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A THEORY OF EXIT, BUT NOT OF ESCAPE – INTERVIEW WITH JULIETA AGUINACO AND SARAH DEMOEN

In her work, Julieta Aguinaco is simultaneously engaging in a process of doing and undoing. Trespassing over the parameters of established paradigms, she seeks new grounds for understanding – testing the limits of our knowledge.

She uses different mediums – painting, performance, installation – each triggering their own set of meanings and, in combination, propelling us towards new questions. The feeling of Julieta’s work reads like an ellipsis, open ended, leaving the viewer almost stranded between what is and what could be.

Several of Julieta’s projects have been constructed in partnership with artist Sarah Demoen, whose work similarly seeks to unravel the illusions that support contemporary structures-in-power. Sarah Demoen’s practice, focusing primarily on writing and performance, is ignited by critical analysis, and geared towards inciting potential – transformative – action.

In this interview, Julieta talks of the personal influences in her art, and together with Sarah they reveal the details of their collaborative work.

Julieta Aguinaco & Sarah Demoen The Limits of my Language Dutch Art Institute 2015 Collaborative Performance Courtesy of the Artists

Julieta Aguinaco & Sarah Demoen
The Limits of my Language
Dutch Art Institute 2015
Collaborative Performance
Courtesy of the Artists

Julieta, your work is very personal. In your exhibition The Depth of Now, for instance, you presented a series of 100 dresses that belonged to your mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. This is only one example of how, as an artist, you tap into your heritage and your own experiences. So my question is: do you feel like there are aspects of your life that you could not explore with your art? Could you explain why.

I find it exciting to work with stuff that has a ‘personal history’, but the history is not always related to me, the person is also very often not me – it can also be a rock, a plastic souvenir, or a friend. Biologically speaking everybody has a mother and a great grandmother, and while of course not all mothers have had and kept such dresses, what I found useful in such piece – more than its connection to me as an individual – is precisely its generic faculties, its commonality within a certain Western family genealogy.

There are certainly aspects of (my) life that I would not explore in my work, because the idea has never been to explore my life but, as you say, to use personal experience as one of the elements that constitute the work. In the end, it is just material that I know well and therefore feel confident to utilize. One can find material everywhere – and objects such as the dresses, or words from conversations between friends may become useful elements when trying to articulate and communicate a thought or a question. I use my heritage because that is what I am and what I know, and the idea is to explore, or better yet to, what and why such being and knowing is. And, most importantly, how it could be transformed.

It is most interesting when it all starts to get mixed up, and one can then test how important or irrelevant  some thing is, or whether it belongs to someone or not. Or if such someone – which could be myself but also could be Sarah – actually exists or if she is coming to life only in the drama of the work, in the fiction of the art. Yes, so we think that is important to ask: where are the limits between and within art and fiction, when art uses ‘reality’ in order to ‘be’ contemporary?

Julieta Aguinaco Untitled, 2015, pigmented ink, watercolor, graphite, charcoal on cotton rag, 50 x 80 cm Courtesy of the artist and Cydonia Gallery

Julieta Aguinaco
Untitled, 2015, pigmented ink, watercolor, graphite, charcoal on cotton rag, 50 x 80 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Cydonia Gallery

You formed part of 2015’s art berlin contemporary, where you presented ‘The Limits of My World’ – a multi media piece, combining painting and performance. You and Sarah Demoen also performed an earlier version of this piece in the Netherlands. Each version of this piece was divided into three sections titled: A Head Without a World, A Headless World, and The World in the Head. Each version deals with the same investigation: the contours of knowledge and the self, meaning making and identity. In both versions of this piece, friendship is integral to the notion of constructed reality. Friendship, however, comes in many forms – could you therefore explain a bit further your own meaning for the concept of friendship? 

Discussing a concept such as friendship should be a collaboration. So, we jointly wrote the script for ‘The Limits of My Language’, and performed it together in the Netherlands. Following that, we continued our collaboration for abc, where we both took on a persona: Sarah and Juli. The dialogue between the two of us is present in the drawings and in the script.

Sarah had an interest in finding a place of absence – which she called ‘a desert’. Juli had by then been to the steppe of Mongolia and the high plateaus of Bolivia, and maybe had already found that place of absence. Not only because of the landscape but also because of the people, nomad and Andean communities. The fact that they are recognized as a community means that they can be seen as an entity and visited as such, and therefore there is the possibility that this entity might be destroyed via the visit of an outsider. Whilst being there, I realized it was not possible for me to stay. The question: “is to know each other also to destroy each other?” kept buzzing in the back of our heads. This question became an important element in our research as to what the concept of friendship and, in extension, a community might be.

There is a fundamental problem when the visited and the visitor are not equal in terms of opportunity and interest. In the performance, that problem of inequality does not exist in the encounter between Sarah and Juli: when we take on each other’s subjectivity – such knowing, such being, such destruction, such friendship – it is a mutual choice.

We see friendship as perhaps the ultimate way to find a place of quietude, of absence, all while knowing that it is delusional. According to French philosopher Maurice Blanchot, absence is always central to the possibility of a community – and friendship, even between two people, could be considered a community. He wrote to his friend Georges Bataille that “friendship is also the truth of the disaster” – for, in the fact that your friend is mortal, one reads one’s own death. Friendship is always an absent friendship.

At this point it became important for us to reconsider both destruction and disaster, with its entropic qualities. Can we have friendship as a place of absence without the destruction of the self and the other? Sarah and Juli are looking for something; at one point they meet and start searching together, but meanwhile they continue destroying each other’s illusions. The final part of the performance questions whether there is a place where this destruction of the other doesn’t exist, which ultimately fails as Juli says at the end: ‘Dear Sarah, I’ve been there, but I couldn’t stay. It is a mystery, it is a delusion, it is unutterably true’. 

Julieta Aguinaco Video Still (performance) Courtesy of the artist and Cydonia Gallery

Julieta Aguinaco
Video Still (performance)
Courtesy of the artist and Cydonia Gallery

In your work, you also decry the ‘loss of absence’. You point to the notion that absence equals potentiality, and that an overproduction of artworks, art spaces, art writing, etc make this absence harder to find. How would you suggest that we go about in recreating absence? How to reconcile the notion of absence, not with loss, but rather with abundance? 

Absence does not automatically connect to loss, I believe, but to potentiality. It’s Agamben’s infamous all potentiality is impotentiality. Potentiality is the presence of an absence, and voicing an ‘I’d rather not’ could be a form of critique. Unfortunately, refusal is still a good way into a system with no contours to define how, when, where, and who has the potential. The indeterminacy of this system makes it a perfect fit for a capitalist structure. And that is one of abundance. The absence we are looking for uses the desert as a generic symbol, but it represents a place where things are possible without falling into existing paradigms. What this place of absence is, or what that might involve, we don’t know. It’s not about finding a place of artistic autonomy, it’s definitely more social and engaged. It’s a theory of exit, but not of escape. I’ve been to the desert a few times, the ultimate cliché of absence, but I couldn’t stay. Now, how could we go there together? Trying to answer these questions is, somehow, doing so. “Welcome to the Andes. Welcome out…Welcome home. Where? We have to look elsewhere” – it is not about escaping.

Can you share with us what you are working on at the moment, or some of your upcoming plans? 

We are working on a collaborative platform called ‘House As’, together with a dear group of friends. And the performance we have been discussing in this interview will soon be presented in Mexico City.

Thank you! 

// Interview by Maria Martens

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JULIETA AGUINACO • SARAH DEMOEN

Julieta Aguinaco: www.julietaaguinaco.com
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