Ana Gallardo, artist: “Art saved my life”

Today we interview Ana Gallardo, an artist whose work revolves around universal themes such as old age, love, family and human relationships. In her works she does extensive research on the lives and the stories of ordinary people, allowing us to get to know the inner world of people who resemble us more than we think.
Gallardo, an artist born in Rosario in 1958, has had an unusual career. After working a variety of odd jobs and having come to a point where she said “I am leaving art forever”, at age 45, her career began to take off when she immersed herself in the language of installation and performance.

She has shown her works in numerous exhibitions around the world, including the last São Paulo Biennial and the Pontevedra Biennial. Emphasizing the place of the relational and the affective, Gallardo’s work is strongly linked to the social environment in which it develops. Her latest project, A place to live when we are old invites the viewer to think of an ideal space for a happy old age, and fiercely tries to place the issue in the arena of public discussion, at a time when the aging population is growing at a steady rate.

Tell me about your career … I know you lived for a while in Mexico and when you returned to Argentina you started to focus on your artwork, how did your career as an artist develop?

Actually I do not have a standard career, I’m kind of self-taught. I did not study Fine Arts, I did not go to art school. I always wanted to be an artist, my mother was a painter and my father a poet. She died when I was very young and that marked me, in a way, of getting to know that this was going to be my profession. I always wanted to be a painter and I could not think of anything else but to paint.

Due to family issues, cosas de la vida, I did not study. I didn’t manage to be a good student, a dedicated student : in fact, I did not finish high school. I do not have an academic background, which weighs me down tremendously. In the same way, at the time when I was young there was a certain rebellion against the institutions, about the institutional formation, whereas today there is not. Also, here the arts academy was very bad, so it was easier to fight it than to modify it. Among other things, I traveled a lot to Mexico because I have a Mexican family, my maternal grandmother lived there. When my mom dies, my dad makes us travel, and when the [Argentinian] military dictatorship ended I began to paint. In 1984, 1985 I started working in the Retiro Gallery, an art gallery that for me was a hinge moment between what the 80s and the 90s were. This gallery, together with Ruth Benzacar, sheltered me and gave an identity to what was coming into shape as contemporary art. That was my best school. I started to understand some things, what was an artistic career, what the art system was. I went to live for four years in Mexico and I returned when my daughter was born, in 1991, almost in 1992 and I continued working, but I think my production really started in 2003 :  that’s when I really managed to concentrate.

So it was then that you started pumping the accelerator more intensely?

At the end of the 90s, one day I said that I’d stop painting, that I would leave art for good. Then I began to arrange the pieces of my studio to turn it into something else and with the same objects that I began to accommodate, fragments that looked like artworks began to appear. That changed the materiality for me. Those pieces were accommodated in something that was happening or that interested people much more than the paintings themselves. I also always felt more comfortable with painting. It was obvious that I could not find a way to insert myself in the circuit, there were no art clinics, there was little contact with the peers, I did not know what to do. I said “I quit art” because I was so tired of everything. In ’98 I was full of debts and could not stay afloat anymore, it was a very bad situation. Then some artists made a raffle, a sale of artworks and with that I was able to pay back all the money that I owed. At that time I had said enough. I had sent paintings to the Art Salons and they send me back broken paintings. I had the habit of putting together my own canas because I couldn’t afford bastidores, and all I got back were torn canvases. Then I said “It’s over, I’m stopping here”. But what was really over was a type of language, what wasn’t working at the time was that language that I was using.

So, you said “I’m giving up on art” and your fellow artists helped you out?

A very friendly artist, Claudia Fontes – who generated an initiative called TRAMA to reflect on artistic practice – told me: “We have to get you out of this hole”. She organized a fundraiser in the gallery Juana de Arco in 1998 or 1999. In 2000 I won a first mention in a Salon I sent my artwork to, and then I moved on to something else. The artworks had begun to move.

Did your colleagues help you out a lot? From what I see, your later works have a lot to do with interpersonal links. I wanted to ask you about the works done in collaboration with other people. Can you tell me any of anecdote or encounter, any “link” that you remember was particularly enriching?
Yes, I remember everyone, for example, a friend of mine named Silvia Mónica who worked as a prostitute and wanted to be a singer. Now she is a singer. We made a video with her, we sang and decided to study. She is a big woman, 60 years old and we are very good friends. She does not manage to completely get out of her economic situation, but she has managed to fulfill her dream, which was to sing. She cannot make a living on that because the system does not allow it, but she started studying and now she sings :  for example he’s going to sing tomorrow at a party that I organized.
I try to maintain the connection with all the people I worked with. In Mexico I have two people that I can go meet, then another in Paris, in Montbeliard, I go to their homes, etcetera. What I try to do when I build these networks is to maintain a link, find and generate something that for me is essential: the sociabilty, the people. With many women we have managed to maintain a close relationship in time and I think that many of them have found the work to be very useful, the artworks have helped them resolve certain issues.

La Hiedra. Performance. Galería Alberto Sendrós.

Do you think that art can help solve emotional problems? Did it work that way for you?

It saved my life. Art saved my life. It helped me generate a world that protected me (although sometimes I have sunk economically). I remember that when I arrived from Mexico I had a job that was selling the first cellphones in the market, Movicom. I hated the sales system: they gave you a 3-month course and then you went out to sell. Every time I opened my mouth it was to discuss with the professor who gave the sales courses, and the professor at one point already asked me: what are you doing here? Then I would go home to paint and enter a world in which they did not belong.
The other thing is that I understood with my work is that through it I was able to generate my own gender identity and have a dialogue with my mother. I built myself a mother, who is art itself, and with her I argue, I fight, I come and go, I bond.  And that was super rewarding for me, I realize now that it was a good process, it helped me out a lot.

Regarding your project A place to live in when we are old, tell me a little about what it is, how the idea came up, what you are working on now.

The project came up while talking to a lifelong friend, Mario Gómez Casas, with whom we’d thought all over our lives : « Where will I live in the future? I do not have a retirement fund, I do not have money, I do not have a home, what am I going to do? ». After thinking about what we were going to do, we said: « well, let’s do something ». We begin to think about how we want to grow old. Where, how, what do I want, what do I do not want? … and then the blog came up, and we were invited to a show. I was also interested in the construction of an artistic thought, I did not want it to be a geriatric, but to install a debate about something that you do not want to see, that when we get to that situation, it’s already late.
We are all going to get old. Those who discriminate against you, who do not want to see you, those who do not include you, are also aging, and old age is something that must be accepted. We have to see how to put together a place where we all include each other. It is ugly not knowing how to grow old because “there isn’t an old age”, because you can not see it, because all women are having their faces stretched out or because they are not participating with what they have to say. For that reason, for us it was a kind of a devise, a political action, to install an old man in a world where there are no old people; because in the world of contemporary art there are no old people, the old artist is, either very famous, or does not exist at all.

You speak of spaces that are inaccesible for people over 50, and you also ask the question of how late is too late to fulfill a dream.

For the artists of my generation, you do not know how difficult it is for them to get their works seen, regardless of whether those works are good or not, because I think there are niches for everything. It is very difficult to see an artist over 50 years old. They will not go to see the critics, they will not go to see the curators, you will show in a gallery, put all your effort, and the critics will not go. Now, if I recommend a young, new artist, it may not be good but the thing is: «you have to see this artist, you have to see it». Maybe later they will tell you that it was a disaster, but the thing is that they went and saw it. Also, there are the super-consecrated old artists, but they are a very few exceptions.

Do you see more discrimination towards female artists over 50 than towards male artists?

Yes of course. Women do not age the same way as men. A woman of 50 years of more is a veterana, and a mature man is a mature man. The man is more listened to, respected in his maturity. The body of the woman changed, and her body is what matters and in a society where the woman fulfills more primary, primitive functions than men.

Since you have traveled, have you seen any differences regarding women and the “old” women in other parts of the world?

In Mexico, for example, I see it more as a class problem, the upper class descendants of Spaniards do have those problems, but the rest of the people do not. Indigenous communities have a very different vision, older people are still the wise ones. In Europe I’m not sure what it is either, but I know they have social security, they are encouraged to travel, they retire to the countryside, they have a better economic situation, and women have a more important role. I loved going to Berlin and seeing women of my age with short hair, going out to bars, confident, hip, dressing as they are, not as teenagers.

And what about the role of the State regarding the question of old age?

We believe that our project A place … has to be at least partially supported by the State. Not only because it is a right, but because it must be installed as a political, social issue. We need a place to do all the activities we want to do and from where all the others are generated. Because if you manage to put together orchestras like Papelnonos, there has to be money to be able to subsidize what one takes from society and then give it back : financing instruments, classes, etc.

And what’s your vision of the center that you would like to create?

In principle, we would love to have a shed where young artists and people of all ages will work, generate work spaces, even rent it out to for giving classes, concerts, parties, plays, all that brings money together. That money would be used to maintain the space (in addition to state subsidies). In addition to the salaries of each person who integrates the space, because I do not want to live there. I’m going to have a job, a function, and I’ll also have to provide free activities, for example, take care of children. I was a single mother and that complicated things when my child did not go to school, in lacking for example the role of a grandmother. These old people who want to get together will be also able to take care of kids. So we are imagining it, a physical space with workshops, classes, elderly people who work, a lot of movement.

ana gallardo