continued from page 25 Democracy is like a poem, if you don’t use it, it disappears. The media and the [political, social, and economic] powers have found a way to speak about democracy as if it were a given, something that is already here. That’s a substitution of reality. It represents a desire to see an image instead of what is real. SB: What does the debris tell you about a place? CV: The first thing I want to know is where the water comes from in a particular community. What are people doing to their water? How are they relating to their water? This is a true indication of how people combat their own life, how they combat their own bodies and food. In Austin, I saw a wonderful sign in a gas station that said: “Each driver is responsible for their own fluid.” I thought it was so perfect, because we are the drivers of our own flesh. We are responsible for our own fluid. When I was younger, I wrote that what goes in and out of the body should be the foundation of loss. If we were to see this process of entering and exiting, then we would have respect for the chain of transmission that is life. SB: What was it about your own artistic sensibility that leads you to think about water in your art and your poems? CV: Well, I was born by a river in a place near the Andes Mountains. I played with the river like kids today play with video games. I played with running streams. I spent my whole childhood with water. I listened to it. At night, the streams were full of these little frogs; they made incredible music at dusk. And all that has gone silent, they are all gone now Chile has managed to undo the streams, undo the frogs, and undo the music. SB: Your sculptural pieces come from your own seeing or witnessing. They are created in a particular setting or culled from the materials of a particular place. CV: When I come to a museum, I use the museum as my workshop. The museum becomes my studio, the city becomes my studio. Where is my studio in time or in space? Place is an intersection of many realities. The work is of the moment. It is a response to a moment in dialogue with many elements. There is nothing romantic about including debris from Austin in my work. It’s a necessity for the energy of the piece. Why else would I do it? What would be the pathos or the ethos of a little stick? When I pick up a piece of garbage, I wonder why I pick one thing and not the next. When I picked up garbage here in Austin, I went out with university students. They might pick up a Coca-Cola can, a piece of a car. I didn’t incorporate these things into my work here. But eventually I will incorporate those in a new palimpsest somewhere. SB: Do you think that your work is a model for how we as a society to relate to waste? CV: It’s not for the artist to decide. It’s for the people who come and see the work. The artist wants to open up many possibilities for questioning and interpretation. SB: In the United States our relationship to place seems complicated and unhealthy. We refuse to look at things or even observe where we are. CV: Denial of place is only an extension of denial of self. We are one part of a whole. The denial of place is the same as denying the body, denying the mother or denying your own death. SB: What was going through your mind as you were picking up debris here? CV: Two things were important here. The first were the blinds that became the Twin Towers. It’s my first materialization of the image of the Towers since the attacks of September 11. The other thing I found here in Austin is cedar wood, which is fragrant. I incorporated it into my work. That’s my homage to the place. What I remember most about Austin having been here before is the fragrance of the air here. Austin for me is that tree and that fragrance. SB: When you are doing a performance piece you often use thread or string. Thread in your work can be about continuity or narrative, connection or communication. Yet when I think about lines here in Texas I think about the border. Do you think that the thread you use can also have that connotation? CV: All lines and all threads have the same property as words: the double possibility of uniting and dividing. You cannot have one without the other. All these borders, all these lines are really a coming to terms with that paradox that you are negotiating at every instance: the possibility of uniting or separating, taking or giving. I see Texas as a meeting point. Perhaps even more than California, Texas feels like a place of the future. You feel the overpowering presence of the people who have been denied: the American Indian, the Mexican, which is another way of saying American Indian. The people of this area, the people who have always been here, who have been denied, have not been denied for very long. How long has it been since the United States invaded Mexico? The power of the denial is only 150 years old. And that power is slowly dissolving. It is dissolving because life is dissolving it. You see it in the way people eat, the way people talk, the way people dance. Your salsa, your tortilla is dissolving it. What are these borders? They are mindsets. On the surface, you have the Anglo-Texas way of life. The power of the Anglo is overpowering, but you only need to spend a few minutes here to realize that it’s an appearance. SB: Yes, but that appearance is very powerful. The vision of a Wal-Mart, for example, is so much bigger than the salsa. CV: But how long will the Wal-Mart go on? The Americas are the Americas. I think we will become a large common market. We will be one multifarious, infinitely rich culture, but without any dominance by any one group. This will happen. It’s happening in daily life. It’s just the [political, social, and economic] structures that are lagging behind. Susan Briante is a poet, translator, and essayist. A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, she studies the relationship between place and memory. 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/21/04
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