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Interview with Tiago Pinto de Carvalho
Alumnos47, Mexico City

Since February 2017 the Portuguese architect Tiago Pinto de Carvalho is the new director of Foundation Alumnos47. He speaks about the foundation, Mexican culture, its potentials, and restlessness as the factor that drives him.

Last year, the foundation published the massive and impressive book “Hans Ulrich Obrist: Conversations in Mexico”. It brings together over a decade’s worth of research, interviews, and cultural exchange. The reason why I mention this is that it also represents the concept of Alumnos47, which is to “stimulate the creation and exchange of ideas in Mexico through contemporary art”. Over and above that, what is the output and your specific vision for Alumnos47? Alumnos47 must keep following this form of collaboration, exchange, and dialogue between different and multiple disciplines in order to get a better grasp of the social issues and of the niches in which we work.

The book “Conversations in Mexico” is an image of what we do, nowadays, and what we will still be doing in the future. It highlights a cultural and social exchange between different actors in the artistic and social worlds in Mexico, people who somehow encountered one another at a certain moment, directly or indirectly. This “mix” of experiences and histories is a rich process of learning and understanding, of certain periods and personal visions, positions, at a particular historical moment.

Likewise, we want to maintain the dynamic thrust of our work by supporting the young people who are producing innovative visions and new statements (in different formats and in different social spheres), making available to them the Alumnos47 programs and platforms, at the same time we always have the past as a base for exploring the present and the future.

We intend to work on democratizing and facilitating access to culture by appropriating the public space as a stage, and thus reaching a broader audience for the different artistic manifestations in which we are involved.

Vfmk Daniela Trost Nov17 5937

“Hans Ulrich Obrist: Conversations in Mexico” (inside view)

Again, according to the book – the debate on cultural identity as seen from the outside – what do creative men and women share or miss in Mexico? Currently, Mexico is living at an inspiring moment in many different ways. The younger generation is already assuming an important role in Mexican society and is emphasizing the need for a critical and responsive vision that embraces the social issues that on a daily basis, are the headlines in the news and are part of the Mexican scene. As you can see from reading the book, there are similar situations happening now and many young people are also following similar processes as were pursued in the past. This restlessness is the power of the new society that is emerging. The need to generate a critical vision about the past in order to build a new present and future, to search, to exchange, to collaborate – this is part of the dynamic that you can see happening in Mexico today.

In many different areas very interesting artistic projects are blooming that are based on this critique, and we are seeing collaborative paths emerge among different professional areas and publics. The roots of Mexican culture have tended to form the basis of many projects and proposals. Artists, designers, architects, critics, performers, writers, etc., are all emphasizing Mexican identities by questioning it and by creating new statements based on “what defines the Mexicans” nowadays and who, and what, is the new Mexican culture. 

It’s very important to understand, reiterate, that Mexican identity is a huge universe of different and strong identities based on the many languages that are still being used in the country, not to mention the range of local cultures (indigenes, emergent, urban, etc.) that are based on complex social structures. 

How can Alumnos47 take part or compete? Some of the main groups with whom we collaborate are emerging artists, emerging publics and the social niches that are often not considered established artistic and cultural relations and therefore somehow get forgotten. Our mission is to preserve the the exchange of knowledge in exploring the social issues, taking contemporary art as the path and tool to develop multidisciplinary works and programs.

All the programs and projects that we support, and develop, always have a critical consciousness, which we support and likewise bring to bear in the processes. For me, this point is very important if the research and approach to the social issues we “embrace” is to be solid.

There is the research library and first contemporary art library with a special focus on artists books open to the public in Mexico City and the mobile library circulating around the city, not to mention all the editorial and curatorial activities and projects. In short, the foundation plays a major role. As a pioneer, how do you stay focused? There’s also the education unit, and it is very important to the mission and role of Alumnos47.

I think that it’s fundamental to consider the background to Alumnos47. Why do we exist and for what? We are lucky because we are 100% independent and free to assign and assume paths, and projects, with different artists and professionals. We don’t follow political, religious or gender dogmas, which gives us the liberty to explore the social issues that we believe need to be discussed or that may need our support. 

Moreover, we are not a gallery or a museum that normally has to respond to the mainstream public or to special interests and, because we can move in edgy territories, our team is always looking forward, understanding where we have to be. 

Since the beginning, the Alumnos47 Foundation has been made possible by an amazing group of professionals. Our team (internal and external supporters) consists of a group of young and irreverent people with a great deal of knowledge, a variety of backgrounds and restlessness, and it is these people who make Alumnos47 possible and enable it to be seen differently. 

To work with a group like this, plus the ideological freedom that is also one of the Alumnos47 values, makes this institution move forward, always with true humility and with the necessary irreverence to break new ground on themes and specific social spots that are otherwise ignored. In this environment, we learn and work together with people who are busy generating the new society and reinforcing Mexican societies/identities. 

Inside the mobile library

Mobile library with opened doors

What is the next important step? To keep focused on what we believe in and who we want to be, and always to pay attention to the social issues that need to form the kernel of contemporary debates, to learn from the past so we can understand and participate/collaborate in the present and future.

At the moment, we are planning 2018 across the six areas that are main pillars of Alumnos47’s work (editorial, curatorial, education, the book truck, the library and communication/registration), and we will prepare some new activities, moments, experiences, based on one main theme, although I will not reveal what it is until the beginning of the next year!! What I can say is we believe it’s important to revisit it and use it to understand where we are now as a society and where we can (or want) to go. 

The foundation, as a research and learning center, explores current problems through contemporary art in its relationship with other disciplines as a means of analyzing everyday life. Which disciplines are included? Yes, we work in a trans-disciplinary vein. There are many people from different disciplines whom we invite to collaborate with us on the project that we are busy developing and the area of Alumnos47 that is in charge of it.

Inside Alumnos47, we always have a connection between the sections – they support each other on the projects that we launch, and this collaborative process starts “in-house”. Editorial, curatorial, education, the book truck, the library in the building, the registration area, and communication, all work together and that’s a way of having different disciplines delegate their work, participating and contributing their expertise to the various assignment. 

Then we transpose this way of working on to each project depending on the challenges involved. We have worked with visual artists, specialists on social issues and anthropological themes, video art, performers, teachers, writers, critics, architects, coaches and with a very important sphere, the general public.

Alumnos47 employee with a customer

To believe in art as the transforming potential of society, means a lot. Does the alliance with other disciplines make it more tangible? Totally! The more expertise and contributions that then provide input on a specific theme/project, from different angles and experiences, the better a grasp you have of it. All the different inputs from each discipline that participates allow you to have a better understanding about the subject that is being addressed and the results. That gives a tremendous amount of information which contributes very positively to the richness of the process in question and as a tool that can provide new material for further investigations, research, students and the general public.

On the other hand, the disciplines lose their specificity and rigor. In which way do you connect art with other disciplines? I believe that art is the catalyst connecting the different disciplines because, in order to have detailed processes of studying a specific theme, these disciplines all work together to achieve a better result on an artistic process.

There is this idea of dialogue and an exchange of ideas. How for example do non-art-related people react to Alumnos47? Many of the projects that Alumnos47 develops focus on the “non-art-related people”, not only as a public but also as the main actors in some of the performances. They become direct and active actors in the project. We try to involve the non-specialist public in these artistic actions by locating the latter in the public space, on the book truck, with this idea that we always bring with us of making art accessible and democratic to anyone who is interested; indeed, simply by performing on the street, for example, you can potentially change the daily routine of a passer-by. These public actions make people stop in such spaces, gives the performances greater impact, and, because of this, many people stop by, assist, observe what’s happening, and respond. Often, these people participate directly. So, the artistic process that was performed suddenly becomes richer because you can potentially interact with others and an experience arises (and we can learn from it) that is often not even expected.

Is the open door and interdisciplinary concept also successful in terms of reaching a broader audience? In today’s day and age, the combination of the two is fundamental if that is to happen. There’s a great need to open up the borders of art to everyone and, by working in projects that have input from different disciplines, you achieve a greater scope, reach out to more and different audiences. In the public space, you have the perfect platform to experience all the disciplines working together and the perfect public with the most pure and unexpected response.

What are your experiences with the book truck? Access is not just a question of free entrance, but of affiliation or of just being part of the show. How is the sophisticated vehicle perceived and used by passers-by? The book truck reflects the social base that from the very outset Alumnos47 wishes to connect to art. It’s an amazing element that allows us to reach out to different publics and social areas. This element can potentially forge links to the neighborhoods where it has for many years gone every week. It has become a part of these specific urban areas and the kids who participate on the program workshops wait for it eagerly. It’s an element of bonding and brings these small niches together and connects them all by the contemporary art applied in the workshops and activations. The active participants in the different programs of the truck, or just the passers.by, understand that the truck is an offer, and open to the public, without asking anything in return and simply reaches out to anyone without trying to evangelize through art but more to show that anyone can participate if they want to. When the people from these neighborhoods or streets understand that it’s totally free and has no specific intention they just absorb it and make it part of the urban structure and weekly life of the place.   

Art is unique – even if it is an inspiring, unique experience – and by definition intangible. Do you think art directly influences life? If art saved mine, by the influence it had on me, it makes me think that it saves more lives too.

What do you appreciate most about working in Mexico City? Its energy, its continuous stimulation of the senses by the urban chaotic side of it and this, for me, is a huge database for research and social learning. This city is a tremendous laboratory for all kind of disciplines and, in a personal way – because I’m an immigrant – the Mexicans have this beautiful acceptance of foreigners. Mi casa es tu casa!

Tiago, best thanks to you!

Interview: Dajana Dorfmayr