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When experience becomes essential in art. Carmen Hernández Curator of Latin American art.

Carmen Hernández, a woman born in Chile and residing in Venezuela since the 70s. It shows us a fundamental part of art, the importance of the knowledge and experience of curatorship.

Astrid: When did you enter the art world and how?

Carmen: From a very young age I entertained myself by drawing and painting, as well as other creative activities, which determined my interest in studying design at the University of Chile, where I stayed for a short time because, due to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, my family had to leave the country and I lived in Venezuela in 1978. In Caracas I wanted to continue my design studies, but because the institutions in the area were private and expensive, I could not achieve this goal. Then I entered the Central University of Venezuela, which was practically free, and I studied Arts, mention Plastic Arts, a theoretical career that allowed me to venture into the curatorial field since 1988, due to the support of some of my professors who valued my critical and writing capacity. Then I did my master’s and doctorate without leaving the reflective work on the visual arts and today I combine this work with artisanal design, with which I feel very happy because I have not abandoned those initial creative impulses.

Astrid: How has your experience been working in art outside your native country?

Carmen: My career has been very rewarding because I have been able to work in several institutions as a curator, contributing to study and promote Venezuelan and Latin American art. I had the opportunity to work for nine years at the Museum of Fine Arts where I learned a lot from professionals with extensive experience, such as Iris Peruga and Anna Gradowska. Since then I have faced various challenges and difficulties that are part of the dynamics of the cultural field. I believe that everyone can make their way in the place they choose as their home, because perseverance is the most important thing. Although I have many years outside my native country, I have not totally disengaged. My master’s thesis was dedicated to studying the Chilean scenario because I felt an ethical and intellectual commitment to the post-dictatorship period that contributed so much to the renewal of literature and contemporary art from a critical and countercanonical sense. This work was published in 2011 with the title Insubordination: Diamela Eltit and Paz Errázuriz: urgency and emergence of a new artistic stance in post-coup Chile (1983-1994). I have not ruled out the possibility of returning to Chile where I retain important affections, because although I feel Venezuela as my home, my homeland also remains a significant part of my daily and intellectual imaginary.

Astrid: Of the various artistic tasks you do, which one makes you feel most comfortable?

Carmen: I really like writing because it invites us to review new perspectives on art and culture. Writing and reading go hand in hand in the search for multiple horizons that lead us to see everything that we have not appreciated opportunely and that can contribute to imagining a more harmonious world. Knowledge about art as a symbolic practice forces us to assume doubt as a premise because creativity has no limits. I do not believe in a priori determinisms such as aesthetic categories or canonical value judgments. I believe in the creative capacity that is capable of constantly transforming itself to avoid institutional depoliticization and preserve the festive sense of the polysemy of the image that challenges us all in solidarity. This also happens with creation and that is why the artisanal work of my designs also represents an adventure that confronts us to go beyond the established.

Astrid: As a teacher, what do you think is the biggest boost for emerging artists in Venezuela?

Carmen: The teaching work should stimulate in art students the rupture with the established prejudices so that, freely, they can face the adventure of building their own awareness of the context in which their creative work is going to be inserted. It is important that young people know the symbolic negotiations they must face in the artistic field that still remains differentiating and hierarchical in terms of valuation, and it is also necessary that they acquire clarity about the potentiality of their proposals. Today in Venezuela there are few spaces for young artists to exhibit their work and perhaps because of that, many have left the country. But while new spaces emerge, it is important that they and they agencien strategies to make themselves known and social networks represent an expeditious space that goes beyond territorial borders.

Astrid: Have you participated in events, forums, exhibitions outside the country?

Carmen: I have presented curatorships and conferences in several countries, usually by invitation, such as in Bogotá, Mexico City, The Hague, La Plata, Lima, Paris, Santiago de Chile, Porto Alegre, Quito and São Paulo.My last experience has been the curatorship of the Tijuana Triennial. I Pictorial International that has represented an important challenge because this event was conceived as a reflective and interdisciplinary strategy on the pictorial, as a relational and dialogical sign that goes beyond individualistic narcissism to focus on the context, which is disruptive in relation to the formalist legacy that has affected painting as a discipline and other artistic practices that are still inclined by a self-absorption favorable to the art market. Today art represents a form of knowledge committed to the territorial, social and symbolic context, which can also reflect on the artistic field itself, challenging determinisms and canonical positions, such as the supposed evolution of styles and categories held on technical and non-relational issues.

Astrid: What is your opinion regarding the current explosion of virtual galleries and mere digital art?

Carmen: I think that the virtual world today opens up a huge range of possibilities to stimulate exchanges of experiences and publicize the diversity of artistic proposals that occur in all parts of the world, many of which we could not know in a material way because they possibly do not obey certain parameters pre-established by artistic institutions. For example, video performances are not commonly exhibited in museums and galleries because they are difficult to conform to certain market rules, especially when they represent criticisms of various mechanisms of violence that can be considered as “bad taste”. The mechanisms of exhibition and knowledge have expanded and that can allow a wide dialogicity of knowledge that can expand the vision we have of others and ourselves. I congratulate such initiatives that give art a more symbolic and social meaning than the mere fetishism of merchandise.

Astrid: What has been your experience of working post-pandemic?

Carmen: My work has not changed much because my classes have continued to be taught digitally. If you have these tools, the meeting is facilitated since transfers from one place to another are avoided and the lack of video projection equipment is overcome since applications for videoconferences allow you to share all kinds of images and documents. The important thing is to stimulate sociability which is not incompatible with stimulating physical encounters with responsibility. Today more than ever, we must advocate for global connectivity that allows us to communicate effectively and securely. Knowledge is the foundation of good health. All this situation should lead us to recognize the importance of conserving our environment and ourselves because isolation is not healthy.

Astrid: Do you have an artist you admire or influence?

Carmen: There are many artists of all times that I admire. I had the honor of working with two artists whom I appreciate intellectually for their critical sense, poetic simplicity and generosity: the Colombian Antonio Caro and the Venezuelan Javier Téllez. At present I am inclined to the work of many women who have taken on the challenge of questioning, with acuity and creativity, those values established as “truths” that separate us and that obey mechanisms of power of patriarchal and colonialist order associated with modernity as a civilizational project. One of my favorites is Chilean Lotty Rosenfeld, who passed away in 2020. His work maintained a sense of defiance throughout his career. I also admire the works of Barbara Kruger, Suzanne Lacy, Tracey Emin, Pipilotti Rist, Mariko Mori, Sam Taylor Wood, Corinne Noordenbos… and among the Latin American ones there are many names but I will only mention some: the Cuban Tania Bruguera, the Mexican Daniela Rossell, the Guatemalan Regina José Galindo, the Argentine Kuki Benski and the Venezuelan Antonieta Sosa, Argelia Bravo, Deborah Castillo and Sofía Saavedra.

Astrid: About how many exhibitions have been curated by you?

Carmen: I think I’ve done about 45 curatorships since 1988, some individual and some collective. Some have given me great satisfaction because they have contributed to broadening the interpretative horizons of art such as Desde el cuerpo: alegorías de lo femenino, presented in 1998 at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas. I think it is important to assume this task responsibly because without intending to, a curatorship can strengthen the established canons (often formalistic and androcentric). Curatorship represents a self-critical intellectual ethic that must first recognize the plots of power that constitute the cultural fabric and that determine “distinctions” not only discursive, but social and gender. Therefore, when critical and ephemeral practices such as graffiti or street performance are addressed, the disruptive conditions that configure them must be respected, and not simply exhibited as “fetishes” in the white cube that decontextualizes their subversive meaning.

Astrid: Would you do this for the rest of your life?

Carmen: I’m not sure that the conditions exist to continue working on curatorship, at least in Venezuela, since this profession is devalued because there has been a process of institutional deprofessionalization that obeys both the diaspora of our intellectuals, the difficult economic situation and the lack of knowledge about this field of research. Although museology is studied academically in some educational organizations, curatorship is seen as “colgaduría” (term coined by the curator Félix Suazo) and anyone can exercise it as a technical trade due to indifference to the ethical commitment to that field of knowledge that requires a critical sense, because curatorship represents an interpretive and creative work immersed in artistic theory and practice. The publication of research in the field of art in our country is scarce (printed and digital) and the texts written by the curators are subject only to the judgment of the spectators who visit the exhibition spaces. In a panorama where art criticism is not stimulated, it is not easy to try to make a curatorship that obeys research criteria that represent contributions and stimulate reflection within the artistic field beyond the established parameters. However, I do not lose hope because we still have artists, researchers and cultural managers who have much to contribute.

Many thanks to Carmen for allowing me to conduct this interview, for me it is always an honor to be able to share with really interesting people and learn from it.
I invite you to follow her on her social networks.

Social media:
Instagram: @tejidoscarmesi
Facebook: Carmen Hernández
Blogspot: tejidoscarmesi

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