Luca Lo Pinto with Nicolás Guagnini
Throughout the exhibition, the floor of the room will be almost entirely covered by an installation of sheets of paper, printed with the conversation itself: the scenario of this show, made available to its audience, at their feet.
LUCA LO PINTO: The exhibition format takes its cue from the commedia dell’arte, creating a scenario in which works are presented as characters. What interests you about this dramaturgical genre and what is its potential for the conceptual structure of an exhibition?
NICOLAS GUAGNINI: As a genre, commedia dell’arte is itself a lowly bastard, a caricature of “real” tragedy/comedy constructs; the masks function as fixed exaggerations of “expressions” of capable actors. As such, it negates progress or the sublime idea of an edifying moral to a story. Archetypal characters improvise grotesque pantomimes on simple scenarios, and the mechanisms of emotional discharge and identification are somewhat recurrent, stripping down the theatrical experience to a brutal and circular return of the repressed, as in repeated dreams. This resonates with the logic of my work in which traumatic historical episodes of my childhood in Argentina and questions about my own body and masculinity itself parade in and out of different media. I have treated myself as both my own character and my own mask. As an experiment on the exhibition form, it allows the curator a more plastic interplay between pieces and proposes a subtler relationship to the audience.
LLP: The exhibition is in two acts, playing with the idea of a canovaccio, a pre-set structure like a score that lends itself to improvisation. Can we associate this binary structure with the relationship between institution and artist?
NG: When discussing what remains and what goes between the two acts, or the placement of certain pieces in relationship to others with the curator, the score certainly negotiated my own desires with the institutional programme in a more fluid fashion than the traditional stationary show. The illusions of authoritative determination and interpretative autonomy that both sides of this dialectic, artist and institution, traditionally have are complicated instead of resolved. That nod to the process feels slightly less oppressive.
LLP: Would you consider comedy and humour a key to your work?
NG: Absolutely. Humour and laughter function as a non-dialectical form towards the resolution of contradictions. Most jokes feature things in the wrong time and place; a dick instead of a nose, a soccer ball instead of a head, an art historian in place of a psychoanalyst. Humour and caricature always reveal more than the ideal.
LLP: At the end of his life Max Frisch, who lived in Rome for five years with his companion Ingeborg Bachmann, wrote a collection of eleven questionnaires on existential topics. One of them is about hope, and he asks: “No revolution has ever completely fulfilled the hope of those who took part in it; do you infer from this fact that great hope is ridiculous, that revolution is superfluous, that only the hopeless can avoid disappointment, etc., and what do you expect from such avoidance?”. What’s your answer?
NG: My grandmother Cata Guagnini was one of the founders of Argentine Trotskyism; Trotsky’s assassination by Stalin’s henchmen in Mexico is perhaps the most extreme case of a revolution going disappointingly wrong. From his notion of “permanent revolution” I learned the importance of contingency. I am more interested in the contingency of subversion than in the transcendence of revolution. In subversion, as in humour, there is more joy and abjection or excess than hope. Less finality is in order.
LLP: Paul Preciado, regarding the tearing down of statues of colonizers, wrote, “Let the museums remain empty and the pedestals bare. … It is necessary to leave room for utopia regardless of whether it ever arrives”. As an artist, how do you envision the role of museums today?
NG: Encyclopaedic museums are machines to record the history of power and oppression, but they are also great time machines and democratizing forces. I am not interested in nostalgia for a future utopia (as Preciado is—he can spew agitprop and pop philosophy without the tremendous responsibility of artmaking) or in the feel-good complicity of institutional critique. I think the greatest challenge museums have right now is to stop underestimating the audience and to stop trying to make artists fulfil the broken promises of democracy; that would help. I no longer want the lies of the victors or the delusions of the defeated; historical dialectics should stay in the cafeteria or the cloakroom. Museums are ultimately about storytelling, and I’m tired of essays or moral parables. How about some magic realism or science fiction?
LLP: Your practice involves various roles like curating, writing, research, running a space, making books, exhibitions. Is the use of different tools and modes linked to the desire to approach different audiences, or is it more an urgency linked to your practice, as a way of expanding it?
NG: Audiences work best when they are constructed or found instead of approached. This heterogeneity is mostly generated by my dissatisfaction with the existing curating, writing, researching, running of spaces, making of books, exhibitions, etc. I have taken upon myself to create an entirely parallel world where things are as I think they should be: delusions of self-deity, which must be approached in a self-deprecating manner. Scale is very important to me, and often downscaling has afforded me precision and specificity. Collaboration also comes with all those territories. Pedagogy and collecting should be added to the list, as those two activities have taught me a lot.