Interview with Enrique Ježik by Tomáš Pospiszyl
Prague, Czech Republic, 2008
When you shoot in a gallery
He uses excavators, trucks and tanks. He creates drawings in the concrete floor of a gallery with an impact hammer, shoots against the walls with a shotgun. He took hundreds of machetes from the factory and gave them to the inhabitants of a Mexican village. He made an anti-riot unit to march into the audience at a performance art festival.
Where are you from?
Argentina, but I have been living in Mexico for 18 years now.
Why did you move?
I was invited to Central Mexico in 1990 to take part in a sculpture competition, then also in a symposium in Oaxaca, southern Mexico. I liked it there and I had my first exhibition in Mexico City one year later.
What was so interesting in Mexico that you decided to stay?
There are lots of contrasts and energy in Mexico which you cannot find in Argentina. Mexico City itself is an interesting and mighty city, enormous number of people who are always on the go. Also the artists’ community there is very active and cosmopolitan. In comparison with Argentina at that time I found the artistic background there much more fruitful and lively. Something is always happening there.
Is Mexico City the leading artistic centre of Mexico or are there any other interesting centres to be found in other cities?
It is, but things change. One of very active places is Guadalajara City where there was a good international fair of contemporary art to which various exhibitions and events were linked. There are interesting artists in Monterrey and Tijuana in the north of Mexico. It is a large country and its cultural centres change places. In Monterrey itself there were two large museums of contemporary arts — one closed down several years ago.
How many galleries are there in Mexico City?
It varies. A lot of galleries work with young artists and they are constantly on the move.
At one of your exhibitions in Mexico you arranged for five trucks to back up into a gallery and dump the load of construction waste on the floor. As for your interventions – sometimes I am not able to say to what extent you react to the social context and what accent you put on the purity of forms. Could your works be understood as commenting on the social situation?
Yes, in different ways. You mentioned the exhibition which was held at the same time as an art fair and there were a lot of people coming. That’s why I took interest in creating this performance. I greatly enjoy situations in which various layers of the audience are mixed. An agressive intervention into the gallery space may carry symbolic meaning. I took part in an exhibition in Quebec province in Canada which is known for its separatist tendencies. I drew a map of Canada on the wall and simply cut Quebec out of the wall – trying to see how it would be after the secession.
When and how did you start to move from traditional sculpture to the works which emphasize process more than material product?
It was in the 1990s. But even before I used fire, for example in the eighties I let complete sculptures burn. I started to become less interested in objects. In 1997 I started to use video which I used to record actions.
Did you use heavy machinery at that time already or just electrical tools?
It went hand in hand. I had wanted to use machines a long time before, since the 1990s, but I was only able to get to it after many years. The problem was that a work made up of excavators can damage both the machines and the gallery so it is not easy to persuade companies and galleries to give consent to something like this. I finally installed the performance with two excavators with pounding impact hammers on their booms in an old church in Mexico City, the Ex Teresa Arte Actual art centre. I liked the space. Most of the projects which had been carried out there before were related to religion. I was glad to introduce something completely different.
How long did the performance with the exacavators last?
The exhibition lasted four days. During the first days the machines were controlled by the staff members of the company which owned the machines. The last day it was me and the gallery’s technician. It was a very important moment for me when I touched the levers and was able to control the machine by myself. I like doing anything by myself – I do not want to have assistants create my works for me according to my instructions.
The performance with the exacavators draws attention to force and anti-force, it is an absurd metaphor of self-destructive balance. If you carry out your interventions by gun firing at a gallery wall, particular symbolic meaning cannot be avoided. The function of guns is to do harm, to kill.
That is unavoidable. A gun is used if there is a conflict. And that is what I am interested in. Work with guns is as demanding as work with building machinery. The idea of riddling the wall with bullets occured to me a long time ago but there was nobody who would let me do it right in the gallery. So at the beginning I just showed videos of me shooting somewhere else. At last I was able to carry it out at the gallery of Le Confort Moderne in Poitiers, France. The organizers – crazy people, anyway – called the police to give them advance notice of the performance, just to be sure. But the police was not at least interested even though it took place only a few hundred metres from a prison. They said it is Hunting Union that is in charge to give permission. Every country has its own system. In England anything like that would not be possible. I was at a residency there once but none of my projects was realised because every time it was banned by someone because of some absurd safety measures.
What kind of ammunition do you use?
It depends on the type of the wall. Preferably bullets which can make as big holes in the wall and break it as much as possible. That is not easy to estimate. I fired at a wooden hut in Russia with a Kalashnikov rifle and I thought I would shoot it to pieces. But the bullets had such speed and force of penetration that they went through without destroying the wood.
Do you own your own gun?
Yes, I do.
To what extent do you improvise and are you able to assess the result of your shots?
I do not draw anything in advance, I just try various technical solutions. There is a certain kind of balance between chance and planning.
You have been working in Europe more often recently. How does your work reflect your Mexican experience?
I am interested in what is happening in Mexico but I like to generalise a lot. I definitely do not want to convey the idea that there are too many guns and too much violence in Mexico City. But my work may be influenced by Mexico – by the fact that society there is not bound by rules as much as, let’s say, in England. Thanks to Mexico the idea of working with a gun or an excavator came into my mind; in Britain I would probably find other solutions. Mexican chaos is compensated by more freedom. Life in Mexico City brings you to a specific understanding of what is and what is not possible to accomplish.