Jorge Rodriguez Gerada Interview
| Interview by Jeffrey Pena. February 2009.|
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada
Curbs and Stoops: What is your background in art?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: Since I was a little boy I was interested in creating things. I always had a love for drawing and I really got involved in art when I was in high school. After that, I went to a multicultural college in Jersey City, NJ where I met the future members of Artfux. We got together as a group and started changing billboards in order to bring attention to the problem of disproportionate advertising of damaging products (get drunk quick beverages and menthol cigarette brands) in poor minority areas. We also staged socially charged street actions and performances. We wanted to make a change.
Curbs and Stoops: Who are some other artists (dead or alive) that you admire?
Jorge Rodrigues Gerada: I admire artists from different periods because of how they have impacted me at different times in my life. Leonardo da Vinci, Jean Giraud, Marcel Duchamp, John Heartfield, Ana Mendieta, Chris Burden, Barbara Kruger, Mark Pauline, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer are each a little part of me as an artist. With my contemporaries I would have to say that Swoon, Blu, and Marc Jenkins have impressed me not only with what they say with what they create, but also because of who they are as people.
Curbs and Stoops: Can you explain “culture jamming”, “art jamming” and how that came about?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: Culture Jamming is “The practice of parodying advertisements and hijacking billboards in order to drastically alter their message” (No Logo, Klein, p280). Early on I came up with the pseudonym Artjammer simply because I was an artist and culture jammer. I don’t use it much nowadays except for my website address.
Curbs and Stoops: How did that begin and how has you work evolved since that era?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: Artfux started as a bunch of art students that decided to join up to continue producing controversial artwork after we were spotlighted on CNN and other national newscasts. All this attention came from putting together a little college art exhibition focusing on the issue of flag burning called “Flagging our Freedom”. We realized that the media was very interested in what we were doing. We figured that there were other issues that could use this type of media attention and all we had to do was “spin”. The billboard alterations from this time are among my favorites because there was a very clear goal and plan of action. We would illegally alter or replace a tobacco or alcohol ad with a new statement and image that spoke about the negative effects of these products. We would then send out press releases with photos of our exploits. We received a massive amount of attention. Most of the time the press would either print our press releases directly or send a reporter. We considered it a victory every time a newspaper, magazine or newscast let us stand on our soapbox to address this social ill. I like to think that we at least gave a nudge to help get rid of tobacco billboard advertising in the U.S. As I walked that path I became more aware and critical of the world around me. Without the counter culture community that once flourished in NYC and the surrounding area I would not be the artist or person that I am today.
I then started my solo phase. It was around the time that advertisers started to parody culture jamming in their campaigns. The Captain Morgan Rum ads which stated “The captain was here” after the Captain painted red mustaches on merrymakers being the silliest example. It was also a time when I began to feel that culture jamming was being undermined by people who became addicted to the media attention that their jams brought them. I sensed that a good amount of these people were not trying to reach a specific goal with their actions, they were just putting up jokes. Some didn’t even have an idea as to why they would attack ads from a certain company. It was just the thing to do. Billboard alteration had for some become a stylistic device used to bring attention to themselves and as a side effect did nothing more than give added product recognition to what was supposed to be jammed. In my new direction I decided not to allow any product recognition at all. Reverend Calvin Butts had it right all along. But as an artist it was not very satisfying to just paint the billboard white like Reverend Butts. I needed to somehow make it more poetic.
Curbs and Stoops: For almost a decade or so you have been doing large scale interventions in public spaces called the Identity series. Where did this series grow from? Where do you see that going?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: When I came to Europe seven years ago I started a new direction. I was no longer using their logos, I was no longer using their images, I was no longer using their billboards. I wanted to focus on the universal themes and effects of advertising. I wanted to be critical of the marketing that has crept into so many facets of our lives. I wanted to use the same codes used by advertisers (scale, visibility) but without having to involve them or their infrastructure directly. I wanted these new iconic images to be huge and placed in city centers. The need for permissions and permits became apparent early on. After many tests with different mediums I found charcoal. The part that intrigues me is the part that is metaphorical. The charcoal fades away and becomes a memory, like the warmth after an embrace. The blending of the charcoal and the wall surface with the wind, rain or the sudden destruction of the wall is ultimately the most important part of the process. My intent is to have identity, place and memory become one. The amount of work that I do impresses the people because they all of a sudden have an icon that is confirming the importance of their existence. But it is also jarring because we have become unaccustomed to think that it is worth doing a lot of work unless we have direct compensation.
I have recently come up with new directions that I am excited about. I feel that that are complimentary to the Identity Series. The Expectation project is the first of a series of earth works that I have planned. The Composite Identity project that was created with the help of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona will allow me to create an interesting direction in sculpture.
Curbs and Stoops: How do you pick the subject of your portraits?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: It is important to choose someone who has a sense of belonging to the place where they live. I wait in cafes, I approach people walking their dogs, I hang out in libraries and I shop in stores. It is different every time.
Curbs and Stoops: Your wife is also an artist, how does sharing a life with another artist affect your work?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: Yeah, I got lucky on that one. I have someone that I can trust who documents the work I do. She is a talented photographer and video maker. We work as a team. When Ana has a project I become her technical support. We also decided not to separate our art careers from our daily life. Actually there is no delineation between our creative life and our family life. Our children are growing up involved in everything we do.
Curbs and Stoops: You are originally from Cuba, married to an Argentine, raised in America and living in Barcelona. Where do you call home?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: Right now I’m calling Barcelona home more than anywhere else, but I know New York City so well and my personal growth was so influenced by it that I will always find reasons to be there.
Curbs and Stoops: It sounds like you had a hectic upbringing. Are there any particular stories that you’d like to share that impact some aspect of your life today?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: I come from a Cuban exile family that moved to the United States when I was three years old. My parents were not in the least politically minded. I realized in my mid twenties that the main reason that they decided to leave Cuba when I was an infant was because they did not want me or my two older brothers to grow up under the then newly implemented system of control. The Committee for the Defense of the Revolution is a one-of-a-kind system that serves as the regimes eyes and ears on every block in Cuba. This system of block watchers is still in place through out Cuba today. My father cut sugar cane in concentration camp conditions for three years in order to get our visas. I thank him every time I get a chance. I was one of the first Hispanic immigrants to enroll at my local school system. Most of the kids had Italian, Irish or some other European background. I was bullied a lot for being a “spic”. I rebelled against speaking Spanish in order to fit in with the other kids. My parents were very upset about all this but because they were both working two jobs to make ends meet, those kinds of things just sort of slipped on by. I didn’t try to speak Spanish again until I was in college. By then my Spanish was mostly lost. The American “melting pot” has its pros and cons. There is a good amount of writing about the homogenizing effects of the US school system and how that system leaves immigrant children lost in a cultural limbo as adults. My fascination with the concept of identity (and its fragility) is not unique for artists raised as immigrants in the US.
Curbs and Stoops: If someone wants to find out more about you, where can they go? Do you have a book of your works published? Website?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: I don’t have a book out yet but I have documented my work in a specific way for that very purpose. I should have something together soon. My website is www.artjammer.com. There are some videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/filmchickproductions and you can always puy my name into your preferred search engine to see what comes up.
Curbs and Stoops: Famous last words? Advice?
Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: Empathic concern for one another is the most important factor in steering us away from disaster.