Daniel Gasol and Luca Benites give us a dose of reality and explain what being an emerging artist implies.

Art talks: Daniel Gasol and Luca Benites from Oficina 36
Barcelona - APR 25, 2013

Oficina36 is an association dedicated to the management and representation of emerging artists living in Barcelona. The association’s work method and vision provide artists with real and useful tools to take charge of their artistic careers. Through exhibitions, sale and rent of work, conferences, seminars and workshops, the artists publicize their work and gain more visibility. Oficina36 urges the artists to think of themselves as cultural producers, capable of truly managing their artistic production using the tools normally related to marketing and communication and not relying entirely on public open calls.

Oficina36 also aims to create a bridge between the different areas of the cultural and artistic context. By bridging this gap, the association has the goal of giving artists the opportunity of reaching the “professional” sector (galleries, exhibitions and art fairs) in order to further professionalize their work. Their objective is to increment the institutional response and knowledge of the artistic production, to establish a true dialogue between the different areas and promote an approximation and a true mutual benefit.

ArtDiscover has talked to Daniel Gasol, director of Oficina36, and Luca Benites, who is part of the Oficina36 team as well as an architect and artist. Their straightforward responses and honest critiques of the current system represent a much needed dose of reality for artists and professionals of the art sector. 

Since Office 36 works with young artists, I guess that the discussions on "emerging art" must affect you. It is a concept that we see everywhere but most people do not know to accurately position it. Let us try to define it, starting with its differences with established art. Where do you draw the line between professional and emerging?

Daniel: Well the other day I said on Twitter that art as such does not exist, what exists are the institutions that legitimize art. Parting from this concept, emerging art is an invention of the cultural politics. Before, it was called "young art", which established that the age limit for being an artist was 33. If you by passed this age and had not succeeded in the art field, you could not become an artist. Now the game has changed, they have modified it. The first level is being an emerging artist, which implies the same things as being a young artist, in some ways. In theory, it refers to something fresh, dynamic, relaxed; something that has very few institucional prejudices when it comments something. The concept of emergence basically arrises from this. But, the concept of emergence also alludes to a state in which you, the cultural producer, are also destined to have to carry out other types of jobs in order to survive. Therefore, you have to have a lot of passion for it in order to continue. 

The difference between professionalism and emergence? There isn't any. As an emerging artist you can be very professional and elaborate with the artwork and the discourse, but we understand professionalism as being able to live within the artistic field. The relationships continues to be the same, there is a level 1 and a level 2. Step 1, step 2. The relationship that exists is basically this, regardless of the label you use. 

Do you think the term 'emerging' is being used to attract? I'm thinking, for example, about the "Oral Memories" project.

Daniel: Right now this term is very attractive. It's so attractive that before it was popular now it is becoming populist, as with many things. When something becomes populist it disappears. The concept of emergence will end up disappearing and another term will pop up, because if you think about, nowadays everything is emerging. Now we can say that a 50 year old designer is emerging, although it is possible that he has begun in the design world at that age. But the relationship that this person will establish with his production, a relationship that has nothing to do with age but with experience, is not the same. I find emergence interesting in the sense that it is something that is coming to life, something that is embryonic. Regarding "Oral Memories", it is cultural politics, it is basically that. Its politics and we all know that politics are, they are theatre. 

And you Luca, do you agree with this?

Luca: Yes, "Oral Memories" is a matter of agenda. It was there and it had to be done. More than a necessity it is an obligation to do something and talk about it, since it is so popular right now. Personally, I do not know if emerging art will disappear like Daniel says. What I do know is that being an emerging artist is very well looked upon, especially for the gallery owners. It has a certain glamour. But for the emerging artists it is not glamorous. 

Art talks: Daniel Gasol and Luca Benites from Oficina 36
Daniel Gasol in a workshop in The Private Space in Barcelona
If it is not glamorous for the artist but it is for the gallery, does this implica that it is moneyless art? Precarious Amateur and invisible?

Daniel: While Luca was talking, I was making this conection. Emerging art is very attractive because a person, just for the media coverage, would do anything to be able to exhibit in an art gallery. The emerging artist transports the artworks, the gallery owners do not pay for anything. For a gallery owner o a museum it is profitable. It is very profitable. 

Luca: The artist becomes cheap labor. Hence, that it has no glamour. 

Daniel: Exactly, that is the term and that is the concept. Cheap and efficient labor. Mostly very efficient because they are doing a great job and they see it a platform for visibility, when it is actually perverse. 

Do you try to make your artists see this?

Daniel: Personally, I comment it with them, but I tell them that the tools have to be used but always from the barricade. In other words, being careful. Its not bad to participate in an open call, but you have to be careful with things. You can not give it all in one card. For example, some people think that by winning a local award they will exhibit at the Reina Sofia, when surely that prize is not known even in Madrid.

I would also like to comment the existing endogamy. Martí Manen uses a metaphor to explain localism that says that the art world es like some sort of high school with a very teenage social behavior. It seems absurd but that is how the world functions, not just the cultural context. In this context, Barcelona is nothing. It is nothing, it is a high school. If you go out of the country after winning a local prize, congratulations but they will not know what it is. No. I prefer to be inside a system that is more real than in a closed context. 

From what you say, what an artist must understand is that by doing things outside of his microclimate es how he can real take steps forward and build an artistic career. 

Luca: Hence the problem of participating in open calls. The open call creates inertia, causing mental lazyness and does not let you to think about other possibilities. Some get stuck making open calls one after another and in the end you lose focus.

Daniel: I also think that it is influential in this process that Barcelona is largely a city of production where it has never been taken into account, or until recently was not taken into account, the idea of diffusion. There are many production centers but within these centers it should be obligatory and necessary to have a department of diffusion. Production can be broadcasted through a workshop, a conference, even an exhibition and not only at a local level. There is no point doing a lecture at the civic center near the center of production, in the same neighborhood. Maybe an interesting format would be to send 2 artworks from 2 artists and publicize them, be it in a gallery in Berlin or in a project in Asia. 

Which should be the responsibilities of a production center?

Daniel: A center of production is meant for production. But if the production does not have diffusion, it is useless. It's like the metaphor that if an artist does not exhibit he does not exist. So what kind of finality exist in production without diffusion? If the artists, who are at the center of production, have to be looking for millions and millions of open calls and making millions of dossiers, what's the point?

This brings me to the idea of public subsidies, something that truly bothers me, and the act of throwing the cards at 100% and rely on public subsidy. The system has to be based on the 33%. We should count with 33% of investment without relying exclusively on subsidies. This is why centers like Can Xalant close down. They depended solely on public subsidies and when they were taken away -because in the political world culture is useless- they do not a direct economic efficiency. This is something that is our fault because it does have it and it could have it, but we relate the fact of having a economic return with being a sell-out. 

Do you think this a problem in Barcelona? At national level? Or, are we talking in general?

Daniel: It is a catalan problem

Do you mean to say that this does not happen in Madrid? Are there other mechanisms?

Daniel: I do not know Madrid all that well but I do know that there are more self-managed centers. For example, they publish a magazine and charge 2 euro for it. Which is not the same as coworking. For me, coworking is the concept of "give me money so I can make".No, it should be focused from 'I offer you the product and you pay me', albeit symbolic, but it's a help. And in Madrid there are centers that function this way and they endure and continue to work very well.

Do you that it will be necessary a change in the mentality?

Daniel: In Oficina 36, for example, we sell projects. We go to a place an say 'do you want to buy me this project? Normally, they respond 'look for a subvention' and we have ask once more if they want to buy the project. We do not care if they ask for a subsidy as long as they give us that money because we are selling a product directly to them. 

Would it be interesting to establish more links between these two contexts?

Daniel: Of course it would interesting. What happens is that it does not interest at a political level. 

Luca: Nor local. There is a lot of jealousy in Barcelona. It is very closed and go to Madrid would be very complicated.

Daniel: If there is individualism in the galleries here and they do not want to collaborate with the gallery next door in a joint project imagine with one in Madrid.

Art talks: Daniel Gasol and Luca Benites from Oficina 36

What is the role of Oficina 36 in this context?

Daniel: I received an email the other day that made me laugh. It said: "the slap hurt but it has helped me learn" and I found this curious. Oficina 396 is a pillow. In this workshop we did in the Fine Arts Faculty of the Universitat de Barcelona, there were some truly outraged people, some even got up and left. Why? Because you were giving them a dose of reality. I remember that when we took a break, I went outside and I heard them talking about what we had discussed inside. There I realized that it was a dose of reality that helped them.

Personally, when I graduated from college, I received such a slap in the face that I felt completely lost. There is no guide. You are standing before a desert and you do not know which way you have to go. You don't even know what figure you want to be. Do I want to be an artist? Do I want to be a producer? Do I want to be a critic? What do I want to be?

I suppose Office 36 was created to to give this opportunity to others, right?

Daniel: Exactly. I like to work with young people because I find it very interesting that they see reality completely distorted. It is necessary to tell them that this is not like that, that this does not work like that. They are not going to graduate from college and have 50 gallery owners fighting over them. The truth is that no one goes to the university to see their work. Although this is something that should happen and it should be organized by the college. That is why we will propose a class on cultural politics where collectors, critics and other artists will come to the university, will visit the studios of the faculty of Fine Arts, will see the work being produced and they will have a group meeting. The students will be able to ask them how they see their work, if they would buy it. This is helpful. This is very helpful. 

Have you found that this interesting for the professionals in the sector? Is it easy to organize these meetings?

Daniel: Of course it is, it is very easy. It is much easier than we think. For example, we have a close relationship with one art collector and I remember of one of the first times that I met with him, he was surprised by the production available in Barcelona. He told me, literally, 'I did not know that this was made here in Barcelona'. Now we have an ex-artist that this gallerist is delighted with and he urges him to produce more work. The gallery owners are very interested. The problem is the lack of common knowledge between the fields, they do not know what is happening. I would say that the vast majority of times more interesting things are happening in a civic center than in an art gallery. Now you begin to see gallery owners in civic center inaugurations looking for works. In the last inauguration that I went to in La Capella, there was a gallery owner, I won´t say his name, looking and now one of the artists will do an exhibit with this gallery owner. 

There are signs of a change of mind but the lack of communication is still dominant. Why do you think that happens?

Daniel: Because of their way of understanding the world.

Luca: Because of their lack of vision.

Daniel: Yes, it is due to how they understand world and their lack of vision. will give you a very simple example. You are in a square and you want to open a potatoe store. What do you have to do in order to open a potatoe store? The common answer would be: buy potatoes, boxes for the potatoes, a metal shutter, a few lights, a cash register, etc. Wrong. Nowadays, you have to buy the potatoes but you also have to make the context know the potatoes and why they are necessary in order for people to come buy them.

Basically, everything is based on tools and mechanisms that are not used. If it does not work, people normally think about changing product, but what you need to do is to make it work  because otherwise nobody will come to buy, regarless if you change the product or not. This happens many times in Barcelona. They propose a workshop and no one signs up, so they do another workshop. That is not the answer. You have to make that workshop create synergies with collectors, artists, critics, curators, museum and gallery directors so that they all get to know each other. 

What you propose is to apply marketing tools and communication to the artistic context, right? As a means to raise awareness and bring the fields together.

Daniel: Of course. The problema is that there are too many snobs and purist in the artistic field and the cultural context that do not see that this is part of the real world and nor is it something bad nor does it mean you've sold yourself. In the workshop me insiste on this. You're not prostituting yourself for doing a project for an art fair. The vast majority of the public thought it was prostitution. If you do a project that you're interested and that, for example, questions the art systems of an art fair, why are you prostituting yourself? Because you are inside the artistic system and of an art fair? If your option is to be a painter on the mountain, I think this is very valid and very legitimate. The point is to be critical of yourself and have a vision of things. Within the art world we have to read more books on sociology, marketing and communication in order to use these tools, pick them up at our level, bring them to our terrain and develop them.

Here we could apply the idea that "being antisystem also means being part of the system"

Daniel: Obviously. Nowadays the idea of the artistic institutions is the same, although it may sound grotesque, that the idea of a punk asking for money on the street. For me, it is exactly the same. ¿You are antisystem, right? Well you're depending on the system. Above all, we must be consistent with our own ideals and ethics. This, it seems to me, does not exist in the art world.

Verónica Escobar

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