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Arte Lisboa: Conversation with Baltazar Torres

Work of Baltazar Torres in Arte Lisboa

AfN: Let's start talking about the fair. Have you already seen it? What do you think about it, compared with editions of previous years?

Baltazar Torres: The level of the fair is increasing. This year we have the Project Rooms curated by Isabel Carlos, something that reinforced the fair. Likewise, there are better galleries now, so it is all in all going better.

AfN: It seems that people are getting tired of attending huge fairs with 150 or 200 participating galleries, and they feel more comfortable in fairs like this one.

Baltazar Torres: Yes. Here, in a smaller fair, there is more closeness with the visitors. They have more time to see, to choose, to decide. You do not get lost; you don't need a plan to know where you are. Everything is close to you. This fair offers a more human scale. It is definitely a good model.

AfN: One can notice that people are not fed up with the fair.

Baltazar Torres: Yes, they are just passing by, quite relaxedly, they do not look tense or tired. You know, people need to see several times the artworks they are interested in; they need to get close to it unhurriedly. It reminds me of the recent Art Cologne - Palma de Mallorca. It was a really high-level, glamorous art fair where people could carefully look at the artworks several times before buying them, without being took up by the usual chaos adherent to big fairs.

AfN: Are you represented at the fair?

Baltazar Torres: Yes, by the gallery Mario Sequeira, from Braga.

AfN: Now I would like to talk about your work. One constant feature of your work is to show the relationship between humans and nature, and how our intervention is affecting the environment dramatically. How do you feel, now that we are realising, particularly in the last years, what we did to our planet? Do you see yourself as a kind of prophet who has been telling us something that now has turned into a terrible reality?

Baltazar Torres: In the late 80s, I started to be very interested in the environment where I live, my world. I started to focus on that way, because there was a lot to say and to do about it through the language of art. Now the situation is much worse, and the effects of our aggression against the planet are more visible than I actually could imagine in those days.

AfN: After the work of people who became aware of the problem has finally been recognised in the last years, like in the case of Al Gore, do you see yourself as a kind of Al Gore with the commitment to explain the problem by making art? Do you think people became aware of it through the contemplation of your work?

Baltazar Torres: I think so. The aim is to create a special dialogue while contemplating my work. I want to transmit a subtle and ironic message, but always with the intention of getting close to the viewer and make him/her think. I think I managed it through this irony.

AfN: That is what I wanted to ask you. Your work broaches issues such as the lack of communication, materialism, alienation, ecocide, etc. But you preferred to express it through a symbolic, ironic and even comic rather than literal way. Why?

Baltazar Torres: Well, the matter is so serious that I have to use subtle mediums to keep talking about it without fear. When we face such a tragedy, we tend to turn our backs and hide our heads in the sand. By using these mechanisms of ironies, symbols, particular scales and materials, and the meticulous finish itself, I try to develop a plastic strategy that would help us to think about it, to read between the lines.

AfN: A literal language raises fewer questions, fewer possibilities of interpretations. It explains one idea above all…

Baltazar Torres: That's it. And you will probably forget this idea when you turn around the corner, because it does not make you think about it a lot.

AfN: All these emerging ideas of materialism, non-communication, alienation, psychosis, are common concepts of modern society. How does it affect you? Are you trying, through your art, to channel all the negative energy transmitted by these antisocial values?

Baltazar Torres: Well, yes, I feel affected. People around me and myself suffer from all these dramatic changes. We can feel them every day. For example, we don't know if we are living in winter or summer any longer, and that upsets us physically and psychologically; you know, seasons were always a point of reference to us when we were children. Now it is difficult to discern, everything is mixed up in chaos. And what about cities? In China they have to use masks in order to breathe; a great percentage of people have respiratory diseases; there is also the problem of land speculation which makes the cities bigger and bigger, like a snowball. All this causes an enormous psychological disorder. People don't even look at each other and say hello, I think it is horrible. No one can stop and finally start thinking about it, start becoming aware of what is happening to us.

AfN: Because we do not have time…

Baltazar Torres: Yes, that is the problem! You know, we have to stop to think about it. We will not get anywhere otherwise.

AfN: And even though "man is a social animal", all we want now is to be alone.

Baltazar Torres: Yes. And that loneliness we long for is due to the emptiness caused by this excess of everything. We cannot take it anymore.

AfN: So, if what emerges from your work is basically a pessimistic vision of our world, do you think that, in your proposal, there is still room for hope?

Baltazar Torres: Definitely, yes. I want people to act differently; I want to transmit a message of hope by pointing out where our mistakes are, and by showing that there is a way to correct them, and to carry on with our life. We are about to destroy, within a few years, an enormous heritage built throughout the centuries. We need to think about the legacy we have got to preserve for future generations.

AfN: To familiarise people with your art. Your working fields are, above all, sculpture and installation. Did you paint lately?

Baltazar Torres: Although I work almost always in the fields you mentioned, I have always drawn; that is the origin of everything I create.

AfN: You have been professor of Drawing at the Fine Arts Faculty of the Universidade do Porto and at the Art School of the Universidade Católica Portuguesa. Your students used to help you in the workshop…

Baltazar Torres: Yes, but I had to leave the university to devote all my time to creative work. Travelling and exhibiting made it impossible for me to combine both passions.

AfN: The obsessive attention to detail you give to your work may prolong a lot the process of its creation…

Baltazar Torres: Yes, it is a very slow process, but it also a process of communication. It is like teaching. It is about transmitting a lot of different concepts, but with even more freedom.

Baltazar Torres and Manuel P. Caballero (Artfacts.Net)

AfN: You and your wife María opened a gallery in Porto two years ago [MCO Arte Contemporánea]. What is the idea behind this project?

Baltazar Torres: The idea was to promote young artists whose first solo exhibitions could be done in the gallery. It is about boosting young art. Each month there are eight solo exhibitions taking place at the same time. We also have a residence for invited artists. We would like to contribute to the exchange of languages between different generations and nationalities in Porto. With the participation of MCO in Arte Lisboa, we add a touch of variety and cheek. Examples such as the emerging artist Antonio Melo whose work is presented in our Project Room this year and made a great impact, are encouraging us to keep working like this.

Interview and translation: Manuel P. Caballero
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