Artist Profile: Luis Camnitzer on Art and Education in Context

Artist Profile: Luis Camnitzer on Art and Education in Context


♪ I was born in Germany, and left when I was a year old. My family immigrated to Uruguay, where I grew up, was educated, and learned how to think. Eventually, I got a Guggenheim grant, and came to the U.S. And then politics in Uruguay changed, and I couldn’t go back. I went to art school when I was 16, sort of by accident. Somebody decided that I was skillful. And it took me a couple of years to realize that art wasn’t that; it’s something else, which made me also challenge the whole educational system of the art school. One issue is that education is confused with training. And that, at the core of things, was really what bothered me in art school. I was studying sculpture at that time, and I was learning how to do sculpture. But I never was confronted with the issues for which sculpture would be useful, or, why was I studying sculpture? At some point, that shifted into printmaking, for partly political reasons, but in part, because I felt more comfortable. But it still was a skill issue. So, I expressed myself easier in woodcut, and linocut. And at the same time, I realized that craft was a kind of a jail– that printmaking had the prejudices that it had to be on paper, that it had to be flat, and on and on. So, the next step was to fight those constrictions, and say, “why can’t I make three-dimensional prints? Why am I restricted to ink and paper?” So, I was experimenting with flocking, with Xerox, with a lot of other stuff. I discovered that working with descriptions of visual situations was much more efficient than making visual situations. And that put me in line with what other people were doing in the States, under the rubric of conceptual art. And when the label of Conceptual art became more fashionable, I actually felt that didn’t fit me. And I was more interested in something, at the time, I called “contextual art”– based on context. Because I figured, what I was about was, with the minimum effort, creating the maximum effect. And in order to do that, I needed the context as leverage, or as resonance box. So, it was still the same fight against training, skills, and a misuse of education to indoctrinate people. So, at heart, I always was, and still am a good, ethical anarchist, that believes in my own empowerment, and the empowerment of other people. A work of art is a stimulus, and should generate and unleash a process. And that process doesn’t take place in the work, it takes place in the public. So, when I work, I go through all the pains a normal artist goes through– trying to pin it down, trying to hone it, trying to make it more precise, trying to make it look presentable. But ultimately, I look at it not through my eyes, but through the eyes of the viewer I’m trying to reach to, and have that view be the critical view. So, all my stuff, when I do art, goes through my wife, who is a political scientist, and not an artist. She basically has clean eyes. She does not have the body of references art specialists have, or that I may be invoking, even without thinking about it. But she can say, “What is this?” or in tougher words, or, “Why this?” Okay. And then I have to justify it, and then I have to listen to my justification as if I’m somebody else. So, that dialogue becomes as crucial as the initial input of having, “Oh, wow, I have a great idea.” Okay? So, it’s the whole thing.

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