Interview with Fernanda LagunaFriday, November 15, 2019
The following interview is the fourth of a series conducted by the Venezuelan artist Ángela Bonadies. Her conversations with Latin American visual artists and filmmakers continue the CPPC's tradition of preserving first-hand cultural testimony.
Fernanda Laguna (b. Buenos Aires, 1972) is an Argentinean artist, writer, and activist. Her works unfold in pieces, books, and social actions that all form a continuation of her commitment to justice and the not-at-all obvious right to a place in the world. Laguna is located on the margins of the arts and from there reaches toward the center only to return to the margins, where she practices an activism that is closer to poetic action than to agitprop, more in tune with Belleza y Felicidad—beauty and happiness—than with complaint, more in the spirit of a delicious dish than a petty action. In the spirit of Michaux’s renowned phrase “He who hides his madman dies voiceless,” Fernanda insists on letting herself be carried away by that madness that is no more than enunciating and cultivating the possibilities of making the world a more just, more joyful, and more beautiful place. In this exchange, we discuss her way of approaching work and life.
Ángela Bonadies [AB]: Reviewing your work seems like an impossible task, like setting out on a long, branching journey with ups and downs, detours and green paths where there appear princesses, hearts, banquet trays, dinners, galleries, books, protests, poems, canvases, drawings, novels, models, animals, parades, textiles, keywords, displays, small towns, streets, rowboats, musicians. These pieces are full of meaning and make up parts of a wide-ranging passion.
I read in an interview you did a few months ago that you are different people, and you always say that everything you do is art. I see it like a projectile, something unstoppable, like a goal guarded by many goalies on an enormous field. You wrote a novel about soccer and you also organized soccer matches in Fiorito. It seems that’s where a good part of what you do in the city takes place. What is Fiorito? Why did you begin working there? I’m under the impression—and as you can tell this is not one question but rather several at one time, or rather ideas circling around—that there is something interesting in the image of the game, in this case soccer, for many reasons. It’s a massive sport in its men's division, and you write a novel about women’s soccer titled “Give Me the Ball.” You place yourself in the middle and on the margins at the same time. Then, as if it were about teams, you open a gallery in downtown Buenos Aires with a subsidiary in a suburban neighborhood, a little like big cities and their two teams. And I think you’re playing in the first division, but also in second and third, that the elevator, the slide or the ladder aren’t problems for you. There is something mobile in your work, like the motto “Beauty and happiness, one step to the side.” To the side of what? Let’s begin there.
Fernanda Laguna [FL]: Fiorito is a small town, a very poor place in the province of Buenos Aires. Its inhabitants live off of recycling trash from the city. In 2003 I started a gallery in Fiorito, as well as art workshops for children, because I met a woman on the street who was from there. We became friends and we started to work together. I had a gallery in the capital and several spaces in Buenos Aires were opening branches in Europe and the United States. So it seemed to me that I also wanted a branch of Belleza y felicidad, so as not to be left out, and that’s why I opened the location in Fiorito. My motto was “Beauty and happiness, one step to the side,” instead of one step forward. I found plenty of potential in bringing the center to the margins. It was an artistic act, not just social. The project is still going today and has grown in actions that are increasingly committed to the neighborhood. On Saturdays, for example, we put on a gourmet lunch for free that serves about 200 people. It’s a high-quality restaurant that seeks to recover the revolutionary sense of the pleasure of eating. It shouldn’t be just an element of survival; the dishes we serve are beautiful, healthy and delicious.
A "step to the side" signifies questioning the canons established by the art world. In 2003 our gallery must have been one of the poorest in the world, and that’s to its merit.
AB: You took a step to the side and opened a branch of Belleza y felicidad in Fiorito. What happened with the gallery in the city? What about the name, where did Belleza y felicidad come from? Also, you say that it would have been one of the poorest galleries in the world, how did you maintain it and how do you feed so many people on Saturdays? What is the work you do with your friend from Fiorito? Did you open the gallery with her?
FL: The gallery in the capital closed at the end of 2007 and the gallery in Fiorito is still open today. The name came out of our imaginations, inspired by gift shops and clothing stores in Brazil that sell cheap products and have names like Lujo (luxury). So for us, “beauty and happiness” has the sense of enhancing the products we had in the gift shop (the art gallery also had a gift shop), which were all broken, crappy, cheap super pretentious things.
We keep the project in Fiorito going thanks to private donations and free labor of many professors. We also request support from the Fondo Nacional de las Artes.
"La Negra”—Isolina Silva— and I opened the gallery together, while we were working on the restaurant that she ran.
AB: As you say, these are artistic acts: the gallery, the restaurant, everything you’ve done in Fiorito. You did your first fashion show and shirt design with this group of women, and you also organized a women’s soccer championship there. Tell me about the t-shirts and slogans, about that contribution to arteBa. And also, to jump around, or to follow the branching path, tell me about the books you write.
FL: We produced a collection of six t-shirts with slogans that we made up in a workshop on gender and violence. We had them designed by a very good designer. “Love doesn’t make you do things you don’t want to do,” “I love cumbia, but the lyrics don’t love me,” “No one is the boss of me,” “My girlfriends are with me, if I’m in trouble I can count on them,” and others. The design emphasized the phrase. The t-shirts were presented in a fashion show at the arteBA art fair. Before the t-shirts went out, clothes denouncing the neighborhood’s problems went down the catwalk. The lack of water, pollution, drug dealers, police corruption. All the apparel from the fashion show were thought up and made in the gender workshop.
I write poetry in my own name and novels under the name of Dalia Rosetti. The novels are 90% about girls and for girls. They’re like a “saga of Dalia Rosetti” where the writer lives through adventures in worlds that change with each book. Dalia in the world of soccer, of saints, in the future, in the art world… the novels are lesbian. In my poetry, I explore the world of myself. It speaks of what happens to me in my life.
AB: How do you know what you’re going to work on when you begin each day? Or rather, do you have a routine or is it always by chance, new situations in which you find yourself? In an interview you said something about how you wouldn’t choose “taste,” you’d choose “madness.”
FL: My days are random, I work on all my topics, somehow jumping around from one to another. I have an agenda, which is managed in Fiorito, and then in my other work-related activities: to paint, write, make flags for demonstrations, lead workshops, etc.
For example, today I’m leading an open pay-what-you-wish workshop with free Fernet, at my spot called El Universo. It’s really small. It’s a one-car garage. In it, there’s dirt from different landscapes, sand, branches from different countries, shells, rocks, semen from lovers, photos, broken objects, lighters, perfume bottles, water fountains, colored lights… I do events, workshops, and shows there. We do a cycle of shows called “2019,” with Santiago Villanueva and Rosario Zorraquín, in which we exhibit wonderful artists working outside the system.
Sometimes, to find a way to get out of my comfort zone, the place where everything is known, I don’t choose things by my own taste but rather I choose from madness, opposing my own will, whatever comes spontaneously. But it not that I try to, I just abandon myself to the absence of preference. I let go of everything to fall wherever I land. And then I do something with it, working from that state.
AB: What’s an open pay-what-you-wish workshop like?
FL: An open, pay-as-you-go workshop is an art workshop in which there are no works. We talk about creative processes, we try to resolve problems that each participant has and we try to initiate the process of bringing forth each of our dreams for our lives. Everything is always related to art. People show up at the workshop without signing up, which means I never know who will come, and at the end I pass around a little bag where the participants put however much money they can. That makes it possible for artists to come to the workshop even if they don’t have money.
AB: How do you establish your pieces? How did you start to work, for example, on the piece you did for the Casa tomada Biennial at Sitelines Santa Fe (2018)? And this piece from the palace that I’ve attached, tell me where it came from and also about the character of the heart. If I’m not mistaken you’ve done coloring books and drawing books; I’m not sure if they’ve featured this same character. Does it have a name?
FL: The house walls that I make out of paper have the purpose of generating a less museum-like context for my works. The hanging pictures are on a bed that is drawn, over a dining table. I do it in that sense, but I know that what it leaves is a totality that is seen as one whole piece. I like that the meaning of what I think I want gets away from me.
The heart character is me. And even drawing is part of an intimate diary that all the hearts together make up. In them I draw scenes from my life of metaphors for my emotional states. I see them as photos. Sometimes I tell my son as I show him a drawing, “Look, here you were playing with a bus when you were younger.”
The castle is a narrative space that contains different scenes with the hearts. Each room continues the story from before. In each one there is a different micro-story. They hang on a branch, they are mobiles. Almost always in my work there is something that makes it intervene with the viewer, to lean towards the windows, to turn at the pace of the mobile.
AB: Where do you paint? Do you have a studio?
FL: My studio is at my house. It’s small and it’s where I make everything that I do, from writing to planning events in Fiorito. I like to do housework while I paint. The distractions make me concentrate harder. I wash clothes, I do a background for a painting, I clean the floor, I draw. I make photocopies of catalogs of shows I organize, and meanwhile I write. It’s on a terrace and from there I can see the plants.
AB: You say: “The castle is a narrative space that contains different scenes with the hearts. Each room continues the story from before. In each one there is a different micro-story. They hang on a branch, they are mobiles. Almost always in my work there is something that makes it intervene with the viewer, to lean towards the windows, to turn at the pace of the mobile.” It seems that your works or pieces, all that you do, is concentrated into one book, one with pop-ups, figures that arise, texts, images, windows to look through, like a toy that unfolds the imaginary and a resistance that is also the instrument for carrying them out.”
Lastly, I want to ask you to choose one of your poems to publish, something you’d like to close with, new or old.
Here are two poems.
Who’s going to love me at the airport?
Who’s going to love me at the airport?
Who’s going to love me?
I have to get on the plane.
No one closes the door to the house
No one goes to the airport to love me
No one’s going to love me
The coffee grounds in the trash cans tell me:
No one, No one’s going to love you at the airport.
Piel de duende
Who’s going to love me?
I also ask myself
in the immense galleries of the museums of the world
where they speak other languages
where they explain everything
As if I were saying to you:
“I like you because
it’s quite interesting how you give life meaning when you kiss me.”
At the park there is a tunnel
that, if you cross through it going toward the hotel,
(what a coincidence!!!)
we pretend that it would make us happier.
just as friends…
It is so because yes, I made it up
because I wanted it
it was my chance to hold your hand for the first time.
Sweet talk is magic
And it works
It’s little bits of elves’ skin
Or shavings from fairies’ wings.
Due to the geographic distance and time difference, this exchange was extended through several conversations via Skype and email.
Fernanda Laguna’s blog