Interview of Gustavo E. Raynal by Clement Greenberg Discovered

Interview of Gustavo de Raynal by Clement Greenberg (May 2000)

Greenberg: I wanted to talk to you about your physical altercation earlier this year in 2000 with the Sao Paolo Biennial Council president [Carlos] Bratke… you broke into a Council meeting, punched a standing Council president in the nose, attempted to staple a manifesto of sorts on his briefcase, and got arrested… how long were you in jail?

Raynal: About eight days. I’ve been ordered to return and appear in a Sao Paolo court in two months.

“Our “uprisings” are about confrontation, we’re interested in that space where adverse interests collide, when the sublime appears suddenly down your throat, it is at that charged moment that change is inevitable, thereby making creativity an intrinsic characteristic of violence…”

Greenberg: And all of this conduct because of the controversy around Bratke allegedly colluding with rival organization Associacao Brasil +500 to call off the 2000 Sao Paolo Biennial? Or was it because they abruptly fired the Biennial curator Ivo Mesquita?

Raynal: Well, yes, I guess that’s one way to look at it, although “punched” is such a strong word. I prefer to think of it as an intervention of sorts, a simple yet radical gesture… but not for any political agenda. It simply seemed the most creative and imaginative thing to do at that moment.

Greenberg: Creative? I’m afraid I don’t see how anything more than assault and battery…. You say it “seemed” the most creative…in hindsight does it still appear that way to you?

Raynal: Actually, the more I think the more I am asked about it, the more it continues to have resonance every day. It’s funny that you should use the term “assault and battery,” it’s the title I’ve chosen for it… the Sao Paolo police have been so thoughtful as to archive this piece for me under this title. Now it will forever be inscribed in the consciousness of those who witnessed a 2000 Sao Paolo Biennial that never happened. Its the singular piece of the 2000 Sao Paolo Biennial, a complex, crystalline sculpture made up of everyone in that Board room, a piece so immediate, so visceral, so ornate in its immediacy, no one will soon forget it. Chris Burden had it wrong, why shoot yourself? Its a much more interesting effect to fire your pistol at others.

Greenberg: I doubt very much that anyone will see it as anything but a fistfight. If you are arguing that its some sort of Kaprow-esque “happening,” you should know that I think that all of this talk about “happenings,” the idea of the transient moment trumping the object, these things don’t really interest me at all.

Raynal: well, this I agree with you. Happenings are rather uninteresting affairs, they usually offer nothing more than a sort of theatrical quirkiness to viewers. They and leaves a viewer very rarely interested in participating very much. But we don’t do “happenings,” we do what we call “uprisings.” Very different.

Greenberg: Well, a rose by any other name…

Raynal: ah…. but this rose, this one has thorns that prick blood, that violently impose upon participants a visceral need to respond… if only to avoid an uppercut. Our “uprisings” are about confrontation, we’re interested in that space where adverse interests collide, when the sublime appears suddenly down your throat, it is at that charged moment that change is inevitable, thereby making creativity an intrinsic characteristic of violence…

Greenberg: sounds like nothing more than publicity stunt, a cheap fad for the masses and television.

Raynal: Isn’t that what you said about Pop Art?

“”I’m searching for that single gesture that has the power to convert the entirety of the museum construct into an artpiece.”

Greenberg: [pause] Let’s get back to this notion of violence being a site of creativity… Well, let’s assume that you are on to something, history is filled with examples of…

Raynal: …I think history is overrated.

Greenberg: That’s a broad statement. What do you think about the future?

Raynal: That’s a broad question. History is overrated, just as a play would be overrated if it were populated by corpses. I’m not a caretaker, I’m a junkie, I want the endorphins that come with that moment after inspiration and just before execution, before all other options and possibilities of the impossible idea become sealed off in the tomb of the object. History is filled with top-billed corpses, still walking the streets like zombies.

Greenberg: So you do not acknowledge any historical precedents for your work? Your group is clearly influenced by the Argentinian avant-gardists of the 60’s, and…

Raynal: All Visceral Realists walk backwards toward our future.

Greenberg: Then you would agree that contemporary art follows an evolutionary process, right?

Raynal: I would agree that all art has been contemporary…look , if evolution is what you are interested in, you can look at our body of work as a whole, you can conceive of it as having a Darwinian thrust, this concept of the survival of the fittest, and the large, corporatist model of the museum as a population in decline. They move slowly, lumbering along, chewing grass, relying on this strategically projected pretense of serenely civilized domesticity and exotic exclusivity… they value security and homogeneity in their space, their audience, their artists, above all else. There was a time as a working artist when I began to see myself as a sort of Pinnochio, standing inside the belly of the beast, and the moment I realized that this ground I stand on is not terra firma, that I was trapped inside, I vowed to daily disrupt its innards and try to cut my way out.

One of Raynal\'s typically violent works, \

Greenberg: well, here I tend to agree with you, institutions spend much too much time focusing on quantity, getting their attendance rates up with Disneyland-like kitschy exhibitions… they really need to focus their resources on developing other…

Raynal: …the Visceral Realists are meteorites, streaking through the sky, radiating impending doom.

Greenberg: What?

Raynal: An extinction event. New life is formed.

Greenberg: So you intend to demolish the institution itself? Setting aside a slightly overblown sense of your own agency in this matter, don’t you think that’s counterproductive? These institutions are still valuable to the contemporary art ecosystem, and there are important reforms underway…

“I began to see myself as a sort of Pinnochio, standing inside the belly of the beast, trapped inside, and I vowed to daily disrupt its innards and try to cut my way out.”

Raynal: No reform. No utopian alternative organizations. Simply rupture. Ruptures occur regularly in art-making, but when has art-making ever been specifically about rupturing the institution itself? I’m searching for that single gesture that has the power to convert the entirety of the museum construct into an artpiece. An evolutionary pièce de résistance.

Greenberg: And how exactly do you plan on doing about it? Your work is violent, but not overtly political in nature, and not necessarily effective in achieving a true rupture on a scale as the precendents you are referring to, how can you possibly believe that you could…

Raynal: Actually, well, you know, I’m not quite sure that… well, you may be right, I don’t know, I’m a little confused by my own argument. You may be right.