Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Of Politics and Art

What is the universal? Can we have universal values? Any society that aims at maintiaining justice is based on values it believes to be the best. What happens when cultures meet? How do we deal with the otherness of others? Is it possible to be simply "tolerant", and consider this "tolerance" to be the one universal value?
Among a number of artists addressing these questions in the last years, Jota Castro is a special case. This is maybe not as much because of what he is doing or saying, as it is because of where he comes from. Jota Castro is a Peruvian-born artist living in Belgium. But above all, Jota Castro comes straight from the world of international politics:
In the late 1990s Jota Castro brought his career as a diplomat at the United Nations and the European Union to a close and decided to devote himself totally to the field of art. Through his different professional activities, Castro gained in-depth knowledge of the world of politics; moreover, he considers his studies in law and political science as his real training in art. Conjuring up trivial humor, politically incorrect sarcasm, and a wide range of references, Castro's sculptures, installations, and performances point up certain mechanisms at work in society, whose imbalances and weaknesses are skillfully highlighted by the artist.
Castro is indecent and politically incorrect, but always in the right way. He knows how to provoke and how to create simple, strong messages. (Sometimes too simple?)

BBB, oil shame (2004)

For the opening of "Exposition Universelle 1" at the Palais de Tokyo, Castro gave
a performance called "Discrimination Day" that is meant to present the recurrent excesses of what the French call the délit de faciès, literally "facial crime," i.e., being stopped by the police because of the color of one's skin.
Becoming an artist for Castro means using the political skills to their fullest extent. That's why he sometimes chooses to curate other artists' work, as in the case of the Emergency Biennale about Chechnya he co-organized in 2005 (here is a blog that accompanies it). Jota Castro once more doesn't choose an easy subject, and decides to explore it (by inviting other artists, such as Francis Alys, to work on it) in a straight-forward, cut-the-slack kind of way (see pics some of some examples). Does it make a difference? Hard to tell. I haven't found any testimonies yet that would say how life-changing witnessing Castro's events/works was. Maybe that's not what it's supposed to be about. Or maybe we still haven't achieved a sufficient level of artistic communication. Or maybe we're just cold people with no empathy. No, let's say we're not. For the argument's sake.
My role as an artist became clear to me when I understood that the artist is a man as any other, that he decides he has things to say and things to do, and that he doesn't have time to lose. He feels that his times need interprets and he recognizes himself [se reconnait] in the world that surrounds him.
- Jota Castro

Jota Castro, Autoportrait (2003)

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