F.I.: Because she was very much into Marxist theory, and that's is why everybody was trying to devalue what she was saying or writing.
C.S.: Before, you said one sentence, which seems to be very central for me. You said, that the idea of your magazine is to bring art and culture to the movement and not the other way round, to bring political activism into the art spaces. Do you have any explicit experiences with that bringing activism to the art world?
F.I.: I don't think that it is necessarily wrong to do so, but it is very difficult to establish a common ground. For example, people in the institutions would tell me to bring my Zapatista mask to talks, wear it, for example... I mean, they need to show they are inclusive, which of course they are not.
C.S.: Ricardo Dominguez did that for many years, wearing the Zaptista mask at art events ...
F.I.: Yes, but he did in the US. Here, I mean, in Mexico, I can't do it, because the Zapatistas gave up the dialogue with the government in 1994, because the government did not keep the promises they had made before. So, I can't simply wear the mask in the art context. That would mean to mix things which should better be separated.
This year, for example, we were invited to participate in the second edition of the same festival. First I was invited as a candidate for the post of director, then they said I would not have the necessary credentials to do the job. Then, they invited me as a curator, which was fantastic because the topic was "borders and communities." But when they found out what I wanted to do, they told me they did not want to get involved in politics, but rather politics in more poetic ways, and finally they invited me as an artist, but they still refused adequate payment. So we are still in the middle of negotiations. We at least want to keep the hardware we use in the exhibiton, because otherwise we would be totally exploited there. It's there that we are exotic, and we would be used as part of their justification mechanisms in order to demonstrate democracy to the outside world. We know we are getting used there, but OK, it does not matter so long as we get certain things there, e.g. a satellite modem, digital projectors, computers.
C.S.: You want to make a deal with them.
F.I.: Yes, we are asking to establish a kind of a work-station in a closed space with one entrance only, and if you want to get in, you have to sign a petition, including your passport number. The petition is a complaint about the classist art system, about the failure of the dialogue with the Zapatistas, about the presidential election fraud, and it includes the demand for the immediate release of all political prisoners. The petition will be signed by the actual people who come to the exhibition. Probably the director of the place is not going to sign it. Nor ambassadors or important figures. So this is our way of participating in the exhibition. What we are stating is that we are there, in the exhibition, but at the same time, what we are doing can only be seen by the people who sign this petition. And the people who don't sign it will not be able to see what we are doing-which is good. Amongst other things, we are planning an alternative symposium there with people who do pirate radio, net art etc.
C.S.: Net art?
F.I.: Net art is also part of the official game here. Mostly it's art for embassies, because it is an easy way to make people from other countries believe that Mexico is an advanced country, it is cutting-edge, and thus a good place to investment... So, yes, we want to be uncomfortable, but so far, our participation has not been confirmed...
C.S.: Now, I think it is time to talk about the Zapatistas, about certain political and economic strategies they are following. And as part of this, I would like to know more about the role aesthetics play within these strategies. What would you describe as central ideas to the Zapatista politics, or policies?
F.I.: Well, the main one is "dignity." For 500 years or longer, the indigenous people have been marginalized from everyday life. The only role they had was to do badly paid jobs like cleaners, farm workers etc. And only few years ago, in Chiapas, the indigenous people could not even use a sidewalk; they had to walk on the streets. And I think for Mexican society, they very much represented as the "other."
Basically, they were not seen, they were invisible, until they put their mask on-this ski mask.
So by the act of becoming invisible, they became visible. This is something possibleworlds.org has also been doing, in a different way. We closed the access and people needed a password to get in. You have to subscribe which costs $3 a month at the moment. Some people working in institutions were very much offended by this, arguing this is an era of free culture, open space, public sphere etc. For them it is easy to say so, because they are state-funded, get their salaries, and run a big machinery, while we have to find our own way to stay sustainable. For many years, I did not have enough money to eat more than once a day. So, we decided to create a very fragile economy which would allow us to know what we can do and cannot do. We went back from the digital to a kind of agricultural level; you do what you do, that's it. Maybe you harvest something in one year; you talk one-to-one with people, also because the global network is so complicated, everything is going so fast. For an individual like me, it would be really easy to immerse myself, for example, in the Berlin or Madrid scene... but this would benefit nobody, OK, me, but that is not the point of all this. When we started possibleworlds.org we decided to center on Mexico, and from there try to communicate with others, other collectives. And this has been very successful so far, slow, yes, but successful.
C.S.: What other strategies could you mention?
F.I.: Well, the forced labour strategy. One of the main cultures inside the zapatistas, the tzoltziles are very much oriented towards hard work; they even work on holidays etc., and partying is valued much less than work. And we feel very close to them. What else? There is also a lot of 'humility'.
C.S.: Part of the Zapatista policies is to build 'another culture'. What does that look like? Because this is also where you come from, right?
F.I.: We are collaborating with other collectives, other than possibleworlds.org, thinking, and trying to create an alternative television system, an alternative radio system, using different values from those supported by the Mexican state and corporations. We have been working on telenovelas, we are going to open a media space in Tijuana in a couple of months, which will be founded by individual members, working on street graphics, indymedia, printing zines, doing documentary work... And there will be the Fiction Department, a group dedicated to narrative media research and production. And I guess that's it.
C.S.: So, your main projects are alternative radio and TV projects, as well as public space projects, including the Internet.
F.I.: Exactly, everything to communicate with a non-elitist culture.
C.S.: How is the economy of this work?
F.I.: Precarious. It is an unpaid volunteer-work economy. But this is exactly what we have to do, we have to find a way to make our work sustainable, otherwise, we are going be sick in five years and die young... What we do, is that we only work a couple of hours a day, that is OK.
C.S.: So the idea of "another culture" means being paid and supported by the people, by the community, through a subscription model or micropayments systems, for example?
F.I.: There are different models being used by different collectives. I decided to go for the cooperative, which means I get part of my income through writing etc. but also do other work. Usually, the ones who can give away their work for free have parents who give them money. What many people do is to move back to smaller towns where life is cheaper, and where it is also easier to get in touch with different social groups, e.g. older generations.
I was reading the new book by Alberto Hijar last month, who is somebody I really admire. I would love to get to know him personally, and talk to him about electronic media, because he has been working for 30 years, involved in the whole of Latin-American cinema, and the theater of the oppressed (Augusto Boal); he is very experienced, and he could probably give us good advice. But it is so difficult to bridge the generation gap. Maybe we would seem very naive to him, making all the wrong decisions, yes, maybe that is the case; we should talk about it. And also, I could not afford a university education. I am doing it now, late. I feel like I am doing everything backwards. I don't have money to continue this next semester.
C.S.: Would you say that your work is successful? Do you have the feeling that there is something growing, that has strength and power in your context?
F.I.: At certain moments, yes. But very often it feels like it does not have a lot of power. Simply, because we spend so much energy in creating things which should be there already. For example, there are many unused theater spaces in Mexico, which we could use, but simply do not get the permission to-for many different reasons. So, instead of doing theater in the theater, the drama group Peleles does their theater in the living room. This is a shame. The officials close their eyes and don't want to see that this is happening, but they also don't care.
C.S.: And how about yourself?
F.I.: For me this way of working makes me become aware very much of my personal reality, of what I can and I cannot do, where the limits are. My life should not be fighting to belong in a city which historically never has accepted people from other cities in the last 700 years. Even the Aztecs were into that practice. Do I really want to be there (in Mexico City) working as a kind of exotic person, doing unimportant net art, addressing unimportant topics? I don't think so.
C.S.: What is the heritage of Western culture, of modernity? What does it mean for your work? Is it important?
F.I.: Yes, very much. It took me 19 years to find out that I was Latin-American. Growing up close to the border, I was always exposed to US-American radio and television, and media; at the same time we were much neglected by the Mexicans, being just a poor town far away from Mexico City. So I was reading French and the German literature before I read Latin- American literature. Latin-America looked so outdated to me, but of course, when I started living in the US, going to raves, meeting cyberpunks, meeting Mexican and Latin writers in the US, I found out, that I was completely white trash, Tijuana white trash. And so in a way I finally understood what being Latin-American meant. Years later when I moved back to Mexico, I started to read Latin-American literature and got aware of all this. I started Latin- American studies as a B.A. I still have not finished it because now I want to know everything. I want to know about the revolutions, and the colonial period, and meet all the people from these countries. And this is where I can communicate with Europeans, for instance, because in a strange, hybrid, bastard way, I am mixing all this together. Of course, when I make a TeleNouvelle-Vague, it is Godard in a Mexican low-esthetics way. Like the Border Hack was a kind of offspring of Florian Schneider's Border Camp, then I used to work with a cyberfeminist, Cindy Gabriela Flores, who also is very dedicated to working in Mexico.
C.S.: Do you think that the principles of democracy and the way the art world functions do exclude each other? Is art bound to be elitist? This is a question which not only concerns Mexico, but the whole world. Who has the power to define what art and culture should be? When I look at the documenta exhibition, I wonder how backward-oriented, and even blind to contemporary aesthetical discourse, such an institution can be. And-sorry to say this-it's great that you guys were there, but I am afraid that it is totally on the side and fulfills a more decorative function than anything else. Although I have to admit that the magazine project has a huge potential - the role it plays within documenta, the way it is represented and communicated, is ridiculous.
F.I.: Things are not going on on the highways, but on the side. Maybe you have to take some bad road, go to a small town, to discover something fantastic. For example, in 2003 I was invited to go to Talent Campus at Berlinale, the Berlin film festival, and I was excited to meet people who are ?? cinema from Asia and Africa, but when I got there, what I saw was a representation of the world film industry. There were Mexicans, but from the Mexican institutions, lots from France, lots from the US, lots from the UK and Germany. I felt very disappointed when I saw this. It seems it is all about national representation, while the logics of Internet are about individuals interacting. This is something I like best about the whole nettime scene; you don't have to pass through the President's office in order to get to Hamburg.
C.S.: Are you related to the so-called anti-globalization movement in any way? What is your opinion about it? Do you relate to or participate in it?
F.I.: On the one side, I think it is very important to have the G8-counter summit and antiactions, but on the other side, what I have learned from the Zapatistas is that we should not fight these people, but let them alone, do your own things, develop your own strategies, live your life. You cannot be reactionary the whole time, reacting to the megalomania of some powerful corporations which are of course married to the state. No matter if the Zapatistas are right or not, to seclude yourself, do what you do, not talk to them. And when they are the only ones at the party, they will feel very bad. Of course, they are the ones in power, but if we fight for this power, we are only making them stronger by looking like stupid and savage people- which we are not. We are smart and have great networks. Let them dance alone, parade all over the world like the king without clothing.
C.S.: The title of your newspaper is sab0t and presumably has something to do with the idea of sabotage which is a certain way to "react" to something.
F.I.: Oh, yeah, this has been criticized a lot by collegues with Zapatista affinities. They were asking me why I am still in a dialogue with institutions, why I am staying within the logics of sabotage while it has been proven repeatedly that it does not work. The only thing I can say is, I am Mestizo, I am from the border, I am an artist. My mother was in an artist group in the 1960-70s, this group became very big, but she left to a small town to live her life as a teacher. This is not what I want to do. In a way I think it is mediocre. On the other side, it looks like the right and healthy choice, and is probably the more intelligent thing to do. I feel that I am at a very difficult point. The question is: What to do? Or to speak from tradition: What is to be done?
Addendum (by Email):
C.S.: A few days after our conversation, your telenovela "Fea y Rebelde" (Ugly & Rebel) was censored by Youtube. Do you have any idea why this happened?
F.I.: I'm a little outraged at what happened, I have always been aware of censorship, but I never expected this to happen on the »Fea y rebelde« telenovela. I believe it happened out of pure and crass sheer irresponsible power. Actually there's nothing censorable in the video, no kind of copyright infringement - apart from the 4 second jingle at the intro which as a remix of a shakira song that I find online, but in any case this doesn't belong to SONY music.
C.S.: What exactly was in this part of the telenovela?
F.I.: »Adry la fea« (adry the ugly) is speaking to a her ex-boyfriend on the stairs, about how her acting career is failing. And at the very end the guy tells a real life story of what happened when shakira appeared in a very popular late night televisa show, where he worked in production. So I mean, unless it's illegal to talk about a TV show that millons of persons watched, or to talk about one's job...
C.S.: Do you have an idea who or what the »third party« might be which is behind the censorship?
F.I.: The third party is Televisa, the biggest media conglomerate in latinamerica, along with the Brasilian globomedia. But Televisa is Mexican.
Thanks to Michel Chevalier for proof-reading!