with fernando alvim
Once you told me that it was better to listen to it without voice, but I'm not sure what you wanted to say. Somebody else said: I prefer to write without words... I've found someone's face after I imagined it and to realize that something died when the real image just appeared. Simple acts and facts that we loose when we write -not when we translate it, where anything is what it is but, yes, it seems that it is... You told me that it was better to read it when it was finished, and, for me, this goal was like waiting forever, aiming the single, the reader's utopia which never become (a reader) because the impossibility to read finished writings. When a full stop marks the end, it doesn't mean anything but a pretext, an excuse, a cluster, an excuse -again-, a cluster that you use to forgot, to pick up: stop waiting...
Fernando Alvim, who are you? I knew you through the following interview,
the one Christian Hanussek send me to translate [to Spanish] and publish
it. If a full stop ending a text is just a full stop / next sentence
but developing its spare time, an interview is anything but a malicious
conversation -in the right sense of this no-action. The interview is
a paradox, among others, uncovering without showing and perhaps noting
an idea with a limited developing; the interview sculpts what could
be an action blocking its own continuity. The interviewer talks but
in the interview anybody is listening to; what we read is just the shadow
of what it was but is already gone; with its unmeaning full stops and
with its useless ends.
Fernando Alvim; Angola's war; networks of collaborators; a constant activity from the Belgium-south Africa-Angola triangle; contemporary art system right now (finances, promotion, opportunism...) To look through the lines is not to read between the lines. The difference is so subtle that it can confuse us. If there's something important in interviews like this, where there's not a limited format, is our capacity to look through the lines and, then, to imagine other lines -a non written ones- where it should be possible to read between, through, from, with and against.
The war topic is evolving the talk; one of the feelings that remained
inside me after I did the exercise mentioned above (to look through
the lines and then imagine other lines to read) it was the complete
acceptation of the rules to enter in a war with its subtle weapons,
its negotiations and agreements, with politics and economics running
under a real camouflage. Not in vain one of Alvim's projects is called
Camouflage. Not in vain when we read what's going on in Luanda, the
feeling is like a flavor, a sensation more than a real information.
But, I recognize it, I prefer this feeling than nothing. And today,
like yesterday, nothing means information.
Christian Hanussek: You moved to Belgium in 1988, but since then you have been going back and forth between Angola and Brussels, organizing several art projects in Angola, South Africa and Belgium. The first one I heard of was your "memórias íntimas marcas"
Alvim: In 1992 I did a one-man show in Luanda, and we produced a major
catalogue for it. I was back in Luanda in 1991-2, and again in 1994-6,
when I was working on "the urgency of ethno psychiatry" project
- and then back there in 1996-7 for the "memórias íntimas
marcas" project. These were my three major projects, although of
course I did other shows as well.
First of all, in 1996, just like in any other project, I set up a project
framework, an office with five people, and I saw politicians - just
as I did for the Triennial. I had the original concept for the memórias
íntimas marcas project planned for 1992-94, but it wasn't the
right time to realise it ? it was simply too early. And then in 1996
I had to spend nearly the whole year convincing the politicians to set
up the structures in Luanda? and that was essential because the first
part of the project in Luanda had been funded completely by money raised
from Angolan companies and institutions and, of course, the government.
Then we also got support from the European union. After the year in
Luanda, we started work in April 1997 with Carlos Garaicoa, a Cuban
artist, Gavin Younge, a South African artist, two curators and art historians
from Cuba and myself - and we were joined by an Angolan TV film crew
and a team arranging the logistics of it all. Before starting any work
directly on the exhibition itself, we went to the south of Angola, to
Cuito Cuanavale, and stayed there for twelve days. To start with, we
didn't really have any fixed idea of what we wanted to work around ?
it was very free. In fact, the Cuban artist started developing his project
inside Cuito Cuanavale. He brought along friend of his, a video artist
from Cuba, who had been a soldier in Angola when he was eighteen years
old. We simply went there and found ourselves facing a reality, facing
this space, which provided the impetus for everyone to start developing
his own work. Once we were back in Luanda, we arranged a show there
and after that, we just continued to elaborate the project, showing
it in Cape Town's Castle of Good Hope, which is both a military base
and a museum.
CH: So the idea spread and more artists got involved. But let's just go back the start of the project in Cuito Cuanavale and Luanda in 1997. At that time, the war was still going on, wasn't it?
Yes, it was. In reality ? and this is very bizarre ? the war stopped
for a few months and then started again. When we went to the south of
Angola, the war hadn't really stopped completely, and in a lot of places
in Angola, people weren't even aware that it had eased up.
CH: And what was the reception like in Luanda?
FA: There were two sides to that ? first of all people were quite worried. I did interviews with the Cuban and the South African artists. The South African artist was really afraid of being recognised as an old South African soldier, and he said so in the video. The Cuban artist was very concerned with the Cubans who had been killed in the area - quite a lot, in fact ? and he couldn't understand why they'd gone there, like some of his old school friends. I think the key aspect to the public reaction was that it showed how much all of us in Angola are still deeply connected to that period. It's a place where a major battle took place between South African and Angolan troops, marking the end of the war in a way, because afterwards South Africa withdrew back its forces. Yet people understood how necessary it was ? I asked some military personnel for help to provide us with transport to get there ? military airplanes ? and all the politicians were very supportive. They were all supportive and very enthusiastic about the project. We received major sponsoring and, of course, the newspapers gave it front-page coverage. And when we went to South Africa the Angolan deputy minister of culture came with us to open the show.
CH: What happened later on as more artists came into the project - did they ever go to Cuito Cuanavale?
F:A Some of them did, but only later on, because when the show first came to Cape Town, it was still a big taboo for the newspapers and the South Africans generally. When the show then went to Johannesburg, some people who were in the war came up to me and said: I'm an artist and I was in the war and I would like to participate. The curatorial approach at the Johannesburg exhibition was quite funny because I just opened the doors of the place and said: Come in! It wasn't a curated show ? it was very free and people just occupied the place.
CH: Where was that?
In the same venue as the 2nd Johannesburg biennial ?a big electricity
workshop, a huge place of around 6000 square meters. And we used exactly
the same boxes they had used for the 2nd biennial. We didn't touch anything.
CH: It's been rather amazing how things have developed, since it's become a whole network of different activities. It seems to me, though, that one of your major aims is to install a structure in Luanda ? an exhibition space, an archive, residencies and all kinds of things - and the Luanda Triennial will be part of this or linked to it. Now you already have a space there, but it's still in a rather early phase. I guess you also see it as giving an input into Angola, and into Luanda's public and cultural spheres.
When I created Camouflage in Brussels, I started it with the very clear
idea of creating a satellite in order to experiment with projects by
African artists from Africa, and projects by Africans from all over
the world. You could say I've trained here before opening a Centre for
African Art in Luanda ? and let me tell you, in the end, it's far more
difficult to open a contemporary African art centre in Brussels because
you don't get any support for it. But for me personally, it proved a
very important process. With the network I created during these four
years, the collections and the artists' network, I already have something
for the centre in Luanda. Memórias was already so important and
the people there were so motivated, I was convinced the Luanda centre
was going to become a reality. It's great now that it is taking shape
during a time of peace in Angola, and that's why it was so crucial to
create a foundation, a centre for contemporary art in Luanda, and all
the mechanisms that go with it. At present, we already have two separate
venues in Luanda, about one kilometre apart ? one private and the other
donated by the government. One of them is 1000 square meters and the
other 400 square meters. We are going to work with twenty architects
from Luanda to create a centre for contemporary art, but we know we
need to do that step by step, -and if not, we are not legitimate - and
this gradual progress helps make us more competent. That's why I'm very
keen to start in small spaces. It's not a question of size; it's a question
FA: I think it is actually very easy. In reality people complicate the approach - and that's indicative of how many complexes are connected with the issue. We call the European Union European, and see flags from the EU all over Europe, with programs in Europe on science called European programs for science, and we have the Euro. All that is quite normal. In Africa, I think we need to create let's call it, a temporary moment of self-esteem. We need that because if, for example, you watch international TV, coverage of Africa is 99% negative. So when I'm involved in very sophisticated art projects with a very high level of awareness, I've decided to call it contemporary Africa.
CH: Are you reviving the spirit of the sixties, a kind of Pan-Africanism?
FA Not at all ? I think it's the real name of this continent today. The good thing in Africa is that things never come back, which I like, because the mutations in Africa are so deep, always creating a certain chaos. For example, in Angola we are presently living in a capitalist system. We went through the Marxist-Leninist system very quickly, and then it was over - and now we don't even think about it anymore. So what does it mean to be an African? We can say, it means being in a state of process. I often say that for me America is solid, Europe is fluid, and Africa is gas ? all the same but just at different temperatures.
CH: The Triennial will also be a political statement, quite directly involving the government and under government auspices. Angola's situation is still rather tense, with many unresolved problems to deal with and, of course, the aftermath of the war still dominating both the entire cultural sphere and everyday life.
I think culture can be a very interesting tool for this passage from
war to peace. In our talks with the government it's quite clear everybody
knows it's not history we need to revisit, but the old images and symptoms
we had during wartime. Of course you can't ignore it - and we have been
ignoring it since 1961, more than 40 years. In reality, the first war
was against the Portuguese, then South Africa and Zaire, and then between
us. I'm quite surprised at how quickly we have moved. For example, we
have Unita people in the government and we are working with white South
Africans who were bombing Angola. And we are friends with the US Americans.