||In The E! True Hollywood Story, you tell the story of your life in a format commonly used in biographies of international pop icons. This can be regarded as a good-humored translation of this Dossier’s postulate: I look, therefore I am. In your case, that means reinventing yourself and being absorbed by the global mass culture. Is everything we see on a screen a construction?
Films as a whole—especially fiction films—consist of thousands, millions of dollars and the effort of hundreds of people with a single goal: to lie. It is a convention, we all know that what we will see in a film is a lie. Thus, it is not an evil lie, it is simply a lie that we want to believe, and one that we need, by the way. A documentary film is the same thing: behind it there lies a filmmaker who is not unbiased. Ever since I was a child, whenever I would watch a TV contest, I would say to my sister: “That is a setup.” And until this day she laughs at me because of that, because I have always been paranoid (laughs). But I think that it was precisely that precocious paranoia that saved me from being a silly, passive viewer. More than paranoia, it is a sensation inherent in everything I see on a screen, a sort of sixth sense for tricks that I was born with—be that good or bad. There is always an eye that looks at one side more than the other, an eye that builds.
My The E! True Hollywood Story—from a restricted vantage point—is absolutely real. All of the things that are told actually happened to me: I drank gasoline when I was two, I drew the Pope because I believed that John Paul II was a member of the band Kiss, etc. And all of the characters that appear are real, in real situations. It is almost a documentary film. The construction aspect of it lies in the fact that I told my own story as if the E! Entertainment Television channel was telling it.
I have watched approximately thirty episodes, and I noticed that the biographies of different people would become more and more similar to each other, they all had had a traumatizing event in their childhood, they all had had a point of inflexion between being anonymous and becoming a star. Nowadays, the construction of a star is standardized too, and The E! True Hollywood Story tells the story of my life abiding by that process. In terms of linear interpretation, all of that is real.
To appear and to exist are two very distinct things. First of all, this work existed on a concrete level—my story—, and then it appeared—a TV show. The process is the polar opposite of the curatorial guideline.
Did you receive any comment or reply from Matthew Barney regarding his “special appearance” in Bolivia 3? Why did you choose Barney?
Matthew Barney is the most successful video artist in the generation that immediately preceded mine, the one that came up in the 1990s. And as the British art critic Tom Morton put it, my struggle with him is the battle of Luke Skywalker with his father, Darth Vader, when he tells him: “Luke... I’m your father... Come to the dark side...”
That reference had never crossed my mind when I made Bolivia 3: Confederation Next, but it seemed very valid to me. One must fight that which is already established, and Matthew Barney represents the large budgets of United States-based art, something that makes my fight against him more similar to that of David against Goliath, two characters whose different sizes are similar to those of Uruguay and the United States, a giant cultural superpower like few in History, and a small country devoid of any strong or clear-cut cultural policies.
It took me a long time to come up with a conclusion for that conflict, to decide whether Barney should or should not die in the end. Nevertheless, instead of making a violent ending, I chose to turn him into Barney, the Dinosaur, an affectionate being. I chose to take him to another territory where, at last, we could be friends.
In every premier of the trilogy, strange things happened to me. When I premiered Bolivia 3 representing Uruguay in the Bienal de São Paulo, to my surprise, Matthew Barney showed up to watch it. When he left, he was very moved, he bowed down to me and hugged me, laughing. Effectively, the real Barney and the one featured in the video had turned into emotional beings, in the end. In front of me, no longer stood the Matthew Barney superstar of Current Art, Björk’s husband, etc., but rather a colleague who was laughing along with me. Then, I was happy about having opted for that ending, that was another proof that whoever dominates fiction dominates reality.
Art is transforming, that is what is good about it.
You are clearly interested in many different sectors of pop culture, from Gone with the Wind to Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Star Wars, Matrix, or Interview with the Vampire. What is the importance of cinema to your background?
“Sectors of pop culture” is a great title for something! I was brought up during the expansion of video rental shops, at eleven years of age I had already watched all the films in my neighborhood rental, and then I switched to other rentals. When I had already enrolled in all of the nearby rental shops, then I started watching the same films over and over again. What I was interested in was watching, and that was how I spent my childhood, puberty, and half my adolescence: watching movies at home.
In the Cold War period, as Margaret Thatcher put it when Ronald Reagan died: “President Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot, without launching a missile...” To that I would add: “He won the war with movies.” It was not by chance that, being a product of Hollywood, he fostered the propagation of a cheap, effective type of film which, by means of the VHS, reached the entire world.
Parallel to that, the first thing I ever studied in my life, besides going to school, was cinema. I enrolled in an experimental school for children established by the Montevideo Cinémathèque after the end of the military regime, and it was a very rich experience, which left a deep impression on me. I would go with my sister every Saturday to an old building downtown, and there, along with the other children, we would create stories and then shoot them, we did animation films. I believe that there I learned all of the foundations of audiovisual.
My story is exactly the same as that of Britney Spears or Robbie Williams. Behind it all, there was a visionary mother dreaming of having a famous child (laughs)...
I like all of the movies that you mentioned. Maybe I like Interview with the Vampire even more, because it represents that romantic—almost gothic—side of my grunge adolescence in Montevideo, in the 1990s. And Gone with the Wind has always appealed a lot to me, there are references to that film in many of my works. I have always felt a bit like Scarlett O’Hara, fighting adversity in a Montevideo devastated and emptied—as was the rest of Latin America—by military and democratic regimes imposed by foreign powers. There is a moment in which I specially identify myself with Scarlett, which is when she rips off the curtains left over from the time when the family used to have money, to fetch the money that will save Tara, the homeland to her family, the place that represents her comfortable childhood when there were no wars. For Masturbated Virgin, I had some clothes made out of my grandmother’s curtains so I would go to New York. The important thing is to understand that Scarlett might have been wearing curtains, but you can be certain that those were not just any curtains, those were very high-end curtains.
Why is Hello Kitty a symbol of the “almighty power of pop” to you?
Because she has no mouth. Hello Kitty is the Monalisa of the future.
Montevideo is pronounced in an interesting way in your videos—Monte-video—, as if it were a fiction work, more than it is a city. Is that the case?
The name Montevideo is a fiction, or at least an abstraction, and no one knows exactly where it comes from. There are many different hypotheses, but to this day, no one has ever claimed “I was the one who named it.” Therefore, I came up with the idea of rebaptizing it as Monte-video. This coincidence between the name of the city that I was born in and the fact that I am a video artist has always seemed weird to me.
The Greeks would place their gods on Mount Olympus, and even Hollywood has a mount that characterizes it. How could I not establish the Global Mecca of Video Art in Monte-video, when I come from there?
On the other hand, I have always felt very close to Isidore Ducasse, the Comte de Lautréamont, who—like myself—was also a Uruguayan who developed his work abroad, and who used to make a quasi-mythological construction of the place that he had been born in. We also share that… a mythological interest in Monte-video.
What is your routine like in Spain, and where do you seek elements for your creations nowadays? Do you watch a lot of TV?
I have always been addicted to audiovisual. Wherever there is some moving image, there I am, consuming it. Now I am superconnected to YouTube, at alarming levels... of near-addiction (laughs). For real!
I love the type of random narrative that is created when one surfs YouTube, the leaping from one subject to another, the amount of information accumulated, the possibility for everyone to have their own television channel, and what is best, it reaches millions of users worldwide, regardless of nationality.
Nowadays I almost never watch TV, I replaced it with YouTube. I think I have already watched as much TV as I could, because I actually never got as involved with a soap opera as I did with Vale tudo. Something has changed.
There are some series that I really like, such as South Park, Family Guy, So Notorious, or The Simple Life, featuring Paris Hilton. There is a terror and science fiction channel in Spain called Calle 13 [13th Street], and at night they show empty cemeteries, I watch that one too, but I am not truly connected to anything. I believe that that type of narrative is becoming obsolete. It all seems slow to me and, after a while, it bores me. Nothing captures my attention anymore as Vale tudo did, there no longer are characters like Odete Roitman.
On the other hand, I think TV is much too structured—makeup, hairstyles, technicians for everything... because of advertising, now it is a controlled medium, whereas YouTube is the opposite, it is destructured, fresh, and has a nerd aesthetics that interests me. It is true that, for the time being, it is in an Atari-like stage, or more like TK90, but in a few years we all are going to be as much—or even more—connected to it than to the television set.
Anyway, I think television is a medium to be investigated, as there are still things to be invented in it. Four years ago I did an interview show for TV in Madrid. It was something fresh and spontaneous that I was invited to do for a season in a Spanish TV network. I made good use of that invitation, because I was able to show the whole gamut of clichés used by female Argentine TV show hosts, which is something that is embedded in me, things that I grew up with. I would go on air wearing a pearl necklace and when the show began I would show the clothes that I was wearing that day, it was real fun. It was an experience that revealed the power generated by the TV set. To this day, people stop me in the streets because of that show. One has to know how to use that power.
Now, I want to repeat that experiment with a new proposal, and I am preparing a new TV show. I love to investigate.
Your character is a successful Latin American artist who attained success in Europe due to the fact that he knew the secrets of the “almighty pop.” How was Martín Sastre, the character, created?
I think you are wrong. Martín Sastre is not a character. Martín Sastre is me.