During my last weeks in Buenos Aires, I visited the Fundación Espigas’s Document Center on the History of the Visual Arts in Argentina and got the chance to interview Delia Cancela, one of my favorite artists from the Centro de Artes Visuales of the Instituto Di Tella.
Argentina is unfortunately known for being rather negligent when it comes to building up and preserving archives. In that context, the work of Fundación Espigas is especially praiseworthy. Created in 1993, it has undertaken to gather and protect all Argentine art-related documents at home and abroad. Their archive has been very helpful for my research on Argentine artists who emigrated to France in the late sixties/early seventies. I visited Espigas’s offices in Recoleta and spent days looking for information and all sorts of documents related to Alfredo Arias, Delia Cancela, Roberto Plate, Juan Stoppani, and David Lamelas. Old interviews or articles published in magazines and newspapers, invitations to openings in Buenos Aires, Paris or New York -a whole range of materials unlikely to be found at any other place than Fundación Espigas.
I met with Delia Cancela at her beautiful house in the neighborhood of Colegiales. As soon as we started talking, even during a very casual, informal conversation, I felt the need to record Delia’s opinions, stories, and reflections. She said she’s fascinated by people of letters because she’s never been “good with words” herself. I turn the pages of a heavy book containing her wonderful artpieces and note how many of them include names, quotes, and all kinds of phrases. I wish I was that good with words, I think, and listen. She has a lot to tell. She’s been one of the “pop stars” from the Di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires. In the late sixties, along with her long-time partner Pablo Mesejean, she moved to London, where their art creations (some of them in the form of clothes) attracted the attention of the Fashion popes of the moment. A few months into their stay in the city they were contributing regularly for Vogue and by the mid-seventies Pablo and Delia had become a cult Fashion house both in London and in Paris.
Even more interesting than these stories from the past, however, is the work of Delia Cancela as an individual artist today. Delia’s work looks more like that of a contemporary artist, rather than the aftermath of an invention that shone long ago, in the good old Sixties. I mention this to Delia and struggle to think why I have that impression about her work. Not out of lack of modesty but more as a mere show of surprise (or actually non-surprise), she goes, Oh, yes, I’ve been told that before. Her constant reflection on the female body and on how it is socially represented is surely one of the reasons why her work looks more like stuff that’s been done from the late Seventies/ early Eighties onwards. But there’s definitely something else that makes her work more up-to-date than that of some of her fellows from Di Tella. Something more purely visual, maybe, that I need to translate into words.
In the meantime, I keep talking with Delia about her recent pieces, about the relation between Fashion and Art in her work, her experience as an Argentine artist who lived for many decades in Europe and finally decided to move back “home”, on how the Art world works “here” and “there”, and a long etcetera. Without noticing, Delia and I have been talking for more than five hours. She must be somehow “good with words” to be this enchanting.
Germán Garrido — PhD Candidate in Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literature at NYU