Interview with Susana Cremades, colaborator in Una casa digestiva para Lavapiés project

Jorge Díez

An interview by Jorge Díez with Susana Cremades, journalist and editor, she has also worked as labour advisor and social mediator. She is a neighbour of Lavapiés and has allowed Josep María Martin to gain access to the realities behind the neighbourhood's ‘pisos patera'.

JD- Did you know MADRID ABIERTO before participating as one of the ‘key' elements in Josep María Martín's project? Something that I would like to thank you for, as well as Ana Velasco, the ‘key behind the key'. We also appreciate your willingness to give us this interview.

SC- I knew about MADRID ABIERTO while reading an article that was published in ‘Revista de Museología', in which I worked as graphic designer, but I had already seen some of the interventions in calle Alcalá and Casa de América, and I had always thought it was something curious.

JD- And in general, what is your relation to art? Because I see that you have reproductions of great artists of the XX century. Apart from that curiosity that you are talking about, what do you think of current art?

SC- I read about it, check out projects, but I am still not quite aware of where it is going. I have been told that nowadays it is much more connected to social matters, but art..., I don't know. When I go to an art exhibit I want to learn something, and I enjoy with pieces such as this reproduction of Las señoritas de Aviñón by Picasso, that my two year old son also likes very much. If I had to choose something in particular, I would prefer expressionism. Back to the more social oriented type of art, I think it has to do, overall, with the decisions that these artists make on these issues. But where is art to be found? In the person who is an artist or in the final product? Because there are other people that develop projects with the community, which, sometimes, are difficult to distinguish from what certain artists are doing.

JD- Why do you think that a phenomenon such as ARCO takes place, an event that draws big audiences which are particularly youthful, although there is ample skepticism regarding the value of current art?

SC- I don't know the reason why people want to see current art, I am sure that some of them want to enjoy, but me, being especially clumsy at drawing or when developing any kind of plastic skill, I like to find out what impression other skilled people in this area can provoke in me. That means, that enjoyment, and the possibility of being moved by any artistic expression, were it a painting, a movie or music, is the essence of my interest, just as well as other people who want to get in touch with art, but being aware that there are also many others that do it for status or because it is a must, an attitude imposed by trends or as a result of marketing, which is probably what is happening with ARCO.

JD- In this sense, as a journalist, as a professional, what do you think of the relationship between the media and culture in general, and art in particular?

SC- The truth is I am a little bit critical with the media, in spite of being a journalist myself although not active at the moment, because I think that right now the media is leaving aside its duty to inform, of encouraging a critical point of view. And most of all the public media, that should defend the basic pillars of information, and is basically focused on the wars of audiences, therefore the supposedly public interest is not materialized in facilitating the access to the complex reality of much of the proposals of contemporary art that deal with the issues of the city, urban landscape, immigration or any kind of social issue. And when any form of public media tries to do it, the truth is that because it barely has any audience, they don't have the resources to do their job properly. For example, it is a topic that everybody likes La 2, although, in reality, hardly anybody watches it. In fact, there is great unanimity regarding the duties of the media, although some like it and others don't, but there is also great unanimity regarding the fact that they do not accomplish their aim.

JD- However, in the realm of culture something different takes place to what happens in the media, it maybe has to do with the general idea people have of culture, but, at least apparently, they don't follow the same editorial guide lines or economic interests, focusing on more liberal type of information or depicting culture as a show.

SC- Culture is very "in", if you are interested in it you are supposed to be great, but in the media, when dealing with information, culture and sports belong to the last journalists on the line, except in those cases in which the great specialist deals with culture in a supplement or a weekly special, conceived as something that belongs to the elite.

JD- And getting back to the current artistic practices that don't deal with the production of artistic objects, but with processes, approaching social issues, and taking for granted that they produce some type of result that may be inscribed in the artistic field, do you think that they share some common features or that there is a diversity of approaches and attitudes among artists themselves, in the same level as in activities conventionally understood as common to the realm of art?

SC- From the view point of art, as well as from any other perspective that deals with social issues, I think it is positive, although artists seem to place themselves on another level. Anyway I am speaking without knowledge, for at this point I have only established a direct contact with Josep-María Martín, who has said in several occasions that he, as an artist, reaches a lot more places, or more important places, than many other people can get to. For example, the possibility of meeting the president of a country can propitiate small changes in reality, and I believe that that is something very positive.

JD- But this access to people in power can be seen in another way; that the artist keeps playing the role of someone that goes with power, that entertains and gives prestige to those who rule in politics, economy, etc, and at the same time obtains his prestige and influence as chosen by such power. And although certain artists in no way pursue such aim, but try to instigate these changes on reality, to what extent is that transforming potential of art overestimated? How can the artist handle complex realities and surpass the realm of art, being at once a sociologist, anthropologist, geographer and social worker?

SC- Sometimes I don't know if that really happens or if in many occasions it's another form of manifestation of the artist's ego, only exceeded by that of renown architects, but every case should be taken care of. There's not a common pattern, we must analyze if an artist in particular is approaching a reality that, in many cases, is the expression of the art of living or surviving in awful conditions, or he is simply trying to reassure his previous conception of that particular reality that nothing has to do with art, and is alien to such an extent that it is very difficult to understand and share in a very brief and short approach as the one that generally takes place in the development of many projects. I am not an artist but I really doubt that, due to being one, you can know and comprehend a different and complex reality. In any case I think it is an interesting and positive approach, beyond specific results.

JD- How do you think this approach of artists towards social realities is perceived?

SC- By the other part it is always perceived as a way of taking advantage. It is very difficult to attain equality in a relationship when the starting point is different. In the tension of the creative process that is seeking to obtain an artistic result, whichever it may be, the artist sometimes forgets he is dealing with people that have no understanding of his interests and that may perceive that they are not receiving anything specific from him, even more when dealing with people who don't share our codes because they don't belong to what we wrongfully call the first world. And also the opposite way around, any comment that these people may say can be understood as unlawful. The possibility that they might take advantage of a situation that is oriented towards an artistic goal may create distrust. It's like those pirates that are so in vogue nowadays; we are horrified by these Somali pirates, but, aren't we pirates in their sea, their land and people? Their assaults, the rescues, seem to us to be from another time and carry a violence that we detest, but, what does the first world do in that part of Africa? In Ethiopia teff is cultivated, it is a cereal with which injera is made, an elastic type of bread that is the basic food of its population. A Dutch company has found out that it has weight-reducing properties for an overfed first world and has patented several substances derived from it thanks to an agreement with the Ethiopian Government. Consequently there has been a wild rise in the price of teff, that is depriving the country from its basic product, and which is going to contribute to the death of six million people due to hunger, not being able to gain access to the only food that they have. Has any artist thought about such an important issue that affects so many people?

JD- I don't know, but I am interested in what you are pointing out about an equal relationship and a possible form of mutually taking advantage.

SC- Of course, taking advantage, which in the case of the Senegalese people of Josep María Martin's project has, at some point, provoked the thought that "here we go again having the whites taking advantage of us", because the rejection and racism towards the other part is mutual. I have heard that during this project, and we can't allow it, because it isn't true. This project is not an opportunity for
someone to benefit economically.

JD- This project takes place in Lavapiés, where these Senegalese people live, why do you think so many artists are interested in this neighbourhood?

SC- The concept of Lavapiés that has been promoted by the media and politicians in power is that of a marginal neighbourhood, full of delinquency. But from some years on, in Lavapiés there's a type of professionals and people working on culture that have nothing to do with a neighbourhood for the old, for immigrants and people who, as myself, didn't have any money and bought houses at a very low cost because this part of the city was the cheapest in Madrid, as well as Vallecas. I bought my house some eleven or twelve years ago, also, because I liked Lavapiés and I had always lived close. But these people have bought 90 square meter houses for 90 million of the old pesetas, thanks to rehabilitation plans that have promoted the cleanliness of the neighbourhood. A house like my one, that I bought for 9 million and that doesn't get to 50 square meters, has been sold for forty. What kind of people buy these houses? Why do people like this neighbourhood so much? Maybe at the time of La Movida a lot of the people who came to his neighbourhood came from a similar social background but had a different social and vital approach. Today, those wearing broken pants that cost 200 euros are coming, being a minority within the Spanish minority of the neighbourhood. Anyhow they are very significant, and in reality they don't coexist with the rest of the neighbourhood, they don't know their neighbours nor do they relate to them and, in fact, they are contributing to throw out the traditional neighbours and the new immigrant members without even having thought about it and it is not even their intention. Something different happens with the public administration, that wants to turn the centre of Madrid into a place similar to the centre of other great European cities. This is very clear once we analyze how political activity is organized, how the plenary local sessions take place, how the police intervene or how the neighbourhood is now being filled with cameras. This doesn't respond to an artistic objective at all but to other objectives, which indirectly have created projects, like the Camarón project by Un barrio feliz, that I think is very creative, although I don't know if it should be called art, social demonstration, or a different way of building a city.

JD- What do you think of some of the projects that have been made in the neighbourhood like the Offlimits space?

SC- They are different from the project that I was talking about, which emerges from social networks, although the social network of Lavapiés is no longer active. Initiatives like the housing table and others don't function anymore. The pressure to change and throw out the members of the neighbourhood also has to do with issues such as the drug problem and the lack of political will to solve it. However, other social networks have emerged, like one that helps support immigrants in their adaptation process once they have been thrown out of the Canary Islands. Obviously they are not artistic interventions but social ones, very necessary for the neighbourhood. Their aim is not to create art, but they have an enormous creative potential as a form of developing the neighbourhood and creating another type of city. I wonder if something could be done from the artistic point of view without using the neighbourhood as a medium to reaffirm previous ideas that some artists have of Lavapiés.