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Interview with José Roca about the space and program for contemporary art he has initiated together with Adriana Hurtado.By Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt | Oct 2013
Inaugurated in August 2013, FLORA ars+natura is a space for contemporary art in Bogotá, Colombia, that specializes in the relationship between art and nature. Under the direction of José Roca and Adriana Hurtado, FLORA focuses on production through commissions and residencies; the circulation of the results, and education.
Binder & Haupt: How did you decide to start a project together?
José Roca: For some time now we wanted to work together, though we knew the problems involved in mixing your personal life with your work. For a long time, our fields of expertise –art and law, respectively – had been separate. But in the last decade, Adriana started working in the cultural field drafting legislation to regulate or promote cultural activity, first from the District Department of Culture (city of Bogotá) and afterwards from Colombia’s Ministry of Culture, at a national level.
When we made the decision to open FLORA, we defined our roles: Adriana would deal with management, legal and organization matters, as well as fundraising, and José with the curatorial aspect. But everything is talked about as, after thirty years together, Adriana has been to more biennials, Documentas, exhibitions, workshops, and other artistic events than many that work in the artistic field, and has a vision of art that’s both unique and full of common sense. So although we have our own posts (Artistic Director and Executive Director), all decisions are taken jointly. We both coordinate the FLORA team, which meets every Monday afternoon, and it’s comprised by interns and enthusiastic volunteers. With them, we plan our medium- and long-term activities.
B. & H.: What does FLORA mean for you, personally and professionally?
J. R.: To me, FLORA means many things. It’s an opportunity to be both an institutional and an independent curator, having the best of both worlds (the continuity of the institutional work and the freedom of the independent work). It’s a possibility to create local context, through the continual work in a smaller community, smaller than the great audience my previous work used to reach, particularly the biennials and city events that I curated in the past, but a community perhaps more faithful as you establish a closer relationship as time goes by. A wish come true, as it’s a life project, something I can do with my family that binds to my country. During the last few years I’ve been sitting on planes, from city to city, from event to event. The independent curator is the more dependent of all, because he has to follow the projects to wherever they are taking place.
B. & H.: What makes FLORA different or distinct from other artistic spaces in Colombia?
J. R.: FLORA is inspired in many spaces that existed or still exist, both in Colombia and abroad. The two closest ones in this genealogy are TeorÉTica, in San José, Costa Rica, of my great friend Virginia Pérez Ratton, and Lugar a Dudas, in Cali, run by Oscar Muñoz – one of the artists I admire and respect the most – and Sally Mizrachi, who has run the place from the start. In Bogota, there were excellent spaces such as Gaula, Magma, Arteria and Espacio Vacío, which set a precedent for FLORA. And there are several that are active in different ways, such as Miami, Laagencia, La Peluquería, La Cooperativa, matik-matik, Plataforma, and many others. And in a more direct way, spaces of encounter with the public in events that I curated or co-curated, such as the one designed by Instant Coffee Collective for the Poly/graphic Triennial of San Juan in 2004; the House of Encounter, in the MDE07 Encounter in Medellin, whose furniture was conceived by Gabriel Sierra (2007); the reading space Philagrafika 2010, conceived by the Space 1026 collective; El Parqueadero, in the Bank of the Republic, which opened in 2008; and Casa M, the space I proposed for the encounter of the public with the artists involved in my project for the 8th Mercosur Biennial (2011). In this sense, there are many more coincidences than differences with the independent spaces in Colombia and other parts of the world. I believe that what makes us a little different is that we have a wider range; we have a library, an auditorium, a window exhibit as a non-mediated exhibition space, a project room, and residency spaces and studios for the artists.
B. & H.: How does FLORA work? For instance, how do you define projects, collaborate with institutions, coordinate the residencies in Honda or get funding?
JR.: We have a series of programs, and in each one of them we have defined some artists with whom we’d like to work. We’ve also established contact with institutions with which we’d like to collaborate. For the first year, we worked mainly with the institutions we’d worked before or had previous contact, and taking advantage of the mutual trust, we set in motion the first residencies and projects. In general, we try to get co-financing, whereby each institution pays for a part of the project, so as to make it viable. To get funds, we’re applying for national and international grants and creating a group of benefactors that support specific projects. But we’re donating our work and the rest of the team is composed by interns and volunteers. We hope to reach a break-even point in a year’s time.
B. & H.: When we visited you in August we were very impressed by all the support you’ve had from people to establish FLORA. Was it just initial enthusiasm or are you still getting such warm voluntary help?
J. R.: We have a team of volunteers donating their time and work with enthusiasm. Not only the team continues working but more and more young artists are coming who would like to belong to the group.
B. & H.: What essential aspects of the FLORA concept can already be observed in your first exhibitions and activities?
J. R.: In the two exhibitions we’ve had, it’s clear that our way of understanding the relationship between art and nature is very wide. Strictly speaking, our second exhibition, Color Amazonia, is more an ethnobotanic investigation than an artistic installation. We believe that it’s important to widen the range so as not to fall into just one way of doing things, which would probably wear out very soon.
Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt
Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art. Based in Berlin, Germany.
Besides of the headquarters in Bogotá, where the library, art studios and project rooms are located, FLORA has a house for residencies in the town of Honda (Department Tolima), the Casa Deuxsoleils.
Executive Director: Adriana Hurtado
Artistic Director: José Roca