: You’re filming me against a white wall—everything becomes so dramatic when it’s framed against a white wall.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Yes, it just so happens that we’re in a museum, a “white cube.” And in fact, I find the question of the museum very interesting in relation to your work. Does the museum play an important role for you? Do you like going to museums?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes, there was a time when I really liked going to museums. I go less often now because there are far too many people. You have to wait in line, and I find it a real pain to wait in line, whether it’s to go to a museum or to the movies. I prefer going to the movies at eleven in the morning: you can go right in. If you don’t go in the morning, you end up sitting wherever you can, stuck in between people who are sometimes extremely unpleasant, ladies wearing too much perfume. These are all things that get in the way of watching the film. It’s the same with museums. I’ve missed out on quite a few exhibitions because I wasn’t able to find a time when there wouldn’t be too many people and I wouldn’t have to wait in line.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: So you prefer museums that are isolated, not very well-known.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Exactly. It’s something that’s changed a lot over the past several years, since museums have become extremely popular pilgrimage sites. I remember that during my very first visit to Europe in the late sixties, you could decide which museum you wanted to go to at the very last minute. I remember having seen a Max Beckmann
exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in the late sixties [Max Beckmann: Gemälde und Aquarelle der Sammlung Stephan Lackner, USA und Druckgraphik aus dem Besitz der Kunsthalle Bremen, 1966-67]. At the time, it was one of the most important shows of his paintings ever done. At any rate, that’s when I discovered Max Beckmann. I stayed at the Akademie der Künste for half the day, and at no point did I have to push people aside to get close to the paintings. It was possibly the first major Beckmann retrospective in Europe.
[Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster enters the room.]
Edgardo Cozarinsky: I was wondering if we should do the interview in French or English. Because I’m pretty comfortable in English. I heard you speaking in English, so I thought…
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, we can speak in English. Hans Ulrich and I almost always speak in English.
[Edgardo Cozarinsky opens a bottle of champagne.]
Edgardo Cozarinsky: This is for Dominique, and this is for Hans Ulrich. And this, of course, is for me—I’ll keep the bottle next to my chair! Have you got everybody in the frame?
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: To your fantastic new film!
Edgardo Cozarinsky: To our meeting!
Hans Ulrich Obrist: To begin at the beginning, I should say that this is part of a larger interview project involving conversations with artists, architects, writers, and scientists. This time around, I thought it would be interesting to do a trialogue rather than a dialogue. This came about because Dominique kept telling me about your books, especially about Urban Voodoo—we were quite obsessed with this book. We’re really delighted that you’ve accepted our invitation.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: For me it’s very important because I had an instant crush on Dominique when we met two years ago. I have to say, I was not very happy with Le Fresnoy. But the time I spent with Dominique there was the highlight of my stay.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: You know, I’ve given as a present to I don’t know how many people. And the great thing is that each person likes a different story the best. It always says something about the reader.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: And what’s your favorite story?
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: I think the first one, the most romantic one.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: It’s also my favorite story. But most of my friends seem to prefer “Days of 1937.”
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Oh yes.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: The book is coming out in English in January, so I’m going to be in London for a week for the presentation.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Did you find a good translator, or did you translate it yourself?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: No, I can’t do it myself. It’s an Englishman who has translated a lot from Spanish, especially from Latin America. And I’m very pleased with the translation, though actually I think the French translation is closest to the original. It’s very good in French.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, it’s beautiful. I think that, between the film and the book, there are some...
Edgardo Cozarinsky: … close connections.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: But it’s not a script.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: That’s right, though one story, called “Budapest,” has the same narrative material. I’m very attracted to narratives. A lot of what has been considered modern in writing and in art has been non-narrative, against the narrative. I’ve always found this seductive, but at the same time I’ve known it’s not my territory. You see, I always want to tell stories, though this doesn’t mean I tell them in a straightforward way. I want to tell about people, about places, and about what happens to them—especially in terms of their imaginary life, which I think is the real life. What we read about in the newspapers and what happens in public spaces aren’t necessarily the real thing.
In the case of the film you saw the other day, , I had this idea of creating characters whose life stories have absolutely nothing to do with each other and seeing if I could work out possible points of internal connection. And the point of connection is the characters’ relationship to the past. The young man, for example, doesn’t have his own past, but he wants to eradicate a past he has somehow inherited from his family. The older people, the ones who are as old as me, have a past that is too obvious, too heavy for them; they want to get rid of it, but it just keeps coming back. And so the film deals with the question of how to negotiate with a past that is either your own or one you have inherited. And, of course, it starts with one character and then goes on to a second character twenty minutes later and then a third character half an hour on, and you watch them intertwine. It’s not obvious and it’s not a very traditional, but it’s the way I like to tell a story. Now the next one I’m making takes place during twelve hours in one night.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Your next film?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes. It’s going to be something quite different.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: And which city is it going to take place in?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: In Buenos Aires, on a summer night between the moment the sun sets and the moment it rises next day. It’s shot mostly in the street. It’s quite different from what I’ve done so far.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Could you tell us more about your beginnings? You said that you had a late start. What do you mean by that, exactly?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Well, I was a student of literature at Buenos Aires University. I was very timid. I didn’t trust myself. And then, at the age of twenty-seven, I decided that wasn’t the life I wanted to lead. I didn’t want to be a university professor—I didn’t want to be a writer of essays, however interesting they could be. And, most of all, I didn’t want to be an intellectual. So I left Buenos Aires and spent a year wandering around Europe.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Which year was this?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: I was born in 1939, so this was 1966. So from September 1966 to June 1967 I went from one country to another.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Like a wandering monk.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Well, I had a scholarship from the Swedish Film Institute, which helped me with the plane ticket. But then the scholarship was used up and I started work as a dishwasher at a very interesting restaurant with live shows in the center of Stockholm. At some point, I went by train to Berlin, which is where I saw the Beckmann retrospective. After that, I was in Paris for a little while. I wandered around, and then when I returned to Argentina, I realized that I couldn’t go back to my old life. So I started working, spending half of my time in journalism and the other half trying to set up an independent production—my first underground film, which I only got to make three years later. But journalism was very, very useful, because I was accustomed to the secluded and protective atmosphere at the university, where you have lots of time to work on a single subject. Working for a newspaper…
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: …is the opposite!
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Exactly! They tell you: “So-and-so is dead—you’re the right person to write about him. We need three pages by seven.” So it’s two o’clock, you have five hours to write, and without doing any research you have to come up with something that’s original, straightforward, and attracts attention. This was very useful for me. And then in 1974, I left for Europe and moved to Paris. I wasn’t all that young anymore—I mean, I was thirty-five when I left. At an age where most people think life is settled, I started anew, from scratch. And what’s strange is I feel like I could go on like that, so every ten years there’s a shift in direction. Maybe I haven’t done everything I wanted to do in my life, but I’m not completely dissatisfied with what I have done.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: That leads directly to the only question I ask again and again in my interviews: about unrealized projects. Could you tell us about your unrealized projects—projects that were too big or too small to be realized, or projects that were self-censored, impossible, or utopian?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: My utopia would involve being happy and realizing it at the time, because happiness is something I always recognize afterwards, when I’m no longer happy [laughter]. I always think, “I was happy then,” “I was happy in that place,” “I was happy that year,” or “I was happy with that person.” But by then the year is no longer there, the place has vanished, and the person is gone, perhaps even more definitely than the place. But to be more to the point, I think I’d like to shoot a film at the extremes of the world: in the Arctic Ocean in Siberia, or in Tierra del Fuego, in deepest Patagonia. I’d like to be in situations where the challenge of nature, the physical challenge of nature is felt very deeply. And I think I’d like to shoot in black and white, without dialogue and only with music.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: When you were talking about the two extreme regions where you’d like to shoot, I immediately thought of what Philippe Parreno
, one of my friends, told me about the magnetic poles flipping [laughter]. It’s something nobody really talks about, but it’s apparently an important geological event. It’s something that happens to the sun every eleven years and to the earth only every 20,000 years. Sometime Philippe
is a bit apocalyptic, but I checked on the internet and I found a number of articles about it. It’s not something that will happen quickly; it takes something more like 500 years.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: That’s fascinating. I wonder what you could do with it in terms of images. Is it going to be visible or is a pole just a pole is a pole?
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Well, as you know, the earth has a magnetic field that shields us from solar radiation, and when you go to the poles you can see the auroras in the night sky. If we lost the magnetic shield, we’d see this phenomenon everywhere—not just at the poles, but in Paris, too.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: But you know there’s already something curious that’s been happening in the South Atlantic for more than ten years now—the hole in the ozone layer. It means you have to be very careful with the sun when you go outside.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, I read an article about southern Argentina and how there are places where you can’t go outside anymore without wearing a hat and sunscreen. The children grow up with sun glasses and sunscreen being a permanent fixture of their lives.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: What role has science fiction played in your writing?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: None at all. I like science fiction, but I think it’s more interesting in movies.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Have you ever thought of doing a science-fiction film?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: No, I don’t plan on doing anything like that, perhaps because I already see enough science fiction taking place around me in daily life.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: I’d like to shift gears and talk about Argentina in the mid-twentieth century. I’m interested in knowing more about the cultural, artistic, and literary scene there in the fifties and sixties, and about the bridges between science, art, and literature. I interviewed Gyula Kosice
some time ago, and I’ve also interviewed Brazilians, such as Walter Zanini
, who spoke a great deal about the importance of the Torcuato Di Tella Institute. And then, of course, there’s [Lucio] Fontana
and [Jorge Luis] Borges
—the incredible avant-garde period in Buenos Aires. Were you related to that? I’ve always had this idea that Argentina was the place to be at the time.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: What I said earlier about not recognizing something until it’s gone applies to this, as well. The Buenos Aires I was brought up in was a city of art and culture; it was full of people who spoke several languages and were more or less aware of what was happening in the rest of the world. It’s the country where Borges
was brought up and made. When I left Argentina as a teenager, I didn’t realize that this was already vanishing. With the whole political movement in the late sixties, there was a return to provincialism—a paradoxical thought when you consider that Argentina is a made up of immigrants.
You know, the people you mentioned are all very different, and it’s quite extraordinary that you should mention them all together. It helps me to see in perspective what I feel about Argentina. For instance, Fontana was from an Italian family from Rosario, which is the second industrial city in the country. It’s an incredible place, on the Paraná river—four hours by bus from Buenos Aires, or two hours by car on the highway. In the twenties it was the big mafia city. It had the most luxurious and most expensive brothels in the whole country. Most of the girls arrived through international prostitution channels to Argentina. They were sent to Rosario, and if they weren’t accepted in the brothels there, they went on to Buenos Aires. At the time, Rosario was called the “Argentine Chicago.” Members of the stuffier upper class used to say it was because they had the meat-packing exports, but in truth it was because of the gangsters.
Anyway, the Di Tella Institute was the enterprise of two sons of the Italian industrialist Torcuato Di Tella, who manufactured the first home appliances and cars in Argentina. It became a bastion of the avant-garde, where you could go with any sort of project—an installation, an exhibition, or a play—and you’d find a place. You’d have the director of the music section telling you, “No, we can’t produce this, it’s too much, but perhaps if you get in touch with the theater department we can discuss it.” It was that kind of open atmosphere.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Were you involved in any way?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes, I was close to them, and I knew people who were at the institute, some of whom are still close friends. Marilú Marini, who’s an actress now in Paris, did her first dance recitals there. And when I made my first underground film, most of the people in it came from the institute. And then there was Borges
, who of course was from a much older generation. He wasn’t keen on what we would now call modern art. The great paradox is that his work announces the most extraordinary developments in what we would describe as modern and post-modern art theory, but he was not aware of that.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Did you meet Borges
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes, we saw each other very often in the sixties. I met him because I became close to Adolfo Bioy Casares, one of his best friends. Adolfo’s wife was Silvina Ocampo, and I was invited rather often to have dinner at their place, together with Borges
. And then I followed his classes of English literature at the university. Aside from his knowledge, his utter indifference to theory, and a kind of politically incorrectness, I remember a remarkable incident in 1967 when Che Guevara
was killed in Bolivia. A group of militant left-wing students entered the university and insisted, “Everything has to stop! We should all mourn because our great hero has been killed!” Borges
told them, “We can stop everything if you say so, but only after I’ve finished my class. There are still twenty minutes left.” It was at night, and they threatened to cut the electricity, but Borges
simply said, “That won’t bother me—I had the sense to go blind beforehand” [laughter].
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: You just mentioned Adolfo Bioy Casares
. I read his novel The Adventures of a Photographer in La Plata, which I really enjoyed because of how it approaches the city through photography. It led me to do some research on La Plata. I discovered that it’s a entirely planned city.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: And totally colorless.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: I read that it has a miniature city with miniature buildings for children, which may have been inspired by Disney World. Did you ever hear about that? It’s like Tivoli Gardens.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: But the real city is so boring.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Really? Because I’ve been dreaming of going there.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Actually the title of the book is meant as a joke for Argentine readers, because La Plata would never be associated with the possibility of adventure. It’s the plainest administrative city you can imagine: all they have is an archaeology and anthropology museum with the remains of prehistoric animals. It’s the only interesting thing about the city. I’ve been there a few times, just for work purposes, and I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to live there. The idea of having an adventure in La Plata is out of the question.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Is Bioy Casares still alive?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: No, he died four years ago, in 1999.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Was he a very important writer for you?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes and no. I would say he was important to me because he was a very well-known writer, and of course I was very flattered by his friendship. But he was more of a challenge for me than an influence, because he had very traditional tastes. On the other hand, he was surrounded by a kind of myth. People said he was a Don Juan, a womanizer, and that he had sex three or four times a day. I don’t know if this is true or not. But the whole legend about him was very interesting to me.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Would it be fair to say that, in Urban Voodoo, the postcard is somehow the medium through which the book is written? Could I ask you to tell us more about the city and the postcard?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: I really like the cliché. I’m not afraid of showing the Eiffel Tower for Paris, or that terrible white obelisk in the centre of the city for Buenos Aires. Of course, anyone who professes good taste would say, “If you show Buenos Aires, you can’t show that obelisk—it’s so ghastly.” But so what? I think there’s an aesthetic truth to discovering clichés in common places, and I like to deal with them to see how they influence your imagination. When I was working on Urban Voodoo, I inserted the postcards just because I felt that there were these really strong feelings about places—a moment, a feeling, a place in Paris, a place you want to remember in Buenos Aires, seeing a movie, meeting somebody.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Did you see that film by the oldest Portuguese filmmaker?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: By Manoel de Oliveira
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, it’s called . Did you see the scene where four people—Catherine Deneuve, Irene Papas, Stefania Sandrelli, and John Malkovitch—all speak together in their own language: English, German, Italian, and Greek? They answer each other in their own language. It’s so natural. It’s a wonderful scene.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: That sounds very interesting, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’m very curious about languages, especially about things you can say in one language but not in another. It’s obvious, of course, but at the same time it’s magical. If I speak in a certain language, I’m bound to be more explicit about certain things, and in another language I’m going to be more explicit about others.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Sometimes you feel like it’s more the language talking you than you talking the language.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Exactly! In English, you can invent words more easily than in French. In French, the syntax and the way you organize your discourse is what’s important. You can say anything through the way you organize your speech. When I speak Spanish, I’m completely wild. And, for me, English is more of a reading language. I started reading when I was a child—things like Treasure Island. The language I love most but seldom have a chance to speak is Italian.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: One important thing we have in common is that we all speak many languages and can move in and out of these different personalities. I think we’re very, very fortunate. It would be so fantastic if everyone could grow up with two or three languages and not to be bound to one system or one accent.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Well, you know my native language is Spanish, but the first time I went to Spain was long before the long wave of political exiles began to arrive. Back then, people weren’t used to hearing an Argentine accent, and when I spoke people they say, “Oh, you speak very good Spanish for an Italian!" You see, the Argentine accent is very flowing; there are none of the really harsh sounds of the Spanish spoken in Spain. It’s all very, very soft. But nowadays they identify you before you can even open your mouth. At the time, though, they were very curious. One thing I’ve never tried to do is to loose an accent, because they say it’s almost impossible for someone who’s lived up to a certain age speaking only one language. And, after all, what is the advantage of speaking like someone who was born with the language and can speak it with no effort at all? I’d rather keep my barbarian accent in whichever language I’m speaking, and that’s it.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, I try to convince people that accents are charming. Whenever they feel embarrassed about speaking in a foreign language, I tell them, “But listen, when I speak, you like my accent. It’s not a problem for you, and you’ve told me it’s charming, so think of yourself as having the same charm.”
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Exactly, I don’t know why we should be bothered by this question of accent. I think the important thing is to be understood, and so we should speak as clearly and properly as possible. But an accent is like the color of your eyes; it’s something that comes with you and tells people where you’re from.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Yes, I was thinking about that. I grew up in Switzerland and people don’t accept you if you speak quickly. But I’m unable to speak slowly, so I had to leave the country [laughter]. Anyway, aside from this joke, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit more about language and exile, which are themes you play with a lot—voluntary and involuntary exile.
Edgardo Cozarinsky: I’ve always thought of language as a place—a real place where you can see doors opening to all different kinds of experiences. When I was a child in school we were given books to read in Spanish. They were children’s books and were horrible. But in English I was given books like Treasure Island by Stevenson, so I had this feeling, however unjust, that English was the language of fiction. So even though I didn’t speak it very fluently as a child, I read a lot in English. For me it was the language of imagination, of literature, of poetry. I didn’t discover what’s best in Spanish until I was a young man. I learned to love French later. As to German, I never learned it properly, but I do read bilingual editions. It’s what professors call passive learning. I recognize German, but unlike English or French, it’s not like a reservoir waiting to be used. I can make up phrases, but generally they’re wrong. Nevertheless, I can read poetry in bilingual editions, helping myself with the translation to recognize things.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: If you look at the momentum of the avant-garde in the twentieth century, there has almost always been a link between art and literature. It was there with surrealism, and especially with Dada. Today, however, although there are a lot of links between art and architecture, between art and science, and between art and music, the collaboration between art and literature seems to be missing. Have you ever worked with together with artists?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: Unfortunately, no. I would love to work with musicians or with architects. I’d like to be able to plan imaginary buildings, buildings that aren’t practical, buildings to dream in. I’d like that very much.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: I can see that!
Edgardo Cozarinsky: As to musicians, I’m a music lover and I listen to a lot of music—I work with a lot of music. But it’s always me who chooses; there’s no dialogue in the sense of a traditional give and take. As far as literature goes, I think I’m satisfied with my own self [laughter]. But architecture and music are really things I’d be interested in. I’d love get a proposal from an architect who says, “Let’s work together and invent something!”—or from a musician: “I’ll give you this music. Try and invent an action, or a narrative!” The music wouldn’t illustrate the action, but vice versa.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Perhaps we can conclude with a question about the interview itself. When I visited the German philosopher [Hans-Georg] Gadamer
, he was 102 years old. He probably thought we just came to see him because he was 102. He had such a great sense of humor. Anyway, I spoke with him about the idea of the interview as way to produce knowledge. He said that the big problem with interviews is that the silence is so essential, but you can never get it transcribed. How do you feel about this?
Edgardo Cozarinsky: You’re recording the silence right now, and that’s important. That’s what the video can do and the transcription can’t. You’re recording the silence, you’re recording me as I look at you, and then at Dominique. This is very important. I don’t want to belittle the format, but I think interviews often make people feel like an object, treat them like an object. Of course, this is not the case here, because this is more like a conversation, and I feel I know Dominique rather well. I hadn’t met you before, but I knew about you and what you’ve accomplished. And our conversation is very open and fluid. I guess I think of interviews mostly from the perspective of journalism. When you’re being interviewed because of a movie or book you’ve just brought out, you can’t help but feel you should say something good about it, to promote it. It’s sad, perhaps, but that’s the society we live in. Here, I can speak about my travel, my background, or whatever comes to mind at the moment—it’s a bit like free association.