the members of The Recollective are a far-flung lot, traveling and living in different parts of the country. Not all of the interesting folks we’ve met during our travels end up on a WAV file or MP3 on our website. Some of them are artists, oral historians, filmmakers or other audio producers, each of whom have their own take on “documentary” work. Over the next few months we’ll check in with some of them and find out what they’ve been up to.
First up in a two part interview is Juan Obando: Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Juan received a BA in Industrial Design with a minor in Architecture from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. In 2005 he started the ongoing BZC Media Corporation Project (an international art unit based in Bogotá, with cells in Venezuela, USA, and The Netherlands.) Juan graduated with an MFA in Electronic and Time-Based Art from Purdue University in 2010 and was the drummer for Lafayette-based band Drum Kit from 2007-2010. He currently works between Colombia and the US and holds a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Elon University in North Carolina. We caught up to Juan at the tale end of Paper Planes, an exhibition at Greensboro’s Center for Visual Arts. The exhibition which closed on July 22 was billed as “an artist lock down” in which ten artist were given the gallery space to create work and broadcast the experience online. Juan’s contribution was Your Application Is Beautiful which he jokingly referred to as his “cheap Hans Haake impersonation.”
The Recollective: What inspired Your Application Is Beautiful ?
Juan: Lots of things, I think. Specifically my experience with the Super G Residency in Greensboro, NC, but also (and more generally) my discontent with contemporary artistic practices that sell themselves as activism or community-oriented work. “Social Practice,” to put it in academic terms. That American (and almost Christian) version of “Relational Aesthetics.” It seems that art in The United States has become more of a place to make friends and be a “good person” than a space, free of moralisms, where the most acid form of critique could find a home. Still, my main inspiration was to just bring some closure to that unfinished process that started on September 2010 with the application for the Super G residency program.
The Recollective: While the most obvious subject of YAB is the aborted installation of Colombia Caliente at the Super G residency program in Greensboro, NC, it feels like the structure and choice of mediums present the possibility for subject matter beyond Colombia Caliente. In what way is the medium the message with YAB?
Juan: I think, in many ways. But I don’t know, you know? For almost seven years I’ve been making art that, in my mind, is extremely clear. I use commercial aesthetics (bold fonts, logos, slogans, posters) and practices, in sculptural ways, in an attempt to get through unnecessary conversations about craft and skills and right to the point(s) I aim to expose. Still, I’ve heard the most distorted versions of my work by the people who experience it. So, I’ve given up. And that’s great, I think. It taught me a lesson. Art is still such a free space, where people will always come up with their own interpretations, no matter how clear and in-your face you try to be. That would be the difference between Graphic Design and the work I do. Even if this is highly influenced by the urgency to universally communicate that Graphic Design has. So, in this case, I used blogging and home furniture (and appliances) to make my point. Blogging, to perform. I’ve never blogged before in my life, and it did feel as an exercise of performance: Putting myself through the regime of gathering all this documents and memories from last year and systematically posting them in a public platform where people could comment. I also moved my home office to the gallery and installed it in the same way it placed in my apartment for the whole year that I was working on Colombia Caliente.
For me, these mediums were just perfect for my own personal catharsis. Getting out of my chest, and sight, all that unfinished deal with the Super G. In an ideal world, I would hope that the public exposed to this piece would see it as an exercise of full-disclosure. A sneak-peak to the backstage of these small-town art scenes. Specially those who sell themselves as “liberal” and “open to anything.” What you see there is something that happens all around the art world: Rigid social circles, young people hanging out, older people pretending to be young, some establishing themselves as local celebrities, some improving their sex appeal. All in the name of art. And now, thanks to the humanitarian delusion imposed by American academia: in the name of “Political Activism” and “good intentions.”
The Recollective: The core of the YAB is a series of email exchanges between yourself and artist and curator Lee Walton. Aside from posting the exchange as proof of your interaction with Walton what is it that attracted you to create, or rather re-post this document?
Juan: Mostly, and again, it was all self-motivated. I wanted to close that chapter and have a link that I would be able to send to the next person that asks me “Hey, so what happened with that supermarket residency you were supposed to be in?” I’ve been telling this story to my close friends, former professors and even some students that ask me about my current work, and it really is getting old. Using the emails was just my way to construct the illusion of fairness and objectivity, but also to be as clear as possible as to what went down in those months.
Tune is next month for the second half of our interview with Juan.