Friday, 8 June 2012

Cry For Me!

Untitled 1 © Gabriel Valansi

I had never visited an art gallery or a museum exhibition before I left Argentina, my family didn't come from a cultural or artistic background, so it just didn't happen. My first encounter with something "cultural" (apart from music) was thanks to one of my teachers in school. He gave me a book, "Ficciones" by the fascinating Jorge Luis Borges when I was a teenager. Reading it was magical, a new world opened up for me and I wanted to be a writer. I started to consume the Magic Realism of Garcia Marquez, the stories of Cortazar, Roberto Arlt, the novels of Sabato, Byo Casares, etc… I soon realized that I had no talent for writing, it wasn't my thing… but looking back now, it was all those years of reading these authors that had awoken my desire to be an artist. My main influence in my photography comes from those books.

Untitled 2 © Gabriel Valansi

Last month I listened to an audio were Hernan Casciari, a very inspiring Argentinean writer, explained a new cultural atrocity being implemented by the government, 'Restriction on Books'. This meant that if you ordered a book that was not printed in Argentina, it would get held at customs. Therefore regardless of where people lived within this vast country, they would have to go to that airport to make a formal request for the book, pay a tax and pay a storage fee per day for the time that it was held. The Spanish radio asked Hernan: "Why should a scientist  from Tucuman have to travel 1200 Km to get his subscription copy of the magazine, Nature?" For the first time he was speechless.

Untitled 3 © Gabriel Valansi

Immediately people from all around the country started to show their discontent through Twitter and the social media: Liberen Los Libros! (Free the books!) asking the government for the liberation of the books! Liberation of the last weapon of hope of the people, the knowledge! The right to read and learn, and to get inspired… it was so strong that the government have now backed down with the new law. Now people can receive the package to their own homes.The restriction continues for any editorial company, in an attempt to control all the export/import goods, generating short-term business profits to the corrupt government and creating a new generation of ignorance. Now it's difficult to find new English learning books, Engineering books and Medicine books, etc.

Untitled 4 © Gabriel Valansi

Unfortunately there wasn't much time to celebrate this small victory, as two weeks ago came the latest reform:You can no longer purchase dollars as you wish. It seems that you have to ask permission to leave the country and they decide how much money they will give you. How do they control this? By a new governmental system on line where you have to fill in an application with all your details (salary, taxes, pension, expenses…) and the software calculates how many dollars you can buy, that they will allow you to spend abroad. People are out in the streets demonstrating again, like in 2001… watching this on my screen I started to wonder what it would be like living there now, as an artist; would it change the way I produced my work?

Untitled 5 © Gabriel Valansi

So I asked Gabriel Valansi, a great Argentinean artist that I met in Arles a few years ago, how these new regulations affected his everyday life as an artist, he replied:

"I was a guest in La Havana Bienale, there I met an extraordinary Egyptian artist, Khaled Hafez. I asked him what it was like to live in Cairo. He simply answered: "Inspiring"."Argentina is a far away country in many aspects. Even now in these global times, of virtual and instant connections. The restriction of the books and the lack of imported resources, are no worse limitations than what we have suffered in times gone by. I strongly believe that at some point the history of art is the history of limitation. Every pitfall, every apparent impossibility, is an opportunity to grow and develop as an artist, to improvise and to look for new paths…I always knew that I wouldn't have been able to develop my work in any other place but Buenos Aires.

If you asked me today: What is it like living in Argentina? I would have the same answer: Inspiring!"

Seba Kurtis (Foam Magazine #25/Traces)


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