by Serrano


Throughout his public history, Serrano has shown an outstanding predisposition to dialogue.
The following quotations have been taken from his conversations with the press.

"I feel dragged towards themes that border on the unacceptable because, for a long time, I have lived an unacceptable life."

"In my work, I explore my own Catholic obsessions. An artist is nothing without an obsession, and I own mine."

"I felt I wanted to build photographs in my mind, that is why I started to make models with raw meat. I felt the connection with death, and the images of the meat were alive and dead at the same time. It was only two or three years after having worked with religious images that I realised I had made many religious photographs! I had never been aware of that obsession. It has to do with the Latin; but it has much of European too (I always remember the flock of sheep coming into church in Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel). I am as influenced by the European art - especially by Duchamp - as everybody. I used to see him as a free spirit, 'provocateur par excellence', I have associated him to a forever young man, a revel."

"Religion bases itself in symbols, and my work as an artist is to succeed in manipulating those symbols and explore their possibilities."


"My work has always been like a mirror. Each viewer might respond differently, according to his approach to the piece. If he approaches with negative energy, that is what he will receive. On the other hand, if he comes with positive energy, he will receive a positive image - a reaffirmation rather than a negation."

"When one approaches difficult themes, it becomes necessary to give the beauty back to the work."

"I wanted to use photography in the same way a painter uses the canvas, and move a little away from the traditional worries of photography, such as space and perspective. These abstract series go on being 'tableaux'. However, the distinction between figure and background has almost always been eliminated."

"All those subjects - the primitive, the alchemy, the healings and ritual ceremonies - are traditionally more important for the non-white artists than for the White artists. I try to personalise the work and that is why I deepen into those themes. My work is not terribly intellectual or theoretical. I want it to be understandable, personal, and in its turn, to pluck a universal string."

"I think Piss Light is charged with visual electricity. I would say it is a spiritual image, that comforts. It is in no way different to the icons that can be seen in church. I think the treatment of the image is full of reverence. At the same time, the fact of knowing that there is a body fluid involved in it...the point is to question the whole notion of what is acceptable and what is not. There is a duality in it, of goodness and evil, of life and death."

"I still hope for the day I be able to displease, even myself."

"I really don't feel an icon harasser. I feel I create new ones."

"My most effective political speech is to go on working."

"One of the things I have become aware of as from the controversy triggered about me, is that I had always been a loner. For some time in my life I had been too unsociable. I had never been part of the system. I had never voted. Unless it hadn't been possible, I had always worked on the fringe. Now I realise I will never be able to work as a human being in the void. Suddenly, many people came to me either in a critical way or encouraging me; but in either case I felt an avalanche of human contact, which I found quite funny. It made me change. I started to let people get into my life and my work."

"As far as know, the segregation of people is the first step to their genocide."

"I wanted to take photographs of the homeless; however, I didn't want them lying in the street, nor begging for food, nor pushing a cart. I wanted to photograph them with the dignity all men deserve."

"I found the homeless exactly as they were. Their clothes sometimes torn, stained; their eyes injected with blood. They are heroes, because I wish to monumentalise what I portray."

"The morgue is a secret temple where few are allowed to get in."








Interview Andrés Serrano
by Adriana Rosenberg

In anticipation of Andres Serrano's retrospective in the Fundación Proa's halls during the months of July-August, 1997, Arturo Carvajal and I visited him at his home in Brooklyn, a hot afternoon in June.

Adriana Rosenberg: Critics have associated your work with red-hot political issues and social content has been attributed to your works.

Andrés Serrano: My work has been politised and critics have attributed it more political content than the one I consider it to have. My work is framed in a social context, therefore such associations cannot be escaped; I think they are relevant.
Indeed, work has a political and social dimension, but it is not something strategically planned. I don't take part in debates nor political dialogs and I don't think it's me the one supposed to do it.
My work has been named in connection to a specific political discussion, related to censorship in art. And, even though I've felt involved in this process, I've always tried to keep certain distance.
I think critics sometimes are right and sometimes make up ideas. They ascribe me intentions I don't have, for instance, when they associate my work with AIDS concerns, though it's not my purpose.
Most of the times, I feel comfortable with the meaning people give to my work.

AR: Your early '80s works, especially the fluid series, are very abstract constructions. Subsequently in the Ku Klux Klan or Nomads series you get closer to a figuration, a certain realism. It seem as if you were going in reverse way to the history of art.

AS: It's like a circle. I don't think there's a clear boundary between abstraction and figuration, it's a forward and backward movement. In my abstract works, I sought imitating painting; the figurative work brought me closer to the language of photography.
At the beginning, my work was very narrative: I used to narrate works and make works producing them with models, as in Heaven and Hell - a tied woman bleeding.
Two years later, I made the Milk, Blood photo: a pure abstraction, and I started the fluid series. This point in my search, meant to me a way of simplifying and reducing images. In other words, I think Heaven and Hell is reduced in Milk, Blood.
After several years of investigating fluids and the most abstract constructions, I decided to go back to some kind of representation. It was then I made the Nomads, the Ku Klux Klan and The Morgue series, works in which production does not count.

AR: In your works, quotes or very explicit references to the history of art or to painters or certain movements of history may be found...

AS: Yes, It could be said that in the fluids series I moved closer to abstraction, to Mondrian, in particular.

AR: And to Malevich in the monochrome series?

AS: No, there's an allusion to Malevich in Milk Cross.
In The Morgue works, even though there are no explicit references to the history of art, certain images associated with Bellini, Caravaggio do appear, as well as in Knifed to Death I and II to the Last Judgment. Some of these portraits remind me of the paintings of the dead Christ, and the works of The History of Sex remind me of Boticelli.

AR: Once you told that you weren't interested in investigating the techniques of photography and that you used them the same way a painter uses the canvas. ¿Do you think abstraction is more pictorial, and figuration more photographic?

AS: I prefer speaking about my work as art, with no discrimination between photography and painting. That's why, I am reluctant to being called photographer, although I think the work I did after the fluid series, is more photographic.
In my opinion, Monochromes as well as Blood or Milk function much more as an abstract painting than as photographs. The following series, such as Nomads, or The Morgue seem to me more photographic because there are models in them and they are real; most of the times they are portraits and are photographed there, without any production.

AR: That is to say that the language of painting is, in fact, a process whereas the photographic language portrays a reality, an instantaneity of image. How do these images organize?

AS: Beyond painting or not painting, art-making is for me a creative process that has more to do with the images of dreams and their interpretation. In dreams one doesn't have the control over the stream of images. For instance, when one is lying in the divan, one can associate and can relate certain senses with certain images.
I think my pieces work in a similar way: when I'm working on something I don't ask myself why I'm doing it nor the consequences it will bring about. Only afterwards can I realize what it means and whether it really means something. Most of the times the references I see in my works emerge after having made them.

AR: Much has been said about the reject and beauty your works arouse. Resuming your idea about the oneiric dimension of your works and thinking about the series of death and sex, I think the strength of your work roots in proposing the viewer a realistic vision of his own symbolic dimension.

AS: I don't consider my art as hyperrealistic or surrealistic, even though elements belonging to both do exist in my works. What I do is try to "monumentalise" reality. And in this process there is, in fact, an aesthetization that might be questioned.
I don't understand why people is impressed at the aesthetization of death or at the surprise of finding beauty were they don't expect it. The fact my work expresses a conflict, is not my proposal; I think there are dichotomies, not conflict.
And all this has nothing to do with morals. I've been accused of being sacrilegious and profane at my work. The morals, the judgment appears once the work is done. What I make have nothing to do with this.

AR: You think there's no morals in your work. However, a discussion has been in progress related to censorship in art and you are judged as an inciter…

AS: Even though it's not my purpose to be a provocative artist, I do want to take the audience beyond the decorative and pretty. I'm not against making pretty pictures, that is to say, pictures that have a decorative function; however, my proposal is going beyond that, seeking something more, and take my public with me.
My approach has to do with disclosing aspects of reality that incite my curiosity and I guess the viewer may feel the same curiosity I feel. But this has nothing to do with adopting political or social postures through my work.
I think that if I could anticipate the public's response, I would be a big failure.
My responsibility as an artist consists in doing my work well, even though critics and the public expect me to clarify it or clarify its meaning. I don't think it necessary.

AR: Robert Hughes says that what causes the scandal is not the images of your works but their naming, and therefore the viewer is impressed when becoming aware of what he is looking at. What is the role of the title in your works? Could they be untitled works?

AS: Robert Hughes is probably right. People say that is it weren't for the titles, the works would lose an important part of their provocative charge.
I name my works in a descriptive way, that is to say, its name has an informative role, given that the images have no text; but this is not always so. Sometimes the titles are poetic.
In the case of Piss Christ, I didn't have much choice. That was the work and that was the title. My purpose was neither critical nor blasphemous; it was simply literal.
For some other works I have the title beforehand, as in the case of Blood. I thought of the title and then made the photograph.
On the other hand, The Morgue's are named under the cause of death.
Usually, the titles prevail over the work.

AR:How will your work go on?

AS: For the first time in my life, I'm making a living of my work, and I'm thinking on doing something outside the world of art. I'm seeking to createimages addressed to a public outside the world art, covering a wide audience.
I'm thinking of doing works for television, advertising, or video clips.
My search as an artist is connected to the search of an audience. I've never thought I would make a living of my work, but I've always had the desire of being well-known and in fact my work has reached a very high public. I think one of the reasons for my success is the fact that my works are not addressed only to the world of art.








Quien Andrés Serrano?
por Victoria Verlichak *

Sereno y seguro, Andrés Serrano sabe que los ecos de un escándalo lo preceden. A esta altura lo toma con humor, como un dato más de la estimulante realidad que vive y que por estos días lo trae a Buenos Aires desde Nueva York.

Con una obra sólida -que se aproxima a todo lo humano y navega entre extremos en búsqueda de la belleza- y cerca de 15 años de trabajo detrás suyo, Serrano logró reconocimiento internacional, superando largamente los 15 minutos de fama augurados a todos por Andy Warhol.

Cuando en 1987 a Serrano se le ocurrió fotografiar un crucifijo inmerso en un líquido color ámbar, jamás pensó que dos años después esa imagen encendería una feroz controversia. La piedra del escándalo fue una copia en cibachrome de su Piss Christ, de su serie Inmersiones. El crucifijo de madera y plástico sumergido en orina del propio artista ya había sido exhibido varias veces sin problemas. Pero en 1989 un religioso fundamentalista llevó la protesta hasta

Washington. "Fue una experiencia muy kafkiana, despertarse y encontrarse incluido en las discusiones y en el registro del Congreso de los Estados Unidos" (1) dijo el artista, que utiliza la fotografía como pintura.

Entonces, el senador republicano Alphonse D'Amato rompió una reproducción en el recinto y tiró los pedacitos al piso, vociferando su oposición a la foto, al artista y al National Endowment for the Arts -a través de la cual, Serrano había recibido un premio canalizado por otra institución. El debate real -que lideró el también republicano Jesse Helms, sumando su furor contra las fotos de Robert Mapplethorpe- giraba en torno a la libertad de expresión, la lucha por el control de las imágenes y el papel del estado en el sostén económico de la producción cultural.

Nacido en Nueva York en 1950, Serrano es hijo de una madre cubana negra que no hablaba inglés y estuvo internada repetidamente por brotes psicóticos -durante los que creía oir voces religiosas- y un padre hondureño que se ausentó de su vida tempranamente, ya que era marino mercante y tenía otras familias en Centroamérica.

Serrano creció bastante solo, en medio de una precaria estabilidad. Aunque vivía en un populoso sector de Brooklyn encontró su camino al Metropolitan Museum of Art -en el corazón de Manhattan. Durante cada visita, se quedaba horas mirando las obras de los grandes maestros. Maravillado y bajo la magia de las potentes visiones que ofrecían las interminables galerías, cuando todavía no era un adolescente, decidió que quería ser artista.

Desde sus primeros trabajos con fotos, cita y se apropia de momentos de la pintura universal. Aparecen afinidades con el barroco, lo surreal, la abstracción, el realismo. En etapas sucesivas, amanecen destellos de Duchamp, Mondrian, El Greco, Caravaggio, Bacon.

Pero su obra no exige ser filtrada a través de la historia del arte. La mirada del espectador puede dejarse seducir sin intermediación alguna. La potencia de las imágenes -que transitan lo sublime y lo profano y su elegante factura están destinadas a capturar la emoción antes que el intelecto y eso es lo que Serrano precisamente busca.

Primero, antes de lanzarse a la calle con una cámara fotográfica, intentando capturar el vertiginoso escenario que la ciudad y sus personajes ofrecían, estudió pintura y escultura en el Brooklyn Museum Art School, entre 1967 y 1969. Su romance con la pintura duró poco, casi enseguida resolvió que carecía de talento para los pinceles. Sin dirección alguna, las fotos blanco y negro de comienzos de la década del Setenta quedaron tan atrás como los años subsiguientes, cuando intoxicado, vivía al borde de la noche total.

A los 28 años, jerarquizó a la fotografía como medio para anunciar su manera de estar en el mundo. Frente a las millones de imágenes que se ofrecen en la TV, la gráfica, la publicidad callejera, el cine, los videoclips, Serrano se detuvo a pensar cómo hacer para que alguien mire, registre lo que tenía para decir.

Pronto intuyó que más que reflejar la realidad, él prefería pintar, armar, la fotografía. La curadora Lisa Phillips explicó las condiciones de producción y el concepto de esta forma de trabajo que libera a los artistas "de la preocupación de dar testimonio". "Lo que distingue la nueva fotografía de la práctica tradicional es el cambio en el énfasis que ya no reside en 'tomar' la fotografía sino en 'hacer' la fotografía. La ambición convencional de captar la composición perfecta en una sola toma, ha sido objeto de duda y revisión a medida que los artistas de hoy, que trabajan con la fotografía, sistemáticamente desafían toda suposición acerca del medio" (2).

Serrano se ha convertido en un maestro de esta travesía, propone a la fotografía como una falsa realidad. "La cámara miente y también dice la verdad, esa es la hermosa contradicción" (3) dice. Las fotos manipulan, saben hacia a dónde enviar la mirada del espectador, como si Serrano tuviese la certeza de contar con su complicidad.

Antes que ensayos sobre la realidad, sus series crean la ilusión de que todo puede ser fotografiado. Se preguntan por el otro y, más allá de las intenciones del artista, ponen en escena cuestiones que pueden ser leídas como parte de un debate que la sociedad de fin de siglo tiene que encarar.

Su propuesta de trabajo es atractiva por sus contradicciones intrínsecas. Basada en un juego de los opuestos, envuelve en colores la comedia y la tragedia, ilumina lo sagrado e invoca lo blasfemo, reproduce el origen y bendice lo siniestro.

El tiempo circula en las fotos de Serrano. Esto es evidente en sus primeras composiciones, con fondos elaborados, con su mujer y sus amigos artistas como modelos, tanto como en las últimas tomas de La Historia del Sexo, exhibidas el año pasado en Europa y Estados Unidos.

Serrano miró hacia adentro. Entre 1987 y 1990, recurrió a los fluidos del propio cuerpo -orina, semen- y de otros -sangre, leche. Desde algo tan básico y concreto, se interrogó por el principio y construyó abstracciones de asombrosa delicadeza y vigor. Su interés por lo espiritual y su trabajo con los fluidos devino en la provocadora serie de las inmersiones de símbolos religiosos y culturales. En ese sentido, se puede coincidir con el novelista Jim Lewis que decía que "hacer una foto es una manera del amor porque el fotográfo mira como mira un amante, es una forma de devoción por que fotografiamos las cosas que adoramos" (4). Claro que no podría decirse que Serrano ama al Klu Klux Klan, la agrupación ultrareaccionaria que propone la supremacía racial de los blancos.

Entre estremecido y desconcertado, a solas frente a la imagen, la mirada del espectador busca los restos de humanidad que Serrano parece haber encontrado en los personajes del Klan vestidos con túnicas, disfrazados con amenazantes capuchas. La conducta de ocultamiento de esas patéticas personas es muy distinta a la actitud exultante de los Nómades, su trabajo con los sin techo. Retratados en el subterráneo de Nueva York, las personas olvidadas por la familia, la sociedad y el estado, los menos entre los menos, posaron. Fueron nombrados y registrados para siempre por la cámara que los contempla con suma atención y respeto.

No es un dato menor saber que Serrano fue bautizado como católico, que asistió a un colegio religioso y que a los 13 años recibió la confirmación. En su casa de Fort Green en Brooklyn, Serrano tiene un sillón de obispo y miles de santos, candelabros y retratos religiosos, entre otras muchas cosas. Su recuerdo de una iglesia llameante se convirtió en una serie sobre el poder de los símbolos y los hábitos. Tomadas en distintos puntos del planeta, las fotos sobre los religiosos parecen haber permitido al artista recordar en público, para exorcizar el pasado y crear una relación espiritual crítica y autónoma. Aunque una lectura política es ineludible frente a su labor. Hay que creerle, Serrano confirma que primero está su búsqueda de humanidad y belleza. El impacto de La Morgue (1992) -incluidas también en Identidad y Alteridad, la muestra principal de la Bienal de Venecia 1995- es duradero. Retrató fragmentos. Restos de jóvenes y ancianos. Se asomó a muertes violentas. Sin embargo, las imágenes, lejos de parecer amenazantes transmiten una extraña paz. El silencio y la consideración rodea a los cadáveres que descansan, demasiado solos. El espectador, acostumbrado a usos y costumbres que hacen hoy de la muerte -en hospitales y casas funerarias- algo rápido y distante, no podrá eludir la angustia.

La mirada del viajero tiene ventajas insospechadas. Serrano las muestra en sus retratos de Budapest y Estambul, otra vez descubriendo lo que se quiere disimular, el deseo, los cuerpos de los viejos, de los deformes y las muchachas musulmanas tradicionalistas.

En los retratos de La Historia del Sexo, tomados en 1996 en Holanda, la cámara mira directamente a los modelos que responden de igual manera. Los ojos primero, parecería ser la consigna de la mayoría de los retratos que hablan de la cultura del sexo.

Impecables, perturbadoras, inocentes, irreverentes, esperanzadas, las fotos poseen un envoltorio lustroso, subrayan detalles, combinan ángulos, explotan los colores, tienen a la libertad como posbilidad y al fin como seguridad.

La retrospectiva de Serrano resonará en cada espectador de manera diversa. Aquí está todo, la furia, la nostalgia, la pasión, la dulzura, la crítica, la soledad, la vida y la muerte, por eso no pueden dejar de mirarse.

* Periodista, critica. Autora de "En la Palma de la Mano". (1) Internet. (2) Lisa Phillips (Catalogo de Photoplay,1994). (3) Bruce Ferguson (Body and Soul, Takarajima Books, 1995). (4) Jim Lewis (Art Forum, enero 1997). Bibliografia: Robert Hughes (The Culture of Complaint Oxford University Press, 1993). Celia McGee (The New York Times, 22 de enero, 1995). Robert Hobbs (Andres Serrano, Works 1983-1993, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia)