Walker Art Center
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The Local Tango and the Global Dance


in cultural exchange, or do you mean the emancipation of our local elites from the demands of their own interpretation of modernism? But to keep the conversation interesting, I'll say a few words on this issue first.

The pursuit of inclusion and the battle against modernizing local dreams are clearly two different issues, which our "global discussions" do not always allow us to distinguish with clarity. I grant you that Camnitzer has a great deal to say about the division of labor that exists between the expectations of the local kingdoms and the question of how to repoliticize their participation in "wonderbread" global art. But to be honest, I guess we (the privileged, doubly displaced ones, as you clearly pointed out) always knew that the center was expecting from us an illustration of "cultural difference" that was mostly a matter of their own needs--the need to deal with local, multicultural politicization around immigrant communities. In response to this yearning, local artists who had no particular interest in that field found a way to insert themselves into the global circulation where (I hope) they intervened more in the direction of questioning the assumptions about cultural practice than of pretending to have anything to do with a "local dialect." They (we, in fact) took advantage of the expectations of exporting a form of local taste to actually champion something I prefer to call "periphery bad taste" or "sophisticated maladjustment"--to address a manifold of both local and metropolitan cultural concerns using any means at our disposal.

My question is in fact a form of confession: I currently am not overtly interested in issues of inclusion. The local dynamics of this place make me feel that I am concerned more and more with the radicality of the specific artistic projects emerging from my surroundings. These works do not need from me anything like a "translation"; they have increasingly integrated, in the sense of carrying within them, the elements that make them readable to informed art audiences from Argentina to Helsinki. What I attempt to do, and at times probably with some narrowness of spirit, is to preserve their local significance in relation to their global circulation, even inside my own city. I'm the one who struggles to keep them slightly localized, at least for the sake of argument, both to have something to say about them and to prevent them from being merely a free signifier in the global arena, in the way Orozco's work became a deterritorialized but nevertheless nationally branded type of production in the early 1990s. I probably fool myself into believing that this is a way to preserve their political meaning: wanting to make it seem that they are advancing a new form of local culture when in fact their work has a built-in internationalism. But perhaps the only thing I am achieving is a brief (and increasingly ephemeral) moment of local consumption (mine at least), before or while these things find their natural way into the global arena. All of this is obviously perverse. At times it is nothing more than the worst kind of justification: I feel that without the center/periphery power games I would end up moving to New York because the art here will become (again) really bad!

The operation has to a certain extent backfired; because this criticism is written for international consumption, it has begun to work better abroad than in this locality, where, if originally written in English, I myself mistranslate it into Spanish and read it to people who justly find it abstruse and removed from their own perceptions. I call this pantomime (retrieving an old surrealist slogan) a form of literary magnification, of inflationary criticism. Surely these contemporary things we like are, as we talked about the other day, forms of cultural practice that have little if any relation to the local academic discourse and to its modern/humanist assumptions. I entertain the fantasy that the good thing about art in Mexico is that globalization caused it to escape the thrust of Mexican culture, and I do not mean any essential ethnic trait but simply the styles and the issues that Mexican writers and intellectuals continue to find so engaging, for example, the critical writings of Ernst Jünger and Paul Valéry. I am certain that those local dynamics of culture are very much unscathed by globalization in art; the local academia and cultural discourse have been forced to accept globalization as "the current thing" without feeling in any way challenged by its implications. Let me use my perpetual example: Orozco's work is now seen by the Mexican cultural authorities as a useful currency to claim, inside more than outside, that we Mexicans are as contemporary as any other culture. Even the minister of foreign affairs says that he is going to promote Mexican creativity abroad, from Francisco Toledo's painting to Orozco's installations! For the administrators, contemporary art is simply another of "our" tickets to appearing modern. What I find so displeasing about that brand of new cosmopolitanism is that it tends to be so easily absorbed; compared to this, even folklorism is politically significant.