A Conversation between Pere Portabella and Vicenç Altaió
Barcelona, 22 February 2019
Art, Film and Politics in the Context of and with Regard to the Spanish Pavilion at the 1958 Venice Biennale
We found ourselves in the dark night of the Franco dictatorship dominated by Castilianity and the cross: National Catholicism. A new generation, which hadn’t fought in the Civil War, was starting to emerge—at the end of the 1950s—with a position that was critical of the political system and an original artistic language similar to the new international aesthetic tendencies. A far cry from the academic art of the copy and of the art pompier of the black economy which decorated, willy-nilly, the houses of many an arriviste. Despite the oppressive atmosphere and international isolation, since Spain had remained outside the victorious group in the Second World War and consequently outside the Marshall Plan, the dictatorship managed, in the dialectic of the two blocs brought about by the Cold War, to establish diplomatic bridges for geopolitical and economic reasons.
The 1950s mark a genuine mutation in the artistic and cultural field. Already in 1948 Dalí returned from the States with a newly created method, mystical atomism, with which he reconciles American technological Darwinism and the Spanish Catholic Counterreformation; meanwhile, travelling in the opposite direction, a reborn Miró takes himself off to New York and becomes a European reference for the young artists of free painting on the other side of the Atlantic. In Barcelona the young artists milling around the magazine Dau al Set, seeking after a link with the avant-garde of post-surrealist, magical and oneiric inspiration—just like the literary group of Postism—start shifting towards more existentialist and more personal positions with a strong commitment to reality and experimentation. Em va fer Joan Brossa is the standout title in the work of a poet who affirms himself among the collective, the mass, and who, like Tàpies, explores a personal and anonymous graphic style using paltry materials.
But the USA establishes diplomatic relations with Spain and the Eucharistic Congress is held in Barcelona. The free market and Catholicism join hands, lending a patina of legitimacy to Francoist fascism. The Christian Democrats, who had been at the centre of the reconstruction of West Germany, break the hegemony of the outdated Falangists in the central government. In the bifurcation between dominant ideology and subversive aesthetic freedom, abstract art asserts itself in parallel. Tàpies wins the Spanish American Biennial held in Barcelona in 1955, the year in which Spain enters the UN. At that time Michel Tapié brought together, in a programmatic grouping of individualities, many artists around the concept of art autre (informal art). Or better yet: Informalism as an ism, a term he’d coined in the exhibition Signifiants de l’informel held in Paris in 1951. Among the French, Mathieu and Fautrier; among the Americans, De Kooning and Pollock; among the Spanish, Millares, Feito, Canogar, Tharrats, Saura and Tàpies. The 1957 group show, entitled Art Autre, could be seen in Barcelona and Madrid. The Basque sculptor Chillida had already exhibited at Maeght in Paris. It is now that the El Paso group (1957-1960) is founded in Madrid and the Grupo Parpalló (1956-1961) in Valencia. Curated by González Robles, the Spanish Pavilion at the São Paulo Biennial is extremely well received, a true international success for Spain as a political entity. The Basque artist Oteiza wins the sculpture prize. The sculptor enters the MoMA collection. The critic Aguilera Cerni publishes the book Arte norteamericano del siglo XX. North America and Southern Europe come together with a shared informal language which expresses, all rolled into one, the subjective search of Abstract Expressionism, through colour and gesture, and the expression of pain and alienated angst of lyrical abstraction, in the weight of matter and the écriture of the stain in space. Freedom and formlessness.
In this sequence of historic, political, cultural and artistic events, and of individual enquiries and evocations, which extends all together in different lines, coalescing at times in magazines and groups, at other times in friendships and there again in difference, the Spanish Pavilion at the 29th Venice Biennale represents a culminating point and intersection of such accumulations, complicities and tensions. Under the curatorship of González Robles, of the Museo Nacional de Arte Contemporáneo (redefined in 1952 as being art of the twentieth century), and organized by the General Directorate of Cultural Assets of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a selection of Spanish Abstract artists of the time was shown.
In the catalogue of the 1958 Biennale the art critic Luis González Robes points out that Spanish art, of a high aesthetic level, has as a permanent feature, be it in figuration or in abstraction, an ethics and a number of constants that are asserted in its rigour, austerity and spontaneous simplicity. In the selection the curator classifies the artists within the tendencies of “figurative expressionism” (Cossío, Ortega Muñoz and Guinovart) and regroups and subdivides the abstract artists into “dramatic abstraction” (Canogar, Millares, Saura, Suárez, Tàpies and Vela), “romantic abstraction” (Cuixart, Feito, Planasdurà, Tharrats and Vaquero Turcios), and “geometric abstraction” (Farreras, Mampaso, Povedano and Rivera). And lastly adds Chillida, who, according to him, is an amalgam of rigour and freedom. Thus, in a programmatic way the new artists reencounter tradition.
The pavilion is recognized and is an indisputable artistic success: Chillida is deserving of the sculpture prize, Tàpies of the second prize for painting, and Aguilera Cerni the prize for art criticism. Domestically speaking it is considered a political triumph: in Spain there is an inventiveness at work in which young artists are totally free (aesthetics) and find their national cultural origin in tradition (ethics). The confluence of the terms in a political projection will unsettle the artists.
The following years are to constitute an authentic international projection for a number of these
artists. The exhibition 13 pintores españoles actuales (1959) travelled to Paris, Basel, Munich, Oslo and Santiago de Compostela, while in New York one could see Before Picasso; After Miró (1960) at the Guggenheim and New Spanish Painting and Sculpture (1960) at MoMA. Plus Modern Spanish Painting at the Tate in London. Saura and Tàpies no longer wish to participate and their presence proceeds from different collections.
These have been years of projection for Spanish culture. The Spanish Pavilion at the IX Triennial of Milan (1951) had been awarded first prize. It is the work of the Catalan architect José Antonio Coderch and as his collaborator he relies upon an ex-communist condemned to death, Rafael Santos Torroella, poet and art critic: housed in an exceptional piece of architecture, rationalist in style, works of popular ceramics are shown alongside modern pieces like Ferrant’s mobile and Romanesque art. In short, the modern and primitive, the popular and artistic.
Along with architecture, design and art, cinema will also triumph. Regionalist Spain in black and white was contrasted with a doleful kind of painting that had nothing solar or touristic about it. Significantly, Films 59 was founded in the same year as the pavilion. Thanks to Pere Portabella the film producer, there was the release of Los golfos (1959) by Carlos Saura, brother of the painter Antonio Saura, El cochecito (1960) by Marco Ferreri, and we have to emphasize Viridiana (1961), by Luis Buñuel, in exile in Mexico, with which he gains the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, along with the unanimous applause of both public and jury. For all that, the movie, deemed to be anticlerical by the official newspaper of the Vatican City, will be banned in Spain and the filmmaker denied a passport. Where abstract art gets past the censors, literature and film—bearers of reality—are not regarded favourably by the regime.
Later on, in 1967, Portabella, with a script by the experimental poet Joan Brossa, took his first steps as a director and also began a close collaboration with the composer Carles Santos: No compteu amb els dits. Nocturn 29 (1968), Vampir Cuadecuc (1970) and Umbracle (1972) will follow it, and also, with ’68 in full swing, he recorded Concert irregular on the occasion of the opening of the Miró exhibition at Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where in order to create the sound they destroyed a piano. A short film stands out for its gestural editing, Miró l’altre (1969), and later on, in 1970, a secret recording is made of a poetry festival, Poetes catalans, which had the backing of the non-legalized political parties and which was a major demonstration of cultural resistance to Francoism in support of freedom of expression and public use of the Catalan language. Its success was resounding, with people shouting “Freedom!” and “Amnesty!” The filmmaker was a member of the Grup de Treball, considered as the conceptualist collective in Catalan art. Portabella is arrested as a member of the Assemblea de Catalunya. Later on he was elected senator by a part of the forces of progress in the first general elections after the Franco dictatorship.
In order to chat about the relationship between art and politics, art and film, I am getting together with Pere Portabella, an exceptional witness of those years, who has continued with a career in cinema that equals the artistic researches of Tàpies, the poetic researches of Brossa, and the musical researches of Carles Santos. We go into the apartment-cum-studio of the filmmaker and producer, where first-rate artworks vie with posters of the films he has made.
Vicenç Altaió (VA): When Spain took part in the 1958 Venice Biennale you were all very young. Among the artists closest to you, Tàpies is 34, Chillida 34, Cuixart 32, Millares 32 and Saura 27. You are 31, born in Figueres in 1927, the year by which an extremely heterogeneous generation of Spanish poets is known, the generation of the neo-popular and at the same time avant-garde poets Lorca and Alberti. There’s a line by the latter: “I was born—respect me!—with the cinema.”
Pere Portabella (PP): Me too. In actual fact I was born with the movie soundtrack. I come into the world at the precise moment films are seen and heard.
VA: Now you’re close on 90, which permits us to look at the film of the story at two distinct moments in time: the time of that present as an active document that has had a future and, at the same time, that of today, in retroactive, critical and fragmentary form. Situate the exhibition for us.
PP: At a certain moment the Opus section of the dictatorship realizes that in one way or another there’s pressure from without and that it’s necessary to try and open up not only the image but above all the economic aspects of the country. The art world begins to have a certain interest in what’s being done here because there are no specialized galleries. Here, our bourgeoisie was blithely carrying on buying classical art and landscapes and still lifes, passing what was happening by, not even noticing it. This exhibition responds as a summons and thereafter the international galleries enter, cossetted by the ministries of culture, mainly the French one, and they come rushing to buy works by Tàpies and the whole generation of Informalists. They are called that because they practise a dematerialization of sorts of what the rupture
VA: We mustn’t forget that there’d been the Civil War, followed by the dictatorship, and that one was hoping that the victory of the Allies in
the Second World War would open up the regime and bring it down. And instead the dictatorship subsists. At that moment we have entered a new phase in the duration and legitimization of an obsolete political system. And of impetus and criticism on the part of young artists.
PP: There’s something extremely important that has to be said. Up until then, until Duchamp, art was moving through institutional space and among the haute-bourgeoise, ostentation was even given to aspects that possess a liturgy and a staging typical of the religious world and the absolute monarchies. A function of art had been generated that was symbolically linked to its interests, which were all but a mystery for the rest of the people. But then a very important event occurs, if one looks closely: the figure of the curator appears.
The curator is the art critic who perceives that things are getting out of control. A few of them enter into an area of influence and serve the interests of the multinationals who invest money, at the same time as the institutions provide resources based on subsidies. All this works very well. Aligned with transgressive tendencies, other art critics, meanwhile, keep to a path at odds with the interests of the market and of taste. The curator is an intermediary figure, he’s the one who sets the whole thing up.
VA: Is he the strategic bit of the politics of culture?
PP: A very important builder in the Basque country, Ugarte, already had a crucial attitude previous to all this. He was subsidizing Chillida before, for example. Do you recall Oteiza talking about a representative symbolic constructivism… and he made a brutal denunciation of speculation, of the commercialization of art? Sculpture is an occupation of space and space can’t be bought or sold. So he was living from symbolic funerary steles. They marked the territorial boundaries and marked the entire geography of the Basque Country. And this nuance is relevant, the two talk about the forge and iron, both are creators and are workers who work the material and have a special taste for the actual material. Something that doesn’t occur in Tàpies at all.
VA: When you speak of the figure of the curator I take it you’re highlighting the role González Robles plays in his selection and interpretation.
PP: González Robles is a crucial figure. And he’s the one who blankets everything. The only one who has a European reception, regardless of his ideological ideas and interests. He enables the whole structure of Francoism and the cultural world to enter… and he created a cast-iron structure. And that we were unable to take on board.
VA: Spain had remained totally isolated until the fifties and in those years diplomatic relations with the USA began to be established, which will be key for dynamizing the economy and bringing about a change of cultural significance.
PP: Eisenhower came as president, I think it was him, a visit within the framework of the European Community, in which Spain was a dictatorship pure and simple, unequivocally so.
VA: Pure and simple. Eisenhower was the general who, with the Allies, had defeated the Nazis and the Italian Fascists, the allies of Franco. The dictator was dressed in uniform and the president in civvies. The stop the American president made was meant to force the alignment of states within the unstable framework of the Cold War. This political endorsement of an anti-communist dictatorship was accompanied by the reactivation of the economy, and this is where Opus Dei and the technocrats began to play a role, to the detriment of the fascist ideological party, the Falange. And all this occurs a few months after the international success of the Spanish pavilion at the Biennale. Televisión Española broadcast the visit, also through the European network.
PP: And this is the way the setting up of American bases was guaranteed on the part of the United States. You must always seek the essence, later on that draws sustenance from part of the collaterals, which are also of use, as it was to guarantee, with the end of the World War, having a good base in all of the north of Africa.
VA: The relationship with France wasn’t good for either the United States or Spain, and neither with Morocco. With American bases in the peninsula one controlled all of north Africa and all of the Mediterranean area, with the two radars, in the El Pení military base near Cadaqués and another one lower down, in Rota. Actually, it also went into operation in 1959, with personnel from the 16th United States Air Force Division. Eisenhower’s visit came in for a lot of prior criticism from British diplomats and later on from Democrat congressmen and personalities from the cultural and political world on account of what supporting a dictatorship meant.
There’s something that’s always captured my attention, which is precisely when Dalí returns to Catalonia in 1949 (the same year the Dau al Set group is founded), after several years in the United States, the artist had already abandoned Surrealism and invents a new method, like paranoia-criticism had been earlier on, which will be atomic mysticism. Dalí conjoins two impossible worlds: an atomism deriving from military-technological development and the Catholic thinking of the Counterreformation. In fine, the Francoist pirouette. On the other hand the artists of the New York School, heirs to the European exiles of the Second World War, take from Surrealism not magic and subversive motifs but rather the expressive freedom of painting which, in the European case, without optimism as to meaning, will develop into abstract Informalism; that is to say, into a gesturality without semantics.
PP: Here we have an important issue. In the past there’s the encounter of Dalí, Buñuel and Lorca in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid. There begins the story. It’s a founding moment. The economist Keynes, in 1930, immediately after the Crash, gives a lecture there on the possible economic situation of his grandchildren in which he announces that the economy will permit the workers, earning the same, not to work more than fifteen hours a week in 2030. And Einstein also went there to give his great lecture, in which he dealt with the global time of climate change.
Dalí! He’s an attractive figure because he’s one of those characters who are very popular, of those who are improper from head to toe but who take extremes to the most parodic, most nonsensical, extreme. He has them coexist by means of of gestuality, phonetics, theatre. The theatricalization of the figure himself.
In one of his trips Dalí tells Buñuel he’s seen his hand swarming with ants. And the other man says to him, “Do you know what? I’ve seen the moon and a cloud, as if a razor were cutting your eye in two.”
Duchamp, on the other hand, doesn’t accept that in the least. He calls the meaningless art object entirely into question. What’s important here is that if I move a single object I provoke a decontextualization; and if I observe it, that’s art.
VA: As I understand it, are you saying that this Informalist abstract art is decontextualized from the place it occupies and from what we understand as reality? Or is it a way of confronting the material, something real rather than a symbolic object?
PP: You already know that here, after Duchamp, there are all the movements of rupture; some, for example, a group of Informalists, create a sort of dematerialization but maintain the material. Surrealism, for example, before, appears as, so to speak, a psychological and theoretical element that facilitates a brutal revision of reality on the basis of the unconscious, and a fantastic approximation to the imagery of the surreal. That is, a displacement towards realism occurs. This is something very much my own, in some films what is at stake is a realism of results. (Did that last sentence get written down? I like the conversation a lot because it takes place inside and outside, above all when we break that crust of saying “that is separate”).
VA: Of course! Let’s backtrack: abstraction as an art of language and, therefore, abstract, outside of semantic reality, right? This abstract art is out of place, it’s as if there had been such a high tension deriving from the war, from misery… it’s a slightly delocalized art. That was what I believed but afterwards when I read, for example, González Robles’s text, he undertakes a strategic defense of this pavilion and points out that, over and above abstract art, he is speaking of an ethic in Spanish art that stems from rigour, austerity and a spontaneous simplicity. That is to say, I realize that he in some way positions abstract language when he states, “No, no. It’s not that it’s universal, it’s that the art those artists make is congenitally Spanish.”
PP: All this, in spite of the fact that it’s, let’s say, a “congenitally Spanish” language, comes from a mentality that tries not to call into question the most important thing, which is in what moment you’re speaking of the context. He constructs a narrative which gives explanations of the art world to a sector of the market, namely they don’t understand it but it sounds good, I’m referring to the fact that this is important: the word “abstraction” as a cellophane wrapping.
Montaigne, four centuries ago: culture founds us as human beings. Abstraction is a fantastic element that you can never remove from the human condition as a species. And it emerges from what is complicated and it enters into complexity, which is what enriches you. You have to pass through abstraction, and on the basis of that way of looking you see, you compare, you situate and you create a new space.
Because abstraction is a poem or a foolish remark. I’ve made films that are not understood because they’re based on abstraction and subtraction… and furthermore it’s not essential to understand anything; you have to venture forth, like Miró and Romanesque art, for instance, and create a marvellous abstraction: imaginative, symbolic, the eyes on the wings. A fantastic symbolism.
VA: It’s the waywardness that’s found, for example, when, apropos of that Millares canvas you have in your collection, you say, “I don’t know if those trousers are mine or his.” Are they yours? His?
PP: No, no, “these are my trousers,” Manolo Millares said to me. “And, as you’ll understand, I’d soon as give them to a great friend.”
VA: I really like this concept, what we see as abstract but which in reality proceeds from this reality.
PP: It’s important because it’s abstract art and matter.
VA: Let’s see, you who are a filmmaker and who, therefore, work with “captured” images… which are those that people can get to understand, that form part of real life, you’ve worked them using the two great languages: art and politics. The more aesthetic facet and the political, but they are one and the same. You were working as a producer in films of a so-called critical realism and, immediately the period of the triumph of abstraction, you begin working with Brossa.
PP: In 1992, in an interview, I referred to the fact that the traditional scriptwriter will situate the anecdote as a crucial element for development, but what I was after was the complete opposite: the level of tangential suggestions, the connotations, the interdisciplinary aspects, the visual-musical concatenation, all the perfectly licit, although unusual, material that enables the viewer to experience a dialectic between what he sees and what crosses his mind. I needed, then, an alternative structure to the traditional one, and only a poet who was also an alternative to the professionals was able to help me find it. And so I called Brossa.
It’s evident that Brossa’s link with cinema was the result of his enthusiasm as
a spectator and not as a director or vocational scriptwriter. Although in 1948 he’d certainly written two literary proposals for a film script, Gart and Foc al càntir. Those two old Brossa scripts were not intended to be filmed. I understand them, above all, in the context of his visual poetry and of irregular theatre, which is also constructed with sequences; I believe, moreover, that Brossa’s visual sensibility is very strong but not necessarily cinematic. He ended up creating images without passing through the mechanism of cinema. Brossa fulfils himself, in actual fact, by removing the poems from the written page and soon feels the need to concretize this adventure in visual poetry and in the creation of the early objects. But never, before I called him, did I hear him say he felt either the desire or the temptation to work directly in films. To generalize a little, the world of Brossa is particularly related through his visual poetry to images of music hall and quick-change artistry [transformismo] and is always visual “in a space, the stage, not on the cinema screen.”
Actually, I come from the incredible experience of radical contestation of the dictatorship, of art, of institutions and the multinationals that is Viridiana. I’ve never experimented, I make concrete formal proposals.
“Hey, Luis, why don’t we make a film together? With one condition only: it has to be shot in Spain,” I said to him. At that time Buñuel was at a loss; and he says to me, “Let’s see, fantastic, I’ll look into it.” I insisted: “The only thing, the only thing I put to you now is to do it here, so that it’s more meaningful.” And he made a face like “It’ll be a bombshell,” because it had already come out that Republican exiles in Mexico had done a caricature of him saying that he’d returned and had sold himself to the dictatorship. It’s there that the story begins.
VA: Because obviously there’s censorship in the media, there’s prior censorship for literary texts, but there’s no censorship in the visual arts. And also there is for the cinema. And you have passport problems, but on the other hand other artists didn’t have problems.
PP: Right. I challenge the ways of making movies, in this instance, in the hands of institutions and subsidies, which have an ideological charge and a power that contaminates everything. I challenge censorship from the point of view of what censorship means, which is really stringent ideological control, censoring, cutting, mutilating. And I posit, at the same time, the film more for the results deriving from the consequences they have following the screening than those they have before the screening.
The most amusing paradox is that I’m the only Spanish producer who has the Palme d’Or from Cannes. Others have managed it doing productions in other countries, but me no…
VA: You have it from within. Having got past the censors and all!
PP: From within. I couldn’t accept money, for ethical reasons, I couldn’t involve anybody: “Look, Luis, the problem with financing this is having a very serious plan. What I cannot do is to put someone in the production without telling them anything and that the consequences may be, for example, that the film gets seized.” And he says, not that this is of any importance but he says, “Don’t worry. There’s an actress, Silvia Pinal, who has a lover who’s a businessman, very personable, and she’s asked him to produce a film for her with Buñuel. In other words, the money’s already there.” Later on the businessman came to see m e with four million pesetas. And I told him he had to be aware… And him, “No, no, I’m not worried about that, in the end I’m not a producer I’m an investor, I’m Mexican, you’ll know what’s what, but I’m madly keen on pleasing my wife Silvia—which is great,” and so on.
It’s screened and suddenly the position of this film creates a problem of state between the Vatican, two dictatorships, and the Francoist dictatorship, a monumental row. The trouble starts when it’s screened. The following day people from the Italian Communist Party come and see me and they warn me the Vatican is putting out an editorial. The Vatican uses the Communists. Within the Italian State there’s another state, which is everywhere. When the Palme d’Or is announced it coincides with the editorial in L’Osservatore Romano, which is angry, with good reason. How is it possible that in a respectful Catholic country that has a concordat with us, such an infamy, lacking in respect, has taken place? The response of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “This film has never been shot in Spain.” Which is unusual and striking.
VA: Using art to subvert, subverting art. Using the radicality of art to transform society. Art is made on the basis of the workshop, the studio, in silence. Then, action is public, but also in silence, in the gallery, the library, the cinema. Art cries out when there’s silence.
PP: One of the things I’d learned from being underground during the dictatorship was not to accumulate information on anybody. I attended meetings where I never asked who the person opposite me was. I knew someone would come, but I never asked him his name or what he did, I only addressed the matter in hand. It’s a matter of security with the police around. It was the norm in the underground.
VA: It was during those years that Tàpies and Saura ceased collaborating in the exhibitions organized by the Ministry. After Venice Spanish culture has international visibility but on the other hand they turn into dissidents of the publicity of the political system. They do the same as you’ve just recounted, they make a stand. Do you have, at the time, an ongoing relationship with them, the painters? Because there’s that photograph in which you are all in Paris, you, Chillida, Saura, Brossa. Do you form part of the movement?
PP: I form a part because when I arrived in Barcelona, the war being over, coming from Figueres at the age of 10, I went to live in Calle Balmes. Two doors further up lived Tàpies. In Plaza Molina, Joan Ponç. And behind, Brossa. And before arriving further down, on the Diagonal, Cuixart. And two of them were going to the same school as me, the Escolapias.
VA: It’s the Dau al Set bunch and what derives individually from Dau al Set. With Brossa there’s eight years difference. As a youngster it’s a lot of time!
PP: The element of cohesion was Brossa, who’d lived through the Republic, fought in the war and had a shrapnel wound in the eye. He’s the one who took us to see Joan Prats, took us to see Joan Miró, took us to see the poet J.V. Foix… Tàpies was in the sanatorium with a brutal tuberculosis. Chillida was on the point of signing for Madrid, he was a magnificent goalkeeper, and they kick him and he suffers a fracture, and he decides to quit architecture. Saura, lame for life. I come out with a weak leg so they had to give me a series of calcium stimulants. In the postwar era we suffered a lot of hunger. In other words, we were all hurt, apart from Brossa, who was carrying a deep injury from the war. People were very desperate and sick.
VA: You’re all self-taught and perpetual students. You’re all great intellectuals, with a resilience of thought, but you didn’t adapt to the academy and you’ve got by. Which is different from how things are now.
VA: None of you were Catholic?
PP: It’s a picture that gives an image of great strength. Suddenly you’re in bed, because you’re screwed by a war that doesn’t even concern you. The abstraction is that you’re responding with your body. The material substance is injured and these injuries are linked to what the situation is all about, what the Civil War has meant.
PP: No. Oteiza was a mystic, he had an idea of materiality, of space, the Omega Point he called it. In other words the two Basques were religious. Tàpies was an orientalist mystic. But these things are deeply personal.
VA: I ask you because you are a generation that is born in a dictatorship which makes a pact with Catholicism and about its imagery. Catholicism covers everything. The fear of sinning asserts itself and therefore the system of order is a Catholic moral system…
PP: During the dictatorship the Church had tremendous power. After filming Tristana, a couple of years later, we meet in Luis Miguel Dominguín’s house, Buñuel, me, Domingo and Ramón Tamames. I hadn’t seen Buñuel in quite a while and I say to him, “Listen, Luis, don’t you think we ought to send some lawyers to the Vatican, as money buys everything, so that they’ll give us a certificate agreeing we’re atheists? Because in the text that was published after Viridiana it’s said, between the lines, that we’re the culprits, that we deserve… How about it? I’d like to have a certificate at home saying I’m an atheist. If they announce it, then to get it” [laughs]. It was fantastic. And Luis, after a slight pause, “It’s not a bad idea, no, but a functionary oughtn’t to sign it, it has to be the Pope, because he’s the only one who knows that God doesn’t exist.” This was where we were heading.
VA: In the fifties two models are constituted, a kind of cold war in cultural strategy vis-à-vis politics and the social: culture as social pedagogy or culture as a model of freedom.
PP: I was pretty clear about it. I recognize that the first film wasn’t understood at all, because there was nothing to understand. Language is for thinking with and people believe it’s only when you’ve already constructed it. First, in order to think, but then, on the basis of thinking you need to materialize it in some way, but not into order to remain stuck, the process must go on. My films have something that’s a constant, a space where the one who looks is the one who must do so. What does this mean? It has to be a personal experience, entering through the cracks that one is offered and on the basis of one’s demands one might have an unrepeatable experience. I concern myself with creating the space, space, always the space. And the films, they’re all open-ended, they have no ending. And with that I always accepted marginalization. Today, the periphery.
VA: What you’re saying must also be valid as a poetics for understanding the art of those painters. Their gesturality, the materiality, the open work.
PP: It’s my proposition, for better or worse, it’s my approach for not separating politics from art in any way.
VA: And with regard to the language, the process…
PP: Whenever you make a piece of work there’s a point of instability. You mustn’t fight shy of it. Things gradually turn out. There are two things you can’t leave out: one, instability, because this means that in principle you’re provisionally here because you’re travelling. Secondly, when you’re travelling you have to be very open and alert with regard to contingency and chance, in order to lie in wait for them. Life’s movement is this.
VA: The basis is in the montage. There are two factors, right? One is action and the sociological transformation of reality and the other is the construction of language.
PP: Yes, all the films I make, all of them, I shoot them editing, I can’t make them any other way. I see the essence of the final structure.
VA: Throughout our conversation, prowling around here, we’ve had two pictures, one by Antonio Saura and another by Millares. There I see another Millares, with some shrieking trousers. The Saura and the white one by Millares were exhibited in the pavilion. What are they doing here? Did you buy them during the Biennale or afterwards?
PP: No, they sent them to me at home as a gift. When I was working like crazy with all the film stuff I had a very strong relationship with them. The two of them sent the works from Venice to my home instead of sending them back to their home or to the gallery. With deep affection. “One can’t give the trousers to just anybody, right?”