By Louise Hobson



During a recent Skype chat you spoke about Buenos Aires as an immigrant city and of nostalgia, and living with the memory of another place. Can you explain this significance for you personally and how this informs your practice?

I grew up with stories about my great-grandparents coming to Argentina, and about the lives they’d left in Europe. My grandmother was born on the ship over and my grandfather’s childhood was one of great poverty, he had to work in a factory from a young age, working his way up until he eventually became its president. Several generations now have grown up listening to these stories of overcoming, of how Argentina was a new start for them, while at the same time conserving their nostalgia for the country they had been forced to leave. We weren’t born in Europe, but the family memories of that place travel along with us / shaped our lives – as though the memories were actually our own. We go around with the memory of a life we never lived; that has been inserted into our minds ever since we were young. And the version of that history we’ve heard is the one narrated not by the people who took part in it, but by those protagonists’ children and grandchildren. It’s the same as happens in cinema, where we are presented with other people’s stories and we are moved by them, and then they become our own.
My project, Between memories and remakes – of which Memory Exercise is part – is an attempt to salvage lost films by speaking to people who watched those films, reconstructing them through their memories. It is an emotional archive, touched by / pierced by time and loss, a chance to see – through these people’s experiences – films we never had the chance to.

Grand Union Book

In Memory Exercise we see two retired actresses watching El hombre de la esquina rosada and discussing the actors they recognise, which, through the union they work with, will enable the uncredited actors (or their families) to receive royalties. There’s the act of recalling someone here and also then, the work of challenging historic omissions and absences. Could you talk about this slippage between memory and history?

Argentina is a young country, maybe that’s why there’s this lack of preservation policies. Our relationship with history is different to that of European countries, with their monuments stretching back thousands of years. In South America, we have a fragmented history, one that has been broken to pieces and put back together again, with conquests along the way, declarations of independence, waves of migration, coups and crises – again and again these moments in which past is erased and a new account of the history comes in, as well as another idea of the future that never managed to catch on.
They say the victors write history, and that usually means a lot of people being forgotten. The history of cinema is built around films that are critically acclaimed or have good distribution, and less well known films get forgotten about. In Argentina, censorship, archives burning down, and inadequate conditions for preservation, have meant a large part of our twentieth-century cinema being lost. This leaves us with a double absence: the loss both of the physical materials and of its symbolic value. The actresses at The Argentinian Society of Interpreting Artists (SAGAI) perform roles that no other person or archive – or recognition software – would be able to. An exercise that bridges the gap between memory and history.

We know that history is unreliable and in your work you’re rewriting, remaking and in your words ‘repatriating’ film histories. What potential do you think there is, in challenging dominant historical narratives?

There is so much in history that can’t be attested to / corroborated in a scientific sense. For example, the first pornographic movie was supposedly made in Argentina, but this can’t be verified because it’s completely anonymous and none of the costumes or the architecture suggest any particular time in history. In 2014, I had an exhibition at La Ene, the Nuevo Museo Energía de Arte Contemporáneo in Buenos Aires, that claimed this myth to be true, because myths are also part of history. Art is a way of making fiction reality; it gives rise to different points of view. Art allows for the possibility of creating a history of our own.

We’ll be screening Snuff 1976 at the Electric Cinema in Birmingham. Can you tell me why you became interested in working with the 1976 film Snuff, a particularly violent film which capitalised on the myth of snuff films in Latin America and was marketed as ‘The film that could only be made in South America, where life is cheap’?

Exploitation movies weren’t that common in the Argentina of the 1970’s because, while they were a smash in the US and Europe, our military governments censored them. Snuff is unique. It tells the story of a sect of female assassins. American filmmakers came to Argentina because it was a cheap place to shoot a movie. They didn’t speak Spanish, and it was obvious they didn’t have much of a handle on the local situation (in fact, they included scenes of the carnival in Rio as though they’d taken place in Buenos Aires). In advance of the premiere in the US, they had the idea of telling everyone that the movie featured real murders, thereby ushering in the myth of snuff as a genre. The interesting thing here is that you have a group of foreigners giving birth to the most appalling movie genre, during the most tragic and violent time in Argentina’s history. A movie filmed in South America just at the moment when a life was worth nothing. Doubtless the filmmakers weren’t aware of it at the time, but violence must have been in the air, and they found a way to capitalize on it.

I keep thinking about the gesture of translating and remaking the dialogue in the film, especially when you’re returning the film to its original language. Why was it important for you to return the film to Spanish?

The film claimed to feature actual murders carried out in Argentina. While this was pure fiction, the myth was fed by the fact that nobody in the US knew if the actors were still alive, because they had never done any acting before and they lived in a different country. There was also the fact that when they sold it as a snuff movie, all the credits were removed.
The only information available about the film was supported by those who had made it. Nobody had ever wondered about these actors. What would their version of events be? I went in search of the actresses, and they gave me the real story of Snuff. None of them spoke English, they signed no contracts, and there was no script. Some of the cast had to do their lines phonetically, others directly in Spanish. Dubbing then took place back in the US. The actresses never saw the finished film, and until I went to see them, nobody had ever asked them about it.
Hearing all of this, I had the idea of appropriating the movie and ‘repatriating’ it. It included parts filmed in Buenos Aires with Argentinian actors, and a violence befitting that time in the country; the only element that wasn’t created here was the sound, which is why I decided to re-do that altogether, dubbing the voices and re-doing the soundtrack and all the sound effects.

In your research and in the making of your work, you’re often working in collaboration with others. How important is this collaborative process in your practice?

There’s no sense in telling a story if nobody listens to it. It is in the encounter with the other that stories take on their power. I think of art as the possibility for dialogue, a dialogue with the public, principally, but also with other artists, works of art, and moments in history.
When I’m in the research phase of my projects, I always talk to people and carry out interviews, because that for me is a faster and deeper way of thinking things through, and you come to conclusions you simply wouldn’t if you were doing it on your own. My more complex pieces would have been impossible without the collaboration of other artists enriching my work.
The final dialogue is with the public, and in that case I’m always interested in generating complicity in some form or another.

I’m interested in returning to something you’ve said previously about centres and peripheries in relation to the hierarchies of film distribution. With digital connectivity in contemporary Argentina, do you see this peripheral location still existing?

Advances in digital technology may have meant a democratization of the means of production, and of distribution too, but in South America it’s still no easy thing to get projects off the ground. Nowadays everyone has a smartphone and can post videos online, but if someone wants to do something more elaborate, that means dedicating a considerable amount of time to it, and that’s where it’s more difficult for those of us living in countries with unstable economies. A lot of us work two or three different jobs in order to survive, aside from our artistic activities. And though the art scene is interesting and very active, the market remains limited – the production possibilities are limited according to state subsidies, which themselves fluctuate in line with the economic crises. This idea of centre and periphery is reflected in the amount of opportunities and not in the quality of the various scenes, which are constantly coming up with new ideas and proposals.