The second part of our conversation with David G. Torres.

Conversation with an art critic part II: David G. Torres
Barcelona - APR 15, 2013

Second part of our visit to the A*Desk headquarters in Barcelona. This time, David G. Torres speaks to us abour art criticism, the responsibility of the writer and his take on curating. 

As an art critic and as a curator, are you always exploring hybridization and looking for new horizons?

Well, the only thing I try to do is explain things that interest me. I wrote a book “No más mentiras” (No More Lies), which is an essay. Now, when I re-think it, I realize that I feel more comfortable in the more narrative part of the book and where I feel most uncomfortable is precisely the theoretical part. The attempt to make an essay is what I think it is flawed. I think that I may work better, or that it interest me more, telling stories than trying to elaborate theory from them. That’s why I think that the least interesting part of my essay is the theoretical part and the most interesting part is the narrative. What I am currently writing is purely narrative, but it is not fiction. It’s an attempt to write a non-fiction story.

The fact that you feel more comfortable in the narrative part is interesting. I suppose it could come as a surprise, as an art critic usually is attributed a theoretical will.

Yes, but my way of focusing on art criticism has less to do with philosophy and more to do with travel anthropology. If you prefer, it has more to do with anthropology as travel literature than with philosophy as a theoretical basis and as an essay. I think that critical writing is related to a type of writing that I’ve qualified as crippled, a type of handicapé writing. It is a form of writing that is born of the modern crisis of not being able to say something, of the incapacity of writing. The only thing it can do is take shelter in writing about others. For me, the most interesting part of criticism is that it is both literature and writing, created about others and from others. That’s why I say that it is crippled or vicarious, in some way. It could be said that it is a form of writing that reproduces vicarious experiences, experiences of others. With this I do not mean to say that criticism has a dependency with the artwork or that it is the continuation of the artwork. No. The critical text is a text in itself. It is a form of writing but a form that has a lot of trouble finding what to say. In the end, it can only write about others, parting from a vicarious experience. This is the part that most interests me.

The part of theorizing about whether art is going this way or the other is what least interests me. What does interest me is that from this a certain critical position in front of world can be deduced. It is true that art criticism is part of a critical exercise. Indeed, it is a way to confront that act of thinking differently and exercising your judgment, and therefore, presupposes a critical spirit. It presupposes a suspicious look. One thing I love about art criticism is the position that it adapts, in terms of physical position. Literally the way you place yourself. I imagine a three-quarter position, and a suspicious sideways glance. It is a gaze that I like. I think it's a good way of looking not only for art but for the world.

In every debate about the role of art criticism, aside from its nature, the concept of “critical responsibility” always stands out. Where do you place this responsibility?

Here we can also find a series of confusions about its role. The responsibility of criticism is with itself. It is a responsibility with the text, not with the work that it speaks of. This is a great confusion. Obviously, when you write about someone and you leave him regular or bad, or even leaving him well, the artist, museum director, curator, gallery owner or whoever, can come and say that you are completely wrong and that you’ve been disrespectful o that you have not been responsible. But my responsibility as an art critic, o as a person who writes, is with myself and I can barely carry it. Enough has one with his own dignity as to try to carry the burden of others. My responsibility is not with the artistic context of Barcelona, or with the artistic context of Catalonia, Spain, Europe, the world. Nor is my responsibility with art, not even with the person I speak of. The only responsibility that I can exercise is trying to have a certain dignity with myself, with the text and to try to carry my own burdens, and not someone else’s.

The text, in the end, is a card game. We have not made our way out of the Duchampian drift. It is a card game that you have to construct well. There's a coherence to compel you. It is to your own coherence that you compel yourself to, to your own contradiction and to your right to contradict yourself. But it is a card game you play with yourself. Or a game of chess.

I like this clarification. Normally, when we talk about the responsibility of the art critic, we always make reference to the responsibility in front of the other. But I think this way of looking at it comes closer to the essence of writing and what the act of writing implies.

Of course, that is why I say that it has to do with travel literature approached from an anthropological perspective. I mean, Levi Strauss’ responsibility is not with the Amazonian Indians. His responsibility is with talking about the elemental structures of parenthood. And the elemental structures of parenthood is text, his text, it’s his theory. It is with that textuality that Levi Strauss has a responsibility with, not the Amazonian Indians. It is with the very textuality of what he is writing.

Do you try to convey this philosophy to your students?

Well, here we enter a different dimension. One of the articulating elements of A*Desk has always been that although Montse Badia and I are the directors and the funders of the project, this does not mean that we have the authorship of everything that takes place. On the contrary, A*Desk as an institution has to be as open as possible. Marina Vives is in charge of the editorial. The education programme up until now was run by David Armengol and this year is now run by Oriol Fontdevila, as well as next year. One of the pretensions of A*Desk is to delegate as much as possible in everything it produces. That is why we created a structure of communication between education, the editorial part and the publishing part. We intend to add more voices. We also believe that it is important for us to occasionally write to maintain a tone and because we like it, but our way of writing is like another collaborator. I also think that we have to be very plural, as long as there are certain shared ideological conditions. I think it is very clear where A*Desk is ideologically.

Regarding the students, we try to interfere as little as possible in Oriol’s work. In fact, we are at the service of Oriol. For example, a week ago I had a session with the students because he put it on my agenda. In a week we will have another session with them because they want to go over some of the things we talked about because he has put it in the agenda. Oriol takes care of everything. But I do know that they are working on the idea of mediation in contemporary art, on questions of authorship and how to place yourself in the middle of this system. What Oriol offers is a very, very critical look from an almost poststructuralist point of view. It is an in-depth look at the art system’s structure in order to question it. But, at the same time, he critiques the education system we have. I think it is very complex and that, obviously, everything ends up being conveyed. 

Conversation with an art critic part II: David G. Torres
Dora Garcia

Going back to your work as a critic, you have told me that you feel more comfortable as a critic than as a curator. Despite of this, do you have a project planned for 2013?

Yes, I have something there that if it comes through, I will be very happy. I've always treated curatorship with great disdain because I've been heir or witness of the curatorial practices in the 90s and early 2000. I've been very critical of the idea of the curator of success, on the centrality, of the importance of agendas and flights. I have also been very critical when I have detected curatorial attitudes that were close to what a friend calls “using the finger”. The curator as someone that simply points out a number of things and that has an agenda with telephones. 

On the other hand, I have also been very critical of it because the idea of success that accompanies the curator, an inevitable success because you give out money. Obviously it is not the same thing to write a critique than to call an artist and tell him that you going to give that much money for production. You hand out money, you earn more money, and you have more presence in the press than as an art critic. That is why I've always thought that, because an attitude of Jiminy Cricket that follows me, I’ve tried to claim the figure of bad person of the critic critical than this kind niceness surrounding the curator.

In the same way, I have always defended the word ‘commissioner’ more than ‘curator’. Curator has always referred to etymologically to "take care of" or "be careful". It refers to the idea of the curator as a sort of nurse who cares for the artists that are sick. However, I found curator more appropriate to the extent that etymologically it refers to a matter of the police. The commissioner is someone who locks up criminals in prison. If we consider that the artists are criminals and that the museums are prisons, these images seem more appropriate than those of the infirmary with sick artists, the commissioner as the nurse and the museum as a hospital. Although museums look more like hospitals than prisons, but there are some that resemble prisons. I prefer those that look like prisons, in this sense, I think that they reveal the functioning of everything. 

I also think that the curatorial practice revised, beyond the servility it implies with the institution, has to do with that form of crippled writing that I mentioned before. Some of the things I’ve tried to do, like Salir a la calle y disparar al azar and some other moments, I think that in the end they have a lot to do with the type of writing that Enrique Vilamata practices; it is a form of writing of copy and paste. It is a form of writing that interests me. I think it is very contemporary, because it is created from affinities that elaborate a map of affinities that create a self-portrait.  That’s why I once said that Dora Garcia’s exhibition The men I love is the exhibit that I’ve liked the most, because she created a portrait of herself through others. In this sense, she is part of a contemporary way of thinking that is handicapé, which works through references of adding up, of copy and paste, and of linking dissimilar things.

Basically, it's a very typical strategy of the 20th Century because it is very collage, it is readymade. In that sense I think the curator does make sense and it can have an interesting value of authorship, although a diluted authorship, almost liquid. A diffused authorship that is lost in the work of others. This interests me. Now, as a specific mediator of a number of structures of power and legitimization, that's where the work of the curator less interests me. 

Based on what you say, I understand that what truly interest you are the affinities you can establish. In these affinities, to wrap up after these images of the curator as a policeman and the museum as a prison, tell us what artists you think will mark the near future of contemporary culture.

I am glad to have worked with people like Gabriel Pericàs, Antonio Galiano and Ryan Rivadeneyra. They are probably the young artists that most interest me. Dora García, obviously, also interests me a lot. With artists like Rafael Bianchi or Antonio Ortega I have always had a very good relationship, a friendship and generational bond. Tere Recarens’ attitude also interests me. I think she has a type of attitude about work and life, of knowing how to navigate. She refers me to past attitudes but that I have completely idealized and that I love, such as the time of the vanguards or the 70s. She has an attitude that I find fascinating. They also interest me because they are artists that work the concept of narrative, especially in the case of Gabriel Pericàs and Antonio Ortega.

In the national context, this is what interests me the most. Besides this, other things that interested me before have ceased to interest me. All of those artists more formally secure no longer interest me. 

Conversation with an art critic, part I: David G. Torres

Verónica Escobar

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