Diego Agulló (Madrid, 1980) presses fresh orange juice every morning. On 1998, having a background in football, Tae Kwon Do, he studied for 6 years philosophy at the university in Madrid, where he focused his research on the interferences between arts and philosophy. During that time he practiced music improvisation, sculpture and painting. He is co-founder of En Busca del Pasto, a project for musical improvisation. On 2005 he moved to Berlin where he started working with video as a freelance artist and 2 years later as a performance maker after a fortuitous and inevitable encounter with choreography. Diego´s main practice is the game of dilettantism that he also applies through his work traversing disciplines and passing through different medias such as choreography, performance art, participatory events, sound installations, texts, films, photography, workshops…
Interview led by Marcela Donato, Photography by Pedro Jardim
Your artistic practice has navigated through so many disciplines, Choreography, Performance, Video, Installation, Event’s concepts and now Writing and Education. What would you say is the reason for such a multifaceted artistic background? Could you point one or more elements that you recognize present in your practice, no matter the media you choose to work with?
So, regarding this multifaceted aspect; I guess I have a certain idea about learning that is not directed to ‘specialisation’ but more focused to get a big perspective of certain things. When I was at university studying philosophy, I was already practicing music, painting and sculpture, so let’s say that there are two big recognizable oscillations: first of all within artistic practices, and then from this artistic practice to philosophy. I guess this is connected to my curiosity, and I also realized that once I leave one discipline, or one system of knowledge and I move to another, I got addicted to returning to the previous one, so I can visit it with a totally different perspective. So for me, it became a methodology to jump from one thing to another, in order to have a certain critical distance towards what I was doing before.
What do you mean by you got addicted to return to the previous one?
The addiction is about the pleasure of returning and to see what you called home before as something strange or different. That happened in many occasions. I guess the biggest example was when I quit my masters in philosophy and decided to not open a book for three years. So then when I came back to the practice of philosophy, it was definitely from a totally different perspective and my way of understanding practicing philosophy was also different. So I guess this multifaceted aspect is also against the specialization into something, having an overview, which I think is important; the possibility of how one discipline can help to understand the other discipline.
To answer your second question about the element between all these multiple practices; that’s what I am mostly concerned about, because it is not that each work is different from each other. I think that what connects them mostly, is that it is always me that’s doing them, so I believe that there is a thread that I like to call ‘mission’, but a definitive thread, since I don’t distinguish between life and work; So I believe that it is one single thing, the only thing is that I use different tools or I work in a different context, or I’m using different working methods, but I prefer to understand it as one thing that is multifaceted, more than many things and how these many things become one. So for me the starting point is one.
And the starting point being your mission?
Yeah and I guess that for me and my understanding of learning and self fashioning and how I understand myself is a concept of learning and never thinking that I became an expert of anything.
You have experienced several contexts, projects and cities in Europe – why is Berlin a place that makes sense to your current practice? Why have you chosen it as your base city?
When I moved to Berlin eight years ago I didn’t know anything about this city. I didn’t even know anybody, so for me it was more like escaping from Madrid and Spain. I knew I didn’t want to speak english at that time. But then later I discovered what Berlin means. I think it is definitely a city that still allows you to recreate yourself, which is good. On the other hand I think that it is a very tricky city for it not been demanding enough, which can be problematic. So you have to bring your own self-discipline, very strongly, specifically if you are a freelancer. Another thing is that, in Berlin, since you can reinvent yourself, – and this is why there are so many artists and the connection between berlin and art is so intimate – the notion of art and artists loses certainty, the boundaries of what is art becomes a bit loose. Everyone can be an artist in Berlin. I think that in that sense this demands even extra discipline and extra effort, because in this scenario I see two possibilities: One thing is to live this style of life as an artist and play this kind of role, or new status game, which of course is very appealing from one point of view. But then I believe that art and work is something that implies hard work, sometimes sacrifice and being critical, so Berlin can come across as being is a bit lazy, or not really pushing things. So, why from Spain to Berlin? I guess it’s because it’s the perfect place as your base, not only because of the economical reasons, but many people are passing through and passing by and it’s also a very nice place for networking, for instance. But what I would underline is that is also important to work abroad and make projects in other cities, and to leave Berlin from time to time, so when you come back it is again the same idea as I said before; you have already this critical distance of what is Berlin, so you can never enter into this trap of your own happiness in Berlin, your own dynamics in Berlin. This has happened to many people, not me because I was never necessarily into party time, but I see that this version of Berlin – party, weekends, etc, is really distracting many people from doing other things. You need a strong individuality not to go with the flow.
Most of your works, such as The Humping Pact, The Waiting Room and The Last Myself are collaborations of different constellations of artists and creators. You also developed a workshop on ‘Discord’, that was around the subject of a shared process. How are your feelings toward collaborations, what have you learned through these complex processes of negotiation? How does it affect the final outcome?
It’s true I have been collaborating in most of my projects, but actually I understand myself from the point of view of individuality. Right now I have a strong need of doing more solo projects, also to understand myself a bit better, because as you said before, collaboration or incorporation can definitely be very challenging and inspiring, but at some point you also wonder how you would do things alone. Sometimes it’s good to have collaborations so you can escape from your own control, but if you have been collaborating for a long time, it’s also good to come back to solo practice, to see how you do it on your own. You test yourself. Again it’s about oscillating. Sometimes collaborating, sometimes doing it solo, so each time you return to each of these practices you’re ‘hungry’. The practice of writing (a book) is definitely something that I am doing alone and enjoying doing alone.
How do you feel collaborations affect a final outcome of a project. How do you see this negotiation process?
This is a question that is very specific to each project; who are the people? and even within the same project you have, for instance, working three years with the same kind of project, obviously there are all kinds of variations. The problem is that sometimes you make decisions just to make everyone happy, and sometimes that is not good for the project itself. And either you trust this other person and you say “ok, i’m in your hands for now”, or sometimes when you are super into an idea you have to fight to make it happen. Sometimes the consensus is not the best option. To collaborate is also about knowing when you have to give space to somebody to become the leader and you have to know when to become the leader. I don’t think that collaboration is about leadership. It is the opposite. It’s about how to learn totally positive leadership – when is the right time for everyone…..
Your present research is around the role of the artist, and the present ‘star-like’ condition aggregated to the status of what it means to be an artist today. Could you develop a bit on what you think on the subject?.
I must confess that today I have a certain conflict with the word ‘Art’ and ‘Artist’. I’m researching the topic of dilettantism in order to erase the negative connotations of the term dilettantism, so there is no need to write (Artist) in brackets. It’s a term that is misused and that has gone through different metamorphoses. I think that the tension between dilettantism and art is the tension also of the pre-defined concept of professionalism. My questions are: what is the goal? Or, Why do you do what you do? My critic is when it is too obvious when certain artistic practices and certain artists do things (or at least this is my impression) more for the fact of ‘being an artist’ and relating to the status of it. I recognize that what is making some people have the authority of saying “i’m more an artist than you” is using unfortunately the criteria of ‘professionalism’, which is; if you earn money doing what you do. That really influences how people validate your work and yourself . So obviously all these things are conditioning what you do. That is why I believe that this notion of artistic career is something that should be questioned. For me, the beginning of becoming an artist is about how you find your own trajectory – this for me is the first step. This implies questioning the standard and patterns of what it means to be professional and to understand the term ‘artist’. I’m not interested in careers, and climbing to a certain notion of earning this money and working with big institutions and big names, because somehow this I find predictable. I read the other day that the time frame to be an artist in the spotlight is 4 years. After 4 years they drop you away; they drop you out. Maybe a few names will stay, continuing as legendary or something, but this is like a machine; producing new names and new things, and if you want to submit to that, you know that you are objectifying yourself – because you submit – well, the opposite of submission, is mission; which is when you don’t objectify yourself, but you subjectify your own practice; you decide what are the conditions. Of course this has the risk of you becoming an ‘idiot’, which literally means you are outside of the game, or isolated. So in order to avoid isolation, I am also questioning that: this extreme of the isolated artists. So actually I’m questioning the both extremes. The artists that are super keen to do the pre-determined trajectory and also the one that understands his/her practice only through isolation. I wonder how to play with this tension, and this is what I mean when I say; maybe you have to be inside to question something. So, this can be one reflection about that. Then about the idea of submission; I think that it is interesting for me to focus on the work and not so much on who you are. The work is the important thing and not so much about thinking that you have to grow in terms of status or professionalism, because that is when you loose many things on the way; the interesting things.
You have already participated in many projects in collaboration with- or hosted by- Agora, such as ‘Agora thinks Performance Art’, ‘Affects’ first version in 2012, and now Agora is hosting the conferences of your new Performance program called ‘Smash’. Could you tell us a bit how these experiences have been?
There are so many experiences with Agora. It is true that I must be, first of all, thankful to you with how you put your trust in me with what, and how I do things. Then also, there have been many different situations and projects. Now with this coming one ‘AFFECT’, I like that it is not me presenting my work in Agora, but more like trying to share all that I can share and contribute to the group. Bringing some question marks, trying to engage also my own research and being there for them with any kind of advice. I guess that here (Agora) I always got conditions of freedom to decide how to show the work, and also I think we share a certain core of work and how to understand some things. Starting from the very beginning when you invited me for ‘Basement’ (Performance Project) which was an unforgettable evening; the way things started and how we met in an interview set up already in the cafe, then we went upstairs and we were showing work and people were already having the chance to see all these formats, that was very familiar to me. That’s why I think we share something.
As we mentioned before, you are now one of the mentors of the intensive performance program ‘Smash’, you will soon start with us as well as one of the facilitators of AFFECT – our new Collaborative Residency Program. Many times I heard you comment your growing interest in education. Could you please tell us a bit how you translated your practice into educational tools and/or mechanisms?
Since I spent six years of university with philosophy, I guess that there were certain vocation that at some point entered into education. I think that I enjoy being Pedagogical, but the question is how to challenge this Pedagogy. How to challenge the idea of academics and the solutions in the universities. I met my teachers from the university last may and I said “i’ve been away for eight years from academics and the way of practicing philosophy, and in this eight years I’ve learnt more than in the six years at university. I’ve learnt more about how to understand theory and practice. So without any kind of arrogance, I would like to suggest you to somehow share and contribute these new ideas and practices that I have learned from another perspective and other disciplines”. I think that actually this is the idea behind crossing disciplines. This is how you can understand disciplines through the eyes of the other disciplines. What I proposed then is to invite people to make workshops, and seminars but definitely bringing these ‘extraordinary’ practices of the notion of theory within academia; meaning how to challenge the notion of a class; of being a teacher; what we should teach; how to understand the space, the body, the relations. They said “yes, let’s do it”. So this is my upcoming project, and it is definitely crystallized with all my interests about not only cross boundaries but also institutions, what does it mean to return to the academia, what does it mean to share practices?
The theme of our upcoming AFFECT Program, Social Art Practice, has been present in your work in several ways. Could you tell us how you see Art affecting the Social and vice-versa? If that is a too complex question to ask, just please develop a bit on the theme of Social Art Practice through your perspective of its meaning.
I guess what is behind this idea is, what is the function of art in society, and why is art needed? But still, as you know, I will say from my point of view it is not only art, but it’s also things like philosophy, ethics, research and so on. So primarily thinking about art, but also other disciplines; I think that they should be at the base of the pyramid to hold certain notions of society. Coming from a certain humanistic education, I believe that anything that engages art, engages growing, not economically, but growing in what we can call ‘social wealth’. Its something that should be supported more than any other thing. In that sense with me and my utopia and kind of agenda, I would try to push as much as I can this notion of educational values, and also how art can be concerned on that. I think it is as simple as thinking what is important for you and important for your values what other people can understand and kind of promoting these values. I am not so much a fan of only criticizing or provoking by itself, but I think it is also good to say “ok, this is what I have”, and risking also taking a bet, and with this I don’t mean offering solutions, but at least betting with certain ideas of values. The values are simply things that we should pay more attention and take more care of. How much art can be engaged in this? I think that this is also very personal question to the artist. Again, if the artist is more busy with being famous than being engaged, then in this society I don’t think it is necessary having this socialistic or communistic idea for the community. I think that when we talk about ‘social ‘or ‘community’ you start from the people around you. I think that it’s not about changing the world. It’s about how we affect each other right here right now. I guess that the first thing is to identify ‘who is your community’. What is your community? What is your affect? What is your feel of affect? Also where you can do an intervention? Where does it make sense? If I go now to community that I have nothing to do with, and that community and I do there some provocative act…why? I’m better doing it from the place where I can have an interaction. Maybe with people who are more similar to myself because then I can also criticize myself. This is not the idea of an artist, for instance, and artist going to a muslim country and doing some provocative thing (well of course that is predictable), but I mean if you get naked in any muslim society; that would be a provocation, but this we know already. So, I think that this is definitely a hyper-complex question and another field or part of it is what is the reason between art and corporations? Art and business? What is the innovation? What is the role of creative and what is the publicity of artists working within corporations? I think it is good that is exists, but again, not only being exploited, but also how an artist can play a big role in a corporation and the communication conforming this mission, maybe because you are creating much more awareness on the business field about which values are more important. Also to keep this idea of growing because this is not sustainable. At some point it cannot grow anymore and maybe it’s not about growing so much, its simply about thinking about how you might like to grow so much. So, all these things I think are the responsibilities of the philosophers, scientists, artists, and any kind of people that want to engage in values and extend it as a mission. It’s something that somehow you are always aware of.