Edurne Rubio (1974, Burgos, Spain) works with video, cinema and performance, drawing from the fields of documentary filmmaking and anthropology, using shared methods of research. Many of her projects involve people or architectural spaces with political, cultural and social significance for certain groups of individuals or places. The artist investigates situations and histories that have endured in the collective memory in a diffuse way, subject to different interpretations and points of view, thus lying on the border between fiction and reality. Based on interviews and archive images, Rubio composes a sort of second reality, creating new narratives to present and approach the past. Through performance, audio and moving images, she proposes an interplay between real possibilities and imagination, altering the viewer’s perception of time and space.
In Ojo Guareña (2018), for example, Rubio overlays distinct times in a cinematographic journey set against the backdrop of a complex of caves in the province of Burgos, in Spain. The plot is inspired in the artist’s family history, and becomes an homage to her father and uncles by referring to the situation they experienced during the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939–1975) in the late 1960s. As fans of Jules Verne’s novels and fed up with a socially and politically oppressive context, they began to visit the caves in the region, searching for a place to get away from the rigid control and to enjoy some moments of freedom. The film, recorded in situ, follows a group of speleologists who are exploring the caverns today. In the darkness, it is difficult to perceive the outlines of the space and the prehistoric drawings on the walls. The spectator can only hear the voices diffusely, as they are blended with the sounds of dripping water and revolutionary songs reminiscent of the Franco era.
Daqui [From Here], commissioned for the 34th Bienal, is a sound artwork that reconstructs a decisive time and place for experimental art and the freedom of expression in Brazil, by considering the role played by the Museu de Arte Contemporânea of the Universidade de São Paulo (MAC USP) as a key place for radical artistic experimentation in the 1970s, during Brazil’s military dictatorship. At that time, the MAC was housed in the same building where the Bienal de São Paulo is held today. The audio consists of a series of interviews with artists, curators, the institution’s staff, and frequent visitors of the museum, who witnessed the happenings. The reports and arguments are mixed within the space of the Bienal Pavilion, establishing connections between their memories and the place itself. The assemblage of sounds constitutes a fragmented collective history, based on personal memories, adding new episodes to a neglected history.
Phone call sound.
Operator: Your call is being routed to the voicemail, it will be subject to charges after the tone.
Signal sound to leave message.
Operator: After the tone, say your name and leave a message
Edurne: Hello Genilson! Soy Edurne, from Brussels. I'm trying to contact you via Skype, but I cannot find your name, […] can you send me an email or I will try to call me you on the phone a little later. A hug. Bye.
Sound of a Skype call.
Elvira: No... Us... very well.
Elvira: Can you see me?
Gabriel: Wait, wait, you hung up. I have a problem here...
Edurne: Mhm... mhm... now.
Gabriel: Because my main computer... can you see it now, right?
Gabriel: Are you recording?
Edurne: Yes....good. What's up? How is the confinement? Y…
Genilson: Very difficult days around here.
Genilson: Because we are at the peak, right? Here is the place with the biggest number of deaths in Brazil, and especially here in São Paulo, which is the epicenter of the pandemic. It's hard, isn’t it? You go out on the street and when you came back to the house hygienization takes a long time. I spend hours cleaning everything I have to…. when I shop, all those things. And myself too, I have to clean everything, right? Anything I use, I have to clean.
Regina: I never thought this would happen in my generation. I thought it was for future generations. Because certainly things like that would happen. But at my age I want to have more time to live and do things, right? And I always lived with a lot of people around. This is not how I am now, at home, with the cat ... and also this contact ... with you it is an informal conversation like that, but many institutions now ask for lives, so for me this is always difficult because communication for me is given with the work, not with ...seeing myself, right? For me ... that for me is complicated. But come on ... let’s work on those questions that you need in order to continue, right?
Gabriel: Do you know São Paulo? You've been here, haven't you? There's this big park. Which is called Ibirapuera Park. This park started to be designed by a group of architects and then Oscar Niemeyer did it all by himself...in association with a landscaper named Burle Marx, right? He designed the park in general, designed the buildings, a central marquise... It would be very nice if you... have it on the internet, right... Ibirapuera Park. I knew the place well, before it was a eucalyptus forest. There were some football fields. My dad played there and I would go with him when I was 7 years old. In 54, back then I was 12 years old, they opened the park properly, that's what I said. They opened for a celebration in the city of São Paulo. The city turned 400 years old. It was a great party. And the head of the commission that made this park and that made the party was Ciccillo Matarazzo. The owner of the collection, which a few years later he donated to the university.
Donato: Do you know the story of Ciccillo Matarazzo? Ah, nobody told you (laughs). Cicillo Matarazzo was an Italian industrialist who lived in Brazil. Lived because I think he's already dead. And by chance he had a friend in of Italy, a painter, a sculptor called Magnelli, who had contact with artists, Italian galleries, and in France. And then something very strange happened in practice..., let's say. Not strange, very interesting for Brazil. Because Ciccillo had two factors: one factor, that Ciccillo had a lot of money, he could buy anything. It didn't matter if it costed more or if it costed less. And the other, that Magnelli, made a good choice. Let's say it's a coincidence of its own, it's not something programmed or chosen. At a certain point, during a certain period, I don't remember how much time passed, so Ciccillo donated... to the University. That was the salvation, that was the basis, let's say that is when the Museu de Arte Contemporânea was born.
Gabriel: And as the university had nowhere to place the collection, he lent a piece of one of the buildings for 90 years... the building that is now the Bienal building.
Genilson: You didn't know the museum, did you? Of course not? MAC had an old office that occupied the back part of the same building as the Bienal. The Bienal building is a very long and very beautiful building. I love, I love this building so much! The Bienal building is very beautiful, and it is a marvel for installations! I would spend years there, living, doing different installations.
Access... to the Museu de Arte Contemporânea, the museum was on the third floor of the building.
Regina: MAC in the Zanini years was located on the third floor of the Bienal building. At one of its extremities. At the back, on the part that led to the ramp, which was the only access to the museum. Rarely one of us used elevators to go to the MAC, we would go up the ramp and….
Gabriel: The MAC that raised us artists from São Paulo and some from Rio in my age. I'm 77 today. How old were we then? 30? We were created by MAC. Our father was called Walter Zanini. What I do would never have been called art if it wasn't initially for Zanini and now you.
Regina: When Zanini came, when he returned to Brazil and took over the direction of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea... he then he told me that he needed to meet the artists, that he had been abroad for 8 or 9 years away from Brazil and... so he wanted to meet the younger artists, the generations that were showing up. What he did was to organize an exhibition, with the MAC collection, which he placed in a Volkswagen van, which he then took to Porto Alegre, I don't know if he took it to Belo Horizonte too, I think so. But he... the context was to transport the collection to other places, but on that visit by Porto Alegre, he met me.
Gabriel: During this period, Zanini started taking care of the collection. He had no employees: he worked, his wife, who was not hired, and a driver, a driver from a construction site in the Cidade Universitária and that started to help and ended up being hired and became the main figure at the museum.
Donato: Eroni was practically the only worker the MAC had. The function he held was in a contract with the university, I think it wasn't even for the museum, I think he was something like that, an autist... a driver! I think he was the museum driver, but he wasn't the driver, of course... This is the beauty of the period, right? He was a driver but he wasn't the driver, because he also set up the exhibition, fixed the light...
Elvira: Eh... I learned a lot from him also because he knew... he had a very close contact with the boy who was the... bedel? The one that takes care of the space of the Bienal. So, Mr Eroni learned from this gentleman how to assemble, for example, an engraving, what to do... passe-partout? Do you know passe-partout? So Sr Eroni made passe-partout of the engravings and I helped him, at the beginning. And it was Mr Eroni, who opened the museum every morning, because we had a lot of people in the museum, coming and going all the time.
Regina: And the museum has always been a very convivial space, very open to artists. There was no need to schedule. We could go through the museum and if we had any ideas, any plans, Zanini was always open to making those notes. So it was an extension of our life, our work, it was a common space.
Genilson: The museum was almost an extension of the house, it was like a studio! We would go there, and we would say to Zanini: there is an empty panel there, I can try it, I don't know? So I did that there. It was almost like a studio! He allowed it, he was very open, he was very open to artists.
Donato: I had a certain work and I did the work as I thought it should be. In other words, if I couldn't do it, I encouraged Zanini to do it. And Zanini did it with great pleasure. And with great pleasure he gave that … blessing, or that conceptualization, which implied in the modern concepts of art, something like that. So let's say? If for me it was a game, for him it became an innovation or something current.
Genilson: He opened a space in the museum that was only for experimental work, called space B. On the opening day of this hall, we took a... there was a very large sculpture and, it was bronze, I think, heavy, of a horse. And it's a whole horse…as of it was trying to break free, a wild horse. A sculpture by Marino Marini. Only a while later did I learn that the sculpture was awarded at the Venice Biennale. This sculpture, we took this horse and placed a support under the sculpture so that its back side, where the horse's tail would be, would be raised, raised from the floor, leaning in relation to the floor. But the support we put on the bottom was invisible, you couldn't see it. And we tied a rope to the horse's tail, which wasn't actually the tail, it was just the end of the tail. We tied a rope there and fastened it to the wall, as if the horse was trying to escape. And that was a very quick thing! It was on the opening day! Zanini was very scared by this and had it removed, he had it undoed because he was afraid the sculpture would fall. But the documentation was already done, right, so we took it out, right... We simply undid the work, dismantled everything back to normal. Then we realized that... the opening of this exhibition was on March 31, which the past dictatorship considered as the date on which the military came to power. It was very cool. Very very good because there was an accident, Francisco cut himself while he was cutting the rope, he cut his finger, a lot of blood started to come out and we went to the museum kitchen, in the museum bathroom to apply the dressing, and Roberto, who was a photographer, Lydia's brother, Lydia Okumura, he was photographing, documenting because we couldn't do the action and document at the same time. He kept documenting and Francisco began to pretend that he was tortured, all bloody, with his hand on his neck, with a dramatic face and such. He made a very beautiful sequel.
Elvira: Don't forget, no te olvides, that we were in the middle of a dictatorship. Military dictatorship.
Gabriel: I never, ever thought of being censored. We, who were there at MAC, never posed this problem. And we all did things, there were scandals there, you know, of naked people, of rotting flesh... There are reasons, I wouldn't know how to describe it to you, but imagine, right?
Elvira: Between us, I think because they had no idea what art was (laughs). Of what was a museum of... with the contemporary manifestation of art. They were military. But I think they also had some kind of surveillance, which told them, right, at the time it was an organism called ABIM, which told them nothing was happening at all, it was just a bunch of crazy people who were there doing some things. I think... I'm not sure about that.
Donato: Had, had, had, had, had, but let's say... it never came... they always wanted to catch me and they never caught me. I had at least this advantage that I never got beaten (laughs), never got beaten (laughs). And also Zanini, he sometimes got sick because he said that old fashioned artists, you know how it was. Zanini would confront them, you know? This made kind of sense, you know? Which was very rare.
The history of MAC is a good story, a museum left behind, it remained what it was, the one that is, because of Zanini! Of course, otherwise it wouldn’t exist.
Edurne: Good, I believe that for the moment I have a lot of material (laughs) all that is left...I have to rework all this material...
Regina: Yes, Edurne knows that your work is very interesting because you are as you are, as if you were blind and you are blindly feeling, it is very difficult. It is a blind work, no?
Donato: But are you going to come to São Paulo?
Edurne: I would like to, but now with the covid, I do not know if it will be possible.
Elvira: Better not come now
Edurne: It's really bad, isn't it? For the moment...
Elvira: Yes, yes, everything is very bad here. The government...
Donato: My wife says she's happy to host you.
Edurne: Ohhhh... I'm enchanted!
Donato's wife: When you come, then we'll know each other personally.
Edurne: In theory, I would go to the opening of the Bienal and perhaps sooner, to be able to work a little... but no one knows, I don’t know when I am going to be able to travel to Brazil. Here things are going down for the moment, let's see how... what happens, but...
Donato: Let's see if it stops.
Donato's Wife: Yes, when there is no more...
Donato: Even if it doesn’t stop, there's no problem.
Donato: One more and one less (laughs).
Donato's Wife: One more oh … it's ironic!
Edurne: Ya, ya.
Donato's wife: Okay (laughs).
Donato: Art doesn't need, it can't be afraid! The big problem is that... people are very scared, aren't they? Fear either to say or to do... it's serious. Let's say... and art that would be a free activity, or something like that... for many, let's say, it's a restricted activity, of a certain subject, or something like that... It's very common, it's very common.
Edurne: Good Donato, I have to leave, because we have been here for a good time and I have to go. But thank you very, very much.
Gabriel: What time is it there for you, late afternoon, right?
Edurne: Three and a half.
Gabriel: Okay. So good afternoon.
Edurne: Good afternoon. (laughter). Ciao
Skype end-of-call sound.
Support: AC/E – Acción Cultural Española
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).