In 2010, the Venezuelan visual artist and journalist Alejandra Villasmil created the website Artishock, an online magazine in Spanish dedicated to contemporary arts in Chile and abroad. Since then, Artishock has become a go-to reference for keeping abreast of contemporary creation in the country. Villasmil dove into Revolver’s questions about the birth and ambitions of Artishock and the growing scene of contemporary art in Chile and the rest of South America.
Victor Castillo, 'In Dark Trees' (2011)
Revolver: Alejandra, can you tell us a little bit about the Artishock project?
Alejandra Villasmil: Artishock is an online Contemporary Art magazine born by the end of 2010. It’s a blog, in the sense that it’s updated daily, and it’s a magazine because some contents are more elaborated, investigative and extensive. The format is innovative in Chile for its contingency, because the mag is made by and for artists and is very visual. We distinguish ourselves for sections such as Studio Visit, Artistas a los Artistas (conversations between artists) or Manifiestos (text commissioned to mid-career artists who like to write). Artishock has a lot to do with my background: I’m both an artist and a journalist. I lived in New York for ten years and started writing there for international publications but in my mind there was always this idea of launching my own magazine. So when I moved to Chile in 2007, I realized there was a lack of good specialized art publications. The idea of creating Artishock became then urgent. I launched it with public funds (Fondart) but right now it is self-managed. I edit and produce most of the content but I’m very grateful to a small group of people who supports the project just for art’s sake. They are very involved, they like to write and showcase their work in Artishock. I also have a lot of support from artists, the Museo de Artes Visuales (Mavi), Bloc, and Color Animal. As for the content, one of the main goals is to promote Chilean emerging artists and keep informed our readers about what’s going with the Chilean artists working abroad. I also feature big international events, such as biennials and art fairs. Artishock is going international. Right now we are in step one,Chile, and moving forward into step two, Latin America. Step three is a bilingual magazine.
Javier Toro Blum, 'Vació Optico' (2006)
R: You told us that you were running the platform mostly on your own and that you also work as an artist yourself. This must make for a very busy schedule! Could you run us through what a typical day for you would be like?
AV: I usually wake up at 6 or 7 in the morning to check and send mails, browse Facebook, Twitter and my bookmarks. Then I work in the news section and write and/or edit the more elaborated texts. I also have go out and do interviews, pictures or PR. And in between there are more emails, phone calls, editing, writing, uploading content, checking info online, assigning content, and so on. I’m currently working as an artist some weeknights and on weekends.
R: In Chile's emerging contemporary art scene, specialized publications are still quite scarce and art critics writing for national newspapers may appear to have a somehow “traditional” approach to contemporary visual arts. In contrast, established art scenes like those one may find in London or New York are sometimes “saturated” by art magazines, fanzines and independent publications. Bearing this in mind, what place do you think Artishock occupies in Chile's journalistic landscape?
AV: I think Artishock was born in the right place at the right time. There is still a lot to do here in Chile but I feel Artishock has started something which is definitely different, honest, fresh, updated and informed. You are right about your perception of Chile’s editorial field as very safe. The establishment is very conservative. As a foreign artist and writer, I’m trying to break with that. Artishock is offering an alternative way to the traditional art journalism in Chile. I can only speak about my experience in New York, and it’s true – it’s over-saturated [with] information. But that is quite stimulating.
Alejandra Prieto, 'Lágrima 2' (2011)
R: What is your readers’ profile? Actual and ideal!
AV: It’s a mix, and I want that. So far I’ve had very good feedback from artists, art enthusiasts, museum directors, art critics, art professionals, and gallery owners from Chile and Latin America. My ideal reader is everyone. This is a very accessible magazine, written with a plain, direct language. And it’s online and has plenty of images so, regardless of the language barrier, anybody in any country can browse it and enjoy it. The statistics show we have reached the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Australia and Portugal. Maybe the users in those countries speak Spanish, maybe not. Chile is the country we have more readers, of course, followed by Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela and the U.S.
R: What do you think is the general perception of contemporary avant-garde art in Chile? In relation to this, it is often said that Chilean collectors tend to be a little 'shy' or 'safe' in their choices. Do you have a view on this?
AV:: I’ve been recently talking to different people about collecting -- and collectors -- in Chile and we’ve always come to the same conclusion: education. There is no art market in Chile –that is true and it will be true for a while- but the good news is: it’s changing. There is an art fair (ChACO) doing its part, the new cultural policy is tending to create “cultural industries” and the new generation of artists is much more prepared and professionalized. I believe in the collective effort. The energy should go to educate all actors in the visual arts -the young collectors and artists, the art schools, the curators, the critics, the gallerists, and the museum directors. Once that happens, we should have an educated public, capable of truly appreciating art for what it is.
Clemente del Río, 'Untitled' (2010)
R: There has been a strong programme of grants given to Chilean students to go and study abroad. Do you feel a divide between these two “schools” of artists: the ones who were trained abroad and the ones who fully completed their academic training in Chile?
AV: I have a very biased opinion about this because I just moved to Chile in 2007. So I’m not that familiar with the academic field apart from what I’ve perceived by talking to some artists and art professionals living here; who is who depends on the academic training. A Finis Terrae artist is not the same as an Universidad Católica artist or an Universidad Diego Portales artist. The artist and her work are defined by the academic line. When I lived in New York (between 1997 and 2007), I had the opportunity to meet some Chilean artists who were very successful in terms of exposure, exhibitions, and sales. Those are the ones who moved to NY by the end of the ‘90s and found the city much more open to their ideas in art. They were already speaking the “international language” so they were immediately embedded into system. There is something quite particular about NY and that is that everybody is a foreigner and the scene [is] big. There are many opportunities for artists of all kinds and there is no distrust among artists –something that is quite annoying in Chile.
R: Who, according to you, are the most interesting protagonists on the Chilean and South American contemporary art scene at the moment?
AV: There are many, and not all of them are “internationally famous.” From Chile, the most interesting artists are Cristián Silva Soura, Alejandra Prieto, Marcela Trujillo, Santiago Ascui, Cristián Elizalde, José Benmayor, Matías Santamaría, Michael Edwards, Clemente del Río, Jorge González Lohse, Francisca Benítez, Gianfranco Foschino, Javier Toro Blum, Benjamín Ossa, Felipe Santander, Pablo Valenzuela, Héctor Llanquín, Nicolás Grum, Víctor Castillo, Juan Céspedes, Virginia Echeverría, César Gabler, Bernardita Arís, Mariana Najmanovich… uf, many. From Latin America, also maaaaany… better to check Artishock for the artists I follow.
R: Which current or forthcoming exhibition in Santiago would you recommend to Revolver readers?
AV:: Nicolás Franco at Sala de Arte all Plaza Vespucio (MNBA), Daniel Santiago Salguero at galería AFA, and Mario Scorzelli at Sala Cero.