Collecting pages. Interview with Luiza Teixeira de Freitas
Rosa Lleó: For this interview, I would like to focus specifically on your interest and relation with artist books and editions, so perhaps we can start from the beginning. What was your inspiration and stimulation, and what were your firsts acquisitions for the collection?
Luiza Teixeira de Freitas: I have been working with my father’s collection for nearly 12 years now. He has built a contemporary art collection that for a decade was curated by Adriano Pedrosa and dealt with artworks that directly or indirectly referred to architecture, construction and de-construction. Three years ago the collection shifted to a new focus in books, literature, words and linguistics. The shift was very organic but it had its starting point in the creation of a new collection —independent from the one I just referred— of artist books. It started mainly through a slight nostalgia of what was done in the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s in Conceptual Art, where the concept was at the centre stage of creation. It meant taking a step back from the frenzy of the art world of nowadays, slowing down and understanding a different way of looking at art.
An important moment comes through as an almost serendipitous moment. Whilst researching the Internet we came across this huge collection of artist books and ephemera that had a great part of its content listed on a website. I got in touch with the person behind the collection showing interest in travelling there and spending a couple of weeks as a volunteer, helping out with archive and just being around the material. To make a long story short, they were selling the whole thing and we ended buying probably half of what there was. This was very important for us to start our collection and define which way we were going.
RL: Talking about Conceptual Art’s ephemeral material, I have to say that what I have seen in many European museums is always very similar, with the same names from the Siegelaub circle. Speaking with someone that is researching on this specific period, what you would say it is mostly still to bring to light different from what we are used to see?
LT: I agree that there is this recurrence to the Siegelaub circle, but the conceptual interest and the importance of documents and books was also happening in the United States, both East and West Coast and also for example in South America, were the research in this media and period is very developed and written about. In terms of special materials, one of the starting points of this collection was through the Art and Project Bulletins. We came across this fantastic project in The Netherlands that started in 1968 at the gallery Art & Project and lasted for 21 years. The gallery organised exhibitions in its space but what became the core of their activity was the mailing out of these information bulletins, which were made in a format that had no fixed time or place. The idea was to bring together ideas of artists and architects and send them out through the gallery’s mailing list. These bulletins had no value except for the ideas they conveyed. The first purchase of the collection was the box with the entire set of 156 bulletins.
RL: Books do not have aura, they are quiet, and not spectacular … does it also make it a statement about your curatorial interest on stepping back from today’s frenzy of the art market?
LT: If you think about it, the book is a private dialogue between the writer (in this case the artist) and the reader/viewer. You have to open it and flip page by page to understand what it is and what it can give to you. The relationship is different than the one you develop with a sculpture or a painting. It takes time and even effort to establish a bridge. I am by no means saying that one media is more important than the other; I’m just stating that for me there is a difference.
Susan Cheevers has just published E.E. Cummings’ biography and there is a passage in the book that I find explains this feeling of slowing down in a perfect way: ‘Nothing was wrong with Cummings – or Duchamp or Stravinsky or Joyce, for that matter. All were trying to slow down the seemingly inexorable rush of the world, to force people to notice their own lives. In the 21st Century that rush has now reached Force Five, we are all inundated with information and given no time to wonder what it means or where it came from. Access without understanding and facts without context have become our daily diet’.
RL: To be truly effective, remembrance must always be critical, bringing certain elements of the past into the present and establishing a relationship. I am sure you feel a certain responsibility in this sense. What are your plans to exhibit or bring to light part of this collection soon? How is it related to your personal curatorial projects?
LT: A part of the collection of artists’ books was shown once in the Canary Islands at the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes. It was shown during the Architecture Biennial of the Canary Islands and happened in parallel with an exhibition of our main art collection. We have also lent some of the collection in the past to different exhibitions and we are always open for loans. But other than that there are no specific plans of showing it.
I do always try to bring to the core of my curatorial projects the research I do with artist books and publications. I have been involved in different projects that relate specifically to book publishing, like the organization of artist book fairs (first in Porto together with PA/PER VIEW, and now in Madrid for the second time).
RL: And finally, in regards to the #Opening section you have curated for this year at ARCO. What would be your recommendations related to what we have been talking about, any artist or gallery present at the fair that we should look at if we are interested in artist books and editions?
LT: I can’t really pinpoint anything specific within the #Opening section in fear of not being fair to the 28 galleries present in the section, but we have organised this year in parallel to #Opening an artist book and publishing section called ‘As Tables are Shelves’ with 10 publishers specialised in artist books and publications, coming from different countries that will showcase some really interesting projects and materials.