Remo Bianchedi – The artist of Las Sierras Monastery

Buenos Aires, March 2009. No. 60

He exhibits graphic works from the sixties to the eighties in an art gallery in La Cumbre, Cordoba, a province of Argentina. Laura Batkis went specially to the Sierras of Córdoba and managed to break his monastic silence.

Remo Bianchedi’s life has been marked by his travels. At the age of seventeen, he went to the Peruvian Amazon jungle following the traces of the yagé; then came Jujuy and the political activism, the exile in Germany, the retreat to Cordoba in Cruz Chica in 1989, and an attempt to return to Buenos Aires in 2002, to return to La Cumbre, where he has been settled for five years in what he calls the Monastery of the Sierras.

His home was once Nautilus, the name of the Foundation he created in 2000 to train underprivileged children, then under the command of Captain Nemo. This is because, in his travels, Bianchedi also creates his own double: he was Santiago in his militant years; then Anatol Lotana, the bibliophile; Max, the suffering married man in the nineties; Barbara Sommerfeld, the feminist Bauhaus artist; and more recently, the modest Marcelo Del Campo. In his “Orthodoxy,” Chesterton quotes the story of an English pilot who, miscalculating his course, discovered England under the impression that it was an ignored island. Like that pilot, this artist, now 58 years old, returned to Cruz Chica and finally manifests himself as Remo, without heteronyms and in the abandonment of his own humanity.  

Why did you come back to La Cumbre? 

When you do things, sometimes you don’t realize what you are doing. You recognize the path you are on, but you don’t really know why you are there. My going to Buenos Aires had different motivations. But after almost three years, today I realize that the most important motivation, which is the one that sustains me today, was to become independent from what is called “the art world”, from the galleries, collectors, etc. 

You are becoming a myth. It’s been eight years since you last exhibited in the Capital; you are like the solitary artist of the Sierras!

I’m very curious to know how they see me, although I’ve never had the need to justify my comings and goings. 

It seems to me that you are more connected than people think?

For me, the most beautiful graphic image is the curve of a bridge, not because of the curve itself but because of what it implies of two shores, the possibility of going back and forth in one’s own life. Buenos Aires also meant a place of my own where I could develop my “Remo porteño.” I was able to buy a huge house there with a large terrace, which is where my daughter lives now. I like knowing that I can go there, have my space, books, music, and my workshop. An autonomous place within the Autonomous City. And once I had it and managed to own it, the goal was already accomplished. And I went back to Cruz Chica. 

What about Buenos Aires? 

It makes me nervous. I don’t want to fall into the commonplace of smog and all that, which is inevitable in any big city. In Buenos Aires, I can’t work. To work I need to see the world, what surrounds me; and the speed of Buenos Aires prevents me from thinking. To paint you have to do it slowly. I also attribute this to an inability of mine. Duchamp said, “I’m not going to New York, I’m leaving Paris.” That happened to me too: I didn’t come to live here, I left Buenos Aires because it’s not my context for the moment. 

Nine years ago, when you first came to the Sierras, you told me: “This is my last exile.”

Yes, that has changed. Now it is the place I chose. Exile implies uprooting, and that’s what I felt at that time. Back then, it did me a lot of good to have come to live here, to buy this house; then to go back to Buenos Aires to prove to myself that I can move and operate with a higher energy cost than here, and to finally return to the sierras voluntarily.

You live alone, almost isolated, at 1,400 meters above sea level and three kilometers from the nearest town. How do you get along with that loneliness? 

At first, it was about escaping from what bothered me, from what was not mine. That was one of the driving forces that brought me here. When I came here, nature was even more foreign to me because we have no connection with nature. It took me almost twenty years to become a tree and be in an absolutely natural rhythm. I used to be a night bird, now I am a day bird; I used to be a hunter, now I am a farmer. Before I was dominated by urgencies, now I am not. Before I was guided more by fear than by will, and now it is precaution or instinct. Here in La Cumbre there is a recovery of an internal time that is very important. I live in solitude most of my time. That is why I named this house Monastery because these are places that are on the top of a mountain, inhabited by people who have decided to live in solitude. It is a solitude that nourishes you, not one that produces sadness. Besides, you have to differentiate between being alone and feeling alone. This is a place to think slowly. I live here because I can’t live anywhere else. I don’t want to feel physically foreign. I can pass through the city but as a bridge, without contaminating myself. And the bridge is moving. The other shore is not necessarily Buenos Aires now, and perhaps it is a circular bridge where you leave one shore and re-enter the same one. Moving away, I have come closer; I see better. 

When the Nautilus existed, this was the Ship; and this is now a Monastery. 

Yes, it is an atheist Monastery. 

And you used to be Captain Nemo. 

Captain Nemo is gone. 

You change with your heteronyms: Max, Anatol Lotana, Marcelo Del Campo…

It was a way of not showing myself. Here I realized that I love to be called Remo. 

You used to want to hide. 

Yes, because I was a voluntary victim of a way of culture, where the person who made his desire or his will to be himself was punished. A culture that was my family, historical time, and time of militancy. I have reviewed it again and I realize that we, who abhorred authoritarianism, were authoritarian. We were so terrified of the totem, of the father, that we imitated him and became one. Now I have the satisfaction of knowing that work has one of the most important objectives: to be happy. 

Your goals in the past were more ambitious, like when you set up the Nautilus…

Yes, and it worked. 

Would you do a similar project again trying to put into practice art inserted in social praxis? 

Not anymore, because today I don’t think it’s about someone transforming the world. The world transforms itself. And sometimes it does not transform in the direction one wishes, but… why should it? Why should I have to impose on the rest of the Argentines, as I did in the 1970s, that the Argentine homeland should be socialist? I did not ask anyone! Beuys said that the only utopias are those that are possible. I believe in that because they are achievable.  Now, at least for me, it is a question of rethinking the way in which one fits into the world. I believe that the values that supported art until very recently no longer exist today. It seems that the laws of the market have become the laws of art. That’s why I think Ivo Mezquita’s silence at the Sao Paulo Biennial is very good. What’s the point of keeping silent today? Why did I silence myself? Because I believe that the silence I am keeping is to reflect on what I do. 

Your last solo exhibition in Buenos Aires, “Los Inocentes” (“The Innocent”) year 2000 was that of a “committed” Remo. 

The commitment still exists. Injustice affects me. 

But your work has become more poetic. 

Time has changed. Today I feel a commitment to poetry. I see in everyday life that poetry is truth. And beauty is the radiance of the true. 

Why did you baptize this house Monasterio (Monastery)?

First it was called Monasterio Soltero (Bachelor Monastery)…

Very Duchampian…

Yes, then I thought I don’t believe in anything beyond nature. It was a contradiction to have a monastery, so it became the Atheist Monastery. There is no shouting, no stridency. Here is to be in peace, health, happiness, and freedom. It is a place of reflection. The house is truly an extension of me. 

There are basic rules.

Yes, it is a non-monotheistic, non-monogamous monastery, and it is not “monotributista” (single tax-paying)…

When I arrived, you told me before I entered that there were three other fundamental rules.

Yes: the will, the capacity for action, and the action itself. For example, when faced with something I want, I think of a show, and I think: will I have the will to do it? Then I let time decide. 

So, what is art? 

A human craft, particularly because it produces symbols. It depends on the human capacity to put something new in the world. 

A Gallery in Paradise

Bianchedi’s exhibition at El Paraíso (Paradise) shows the different changes in his relationship with drawing. In the sixties and seventies, he is guided, among many, by Dürer’s prints, and later by the psychic automatism used by the surrealists as a liberating project, with Breton’s phrase as a guide: “To change life according to Rimbaud and to transform the world according to Marx.” This is when he starts his own bookstore with Libros Libres (Free Books) in Jujuy and his militancy period. Roberto Aizenberg becomes a new referent in his work. Towards the eighties, the style is more relaxed, more linked to the neo-expressionism of that time; He is exiled in Germany while studying Graphic Design and Visual Communication at the School of Arts in Kassel and attending Joseph Beuys’ seminars. With him, he learned that drawing is thought, and the idea of the expanded concept of art that reconciles knowledge with doing, and word and action. 

Tell me about your current exhibition here in La Cumbre.

I did it with a very precise objective: that my neighbors from twenty years ago know what I did before coming to La Cumbre; that is to say, to introduce myself. Here I don’t want to be different. Before I used to wear rings. I took them off because I realized that they had a symbolic function in me: to differentiate myself. I don’t want to go around saying all the time that I am an artist; I want to bring it down to earth. Art is a job, as it was in the Renaissance when there were artists’ guilds.

What a time the Renaissance was! What might they have taken to expand consciousness? 

I think knowledge was the drug. Imagine Leonardo saying, “Well, I’ll go to the cemetery, I’ll dissect the corpse, I’ll draw it, and meanwhile, I write backwards.” He was finding out how we were constituted. 

And now what does one do to expand consciousness? 

Drugs are instruments of knowledge when they are used for that purpose. As instruments of knowledge, they are also vehicles of liberation. They are motives for exploration or investigations of the artist. Huxley, who took heroin, or Michaux, who made pure poetry, are not today’s kids, who are excluded, intoxicated with paco (coca paste). Times have changed, and their use has changed. Today drugs are not used to expand but to shrink and enslave. I don’t like to see Charly García getting high the way he does, doing it badly. As I said, it is a tool and you have to know how to use it like any other. 

Lately you say art is health. 

Absolutely. Art keeps me physically and mentally healthy. It is therapeutic. If I didn’t make art, I could become a serial killer. Today I like to produce healthy life and in that, I find a different sense of the sacred. When I went to Peru to take ayahuasca with the Shipibo people at the age of seventeen, somehow inspired by the reading of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg in The Yage Letters, I did not do it to escape from reality. On the contrary, it was an instrument of knowledge, to understand reality. To this day, I still feed on that experience.