Artist Talk: Pedro Costa and Rui Chafes

Date(s) : December 8 (Saturday), 2012

Time : 13:00 – 15:00

On Saturday, December 8, 2012, Pedro Costa and Rui Chafes gave a talk at the Hara Museum during their visit to Japan to mark the opening of their exhibition at the Hara Museum, MU ─ Pedro Costa and Rui Chafes. They spoke about their collaboration as artists working in totally different fields of expression—filmmaking and sculpture—and about the Hara Museum, formerly a private residence, as a venue imbued with memories. An edited version of the talk is given below.

Question for Pedro: For film, memory must be a crucial keyword. The videos we have here (except for the one shown in Gallery III) were used in films you released in the past (Down to Earth, In Vanda’s Room, and Colossal Youth). They were either shot in Cabo Verde or the volcanic islands or were about people coming from there, the immigrants. I think the videos have a lot to do with their memories and the places where they used to lived. So I assume the films are very much rooted in this theme of memory. Could you elaborate on this?

PC: Unlike other filmmakers, I go to certain places and meet with certain people and we work, shoot, talk or plan on a regular basis. This gives me material that I use in the films. This material is also an archival record for myself and those people I work with. Everything is memory and nothing is memory. It is a vast subject. But speaking on a more practical level related to the making of this exhibition, when I first visited this place, I thought of it as really a house and not as a museum. My videos have sound and they are traces in time. So my sounds, for instance, go from room to room. It is like a haunted house where things happen. I would not say there is A to B in my videos, but you can connect things and cinema is about association. And I could say that each room is like a sequence or a part of the story. We all do our own editing, which is one of the basis of filmmaking. Editing one thing with another, creating a third one. And this third one is very invisible and mysterious.

Question for Pedro: Ventura is singing a song in Gallery III. What is he singing? Can you tell us a little about his background?

PC: It is a very simple song that belongs to the long tradition of immigrant songs. It is a song about Cabo Verde, the land they had to leave. The song is about a longing for the land and the working and living conditions they find in Portugal, difficult working conditions. Ventura was a mason. A bricklayer. He has a beautiful voice. But then he had a work accident and retired young at 25 with a lot of problems. He is a broken and very sad man, but also strong. We are attached to his fragility and his strength at the same time. I have been working with him for a long time now.

Question for Rui: What does memory mean to you and how do memories work as stimuli for your work?

RC: For me, both cinema and sculpture are arts in time. They are forms of art that deal with time. And of course time relates to memory. So objects exist to wake up those memories. I am very happy that my work still resists my own comprehension years after. But one thing I am sure of is that my sculpture is completed by you. I personally believe that art is made for other people, not for myself. These art objects only exist when the circle is closed and somebody comes to see them and sees things that I don’t see. So my work is completed by the viewer with his own memory, with his own story, not mine.

Question for Pedro: Regarding the use of museum space, and speaking of the presentation method at the museum and especially in this exhibition, what were your aims and what did you want to realize or achieve in the space?

PC: Regarding cinema space in general, I would like to remind you that the screening of movies until the late 50s or the beginning of the 60s was done in a kind of loop with a small intermission. You could go in the middle of a film and go out anytime. Now it is like this only for porn. You can go out as soon as your desire is satisfied. Every film used to be like this. I think this way would be much better than the way things are shown today. As for the galleries, I didn’t have any intentions, really. I feel the videos are a sort of paranormal activity of cinema. They have become paranormal activity of film that does not exist anymore as such.

Question for Rui: Why do you use black or no color in your work? Also, how do you perceive your works as objects, the way they are installed and the installation space?

RC: Everything is related. The color is not kuro (black) but kage (shadow). This is not a color, but a non-color, because my work is about absence and not about presence. Even though I am a sculptor, I don’t believe in objects. What I believe in is energies. I only see objects in terms of whether they have a soul or not, if they are able to be catalyzers of energies. Since my work is about absence and not presence, I am led into a situation of making impossible objects. So I cover them with shadow color to make people forget their presence. Hokusai once spoke about different types of black, because there is not only one type. There is shadow black, night black, and other different blacks, which is very interesting. Unlike Richard Serra, whose work is about presence, weight, and measurement, my steel and iron sculptures are not about presence, but absence. With some exceptions, they never touch the floor. They are either hung from the ceiling or on the walls, or they are big metallic things that just barely touch the floor. In fact, for me they are floating.

Question for Rui: Typically, artwork in a museum either requires light to be seen, like a painting, or the artwork itself is a source of light, like film. In Galleries I and II, Rui’s sculpture is visible only because of the light from Pedro’s films. Can you talk about your ideas behind this relationship?

RC: The sculpture itself in Gallery I is about a place where people try to meet others, where people who are in prison can talk with their family in those glass boxes (rooms). Of course, I transformed the glass into steel. It is like a barrier. For me, this space is like an impossible meeting point where people try to communicate but cannot. Even the works themselves, both the sculpture and film, are not connected in a figurative way. In Gallery II, you have these two extremes, the window where Vanda is spending time with Ventura and time is flowing, and the other window in the sunroom where you are invited to go out. And in the middle there is this very old heavy door floating in the air. It is also an impossible thing. You have the door, but you have to construct the rest of the house all around it. For me, it was important that it was Pedro’s work that led the eyes of the viewer. The viewers would see the sculptures by the light coming from the film.

Question to Pedro and Rui: What is the meaning behind the titles you gave to your works?

PC: Titles for me are not very important. Alto Cutelo – it’s literally the name of a village in Cabo Verde. There is no mystery. Sometimes for the title I prefer just to have a real place or setting where they happen, where they live. In a house or sometimes in a gallery or museum, films do not have the power that they have in a theater. Here they are deconstructed, which is a word I hate. They do not function like they do in a theater. Sometimes I feel they need Rui’s pieces’ energy to exist because they do not have sufficient light. They lose light in this kind of situation.

RC: For me, the question of titles is very important for many reasons. I always have titles because I think that I work with three things – iron, fire and words. I think words are the most important thing between two people. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think the contrary is true, that a word is worth one thousand images. But I don’t want my titles to be descriptions of what you are seeing. They should only provide some poetic direction. In the end, I think the most important thing in art is its poetic strength. So whether we talk about film, sculpture or painting, it has to have poetic power.