Feb, 2011, An interview with Liliana Porter and Ana Tiscornia, conducted by Amy Eva Raehse
Charles Sanders Peirce wrote, “It is the compulsion, the absolute constraint upon us to think otherwise than we have been thinking that constitutes experience.” (Phaneroscopy or the Natural History of Concepts, c. 1905). The model of thinking differently is an essential catalyst in the collaborative creative process. If an exhibition acts as a journey of discovery, it attempts to create a visual, sensual, and intellectual experience worthy of the artistic undertaking it presents. Vital to the conversation brought to light through this exhibition is the discussion between two artists who have collaborated for many years, placing their trust in what is fundamentally an unknown outcome, while clearly maintaining the individual voices of their singularly authored works.
This exhibition reveals the expansive voice of collaboration, while simultaneously looking at the altered way each artist thinks about the new questions posed by both the intersection and divergence of ideas. As a gallery that has celebrated collaboration in different ways throughout our history, we are interested in the subject of creative alliances. In this exhibition, we reflect on the complexity inherent in the act of working collectively toward something that précis the broad spectrum of human experience, while still satisfying the individual and vulnerable connection between maker, object, and image. This interview attempts to provide insight into the creative process and vision of these two remarkable artists on the occasion of the exhibition “Dialogue: Liliana Porter & Ana Tiscornia.”
AER: Curating this exhibition has given rise to myriad questions related to methodology. Is the goal of your collaborative work to produce a transferred experience, a type of hybridization, or an awareness of the process of collaboration itself?
LP/ AT: The ultimate aim of the work is, as in our own individual artwork, to generate an aesthetic experience: to pose questions, to trigger a critical reflection, to induce a process of emotional and intellectual fruition. The difference is that the discourse in the collaboration is new. The collaborative conversations are different from our individual discourses. It is the result of putting together our distinct approaches. It is like a dialogue, or a kind of duet. In this sense, there is also an awareness of the process of collaboration. This is why we try to exhibit the partnered work together with individual pieces, because the result of the union, the new voice, becomes more evident.
AER: Collaboration can be a long and arduous process. Is it difficult to imagine the result? Do you work in tandem? Or do you alternate passages?
LP/ AT: First we think of different ideas for the collaborative pieces. When we agree on some of them, we start thinking together about possible formal solutions. It may be that one of us starts the piece, and then the other jumps in with an idea or a suggestion. Or we might do the entire process together, analyzing step by step. It depends on the idea itself. In any case we enjoy the process very much.
LP/ AT: The first time we produced a piece together was actually by chance. We were testing a new camera. To check the lens and the focus, we placed a little figurine (made by Liliana) on top of the drawing table where Ana had some proofs of her recent work. When we saw the results we were amazed. We really did not expect to like the images, and concluded that it was a wonderful – although accidental – and perfect collaboration. The end result was revealing for us, since it was a completely new narrative. It was not Liliana’s philosophical questions, nor Ana’s concerns with oblivion. It was more like a fictional narrative. Then we decided to keep developing that interaction. Our first exhibition together was in 2005, titled “Fictions and Other Realities” at Georgia State University. Our second collaboration was at the Point of Contact Gallery at Syracuse University. In each instance we presented collaborative as well as individual works.
AER: I find it noteworthy that your initial collaboration materialized through the camera because in a sense, the camera offers both the artist and the viewer fragments of a whole. That fragmentation alters the audience’s sense of time and reality, and consequently transforms our overall perception. How would you describe the work’s relationship with time and space?
LP/ AT: Not only is that true, but it is also very interesting that in the first photograph the fragmentation of the image played an important role. That fragmentation, which was the result of framing an image in a certain way, was what created the narrative. In that photograph, by chance we cropped our images in such a way that only the legs and the shoes of Liliana’s doll are visible, along with a fragment of Ana’s space (the recent proofs of her work), making the scene completely mysterious and somehow threatening. Usually, in Liliana’s figurines and toys the face and the eyes are fundamental. And in Ana’s drawings, the construction or destruction of the space needs to be understood. This creates a sense of tension in our collaborative work.
AER: Clearly, you are both identifying ways in which you modify your individual system of invention. With this in mind, what do you feel are the challenges, rewards, or negotiations of making work collaboratively?
LP/ AT: First, it is fun to work together. At the same time, we keep discovering things that are intrinsic to the articulation of art making for each of us, things that happen because of the fabric that results from interweaving our work. The challenge is that throughout the collaboration, in effect we are creating a third artist with an independent voice. It is not that we have to make many negotiations, but we have to reach the point where an independent narrative emerges.
AER: So would you say your individual practices evolved through collaboration? Have you learned from one another?
LP/ AT: Our individual practices benefit from many sources of collaboration: the two of us working together, years of critical analysis among other colleagues, and public art created in partnership. We have also collaborated to invent a heteronym – a fourth artist with her own distinct identity – an identity we wish not to reveal. And yes, we have learned much from each other.
AER: The concept of the third artist is reminiscent of Roland Barthes’ theories of punctum, or that of “the third meaning,” in which he suggests that a photograph’s reality, aside from message content, produces another kind of meaning arrived at quasi-accidentally – but that is not a true accident. Does your “third artist” produce a third meaning? And how does this differ from Barthes’ contention when the author works alone?
LP/AT: We think that in the beginning it was pretty much what Barthes says, something that seems an accident but is not an accident. Framing is already fragmenting. Fragmentation is also a way to de-contextualize. Exhibition is a re-contextualization. Now we keep doing the same, but are aware of what we are doing, and doing it independent of the technical approach. In fact, in this exhibition there won’t be any photographs. We are fragmenting our own work and contextualizing each fragment in the fragment of the other, re-framing the result. When the artist works alone, it could be the same depending upon the ideas. But in the end, does it really matter whether the work is done by one author or more than one, if those involved in the production are trying to make a unified work.
AER: Each of you creates art that references memory, but in remarkably different ways. How does this resolve itself in your collaborative work?
LP/ AT: We let our individual worlds interact, really. They are juxtapositions of ideas. There is nothing to negotiate.
AER: Do you access a kind of shared memory?
LP/ AT: In many ways, yes. We are both from South America. Buenos Aires and Montevideo are separated by just a 15-minute flight, and our cultures are equally close. But our artwork is about the complementary aspects of our experience, as well as the contradictions that may exist.
AER: Speaking of contradictions, you both tend toward contradictory layers of meaning and interpretation in your individual work. The philosopher Jacques Ranciere argued in the Politics of Aesthetics that contradiction played a productive role in the development of aesthetics and perception. Do you contradict each other in the collaborative work? How deeply entrenched are certain approaches? And do they provide a platform for positive contradiction?
LP/ AT: We feel that contradiction is part of the construction of meaning. We cannot speak too much about Ranciere’s theory, but we believe that contradiction is a way to put conventional thought in crisis. And in that sense it is productive.
AER: You said earlier that your initial collaborative effort was serendipitous – a result of experimentation with a new camera . How much does chance shape content in your work together?
LP/ AT: Chance played a role in discovering new narratives when we intertwined our work, but from the moment we started to develop concrete ideas it became less important. Still, sometimes we discover things that happen unintentionally. That is something that perhaps is part of the creative process of any artist.
AER: Ana’s work could be said to contain a more architectural sense of space, while Lilliana’s work is charged with having an atmospheric sense of space. When you combine your individual senses of space, do you find the works result in a more narrative space, or a fictive space?
LP/ AT: Yes, Ana’s work is about what happens to that space, to the real space. Liliana’s space is that of the canvas – the virtual space, the space of representation. And she uses it in a way that helps to de-contextualize her figurines. In our work together Ana’s space becomes more a place in the sense of a fictional scenery, while Liliana’s figurines have been contextualized. Then it appears as a narrative, as you said, a fictive space.
AER: Similarly, the trompe-l’oeil imagery often linked with your work causes the viewer to question truth, not as a reaction to being deceived, but rather as an attempt to understand the possibilities inherent in the altered version of the presented reality. Do you both grapple with the nature of the impossible versus the possible, of reality versus representation?
LP/AT: Well, in Liliana’s work it is clear that one important focus is on the issue of reality versus representation. She likes to point out the blurriness of that frontier. In Ana’s case, she wants to play with a paradoxical relation between the language she uses and the content she depicts. The most evident example is the use of architectural language to refer to a space that usually is more the scenery of destruction than of construction. Architectural language is precise, and is meant to speak about something to be constructed. It is designed to show a project, not a disrupted space, as she likes to call attention to with her work.
AER: Absence – both literal and metaphorical – is palpable in much of both of your work. Would you elaborate on the essence of absence?
LP/AT: Maybe it is in the nature of artistic strategies to deal with absence. It is a way we can avoid being either too explicit or too literal. Working around the absence is a means of conveying an idea but saying the minimum. We may even suggest that it is a relative or synonym of silence. On a completely different level, absence is also an important issue when you do not live in your own country. So it is not only a strategy, but a theme that permeates our practice.
AER: For each of you, it could be said that your work touches upon the awareness of identity. In Ana’s work there is often a sense of lost identity, or an attempt at regaining identity. In Liliana’s work, plasticized and idealized figures are used as stand-ins, thus creating a distorted sense of identity. In your collaborative work, I have never felt one artist’s sense of identity is dominant. You speak of a “third artist,” created out of collaboration that reaches an independent sense of existence. What do each of you feel your relationship is to identity? Is this new character, the third artist, fictitious? Is it a form of an alter ego?
LP/AT: We refer to our collaboration as the work of a third artist because it is different from each of us individually. In that sense it is not Liliana, nor Ana. On the other hand we make a point in our collaboration of also preserving our individual identities. That is part of our premise, and our challenge. We think there is something interesting in creating a new discourse using our own individual articulations. So we do not know exactly if we can speak of an alter ego, but maybe it is that. An interesting point is that we have been speaking a lot about the possibility of being many artists at the same time. In fact we are now writing a chapter for a book where we elaborate on that prospect for the future. And as we mentioned earlier, we have created a heteronym, someone who is totally different – an artist with her own invented identity and her own political agenda. She is an exercise and experiment in institutional critique.
AER: I look forward to reading that chapter! Since you bring up political agenda, Liliana’s work is often looked upon as being more philosophical, and Ana’s work more political. Do you share some of the same ideologies? Or do you find differences that shape the content as you collaborate?
LP/AT: We share a lot of philosophical and political ideologies. But we have different personalities and different artistic interests. Liliana is more optimistic and can deal with questions that do not have answers. Ana is more pessimistic, more anxious for resolution.
AER: How much do everyday objects, situations, and rituals factor into your work?
LP/AT: Everyday objects are important in our work, but in a different way. For Liliana, the figurines, toys, etc. are themselves objects of reflection, and somehow they become mirrors to us as givers of meaning. For Ana, those daily objects, furniture, and houses are important references for human beings, and could speak of human conditions.
AER: When we see ourselves in your work, in particular in Liliana’s work, there is an opportunity to laugh at our collective vulnerability and at the human condition. How does humor influence your art?
LP/AT: Humor is very important in Liliana’s work, and in a certain manner is also relevant in the collaboration. What happens with humor is that it is a way to deal with the awareness that we do not understand the essence of things – that we do not have a clue of the quintessence of existence. It is the result of that awareness.
AER: Your work, both the independent and collaborative, has a penchant toward linguistics and poetics. There have been representations of actual text, symbolic references to language, and references to syntax, dialectology, and even pacing akin to grammar. Additionally, there has been commentary around failures of language systems. On the cusp of an exhibition titled “Dialogue,” I would be remiss not to ask: Is this an underlying unifier in your works?
LP/AT: Words are very powerful, and have been a recurrent presence in our work – sometimes as a subject of reflection, sometimes as syntactic devices. Using words as images can become ways of multiplying meanings. In doing so, you can increase ambiguity. Ambiguity is a good way to fight certainties. Finally, we are both aware that within our individual work and also in the collaboration, not everything can be explained. There is a margin for a poetical gesture and for certain mystery that we want to preserve.
AER: Indeed, not everything could, or should, be explained. The mystery is truly part of the magic of the work. Thank you so very much. It has been a pleasure curating this show.