In 2013, Oto Hudec produced the first iteration of Instument for Listening in Dallas, Texas (USA) for MAP 2013: Projects that restore and preserve the environment, promote social justice, and advance human knowledge and well-being. In July of 2015, MAP intern Lauren Engelstad corresponded with Oto via e-mail to learn how the Dallas project connects to the proposed project in Brazil.
Lauren Engelstad (LE): After learning about the Hispanic culture in Dallas, you decided to change your ideas and not use the ancient Mexican patterns. Has this experience influenced how you approach working with communities around the world?
Oto Hudec (OH): Actually, I did use Mexican pattern called fantasia, from ceramics, but the objects on the pattern were altered. The composition of the pattern is similar to fantasia, but it is a loose interpretation, from researching various patterns of ceramics, baskets and sombrero hats. There is a ring on the megaphone that comes directly from a sombrero hat. I needed to slightly alter the pattern to suit the workshop with teens, so it would not be too complicated and also fit into the short project timeline. The selection of the objects each teen painted was entirely their own. I realized that the objects they picked were mostly consumer goods, which reflected their interests and culture, but did not reflect the content of the interviews with Mexicans in Dallas (artists, dancers, journalists, mothers., etc.) Out of respect to the people that I interviews, I added more objects to the pattern that were directly related to the interviews.
This experience had a big influence on my future projects. As it was the first time that I created a work of art in collaboration with other people, I was learning during the process. I realized that working with other people in this way can be a sensitive activity. You must respect their artistic approach and opinion, while trying to keep the original artistic goal.
LE: From your experience in Dallas, what will you do differently in South America when designing and building the megaphone?
OH: First of all, from several experiences with sculptures, I would like to pick a material that is light and easy to deconstruct. I am working on changing my sculpture practice, because what I do often has a negative environmental impact, becoming too large and heavy to transport.
LE: Where do you plan on placing the South American megaphone? Is there a particular city that you would like to have hear the stories of the Yanomami people?
OH: I have to say, honestly, this project has been on standby for some time. We have been talking about doing the project in Brazil, but I will need to start the research all again. For example, I might chose a different tribe, based on my latest experiences. I can then see different scenarios for the placement of the megaphone, such as in public spaces in Brazilian cities that are mostly responsible for rainforest destruction, Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Manaus, Rio. Or to place it in the US in cities with corporate headquarters of companies whose activites have a large, negative impact on the rainforest. The third option is to build a piece for the community that will stay in the community, or used at their disposal. I am just starting new thinking around this project now.
The text below was adapted from a conversation between Oto Hudec and Janeil Engelstad in February 2011.
Oto Hudec (OH):The first idea for a megaphone piece made from baskets came from Africa. Directly, it came from seeing baskets that are in the shape of the megaphone. They are only missing the handle. When I saw these baskets the idea to make a giant megaphone appeared to me. Other people might not see the shape of the megaphone in these baskets, but I was doing activism and had some experiences using a megaphone. As a student in Slovakia, I was using a megaphone to protest the proposed law to begin charging students tuition fees for college. The proposal went to parliament to become law, but because of our protests, and the protests of other groups, it did not pass. So when I saw the baskets these two things came together.
I have always been interested in immigration, which in Europe is mostly related to people coming from Africa. My original idea was to give a voice to the immigrants, who are most of the time invisible. You can see them, but it is as always as immigrants, rather than just as people and because they are illegal they are afraid of speaking loudly. The other thing is Africa is so close to the Europe. In most of the newspapers there is little coverage of what is happening in Africa. So the initial idea was to bring this news from Africa and from the immigrants to the people in Europe.
When I came to the United States I became more aware, through the work of Amazon Watch, of the plight of the native people in Brazil. They are losing their land to development. It is obvious to me that the indigenous people in Brazil have different rights, different characteristic than the people in Africa, but I feel that this is almost the same project because the megaphone is a tool for people to speak who are not heard and the indigenous people in Brazil should be heard.
The fact that the basket megaphone will be made by the native people transfers their message not only through the sound of their voices, but also through their handwork. I hope that having these two methods of expression will open people’s eyes a bit more to the concerns of these people. I think that anybody who is confronted with the quality of this traditional work cannot be insensitive to these people. I hope they will see the work and think, “ These people are creating such beautiful things. Their way of life should not be affected negatively by our civilization.”
My connection to the work of native people comes from two different places. From a visual perspective I have always been interested in the quality of indigenous art. Of course, I am not the first artist to be interested in this. There is a long history of contemporary art being influenced by traditional and indigenous art. Also, I feel that these people have a different relation to their own life, to their family, to time and to their environment. The kind of relation which we are missing. In fact we have more to learn from them than they do from us.