Marcela Cabutti was born in 1967 in La Plata, the capital city of the Buenos Aires Province in Argentina. She graduated in 1994 from La Plata National University School of Fine Arts with degrees in sculpture and art history. In 1995-96 she was given a grant by the Antorchas Foundation to participate in a workshop run by the artists Luis F. Benedit and Pablo Suárez in which she created sculpture, objects, and installations. The foundation also supported Cabutti’s study in 1998 of design and bionics at the European Institute of Design in Milan, Italy. In that year Cabutti was given a grant by the Delfina Studio Trust, London. In 2000 she received grants from the Medici Foundation (in support of her artist residency at the Duende Ateliers, Rotterdam) and from the Columbus College of Art and Design (Ohio), where she served as the resident glass artist. Her awards have included Cultural Equality (2013), First Acquisition Prize Salón Municipal Artes del Fuego, Mumart, La Plata (2011), Second Acquisition Prize at 15th Premio Federico Jorge Klemm a las Artes Visuales (2011), First Acquisition Prize, Premio Arnet a Cielo Abierto (2009), First Biennial for a Young Artist, Buenos Aires (1993) and the First Regional Award from OSDE Foundation, Buenos Aires (2005). Cabutti’s art has been included in exhibitions in Buenos Aires; La Plata; Milan; Madrid; Norway, Rome; Rosario, Argentina; and Turin, Italy. She has been included in several books, including Aire alrededor de los objetos Cabutti, Marcela (Air among objects. Marcela Cabutti) , Editorial Estela Gismero (2017), Residencia en el mundo (Residence in the World), Rosario, Museo Castagnino-Macro (2011), Catálogo de la Colección del Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Rosario (Catalogue of the Collection of the Rosario Museum of Contemporary Art), Rosario, Museo Castagnino-Macro (2004), Colección Alberto Elía – Mario Robirosa (Alberto Elía – Mario Robirosa Collection) (2004) and Jorge López Anaya’s Arte argentino: Cuatro siglos de historia (1600-2000).
Building with Air
A conversation with Marcela Cabutti in Buenos Aires and La Plata*.
By Jimena Ferreiro.
*This interview is part of the book Aire alrededor de los objetos.
Marcela Cabutti was born in La Plata on the 9th of September, 1967. She inherited a deep curiosity about the natural world and the rigour of scientific method from her parents, both of whom were biochemists. Nature had always been a significant presence in her family; her grandparents grew and sold flowers to the city cemetery. The “magic of growth and the living inner workings of plants were part of my experience from a very young age,” the artist remembers.
A clear vocation towards art manifested itself when Cabutti was still a girl. In 1981 she began her Fine Art studies at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, having previously taken the university’s basic preparatory courses in primary school from the age of ten. After graduating, in 1987 she moved on to the Faculty of Fine Art to continue her specialization in sculpture, studies that she alternated with a course in the History of Art at the same faculty. Between 1992 and 1994 she worked intensively on her thesis in sculpture, creating a series of inflatable pieces. These soft sculptures, made from PVC and modelled with air, represented a major watershed in her work. In 1993 she exhibited part of this series at the Espacio Joven of the Centre of Visual Arts in La Plata together with Carolina Sardi before holding her first solo exhibition in Buenos Aires at Galería Liberarte. That year, she also won First Prize for Sculpture at the Young Artists Biennial.
After the public presentation of her thesis at the recently opened exhibition hall of the República de los Niños, in 1995 she won a grant from the Fundación Antorchas to take part in the Barracas Workshop. Once this experience was over, Cabutti won a grant to take a Masters Course in Design and Bionics at the Centro di Ricerche dell’Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan (1997). Her stay in Europe was extended in 1998 with a residency at the Delfina Studio Trust in London. After a short time in Argentina where she presented her exhibition Move in at the Centro Cultural Islas Malvinas in La Plata (1999), she set off once more to take part in a residence at Duende Studios in Rotterdam (2000) and another shorter one at Columbus College Art & Design in Ohio (2000) where she experimented with glass-blowing techniques.
With the new decade and the profound economic crisis and violence of 2001, Cabutti found herself looking for a base in Argentina. She eventually decided to move to City Bell where she began an intensive programme of teaching and the creation of more intimate, introspective work. Her solo exhibition, City Bell, held at Galería Luisa Pedrouzo in 2003, was to some extent a culmination of this new inward-looking approach. Now having fully established herself in Buenos Aires, she held several solo exhibitions at 713 Arte Contemporáneo (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012) and Galería Del Infinito, which has represented her since 2014.
Some of her works have also been installed in public spaces. These include Pasionaria (Passion Flower), which won the First Arnet Prize (2009), and Homenaje al Cardo (Homage to the Thistle, 2015) in Rafaela, and she has won numerous prizes including the Second Acquisition Prize at the 15th Federico Jorge Klemm Awards for the Visual Arts in 2011. Since 2013 she has coordinated the La Plata artist residency programme “Programa Arte e Industria del Museo del Ladrillo” (Brick Museum Art and Industry Programme), for which she draws on her ample experience as an artist in residence at several different institutions in the 90s and 2000s. She currently lives and works in Villa Elisa at her home-studio.
The following conversation took place during a series of meetings in Buenos Aires and Villa Elisa in the summer and autumn of 2016,1 during which we moved back and forth in time to reflect on her work and career.
Early years (a small clay seal)
JF: How did your relationship with art begin?
MC: I remember that I spent a lot of time in kindergarten making models from Plasticine. Then at Primary School No. 21 in La Plata I started to draw. The school was very close to our home, it was a public school with amazing teachers that offered a lot of encouragement. I always enjoyed modelling things. In fifth grade, when I was ten, my mother decided to send my brother and I to the Basic Courses in Fine Art run by the UNLP [Universidad Nacional de La Plata]. I also remember that on Saturdays we went to a cinema cycle organized by Mario Grasso. After the screenings, Mario asked us to draw something we’d seen and the following Saturday we would take him the drawings. My parents always made time to be with us during these activities, even though they worked very hard.
Kindergarten No. 909. Salita Verde, 1972. Photograph: Manuela Cambiar.
My brothers and I also took flute lessons. The teacher came to our house and gave the class in our little bedroom. I wrote plays and puppet shows to put on for my friends. It was a very varied and stimulating artistic education.
JF: After the Basic Courses, you moved on to the secondary school art programme. Did you have to choose your specialization beforehand?
MC: You had to choose in the third year, but I knew that I wanted to make models when I was eight years old, so it was already decided that I would specialize in Sculpture. I remember the image of a clay seal. It was so vivid in my memory that I returned to it and made one for an exhibition in 2003 at Luisa Pedrouzo’s gallery, although then I made it in cast aluminium.
Sra. Foca (Mrs Seal), 2001. Resin and cast aluminium, 18 x 16 x 16 cm. Private collection, Buenos Aires. Photograph: Gustavo Lowry.
JF: Did the secondary school course help to guide your artistic interests? Did you learn about techniques and experimentation?
MC: It certainly taught me new artistic tools, but most of all it gave me an adolescence with other interests and the chance to try a variety of forms of communication and expression. New ways of using time, new perspectives…
Marcela Cabutti working with Carolina Sardi and her grandfather on a sculpture located in the School for the Blind, City Bell, 1985.
JF: What was the atmosphere at school during those first few years?
MC: It was during the dictatorship. We wore a uniform: blue skirt, white shirt, the socks weren’t allowed to have logos and your hair always had to be tied back. Those were the only colours we were allowed to wear. Towards the end the dictatorship had grown a little more lenient but we had a head of discipline and the institutional organization was very rigid. I remember going up the stairs and seeing the head of discipline standing at the top watching everything that was going on at the entrance.
JF: The school still ran during the dictatorship, although I imagine that the subject matter was very restricted.
MC: Most of all there was a lot of control. We had a civics teacher with a discourse that was very difficult to hear. The rule of law didn’t exist and you could tell.
JF: What happened with the arrival of democracy?
MC: Before, there were times when you realized that change was coming: like getting back the spring festival. During that week in September, we decorated the classrooms and held plays, concerts, and painting sessions. Parties… you could really tell something was going on. You started to hear folk and rock music again.
Left: sculpture workshop, Secondary School Course in Fine Art (UNLP), 1986. Right: Marcela Cabutti with her classmates Carolina Sardi, Mariano Rómulo and others.
JF: The 80s were very intense in La Plata, how did that affect the university environment?
MC: It showed in the faculty, but especially in the city’s music scene. I have an image of going to the República de los Niños and dancing to Virus’ “Wadu Wadu” on tagoda.
JF: You listened to Virus.
MC: Yes, and Fernando Bustillo was one of my teachers at school. He was very close to the band. He and Dina Hafter invented a subject called Art of the 20th Century. We talked about art listening to music, we went to the chapel at the Centro Cultural Recoleta to hear the work of Fernando Von Reichenbach, a pioneer of electro-acoustic music in Argentina.2 But it was strange because we were in a small events hall, we were still in secondary school and we didn’t quite realize how new all this was and what it meant to have him, Virus’ lighting technician teaching us along with Dina about all the different revolutionary artistic and musical movements at the same time. We were in thrall to him, he gave wonderful classes with plenty of detail, a lot of refined knowledge and I was fascinated by that; by his intelligence. We continued to see each other afterwards, especially when I started to go to Buenos Aires. I went to his flat and we looked at books. I enjoyed talking with him, he showed me my first ever book about Jeff Koons. He travelled a lot and showed me the latest things that were going on in the art world, you’d go to his workshop and artists you admired would be coming out.
JF: Do you remember a figure with that kind of importance at the faculty?
MC: The experience at the faculty was different, I don’t remember anyone like Fernando; with that level of contemporary significance. The professors were different. In sculpture I was taught by Rubén Elosegui. It was a tough, sexist course, but Elosegui – who was old by then – allowed us to transgress a little. I learned the language with him. He gave me an academic grounding. Elosegui was a sculptor very much in the tradition of 50s modernism.
JF: How was information transmitted? Slides, books…?
MC: A lot of books. We studied with books and that knowledge of the history of the discipline complemented the work in the studio where we learned to build our gaze through a range of exercises, experimenting with different techniques and materials. We worked with clay, cement, stone and wood, did life studies, and lots of drawings for models of life studies and moulds. I remember that when you’d been working for long time on one element he’d say “Smash it up, leave it for the summer and in March you can start somewhere else.” It wasn’t my decision but a strategy for making, a way of getting back to the original wish. I remember that I destroyed a piece, I don’t remember what it was, but it was definitely made of clay and it had taken a long time. He was right though, I came back in March and started again.
Elosegui wanted us to learn by making things that were similar to the things he made, based in abstraction and I wasn’t on that path. Also there were physical things, I can show you works from the time… assemblage, collages of very large pieces of wood… It was all physically very weighty and I couldn’t do it. I felt better modelling rather than carving.
We worked a lot with the human form, a fragmented form, we didn’t work with complete figures. I truly liked the contact with the material to balance out all that hardness. To counter all those sculptural processes, I started to do engravings. I liked it because the discipline provided me with a far more immediate experience and allowed me to experiment. It was connected to that idea of “lightness”.
Marcela Cabutti in her studio “El Galponguito” together with her piece Chica inflable para guitarra de Bonetto (Inflatable Girl for Bonetto’s Guitar), 1994. Photograph: Martín Bonetto.
JF: What engraving technique were you most comfortable with?
MC: I was very comfortable with linoleum and woodcuts, I liked that part a lot. I think it was a chance to get some contrast with the material qualities of sculpture. I came into contact with serigraphy ink, which I then used to paint the inflatables I produced for my thesis project.
I remember that I was reading a lot of Cortázar and the graphics allowed me to put together stories, especially working in two or three colour planes like comics. I have several series based on Cronopios y Famas.
JF: So literature has had a presence in your work from the beginning.
MC: It was a part of my secondary school education, I remember that in the summer reading was all we did. The image I have is reading in the hammock in the countryside. I was interested in the texts that had action, the ones in which things happened.
JF: You finished your course in sculpture in 1994 and took some time off to do your thesis. At the same time you started to study History of Art.
MC: That was also related to secondary school and Fernando Bustillo. I wanted more of a critical grounding. I knew that I had to better understand how other things worked. Or at least to be able to follow production processes.
JF: You spent more time on engraving, you took History of Art… You were very dedicated to your education. Full time…
MC: I loved it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. And also I went to the Centro Cultural San Martín to take a course with Enio Iommi that was very much the opposite to what was being offered at the faculty. He was looking to create uncomfortable spaces from which to approach art.
JF: Did you feel that the faculty had a very staid perspective of art?
MC: I always came to see exhibitions in Buenos Aires. I think that that has to do with Fernando [Bustillo] too. I set up my own circuit, my own stories: Julia Lublin, Ática in Calle Libertad, and later I visited the ICI [Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana], the Benzacar gallery and the Rojas. At the San Martín I visited the Photography Gallery, where I began to understand what photography was. I was exploring for my thesis work, I was looking for answers that I couldn’t find in the context of the faculty.
Breathing under Water
JF: How did the inflatables come about?
MC: They happened because I didn’t want to work with the things that we’d been working with, modelling with clay or assemblage. I’d seen the things that interested me and I wanted to return to the playful aspects of art. I always worked with children, I’d performed at children’s parties since I was nine years old. Then in 1990 and 1991 I worked as an art teacher. In fact, my first contract in 1989 was with a neighbourhood workshop attached to a science workshop. So I started to look for light, portable forms of sculpture and that search ended up with the inflatables.
Plastics didn’t come into the equation in the course after Elosegui. I didn’t get much support: they didn’t think what I was doing was sculpture. I had to make a big effort to make those works because of the temporary replacement for Elosegui after his death. Eduardo was a generous thesis tutor with a very open-minded view of art. José Luis Di Leo also helped with the process. At the time the thesis didn’t have a written element, you didn’t have to do a theoretical text to accompany the artistic work. So to justify my interests I concentrated on intense, personal research during which, rather than writing something definitive, I looked for precedents in nature, in history, advertising and architecture, including all the pneumatic structures from the 60s. It was during this research that I came across Fluvio Subtunal, which Lea Lublin made in 1969 in Santa Fe with the support of the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella. I spent a lot of time in libraries and looked for books, went to bookshops… I was moved by an intuition that still surprises me to this day.
Page from the document that accompanied the sculptural thesis presented in 1993 showing a work by Lea Lublin.
The thesis featured a lot of documents in French and English which I had translated on the first pneumatic constructions, a lot of artists in San Francisco, a lot of Pop Art, but also Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines, aerostatic balloons, advertising, an artwork I saw at school that used nylon bags and helium, obviously Oldenburg and Otto Piene, a German artist who I’d written to, beginning a very stimulating epistolary correspondence. I also did some research in bionics, which I later developed in Italy, and a lot in the animal world.
Pages from the document that accompanied the sculptural thesis presented in 1993.
There was a lot of non-artistic background for the use of PVC. I also remember that one of my favourite games during the summer in Santa Teresita was the moon walk. I loved going every day at six or seven in the evening as the sun was going down to jump, jump and float for a few seconds in the air. The idea was to be able to build the sculpture, deflate it, fold it up and then set it back up again.
The work with the inflatables preserves the constructive elements of the sculptural language such as form, volume, direction, light and materiality, allowing for the preservation or creation of a dialogue with different aspects of the discipline. Then I heard that there was an article in the faculty regulations that allowed me to work at home. The faculty workshop was quite a dirty space and didn’t offer the clean, expansive conditions I needed to work with PVC.
JF: The suppliers must have been key. How did you get hold of the materials? Did you sew them as well?
MC: To start with the research I moved into my grandfather’s house. He had a lovely workshop, it was a big warehouse because he’d been a flower wholesaler, he made funeral wreaths, bridal bouquets and supplied the cemetery. The house also had a covered patio where I did my painting. We fixed up the place together. We spent months plastering. My grandfather had a very practical, very professional intelligence. He was the first licensed plumber in the city of La Plata. You had to know how to weld lead. He taught me to use a lot of my tools. Every time I set to work on something, he’d always give me advice. He was constantly inventing things…
“El Galponguito” workshop, number 1439, Calle 68, La Plata, 1989.
I moved in there. I did my entire thesis there. Close by the workshop, I found some guys making awnings and I started to make objects from plastic using electric soldering irons with them. But that interfered with their work and I couldn’t do curves with the technique. Still, I went to their workshop, observed and tried to understand how the material was cut. I’d learned how to cut from my grandmother who was a seamstress and made bridal gowns. I knew how to stretch out the fabric, how to mark the lines, how to make patterns: my grandmother had millions of Burda magazines.
JF: Because all those pieces had patterns and moulds…
MC: And overlapping material. You thread it before you make the pattern. The thread marks the path for the sewing machine; with PVC you place the overlap on top and stick it down with the electric machine. I needed a machine that I didn’t have, it was a work tool belonging to the guys close by my workshop, so I couldn’t experiment on my own as much as I’d have liked. I tried out the tools used to seal salamis and cold meats, I kept looking for a new way to sew.
At the same time I discovered a place called “Inflatable Spaces”, which was created by Jorge Rodríguez Marino, a psychoanalyst who worked with Patricia Stokoe. He was a consultant for crazy projects. The space was in Palermo. They produced unique dialectical material. I have an article on Patricia Stokoe surrounded by the artwork for my thesis. They had a Gesell camera they used to observe the behaviour of children with inflatables and the uses that each child invented with them. Then they used this research to design new pieces. It was a very playful and creative space whose purpose was to stimulate psychomotor skills from a very early age. They made inflatable pieces for avant garde kindergartens that encouraged the development of sensory perception.
Page from the document that accompanied the sculptural thesis presented in 1993.
The link with Jorge didn’t happen immediately. I had to earn his trust. We met, talked about art and he shared some information, a few clues. We met periodically for a year and a half between 1992 and 1994. We talked about all the examples he was aware of. Jorge was an eccentric person, a very Buenos Aires kind of intellectual. He always said: “Your karma flows through the air.” I remember that the phrase upset me at the time but now I understand that there’s something of that in all my work, the possibility of building with air. I remember that he’d recommended that I read Gaston Bachelard and Poetics of Space became a key book for me. Finally, he taught me to seal the material by hand and that knowledge gave me the freedom to design without any limitations.
Marcela Cabutti together with Rodríguez Marino at her solo exhibition at Galería Alberto Elía, Buenos Aires, 1995.
With the knowhow under my belt I locked myself in my workshop for almost three years, experimenting in complete isolation. I was obsessed with creating these forms. When I produced the first piece, Herida lunar (Lunar Wound, 1993), a red volume with an inflatable cylinder running through it, I knew I was almost there.
JF: And your parents understood what you were doing.
MC: My parents gave me unconditional support. Their background was in biochemistry and the exact sciences and their methodologies had a big influence on how I saw the world. To this day I’m not sure how much they understand but they always supported me no matter what.
JF: And you presented your thesis at the República de los Niños.
MC: Yes, in February 1994 I was still finishing a few pieces and they called to offer me a new alternative exhibition space at the República de los Niños which they wanted to open with my exhibition. I thought it was a good idea. The hall was next to the mechanical games and the teacup ride, very close to the amphitheatre. As well as presenting the exhibition, we held art workshops with the children.
Marcela Cabutti with her parents at the presentation of her thesis in sculpture. Exhibition hall at the República de los Niños, 1994.
JF: Why did you associate the trip to Chichén Itzá with images that later appeared in the thesis?
MC: That trip took place in the summer of 1990-1991. Later I went back to Mexico but from the United States. Mexico was an amazing source of discoveries and experimentation. I was also in Guatemala for the Day of the Dead in Santiago de Sacatepéquez where they build giant kites. The sound of the paper is supposed to drive evil spirits away from the cemeteries. I found both experiences similar. The kids in my workshop made kites and my grandfather was the teacher. Something came together in those years, the thousand columns in Chichén Itzá, Guatemala… peyote.
JF: But in addition to the thesis, which was a very important event, you had had a very intense year. 1993 was very important for you: the exhibition at the Centre of Visual Arts in La Plata was also that year.
MC: It was Ana María Gualtieri who invited me to exhibit. That was where I met Edgardo Antonio Vigo and Lalo Painceira… Lalo was already working as a journalist and was a big promoter of art in La Plata. He put everything that went on in the city in the agenda of El Día newspaper as well as writing full page articles. Nothing like that exists any more. In those years the newspaper was a way of letting people know what was going on.
JF: And you also went to the Young Artists Biennial.
MC: Yes, entrance was open to all. It was held at La Rural in Buenos Aires. 1993 was a wonderful year for me, it came completely unexpectedly. That’s where I received my first prize for sculpture. The jury was Margarita Paksa and Norberto Gómez.
Buenos Aires Vice-Versa
JF: It’s pretty impressive: your university thesis, which are usually quite formal, presented a very solid body of work for your age, which allowed you to apply to the Barracas Workshop7 with a very interesting portfolio and excellent references.
MC: I was never very aware of that, I never looked at what anyone else was doing, I always concentrated on my work. On the one hand, it isolated me, but on the other it allowed me to go on producing artwork.
JF: But looking back you say, and I agree with you, that your pieces shared the visual aesthetic of the time. There were parallels, weren’t there?
MC: Yes, but remember that I didn’t know much about what other people were doing. Going to Barracas was a major eye-opener for me, it was a whole new world. First you had to share and evaluate works in a collective discussion and I personally also felt very competitive.
JF: Did you have to present a project?
MC: Yes, at the time I was working with the pseudo-animals and the project was to create an inflatable cicada with a motor. It was the first time that I had ever had a stipend to produce a work. I worked as a teacher and lived at my grandfather’s house. To some degree it felt as though things were getting serious, but my exploration – which had been playful at first – became experimental and I needed a professional in a field I didn’t know about: movement.
My work found a good collaborator in Benedit, obviously it was connected to his watercolours, the butterflies and studies of insects. I was fascinated, it was a privilege to have him close by. Pablo contributed poetry… Tatato [Benedit] organized the exhibition at Clásica y Moderna in 1995 for all the Barracas students. It was a collective show at which I presented another resin cicada with sound. I met Víctor Grippo developing that work.
JF: Did you meet him in Barracas? Did he come to visit?
MC: Some time before I’d asked my father to come with me to Buenos Aires and we went to the ICI to see an exhibition. When my father saw the name of the artist he said that he was a friend of his from the Archimedes Student Centre at the Faculty of Exact Sciences in La Plata, when they both studied chemistry… I couldn’t believe it, Grippo and my father knew each other in La Plata! When it was Grippo’s turn to come to visit in Barracas I showed him my work without telling him my surname. The work was related to the Museum of Natural Sciences, insects and slides from natural sciences.
Marcela Cabutti in “El Galponguito” with her family and the inflatable dinosaur she made for the Parque de los Dinosaurios in front of the Museo de Ciencias Naturales de La Plata, 1993.
Grippo told me that he was familiar with that world, it took him back to his time at the faculty in La Plata. I let him talk and when he’d finished I told him that I was “Flaco” Cabutti’s daughter. It was great! He always appreciated my gesture, in my case I wanted to know what he thought of my work without any personal feelings getting in the way. After that, I kept up a close working and personal relationship with him and his wife Nidia Olmos.
Left: view of the solo exhibition Esculturas y Objetos (Sculptures and Objects), Galería Alberto Elía, Buenos Aires, 1995. Right: Víctor Grippo and Norberto Cabutti, the artist’s father, at the opening of the exhibition.
JF: Did you go to the São Paulo Biennial in 1994? The Argentine contingent consisted of Vigo, Suárez and Líbero Badíi.
MC: Yes, and that was where I got the chance to see the work of Lygia Clark! That biennial exhibited a wide range of her work, all the sensory-perception experiences, the objects with curative powers, the snails and the plastic bags. That year I also met Lea Lublin at her sister Julia’s house. Julia owned the gallery. At the La Plata book fair at the Centro Cultural Pasaje Dardo Rocha I’d found the book Présent Suspendu by Lea Lublin and that was where I saw Fluvio subtunal from 1969. I wrote to her in Paris and we met twice, I think, when she came to Argentina. She was very surprised that I’d got the book in La Plata because not many had been printed.
JF: What other visits do you remember?
MC: [Jorge] Gumier Maier, [Marcelo] Pacheco, [Roberto] Jacoby, [Alfredo] Prior, Arturo Carrera and Oscar Bony all came to visit and then after the clinics, we had dinners and asados with other artists: [Jorge] Macchi, [Pablo] Siquier, Benito Laren, [Marcelo] Pombo, [Miguel] Harte, and [Ariadna] Pastorini, as well as the students.
View of the inside of the Barracas Workshop, Buenos Aires, 1996.
I remember that Gumier said that he liked the inflatables and he thought that my work had lost some of its “freshness”, if you like. The “professionalization” that the programme was supposed to teach us meant that I’d lost some of that spirit.
JF: Well, yes, Gumier was obsessed by the professionalization of art.
MC: Benedit talked in those terms: how to act, strategies. He also talked about the artwork of course but he was more of an administrator. Suárez worked more closely with the works. They were complementary opposites.
JF: Your first creatures started out more fantastical and then they became more realistic. The scale changed too.
MC: Yes, I think that had to do with the risk I took on getting involved with electrical circuits. But that also led to my first work in collaboration with engineers. I looked for a professional to help me and started taking courses in remote control planes. That helped me to make the spiders. Another engineer friend of mine helped me to make the worms that poked up and down from a bed of earth. Something in me didn’t quite trust the personal process of the inflatable on its own.
JF: How did you arrange your work in Barracas and your life in La Plata?
MC: I came and went. I came to stay in Buenos Aires three days a week. Then there was my work as an assistant at the Faculty of Fine Art, I had a day of classes there.
JF: You made the work with the worms and Marcelo Pacheco must have seen it because the Premio Braque9 in 1997 was by invitation only. Still, it was mostly artists who visited Barracas rather than critics wasn’t it?
MC: Yes, the person who most discussed my work in the press was Fabián Lebenglik. He went around all the exhibits and analyzed them to give feedback. In an article he published in 2003 to mark my exhibition at Galería Luisa Pedrouzo I was surprised to see him referencing an exhibition at Liberarte in 1993 which I’d left off my CV.
JF: Why did you leave it out?
MC: Fabián said that it was probably because I thought it was a very early exhibition. I don’t know, maybe it was that, maybe I wanted to edit out some of the more playful works from early on.
Photograph taken during the artist’s stay in Milan, taking the Masters Course in Design and Bionics, Centro di Ricerche dell’Istituto Europeo di Design, 1997. Photograph: Lidia Pezzoli.
JF: Your work certainly started to add more layers of complexity and your studies of bionics in Milan were part of this.
MC: I found out about the Masters in Bionics at the Italian embassy and learned that the academic programme included the CRIED, the Centro di Ricerche di Design in Milan, where Tomás Maldonado was a professor. Then when I mentioned it to “Meco” [Américo] Castilla, he said that it was a perfect course for me while Pablo Suárez told me that Maldonado was a friend of his. So he wrote a letter of recommendation for me and I was accepted.
Centro di Ricerche dell’Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, 1997.
It was a postgraduate degree in bionics for industrial designers, they studied concepts taken from nature. At that school, all the disciplines had one objective: to learn from nature. There were classes in poetry and nature, computation related to natural issues, photography, modelling and lots of hours of biology. It was like the German schools in the seventies, a cutting edge research centre sponsored by Fiat.
In Milan I found a group of designers in a beautiful, historic city and decided to work at the Museum of Natural Sciences. That allowed me to get my hands on the first engravings classifying the different species, the libri rari, the original etchings by the first scientific illustrators.
JF: You always chose your research very well. Intuition and perseverance. So, did you find the taxonomy of bats in those books? You developed the work Bat in Milan.
MC: Yes, I did the entire series there, but there were a lot of different references. The Duomo was full of bats and I recorded the sounds they made with some radar equipment I got hold of and photographed them with a telephoto lens someone loaned me. I also discovered that there are one thousand five hundred species of bat. I remember that at first I wanted to do all of them. Then so many things got in the way that I didn’t make it. I brought the work back with me but I didn’t exhibit it in Argentina immediately. Then it was documented for the book Artistas argentinos de los 90 (Argentine Artists of the 90s) and incorporated into the collection of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Rosario (Macro).
JF: But I saw the work in Buenos Aires at arteBA.
MC: That was a long time afterwards; in 2001 and the work was made in 1997-1999. In Milan my studio was a half a metre by a metre and a half balcony. I made everything there, the moulds and the resin. The pieces aren’t made exactly to scale but I did keep the proportions between the head size and the auditory membrane. I finished printing the boxes of lights in Argentina, and I also finished the video here.
In Milan I realized that I wanted to stay in Europe for longer. Jorge Macchi had come to Italy and he’d put me in contact with the Delfina Studio,10 a residence he’d already been on. So he asked Mirta Demare (who was key in organizing all this) to send me the terms and conditions. In addition to being a residence, Delfina provided accommodation to artists who had exhibitions in London, prestigious artists like Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. We had breakfast and coffee with them every day. It was a very interesting time, I saw some incredible exhibitions. During my stay I worked on a series of photographs that I then exhibited under the title Move in. I was also re-reading Cortázar, “A letter to a young woman in Paris” and met Anouchka Grose, an Australian writer who I identified with the character in the story, and made the protagonist of my photos. I didn’t know exactly what to do but I knew that I wanted to photograph her in relation to the story. Then, by chance, I found the location with the bow window I needed for the story.
Left: view of the studio at the Delfina Studio Trust. Right: the artist’s father working on the mechanism of a work, London, 1998.
I had a Nikon camera that I loved… I took a lot of photographs with that camera: the insects that got smashed up against the front of the train I took to go to Patricio Forrester’s house, the play of light from the torch over images of books…
JF: You added a motorized piece with the body of a rabbit and a human face to the photo series. Is it a self portrait?
MC: Actually it’s Anouchka but we do look alike…
Picture of Marcela Cabutti with one of the pieces from her installation Move in, La Plata, 1999.
JF: On your return, you presented the project in La Plata in 1999. Did the Centro Cultural Islas Malvinas open with your exhibition?
MC: Yes, it was great for me, everything was new and untouched. I worked hard on setting it up! The space was a challenge. That was the first time I had considered the installation in the context of a specific space. It was a way of re-joining the country and I chose Marcelo Pacheco to accompany me. I went to see him at the Fundación Espigas with all the material: the rabbit and the photographs. I had to be something of a travelling artist because I didn’t have a studio in Buenos Aires.
After the opening, I spent as much time as I could at the exhibition. The remote control that made the rabbit move was hidden and I waited for people to come up close to turn it on. They looked under the table to see how it worked. The most exciting thing was direct contact with people who told me what “vomiting rabbits” meant to them. I knew exactly what it meant for me. My childhood home had just been sold, the drawing on which the rabbit moved was the plans for that house, which came along with me on each move. I had to adapt to new languages, new places and new codes, it was a way of absorbing things that weren’t a part of me, I was generally more intuitive than the world around me. I’d come back from London at the end of 1998, a year and a few months had passed and then after the exhibition at the Malvinas I went to Rotterdam for three months in 2000.
JF: And you encountered the duck phenomenon….
MC: Yes, I began with a simple idea, the touristy image of a duck foraging with its legs in the air in one of the canals. I’d been to the Netherlands before and remembered the canal with the ducks; that was the initial image. I thought of Joaquín Torres García’s inverted map: we’re going north but we’re from the south, or was it the other way around? Whose view of ourselves was upside down? Ours or theirs? Everything came to me after that.
JF: By now you had a lot of experience talking to other professionals about prior works to provide you with a grounding for this more complex project.
MC: I don’t know how we did it in three months! I went with a drawing on paper, I didn’t even take a motor. I had made enquiries before the trip at ECAS [Estación de Cría de Animales Silvestres] in La Plata and found a specialist in ducks who I told about the project I wanted to do in the Netherlands. He told me that I wouldn’t be able to do it because I couldn’t camouflage an object like that among the other ducks.
JF: Did the project always consist of an underwater duck making recordings with a video camera?
MC: It was a remote control security camera that sent a signal to a video player and monitor. I operated the remote control from Mirta Demare’s flat. I made the project with Allert Schokker, Mirta’s partner, who was an engineer. The first day we put it in the water some kids threw stones at it thinking it was a dying duck and that was a key sign for me that we’d managed to camouflage the “duck” device.
Left: Duende Studios, Rotterdam, 2000. Right: Marcela Cabutti at the Rotterdam Museum of Natural Sciences, 2000.
JF: Why was Vogelklas (From the Duck’s Arse) never exhibited?
MC: It was a very complicated project, there were many different possible readings and a very unstable time for me personally coincided with a period of generalized social uncertainty. It was very paralyzing, I stopped producing for a long time. I was silent for a while…
But during that time I was invited to take part in an exchange between the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio and the Centro Cultural Recoleta. Erica Rubinstein called me to say that there was an exchange with an art school where they taught glassblowing. Previously during my stay in Milan I’d made my first piece in Murano glass with Pino Signoretto (who made Jeff Koons’ glass pieces). I exhibited the work in 1998 in Buenos Aires, at the Recoleta, and Erica saw it there. The exchange consisted of a very brief residence. In Ohio I made a pair of floating eyes from a kind of aquatic insect that could look both up and down in the water simultaneously, it was a tribute to my nephew Tomás, who was three years old at the time and had been diagnosed with glaucoma.
Marcela Cabutti in Murano at the Vetreria Pino Signoretto, Venice, 1997.
Work made during the artist’s stay at the Columbus College of Art & Design, Ohio, 2000.
MC: I came back from the United States in a worried about the state of the country. I was very isolated. I moved to City Bell and started to work hard on jewellery to earn my living. I had a contact in Italy and sent products I’d designed there. I also worked in La Plata, I had private students, the faculty… I substituted at Nicola Costantino’s clinic when she went to the São Paulo Biennial. I also did work making pieces for other artists like Claudia Fontes and Pati Landen.
City Bell Studio preparing objects that were included in the exhibition La Tierra. Una historia de cambios (The Earth, a History of Change), at the La Plata Museum of Natural Sciences, funded by the Fundación Antorchas, the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives, the United States Information Service and the OEA, 2002.
I started to give classes to children and hold clinics with adults in 2000 as well as the classes I’d always taken at the faculty. In City Bell I found a place where I felt comfortable and worked quite a lot, teaching two or three times a week. It was how I made my living. All that time I’d kept away from the institutional gallery system.
I had very interesting experiences with the students. I proposed different exercises and was always surprised by what they produced. The construction of abstract volumes is innate to children. At one time I had them build their own inflatables. I worked a lot with PVC sheets and suggested that they trace through a transparent one, like Pipo Pescador’s magic blackboard, to copy and also to deform…
Then in 2001 the La Plata Department of Culture had at stand at arteBA for the first time, presenting a selection of works by local artists. I was chosen along with Juan Pezzani, Andrés Compagnucci and Enzo Oliva. At that fair I was contacted by Luisa Pedrouzo and she insisted that I get back to work and invited me to join her staff at the gallery. I was always grateful to her for that because it ended up being a very stimulating space for my work. I also met Gustavo Vásquez Ocampo there, and he taught me to think about the overall work in the space; to create a visual journey.
Then she suggested holding a solo exhibition and that invitation drove me to get back to work more intensively. This was the stimulus for the works that I presented in City Bell, looking for a way to express my situation, my deepest intimacy. My emotions, my animals, my plants, my sense of place, what it meant to leave the centre of the city and move to its outskirts. It wasn’t as though I was in the middle of the countryside either but it was a very interesting introspective moment, a very intimate process with no room at all for speculation. Every detail of the exhibition was thought out and in spite of the distance both Luisa and Gustavo came to the workshop to see all the work.
JF: The exhibition combined photographs and objects…
MC: And drawings. There were several small objects in which a lot of things were concentrated. Small, very personal scenes that also evoke collective memories. Anyone can identify with a pot of geraniums…
JF: It had a notably nostalgic tone. That was also when your interest in botany appeared.
MC: In fact the interest in botany was always there. I think I told you that when I was a girl we had a microscope and my brothers and I analyzed everything we found.
JF: Yes, but it began to appear in your work more formally and clearly with that exhibition.
MC: Yes, what I liked about the exhibition was the way it played with the spatial resources. I was interested in exhibiting photographs but not as photography. I was photographing objects and combining them with three-dimensional objects.
JF: Yes, it was clear that the photography arose out of an impulse to document, it provided the backdrop to an exploration of space and fiction. You also presented states of transformation of materials, in line with Grippo’s experiments.
MC: Yes, and also afterwards when I saw Liliana Porter’s retrospective at the Recoleta11 I realized that we shared similar interests without my realizing it.
It was around then that I fell back in love with art. I felt a great need to make things once more. For me it also represented a return to the scene after a long time away. Between 1997 and 2001 I hardly spent any time in Argentina. Then the crisis struck and we were forced to reschedule.
JF: What I notice about the work is a kind of change of strategy. Your previous works had taken a lot of effort, a lot of research and lots of preparation while this was a return to the subject, to reflection, to a more intuitive approach. The duck took the conceptual project to a kind of extreme, research that was both intellectual and fantastical, a series of points that could lead in many different directions and then the development of an object with robotics, the camera system and everything.
MC: What I needed, and this was related to my formative experience overseas, was to concentrate the resources within myself. I had received a lot of information and I had to start again from a different place. I could have taken other decisions but right at that moment I needed an emotional aspect and to process all this internally.
JF: That’s clear because it wasn’t a speculative work.
MC: The projects in which one works with institutions have to be negotiated, which makes them more difficult. Sometimes I can handle them and sometimes I can’t. The exhibition at Galería Luisa Pedrouzo had a completely different tone.
JF: When do you feel that you returned to a platform similar to the one you were developing in the nineties?
MC: In 2009 with the Art and Industry Residence at the Museo Castagnino-Macro at the Cristalería San Carlos in the province of Santa Fe. The working method was to explore the material and its formal possibilities in depth and although it took place in a factory, it worked like a studio. They prepared a space there, I had a mini-studio inside the factory’s time and space. In the glassworks they still do artisanal work, the work is divided by areas with their specific expertise. It’s organized like a business but with a degree of improvisation and flexibility for the artisanal crafts.
Cristalería San Carlos, Santa Fe, 2010.
You’re only there for a short time and you interact very intensely, there’s a lot of exchange of expertise. When, after a discussion about art, an artisan says to you “I won’t look at a glass the same way again,” that’s a big achievement, almost an act of mutual enrichment. Those kinds of experience are the basis for the Art and Industry Programme, Artist Residencies at the Brick Museum that I’ve been coordinating in La Plata since 2013.
At the same time I was working for the Arnet prize for which I entered Pasionaria. That was the same year as the piece at Lake Iseo in Italy.
JF: And meanwhile your daughter Francesca was born the year before…
MC: She was born in 2007. But it’s interesting that it all came together like that. After the glass-making, I started a process (which continues to this day) of collaboration at a metallurgy cooperative where they’re re-establishing the exchange of expertise and apprenticeship. I’ll give you an anecdote to explain: I left a three dimensional passion flower made from epoxy for the metal workshop to make to scale using a scalometre and precision compass overnight. It seemed like a job I could delegate. They made a 1 to 1 model for the central element of the flower and when I arrived I couldn’t believe it! It was a missile! The centre of the flower was a missile! Usually I’m always there but it seemed like something they could do on their own. That was when I remembered something important that my grandfather used to say: “The eye is the decision-maker.” You can do everything perfectly to scale but at some point you’ll have to modify it so that it works at the level of human perception.
Presentation of Pasionaria, Dique 4, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, 2009.
Marcela Cabutti together with her daughter Francesca, Florencia Braga Menéndez, Adriana Lauria, Mercedes Casanegra, Nicolás García Uriburu and the architect Alfredo Garay, among others.
During that year I worked in three spaces outside my studio. I had the exhibition City Bell, then I did Jardines y Jardines. Mañana tarde y noche (Gardens and Gardens. Morning, Noon and Night, 2006) at 713 Arte Contemporáneo.
JF: You’d had ties with Julia Grosso, the director of Galería 713, for some time before then.
MC: 713 Arte Contemporáneo on Calle Defensa was a project that had several different stages. From designer object store in Dios los cría in City Bell in 2003 to Espacio Ecléctico in Palermo in 2005. Some time later, when Luisa Pedrouzo closed her gallery, I joined 713 as a staff artist. The important thing about that project was the collective contribution of the artists involved. We all worked for the same project in the gallery: it was a very enriching process for me, it offered a new energy and new people. The gallery provided plenty of opportunities, it took a lot of risks.
Workshop in Villa Elisa preparing the artwork Jardines Flotantes Post Monet (Nenúfares) (Floating Gardens after Monet (Waterlilies)) for the Municipality of Tigre, 2013.
JF: You also presented your exhibition Mira cuántos barcos aún navegan! (Look at all the Boats Still Sailing!) at 713 in 2008.
MC: I discussed that exhibition very intensely with its curator Lara Marmor. It was a wonderful process because of her perspective, generosity, time and learning process; the way she thought about things. That was the style of the gallery: a working method instilled by Julia [Grosso].
By the middle of 2007 we already had a date for the next year. I like to have time to work and in February 2008, after spending five years restoring my house-studio in Villa Elisa with my own hands, there was a terrible flood and everything was submerged under water. All that work for all those years under water! I was going to put together an exhibition in the same spirit as City Bell or Jardines… but after the flood the project was crisis-stricken. Francesca was a very young baby, the flood, people died… it was like a harbinger of what would happen on a much larger scale in the city of La Plata in April 2013.
I didn’t know where to address it from but I soon began to find out. I remember that I was reading Beauty and Sadness by [Yasunari] Kawabata and an image came to me that concentrated a personal feeling I’d had for a very long time. As well as the flood, another major event happened: the death of a close friend. I think that it was a moment of personal rather than artistic reflection. I’d suffered personal blows before, but this was something else. Once the work was finished and exhibited an unexpected process began that gave me a lot of pleasure: the repercussions spread far beyond me. That was the most gratifying part of the project: the fact that it was exhibited many times afterwards. Like the small scale piece with the geraniums from 2003 that evoked a tiny corner of my childhood. In the installation, it became a focal point for collective identification.
Installation of the work Mira cuántos barcos aún navegan! (Look at all the Boats Still Sailing!), Pisogne, shore of Lake Iseo, Italy, 2009.
JF: It travelled a lot, not just with the exhibition tour but also the educational platform you prepared.
MC: That came about naturally. An architecture studio in Italy saw the work and suggested presenting it on the shore of Lake Iseo, north of Milan, on the pedestrian walkway they were refurbishing. I thought of a way to create a link with the educational community in the area but I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have much time. I asked people to write down anonymous wishes for things that can’t be bought with money on paper boats. With the answers I got (they all surprised me very much, exceeding my expectations) the project became independent. It had so much strength that it became a parallel project.
JF: The idea is like a game, it takes you directly back to your childhood.
MC: You create something and then the project ceases to belong to you. Maybe the part that exceeds the artistic realm makes it more substantial. I can’t do that all the time.
JF: And it’s a work in progress… when the right context and combinations come together it updates itself.
Building with air
JF: Moving on to the present, how did your ties with the Galería Del Infinito, with whom you’re currently working, arise?
MC: When Galería 713 closed, I got in contact with Estela Totah. Then I decided to embark upon the project that includes this book, which gained momentum thanks to the gallery’s organizational work. In 2013 I presented La constatación de las formas (Proving the Forms), my first solo exhibition at Del Infinito. I was very enthusiastic about my work with the Ctibor brick factory in La Plata and I thought that that material would be right for a more installation-style project.
Studio in Villa Elisa: preparation of Menos existen en un solo lugar (Less Exists in a Single Place),a project developed for the Espacio de Arte at the Fundación OSDE, Buenos Aires, 2014.
JF: When we first met for this long conversation you told me about your fantasy of being able to breathe under water and how you felt about it when you were girl: a mixture of fascination and terror. I think that attempt to tame the air runs throughout your work. I also see air in the combustion of bricks, not just in the more obvious forms like PVC and glass.
MC: When I started to work on the exhibition Octas (2012), which was a very special exhibition for me, I could see what you’re saying. Right now I’m working for a large space, Galería Del Infinito’s stand at arteBA, where I’m bringing together architecture, inflatables, columns, glass and brick.
It’s no coincidence that right now I’m being taken back to a period of hopes and expectations when I was pregnant. The images I currently have in my head come from Greek mythology and its visual system: the column, the support.
JF: Well, it was a crucial period in the sciences, when astronomy and astrology were part of the same system of thought.
And thinking of the future, what are your expectations for your work now that you’re looking back over your career for your first monograph and also actively producing new pieces?
MC: I needed to get back into the studio, to spend more time there. I’ve been busy with personal things and now I have to concentrate again and try to dedicate myself exclusively to my work.
I’m enjoying my daughter growing up, I can let go of her hand now and watch her fend for herself a little. That allows me to get back to my art with the same intensity as other periods in my life.
I realized that I loved going to the factory to work, I love taking my work out of context, talking to other people who have nothing to do with art, getting together with an engineer and having him explain where the friction point of an artwork is. I can sense it intuitively but I love having someone explain it to me. I feel that I’m becoming more focused on the details and more perceptive. A friend of mine says that every time I sink underwater I take something back from the submarine experience. It’s an image that gives me a lot of confidence.
In that time I’ve carved a winged dog with doll’s eyes out of brick. Something is getting repeated, a very primitive impulse. Some images from the 1874 transit of Venus appeared; the pure abstraction of love.