In Conversation With Agustina Woodgate

The artist discusses the politics of water, and the problem of minimum wage and how she brings these issues to the fore at TVGOV, the Berlin Biennale, and at her upcoming show at Spinello Projects.

In Conversation With Agustina Woodgate

Argentine-born, Miami-based Agustina Woodgate thinks a lot about space, and how it can become politicized or activated or even imagined. Her art practice sits at an intersection between craft and something human and empathetic; plumbing heavy depths, she can daisy-chain multitudes of ideas together, often playfully. Hopscotch, a sidewalk-long version of the titular game, invited passersby to partake; her Rugs collection, in which she de-stuffed and then hand-stitched discarded teddy bears into flowering, intricate patterns, questioned what we hold dear, what we discard, and what we archetypally define home. She’s sewn poetry into thrift-store clothing, offered to cut strangers’ hair on the street and turned the dregs into structures, and literally erased the borders of globes and maps—saving the dust—to invite speculation about territorial politics.

It’s fantastic to draw attention to the way we occupy or think about our physical movement through space, and the sentimental mapping of our lives and bodies, but it’s an ontologically specific thing to do this through artistic practice rather than through civic duty. But however whimsical these projects can be, Woodgate utilizes her work to address social realities, implicating both the real and arbitrary nature of power dynamics. We spoke to her about her projects, including her participation in Discreet at the Berlin Biennale with TVGOV, her upcoming show at Spinello Projects, and why her particular sensitivity makes the most seemingly disparate parts of her practice a unified, spiritual whole.

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Your work is never about the object and the viewer, but rather the relationship between humans and their environment. How did you become interested in altering spaces and how we relate to them?
I have all these landscape situations—with maps, with globes—that involve reorganizing their parts. I take the globes off their axis, throw them to the floor. They continue to refer to space, but this idea of games comes up, too. They look like pods and balls—people can kick them. There is a disconcerting moment of humor, even though they are still strongly symbolic of territory.

Then there is the hopscotch game, which is also somehow symbolic, because everyone knows the same game around the entire globe. It was invented by Roman soldiers to train for the battlefield. So now we are back at a conversation about territory and landscape, in a way. Humor is present again, too. People react: they already know how to play. There is a convergence. This gives me a hint that the hopscotch is a symbol, in the same way that the globe is a symbol. When I work in the public, I look at the sidewalks like maps. When we view the work, we’re understanding the city in a particular way. They are proposals—I’m proposing to use your sidewalks.

They’re experiments.
Exactly. I’m encouraging you to use your sidewalks by painting a hopscotch. I am encouraging you to look at maps in a different way by sanding them away and creating chalk with the dust and using them to write. I am encouraging you to encounter your clothes in another way through a poem. The teddy bear rugs are social landscapes. It’s garbage; there is all this meaningful garbage.

You have an online radio station you broadcast from wherever you are in the world. In what ways have you used technology in your work to establish broad connections?
I started playing around with a term—I don’t know what it means yet. I’m not sure how to resolve it; it’s something like “techno-immigrants.” I’m looking into how technology has facilitated immigration. I’m an immigrant; I’m not from Miami. Technology is what connects me. That’s why I have an online radio station. I’m not interested in having a radio station that’s connected to only one locality. I can be specific to the place where I’m broadcasting, but my listeners don’t have to be. This facilitates a level of conversation I don’t know I’d be able to have otherwise.

How is technology affecting immigration? How is it facilitating our moves around the world? We are doing a hopscotch around the world. I believe that movement is natural to humanity, in a way, because we’ve always been nomads. But it’s testing a lot of boundaries we’ve had in place; we’re rethinking. What do you do when you have 400,000 Syrians arriving to Germany? How can technology facilitate this? Think of what happened with Black Lives Matter, and people putting their hands up. That was a social media symbol, a hashtag—it’s a perfect example of where media is actually working within an art field: art meaning visual, that is. What we understand as art might be changing.

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It brings into question ideas of public and private, of water as a luxury beverage.
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Ravelin Magazine

You just returned from Buenos Aires. What were you working on there?
I had an exhibition, Común y corriente, at Barro, curated by Natalia Zuluaga. I was diving into the politics of water and public and private space. It was an installation of 12 water fountains connected to a source of water coming from the street. Some fountains have more than one faucet, and each fountain is designed so they all fit together in a cube shape. I was very interested in the movement of the viewers’ bodies when they start interacting with the water. It becomes kind of awkward—the proximity of the mouths. In a formal way, it’s this idea of bringing something meant to be outdoors—water fountains—into somewhere luxurious. You’re inside this concrete park. It brings into question ideas of public and private, of water as a luxury beverage. There was a phrase at the Berlin Biennale—something like, it appears that Internet is a human right, but water is not.

You and TVGOV, a research collective—with Sofia Bastidas, Nicole Doran, Peter Fend, and Guillermo León Gómez—participated in Discreet, at the Berlin Biennale. Discreet is described as an intelligence agency for the people. Can you tell me about it?
For three weeks, twenty people from different disciplines, from different parts of the world, were brought into this setting. The conversation was always two-fold. Most of the time was spent discussing ideas about what intelligence is, what type of knowledge it creates, what kind we’d want to create if wanted to compete with the NSA. We were looking at existing models and opening ideas about new intelligence agencies. Maybe they don’t all need to be in the same framework; we can start our own intelligence agencies and create competition.

Tell me about TVGOV.
We started working with Peter Fend, who’s the head of TVGOV. He introduced us to the idea of eco-tax. Together we started working with and adding to this discussion—updating the conversation with different technologies. We propose the utilization of already-existing satellite technologies, and instead of surveilling people, surveilling the land—and through the surveillance of the land, implementing a new financial system in relationship to the use or disuse of land, water, and air.

This taxation is for landowners: if you don’t own a piece of land, you wouldn’t be paying eco-tax. Most citizens would be paying eco-tax, actually, but the amount you pay varies based on what you own. So if you own a boat, if you own a car, or if you own a piece of land—it’s a property, so you pay. You pay in relationship to the shape of your territory or your item. If your land is a parking lot, you pay mass tax. If you want to lower your tax rate, you go about your property in another way—you plant trees, you put solar panels.

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Ravelin Magazine

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my upcoming exhibition at Spinello, Power-Line, which features two works: National Times and $8.05. $8.05 is Florida’s minimum wage. For National Times, I will be using fifty “slave” clocks at the gallery. They don’t work on their own; they need to be connected to a “master” clock. It’s a closed circuit. These clocks began to appear in our systems decades ago. It’s a way of keeping all the clocks in a factory or a school consistent. It’s regulating wages, considering time as money. The relationship of the “slave” clocks and labor is one and the same. The “master” gives them a signal, and they become mirrors of the “master.” They do not have autonomy.

I’m modifying portions of the hands of the “slave” clocks with sandpaper so that, with time, the numbers will erase. National time will be maintained. What will be erased is only the number. I like the idea that there are 50 “slaves” and 50 states.

Is it noisy?
That’s an amazing question. I bought three contact mics to record the “chkchkchkck.” I want to incorporate that sound. I will put the dust of eight dollars into the hourglass—the hourly wage. I also like the idea of freezing that wage into a moment in time. Hopefully it won’t be that way forever—this number is flexible. It will continue to change. It’s such a volatile thing in relation to economy that freezing it in a time capsule feels okay, specifically in conversation with the clocks erasing themselves. It is another representation of the labor.

This is a very important time for this exhibition to be happening, historically speaking.
All the clocks say NATIONAL TIME in the center, so I really want to be aware of this moment in time. What’s also interesting is that the clock is sanding itself because another object is telling it to. I’m looking at this exhibition as a performance of objects. It’s already happening, whether you’re there or not. At one point, the work will become irrelevant, because they have nothing else to sand, but they will keep on going—because the master is telling them to.

That’s perfect, because the whole world is in a transitional moment.

In a state of expectation, right? “We’re waiting. What’s going to happen?”

Power-Line is on view at Spinello Projects from September 8, 2016 through November 8, 2016, with an opening reception on Thursday, September 8, 7-10pm. Spinello Projects is located at 7221 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL 33150.

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