Rolando Peña talked to Rayma
Dear Rolando, tell us about this great exhibit that represents your current standing as an artist.
This exhibit is crucial for me. First, because of everything that is happening in Venezuela; I am determined to find out how to contribute as an artist, in freeing my country. I want to keep doing things that spark ideas like you and Rafael Cadenas do, like Zapata did, like all those extraordinary people that are so close to us.
This is an important exhibit because it is my first big show in an USA art museum (Museum of Contemporary Art, MOCA) after a number of years. This is the first time that a Venezuelan artist gets the whole museum.
This exhibit Black Gold is a summary of all the work on oil I have developed since the mid-70s.
You have already seen some of the pieces and installation. The representation of THE SACRED FIRE in a huge room covered with a mirrored mesh, where a video repeats, like a mantra, sounds of space that NASA gave me. Conceptually, you find the presence of the game. I mean the power, the playfulness, the horror, and the catastrophe in black gold.
The second great piece consists of barrels as ghostly spectrum, hanging from the ceiling, representing space. A laser beam freely creates images and circles while distorts the lines.
I think that the message is clear in these two installations.
At the third part of the exhibit, there are some of my pictures, a sequence called DIARIOGRAFIA (DailyGraphy). This photographic follow-up began in 1946 when I was six years old, and I did my first performance. It was registered: It’s me urinating into the Maracaibo Lake. The oil theme has been in my life for a long time. I have developed it very consciously.
You are going to see in the first room eleven pictures on a wide format from de video SACRED FIRE.
Technology has a strong presence in your work. You are a student of the mathematical idea of being. How do you combine these fundamental subject into art?
In the 60s, I developed (testimony) one of the first multimedia shows recognized in Latin America at the Faculty of Architecture of the Universidad Central de Venezuela. José Ignacio Cabrujas was a great accomplice. It consisted of a combination of dance, theater, and slideshows. As I danced, images were projected on my body, and street, radio transmissions, machine-gun, screams and others sounds were played. I remember that Miguel Angel Fuster and I, went to Sabana Grande at noon to record some those traffic sounds.
At heart, I have always been interested in the testimony, because I think it is vital in art, and especially in the vision I have of art. That show was shocking. We also played at the Aula Magna; I stood up in front of the projection while showing a slide with hot oil running as blood, that went into the audience, a siren went off, and finally I ran out to the street. It was a very impressive performance; people were shocked.
I have always thought that technology and science are imperative for artistic creation, and for your projection as an artist.
I am sure that science and art are brothers because they are abstractions. Although people say that science is very accurate, that’s not truth. Albert Einstein’s theories, The Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, for example, or Mandelbrot’s fractal theory, and Rene Thom’s chaos mathematics. I can say that these theories seem precise in reality they are not. They are abstractions, and art is an abstraction.
Even the cartoons that you make are also abstractions because there are many feelings, knowledge, and wisdom projected on them. For me, a caricature is like a happening, like a performance for their immediate nature.
Art is the ability to communicate with nothing. That’s why I’m interested in Bauhaus “less is more.” That’s what I try to do with my art.
So, if life is an abstraction, does it mean that we do not exist? Does an artist exist through what he or she does and projects?
There is a wonderful book by Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel. I read that book when I was very young, and I wept for the man that wrecked in a beach. He suddenly woke up at night and saw a beautiful woman walking and some characters appeared around her. The man fell in love with her, because that is love. It is like Cabrujas used to say: “love is when two surprised eyes meet.”
You are madly in love with life and art; we are not going to talk about your women Rolando because we do not have the time or outer space to cover them all, but I do want you to talk about Marisol…
– (Deep silence)
Silence speaks volumes; This is something that goes beyond…
– I met Marisol in 1963 as I had just arrived to NY. I was about 19 years old when I first saw her. I went to a dinner with Miguel Arroyo, Gerd Leufert, and other fascinating people from Venezuela. This beautiful, enigmatic woman was sitting in a corner without speaking. As I am a daring man and I will always be (lol)
I got closer and said: “Hello!” She looked at me and said: “hello” and I asked: “who are you?”
– She answered: “My name is Marisol,” and she did not speak to me anymore.
– I walked around, built up courage and returned to ask
– Marisol, and what do you do?
And she said: I do nothing …
– That how we started talking, and I told her that I had a scholarship to study Contemporary Dance.
so she said:
“Ah, Are you a dancer? But you look like anything but a dancer” (lol)
As we were saying goodbye, she gave me her phone number to meet again. She asked me not to share it anyone. And said: “You know what? I have no family, and you look like me, I think you’re my brother.”
And so I met Marisol Escobar.
We are all a little orphan, either by losing our country or other affections. That gives you the ability to recognize you in the other. I think that’s what happened with you and Marisol at that time.
Of course, we are orphans of many things. I was raised by my mother, and I saw my father two or three times. I saw him when he was dying. That’s why I’m a big loner, and I cannot speak of a family because I do not have a functional one. My family is completely dysfunctional, which leads you to another kind of reflections in life. We are survivors.
The most important thing is to keep a healthy and positive attitude towards life.
I remember when I was in NY in the sixties, I went to a site on the Lower East Side. At the time Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring and other graffiti artists hang around that area. It was a dark and complicated site, a slum area, a dangerous neighborhood with drugs and knives. I got dressed in black with a cape, and I told my students: “Gentlemen, I am not here to teach; I come to talk to you; I come to learn from you and teach you the little I know.” There immediately was a kind of real enchantment with them. “I want to say I’m fundamentally a healthy person, and I believe in healing, so I thank you that when we meet here, don’t get high.” And They never did. They were addicts, but when they were with me, it was something else. I appreciated that.
What does Rolando Peña think about the memory from the maturity of the artist?
When I started doing my photos DIARIOGRAFIA, first I presented it at the Museum of Contemporary Art. When I did the exhibition Santeria together with Sofia Imber, there was the subject of memory. I think that culture is memory. I think Venezuelans’ problem is that we have no memory, and that’s terrible. Our culture is like an Alka Seltzer a culture of immediacy, a bubble reaching the top and ending.
Is that why we have serious identity problems? Don’t we know what we are or where we are going?
That’s why a poor wretch like this gentleman, I will not mention him, assumed power with 85% of the vote. People nationwide fascinated with that thing and horror.
Right, a mass suicide…
You can never think that a military coup will do a good job governing. That is impossible.
When the armed struggle began in Venezuela, I was attending the Central University. I studied a few months at the school of architecture. I got into the university theater; there I met Cabrujas, German Lester, Nicolás Curiel and many others who were my mentors. The roof of the whale had been founded in the garage of my mother’s house in El Conde. There I met Adriano González León, Caupolicán Ovalles, Salvador Garmendia, and others. I owe a lot to those extraordinary people. In the university theater, I got into a political issue, and I realized that there was much foolishness in what I was doing. The guerrilla actions, I mean urban guerrilla because I never climbed a mountain. I hate mountains and mosquitoes. Also, there is no glamour in the mountains… (Lol)
I love the city.
The idea of glamorous guerrilla is a Hollywood notion
So at that time they began to plan robberies and kidnappings in university coffee houses. I thought that would not lead to anything good. That’s like the Ouroboros or the snake biting its tail .. and that was what happened.
Unfortunately, the years passed; the country became a representative democracy where interesting things certainly occurred.
Then literally a skydiver appeared, who said: “For the time being,” and the country fell at his feet, panties fell, underwear fell, everything fell just for the “for the time being”of this moron.
It is the representation of the blinding effects of power, which it is also in your work with the iconography of oil.
Our country situation is a Greek tragedy, mixed with Verdi. I mean a lot of opera
But our tragedy is like an Italian or German opera?
German … certainly very German. Lol
The country is The Comedy of Errors by our friend, accomplice, and brother William Shakespeare.