tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS November 19, 2016 4:00pm-4:31pm PST
>> hinojosa: through his provacative large-scale projections and public art, d plores iues of cflict, healing, empowerment, and democracy-- internationally renowned conceptual artis krzysztof wodiczko. i'm maria hinojosa, this is one on one. captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org krzysztof wodiczko, welcome to our show. most people are going to know your work. they might hear the name krzysztof wodiczko maybe, but when we say that the work that you have done as a conceptual artist is huge projeions on buildings, then they'll say, "ah yes, i know krzysztof; i know krzysztof."
why this idea of projecting-- making your art so public? what is it that you want to communicate? you want to make it free and accessible to everyone, but the message that you're trying to say to people is what with your work? >> well, since the late '80s, i'm employing in my work video that is motion and sound, and possibility of recording and editing and transmitting voices-- voice and gesture of a person, people. so from that time on, i would think that the reason is to turn those of whom we know nothing or who are hidden-- invisible-- residents of our cities into projectors so they can project
themselves on a large scale and open up to large number of people. and learn, taking advantage of this kind of project, how to find words and metaphors and expressions to convey often quite difficult experiences. >> hinojosa: but the fact that you're seeing people kind of talking themselves gives it... there's a rereal kind of authenticity about it, but you put people talking about themselves-- talking about very intimate, difficult moments in their lives for... we'll talk about the work here in boston in a minute, but i want to talk about what you did in tijuana in a project... there's a center there called the centro cultural... >> el centro cultural. >> hinojosa: ...and you did that very well, krzysztof. do you speak spanish? >> (laughing)
no. >> hinojosa: a little after your time in tijuana? >> not yet. >> hinojosa: not yet. >> over the course of our conversation... >> hinojosa: maybe. >> ...i will absorb... >> hinojosa: a little. so what you did in this border city of tijuana is that you had the women workers who work in these factories that are usually making things that we end up buying... >> maquiladoras. >> hinojosa: maquiladoras. you had them talking about their work experience, their family experiences, and let's see for our audience if they can imagine a huge building with a face that's just as huge, and oftentimes crying. these women were crying; telling very sad stories about abuse and abuse in the workplace, abuse in their families. tell me a little bit about what that work... why that work was so important for you to do it in that way in tijuana. >> because i felt that for some of those women, it would be very important work for those who were brave enough and they
calculated the risk to make themselves visible and recognizable on this scale. for example, one of them, after consulting family members, being uneasy about it, she decided that it's safer for her to be so visible rather than hiding, because she put her husband to prison for incest and he was about to leave the prison and according to her, was no doubt trying to kill her. so this is an extreme case, but there are many decisions of this sort that this project demands. this is sort of a self-selected group of people who are speaking
on behalf of themselves and also who become agents who are speaking on behalf of others-- other women who cannot be part of this project at this moment. >> hinojosa: because your whole idea is that you want the voiceless-- victims in this particular case-- you want them to have a voice, but the way that you give them a voice is not that you just put a microphone in front of them and say, "speak." you are saying, "i want your whole city..." >> yes. >> hinojosa: "...to see this." >> but also it is not enough to give a microphone to the person. to have her opening up and sharing difficult experiences in a public space, it takes time. this project took almost a year of recording, rerecording discussions among those who were
affiliated with the factoreques, the organization set up by actually the federal government to help maquiladora workers to learn their rights. but in fact, this organization and the place where they were meeting became an informal post-traumatic stress therapy group. >> hinojosa: were you there for a lot of those times? >> yes. it's not that they were conscious that that's what it is, but in fact, they brought up so many issues which the federal government doesn't even know or it's not prepared to help so they could help themselves, so that they took advantage of the opportunity of my service as a projectionist offering, because of my reputation, by insight, because of my position as a stranger, somebody whom
they could call not "gringo" but "artista polaco." >> hinojosa: that's how i remember people talking about you, you see? because i was in tijuana around that time, and that's right. they were like, "un artista polaco," a polish artist. >> they choose to call me this way because it was easier for them to trust me, as artista polaco, rather than coming from the united states. >> hinojosa: so in a city like tijuana, where violence is a part of daily life, when you put these huge projections, and people are then seeing kind of much larger than life the reality of the drama, did you feel... and it's hard to kind of take a pulse of this, but was there a sense that this city healed a little bit because of this, because it was so kind
of... because it was a conceptual art moment, and because it was so in everybody's face? >> it's hard to tell. everything that you do in a city, it takes time for the city to absorb and make sense of it as a larger population. but for those who offer a chunk of their life or their experience or time to speak through this facade, i think it was very meaningful. and so it's very important to understand what does it mean that eight or ten people are speaking through the building after one year of discussing it? it means that many of the members of the families and friends were part of the project, because they had to approve their participation.
some of those people were in it in initial meetings, but they decided not to be part, but they're still part of a network. then there are social workers, without whom this project will not exist, who trust the project, and they're trusted by those people. and then there is an editing crew, and there's a projection crew, and there is... there are journalists, media people. so there is a kind of inner public that is growing from within the project. it is part of the city. >> right, because you opened this dialogue. >> right. so i think the project works from within that group to larger and larger rumors, gossips. then those people come to the site of projection or tests, even before the projection, and they form a kind of initial... not spectator group, but
witnessness. >> well, i actually... >> ...protect those who truly are speaking, because they were also speaking the real time. >> hinojosa: so you as an artist, you make this commitment to give voice to the voiceless. >> there's an enormous amount of things that artists could do to be an inspiring force in creating conditions for others to communicate the most difficult things to those who might not be immediately ready to listen. >> hinojosa: do you feel like there are young artists who are out there who understand that they want to work in the same vein? but is there support for this kind of work? i mean, when you're basically challenging society and you're putting it like you do with your projections, front and center,
how much support is there for that kind of critical public art in america? >> i think the first part of your question is there are young artists who really are interested in pursuing this path, maybe using different method than our generation has developed, learning and being maybe critical about we do, but definitely sticking to this kind of direction, horizon. many media artists, actually, are doing this, transmitting all this through contemporary media and opening up to others. in terms of support, i think we are in a better situation than we were several years ago. >> hinojosa: really? why? >> because of the shift of the policy of the united states
government towards... >> and how does that impact... you mean that impacts in terms of funding, in terms of people... really? >> i feel that institutions such as art centers, museums, but also educational institutions, cultural centers, they have more confidence now that they will receive some funds from the government, if there are any. but even without direct government involvement, it will be easier to convince some boards of trustees or various groups who are financing or helping institutions to exist economically to maybe take more critical angle, at least once in a while. because before, it was more or less a culture of... a kind of political economy of silence. >> hinojosa: really?
>> meaning conversations shifted to other areas to avoid topics. >> hinojosa: now, i find that interesting, because you grew up... well, you were born in poland, actually in the middle of the ghetto uprising, if i'm not mistaken. you then become a designer, a kind of technical designer, in communist poland. and you find a way of working with art in a situation where your society, at that time, was very, very, very closed. >> this is very easy to answer. it just might take a little longer. it's about my journey towards... and a search for democracy. for some people who grew up in undemocratic environments, when the level of unfreedom was pretty high, crossing the border there was the world that has
constitutions and elections. it's usually an attempt to find democracy. where there was no democracy before, now people... a person like myself try to find it. and then i realized very quickly that democracy cannot be found. there's nothing to... >> hinojosa: there's no nirvana. >> if they took away democracy, then i thought someone would give it back. no. >> hinojosa: you were looking for the easy answer. >> i realized that democracy is something that has to be made. it is something that will never be fully achieved. it's a continuing process of chasing after this phantom of democracy. >> you also say you like the part of peace that is difficult. >> you cannot make peace being peaceful. >> hinojosa: you have to create a lot of angst, change. >> because peace for me has
something to do with inclusion of many voices, and more of a democractic concept. because peace that is achieved at the expense of democracy is actually horrifying peace. in fact, i grew up in this kind of peace. >> hinojosa: in a kind of peace where supposedly everything is fine, and there's no kind of confrontation. >> it's about conflict and disagreement, which is a vital part of social life and human life, and without which there is no possibility of democracy. exercising first amendment, for example. so we truly are into making more and more of a complex and difficult space for ourselves rather than space completely deprived of any discourse.
so that's a difficult project, between seeking peace, and peace from democracy, and trying to contribute to the democratic process towards a peace that is more connected with life. there is continuing a kind of inner dialogue, and maybe discussion. but i'm on the side of waking up and unnerving and opening up voices and bringing... inserting into the public space experiences that are relegated to the private realm to make public space in very... with every act of speech, and making a democratic moment in every act of projection. >> hinojosa: i love that-- making a democratic moment with every act of projection.
one of the things that you did in boston was that you had people coming and talking about their experience with crime, being victims of crime. and it wasn't very long. it's not like... that's the thing about krzysztof's work. it's like sometimes it can be fleeting. you're not sure when you're going to suddenly see it. it might only be up for one or two days. but... or hours, even. i want to ask you a technical question, though, krzysztof. so how... do you look at a building as an artist and you're like, "i can see an entire body being projected on that building, and i can see that there's going to be a voice coming from the top of the building, and where the hands are," or do you have an idea of what you want people to say, and then you look for the building onto which you're going to project this? which comes... or is it you never know? >> it's a simultaneous process. i've been searching... first of all i had to learn about what are the silences of the city.
what is it that is hidden that is not being expressed, not exchanged? and there could be different silences in different places. so as... this is the beginning. and then i try to find people from whom i can learn directly what they are-- potential co-artists in the project. then at the same time i look around and see, in the case of those projections, what symbolic historical structure is waiting there to actually be a kind of transmitting tower, transmitting facade, the witness, the momument that witnesses, has seen a lot. and in charlestown, people who are part of this organization called chalrestown after murder program. the women who lost... the
mothers who lost their children to gun battles and executions, they were telling me... they actually are saying it to each other-- "what if monument could speak?" >> hinojosa: oh, my gosh. >> because the monument has seen so much. >> hinojosa: and that's exactly what you did, was that you made the monument speak. >> i just simply... i would say simply responded to this hope that the monument should... the monument of course is more just than the made of stone obelisk that has seen all of those murders. it's also built in hope for democratic society. the cornerstone was placed by marquis de lafayette. it's a monument to the first
revolutionary battle that was staged in hope to create a world with rights, and the right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. >> hinojosa: and one of the things that you focused on in your work, there are two groups of people who you have focused on in your work that are really, really fascinating. one of them is immigrants, immigrants without a voice, and the other one is the homeless. >> and veterans. >> hinojosa: and veterans. so let's talk a little bit about the work with immigrants. you have... >> they are called the alien staff. >> hinojosa: the alien staff. >> yes. >> hinojosa: which i remember when i first saw it i was like, "what is this?" it's essentially a staff that has... it's carrying... >> it's like a walking stick. >> hinojosa: it's a walking stick. >> it's got a certain symbolic power, like, that's why it's called staff. >> hinojosa: and it's got their memories, it's got their passport, it's got their papers?
>> it has plexiglass containers in which you could see precious relices of immigrants that are witnesses to the whole history of this displacement, the documents, memorabilia. objects that they might only want... they don't want to explain to anybody, but they want to have them with them. and at the top, there is a video monitor and speaker, and also there is a device from which you could... that records testimonies. so this is speaking, speaking. >> hinojosa: i just love the notion of people kind of carrying their history with them. >> and by their history they're doubled, because those walking sticks speak. so they are... >> hinojosa: they're not only carrying the history, they're projecting the history. >> yes, so once all of this is recorded and edited, and then
projects itself from the stick, the owner or the operator of this alien staff might become a mediator between the stick and the people who will approach and, out of curiosity, start listening. >> hinojosa: i want one of those alien staffs. but before we end-- we've just got about three minutes left-- i want you to talk about another fascinating project, this one about the homeless. again, you started your career as a designer, as kind of a technical designer of things. then you designed this amazing homeless... >> vehicle. >> hinojosa: ...vehicle that essentially allows the homeless person to sleep in this little vehicle that they can push, that's not a shopping cart that they have stolen from someplace. >> and collect all of the bottles and cans. >> hinojosa: so how many... what happened to the project? >> we sell them. >> hinojosa: and you did this project on the lower east side of new york city. what happened? are there homeless vehicles out there still, krzysztof?
>> not right now. but it was a very important attempt to create conditions for those who have homes, homeful people, to imagine that there would be 100,000 homeless vehicle taking over the city, because that was the amount of homeless people at that time in new york city. so that's an impossible vision. so in a way it created perception of something that should not happen. >> hinojosa: right. you made the homeless... that's what you did, is that with this homeless vehicle that was really noticable, you made the homeless entirely visible to everyone. >> legitimate members of urban community who work day and night and use proper equipment for it. they are not scavengers. and also they can say something-- how it happened that they became homeless-- if they are asked. it's quite an important attempt
actually not to legitimize the homelessness, but to articulate that this is a legitimate problem. >> hinojosa: krzysztof, it seems like what you do is you build these mechanisms, whether they're homeless vehicles or these projections, these instruments that kind of allow us to open up that dialogue. >> yeah. i'm creating something in between, an artifice that helps one party to open up and develop capacity to convey, express, very difficult experiences, even if this is an unsolicited act. and the other party to come closer, open ear without also fear of hearing what they hear, or seeing what they see. and so that is a very important process. of course, i start with those who have things to say of which people don't want to hear.
so this is the beginning. they are the ones who have to start this process. but without special artifice, artistic and cultural project, such possibility is very hard... situation is very hard to achieve. >> hinojosa: so krzysztof, just in the last few seconds that we have left, what is the next big project that you want to leave? >> this is the project that i am still working on. it's hard for me to tell what it is. but definitely i would like to contribute to an understanding, a breaking the wall, between those who know what war is and those who don't. i'd like to continue working with war veterans, returning soldiers and their families, who are actually proper veterans as well. krzysztof wodiczko, thank you so much for your work, and please keep us informed. we want to know. >> i will definitely do so. thank you for inviting me.
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