- CARLOS GIMÉNEZ
- JOAN BAEZ
- JULIO CORTÁZAR
- NOVELA: HISTORIAS DE CRISI Y SU SICOANALISTA BERLIA
- NOVELA: LA CASA LILA
- NOVELA: LEJOS DE CASA
- NOVELA: UNA CIERTA MIRADA
- TEATRO: ESQUINA CON MALVONES
- TEATRO: GENTE A VISTA
- TEATRO: PUERTA ABIERTA AL MAR
- TEATRO: TRUMAN
Rolando Peña, multimedia artist, the only Venezuelan Black Prince: "We baptized the group in a bathtub, and the godfather was Andy Warhol" / Interview by Viviana Marcela Iriart, Miami 6-12-2020
|Rolando Peña and Karla Gómez|
I have to confess: I didn’t like Rolando Peña at all. He seemed snobbish, cocky, pedantic; always dressed in black; very famous, very attractive, and very distant. Friend of Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Grace Jones! People even said that he had been Bob Dylan`s brother-in-law and lover of Joan Baez and that she had written her magnificent Love song to a stranger dedicated to him. The stories about Rolando Peña ran like beer on the nights of the Rajatabla Cafe: of all colors and in abundance.
Rolando was also mysterious, like his work. Because, isn't it mysterious a barrel of oil sitting on the ground like a Buddha, who looks at you without looking at you because he has no eyes and speaks to you without saying anything because he has no mouth? And you couldn't stop looking at him or listening to him.
Rolando Peña was one of the best that the Venezuelan counterculture had but being the chosen one; his art flew, crossed borders, and triumphed in New York being true he was a friend and creative partner of the great artists of the American and European counterculture. Rolando Peña, multimedia artist, dancer, creator of performances, and happenings. Rolando Peña, opening new paths; and those who open new paths always fall stones. It must not have been easy to be Rolando Peña. Freedom always annoys, even in those glorious years.
That Rolando Peña that I didn't like because I was also prejudiced, even though I thought I wasn't, is right now one of my favorite people. What happened? Even though Carlos Giménez is no longer with us, he continues to unite people; and without my realizing it, he put him in my way, and thus I met a wonderful human being: humble, generous, kind, loving, full of tenderness, love, and humor.
And with Rolando came Karla, as loving as him, and thus, the three of us, we have done this interview that could well be called, emulating Anais Nin, Rolando Peña's “Diary 1”.
But come in, don't delay, take a seat: The Magic is about to begin.
"... All the official organizations of the country vetoed and execrated me, which filled me with great pride. Threatened on several occasions with jail, attacks, and that is why I decided to emigrate once again ..."
Hi Rolando, let's start with Today. How are you experiencing the coronavirus pandemic?
I’m currently working on various projects without major problems, reflecting, meditating, and of course, sharing and worshiping Karla more every day. The coronavirus will pass, and my work will remain as a witness which is essential. Above all obstacles, pandemics, and disasters, creative work is essential and it must continue to be done.
Does the coronavirus inspire you, scare you, anguish you (thousands of people dying in solitude), give you hope (nature is recovering, wars are waiting ...), or do you not care
I take it easy... I have been through many other strong situations, this pandemic is of course dire, global, collective. I think the leaders were caught by surprise and they are still surprised, which is very dangerous. At one point I thought this alarm signal would serve to make people react and realize the enormous damage done to Planet Earth, our home, but now I can see that it does not. Gloves and masks are being trashed in the seas, oceans, etc., which is very terrible. When will we learn...?
I can't help but ask you about the anti-racist demonstrations that are is going through right now in the United States, that have forced President Trump to hide in a bunker: a historic moment, it seems to me. Will it finally be the end of racism? Or is the only solution is to separate the people they hate, to create a country where racists, femicides, homophobes, sexists, anti-Semites live ... all the people who want to kill other people just because they are different? The Nobel Prize winner John Coetzee puts it in his novel "Misfortune" (1999): a country of women so that they are never raped again. Terrible.
This is very terrible, it is a virus, a cancer as harmful as any pandemic, and it is in everyone's DNA. Primary primitivism, hatred, resentment, violence, exacerbated egos. We are extremely self-destructive. I must confess that I see no solution to these horrors... We need many more years of learning, of creating consciences, of evolutions, of CULTURE. I consider that Art, in general, helps to create consciences, that is why I have bet on Art 100%, and I have dedicated my life to it, despite so many disasters, nonsense, wars, discrimination of all kinds, racial, sexual, religious, philosophical... I am an inveterate optimist and I am hopeful that slow changes will come but they will come.
The plastic arts have very few black artists. Are the visual arts racist?
The visual arts are not racist, humans are. Undoubtedly, there are many prominent white artists in the history of art, fewer women and blacks; curiously, Latin American artists have also been kept distant from international circles with few exceptions... It is a subject for reflection in its exact dimension.
Are you optimistic about the human race? Do you think you are lucky to be a man instead of, for example, a macaw?
Yes. Despite everything I told you before, I am an extreme optimist. Truthfully, I would not want to be a macaw although I love them, I am satisfied with being a man with all my little details, greatness, dreams, mistakes, achievements, failures. I keep dreaming and thinking that life is wonderful, that love is a gift from the gods, and that ART SAVES.
You are working? What are your medium and short term plans?
I work around the clock, at night, at dawn, I always have plans, projects, exhibitions, sound performances, poetry recitals, talks, and as you will notice, no rest, it is what keeps me alive. I am a double Scorpio, which is why I have incredible energy. Now with Karla (my angel), the accomplice of accomplices, I have infinite support; she gives me a lot of strength and that is a gift from GOD ...
Seeing the wonderful dossier of your work that your wife Karla sent me (thank you, Karla) I am surprised to see the seriousness, melancholy and remoteness that have been on your face since childhood. Certainly, you are not a typical Venezuelan. You are in front of the camera but your mind always seems to be somewhere else, a step or ten thousand kilometers ahead, as if you had no time to lose. There are very few smiles. I have only seen that same expression in another artist: Carlos Giménez. And both have done a revolutionary work. Nothing "would be" in terms of conservatism. A work that invites joy, reflection. Are you melancholic, serious and distant?
I have been a great lone survivor with periods of melancholy, but I am serious, rigorous with my work without losing humor, humor is a lifeline... without humor life is a horror. Never distant, on the contrary, I am always attentive to the events around me. I am certainly not a typical Venezuelan, nor do I consider myself from any particular country, perhaps because of my training in N.Y.C., which is also very atypical, full of immigrants like me, I consider myself a citizen of Planet Earth. Of course, I have strong and deep roots in Venezuela, my home country.
Now, and for a long time, you are a consecrated artist, but I imagine that you must have suffered a lot of misunderstanding in your beginnings.
Of course... misunderstandings, censorship, injustice, personal hatred, envy, but these reactions are normal and happen to anyone who gets involved in unconventional jobs; many consider art as something strange. Despite having a recognized, consistent, impressive, and coherent work, the chroniclers of the apocalypse appear, which is very normal, which confirms that I continue to raise controversies and that is very gratifying. Of course, I see them, and I thank them for keeping the flame of passion alive.
What is the Foundation for the Totality?
Foundation for the Totality was a group I founded and led in N.Y.C. in 1966. Juan Downey, Manuel V (Manuel Vicente Peña), Jaime Barrios, Waldo Díaz Balart, Carmen Beuchat, Alfonso Barrios (Palito), Ana María Fuenzalida, Vicky Larraín, José Rodríguez Soltero accompanied me on this crusade. I had some wonderful collaborators, Gregory Battcock, Walter Bowart, Andy Warhol, Joseph Aliaga, Marisol Escobar, Chuck Federman, Aldo Vigliarolo, Isabel Morrison, Allen Ginsberg, Edie Sedgwick, Carla Rotolo, and many more. It was the first group of avant-garde Latin American Artists in that city. We carried out and took part in many happenings, guerrilla theater, videos, films, and organized many demonstrations against the Vietnam War. We baptized the group in a bathtub, and the godfather was Andy Warhol. For the event we read this MANIFESTO published on the cover of The East Village Other, NY, 1967:
“WESTERN UNION TELEGRAM GOVERNMENT OF HATE HAS TAKEN OVER MOMENTARILY. INTERMISSION OF LOVE.HEROISM IS DECADENT. DAY OF DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE MUST BE EVERYDAY. LOCK YOURSELF UP IN AN ABSOLUTE REIGN OF INSIGNIFICANCE. FLOWER POWER REMAINS UNDERGROUND TILL IT'S TIME TO FLOURISH. CONSIDERING THE REINSTATEMENT OF 'SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST' THEORY, MARTIAL LAW OF INDIFFERENCE DECLARED. SIRENS, BLOOD, BOOTS, SHOOTING, WILL DELAY THE FINAL REVOLUTION OF THE ORGASM. LOVE GUERRILLEROS ALL OVER ARE FIGHTING, KEEP FAITHS SYSTEM SUCCESSFUL IN GUIDING PRESSURES TOWARDS HARMONIOUS MASSACRE. EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM OF IGNORANCE SUCCESSFUL IN ACHIEVING HIGH STANDARDS OF CONFUSION. REPORTS FROM CAPITOL INDICATE ENFORCED ALLENATIONS IN DETROIT CLEVELAND NEWARK AND MANY TO COME. NO EPICS. ONLY SAGAS. BLACKS AND LATINOS ASSIST MOLOTOV COCKTAIL PARTY GIVEN BY C.I.A. COMMITTEE OF POETS CULTIVATE FIELDS OF LIGHT. SOCIALIZATION OF THE CONSCIENCE. MAKE ONLY COSMOLOGICAL TELEPHONE CALLS TILL TOTALITY IS REACHED
INTERGALACTIC WORLD BRAIN (Foundation For The Totality)
“I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness, starving
hysterical naked, dragging themselves
through the negro streets at dawn looking
for an angry fix,
by Allen Ginsberg”
Original cover of the East Village Other...
Who and why did he name you "The Black Prince"? Why prince and not king? Why black and not red, green, purple ...?
There has been much speculation about it, but I will collate the legends. At the time (1965) I attended many events, exhibitions, etc., and at the entrance, they used to have a blank notebook for signing and comments. I always signed "The Prince of the Bowery''. The Bowery was a neighborhood where alcoholics, drug addicts, and other marginal characters were confined, and of course, signing so was a provocation. Warhol noticed and laughed about it, and when asked who is that guy accompanying you dressed in black with a cape, he would smile and reply playing along, ah... it's the Black Prince. That is the origin of the Black Prince. And black because I've always dressed in black from a very young age. Until today, this pseudonym or alias remained in the collective unconsciousness.
You have such an interesting, varied and rich life and work, you shared with so many interesting people, that I wonder (and I hope), are you writing your memoirs?
We made many recordings with Oscar Marcano describing many of my anecdotes about life. He has several of those conversations on file, he is very busy and we have not continued, but I imagine that the project is still in the air. Oscar Marcano is an extraordinary writer; he won the Jorge Luis Borges Award in Buenos Aires. But you are right... I must start once and for all to write my memoirs; I owe them to all of you, which without any modesty are very interesting and in which many contemporary historical figures of different disciplines and origins are involved… I am sure they will be a hit.
Is there a Rolando Peña Foundation in the future that safeguards and protects your work for future generations?
Karla is taking care of all those details, and she is super professional, talented, and with impeccable taste. You would have to ask her.
What makes you happy and what makes you sad?
I am happy to know that I am alive, and I do my best to collaborate with society, art, love...
freedom... It makes me sad to see so much selfishness, so many inflated egos, so much laziness and indulgences; seeing the horrors we inflict on our house, Planet Earth. It is very unfortunate to see how most politicians and alleged leaders are taking the destinies of the World down a cliff..
And now let's talk a little about Venezuela, that Venezuela that hurts like a red hot nail piercing the sole of the foot: it hurts even in dreams. In 1979 when I interviewed Julio Cortázar he told me: "I have lived outside of Argentina for 28 years, but I never considered myself an exile until the Videla coup." Did the same thing happen to you as to Cortázar, do you feel like an exile after Chávez came to power?
When I was a teenager, I decided to move to N.Y.C., the city in which I was trained, and I spent some wonderful years... like the 60s, 70s, 80s, the GOLDEN age of that city.
From time to time, I went back to my country and participated in various activities.
In 1975, I inaugurated the Annex Room of the Sofia Imber Contemporary Art Museum with my Exhibition and installation "Santería", composed of graphics, installation, and my Photo Diaries.
Several events were organized around this show: Zapata, Simón Díaz, and Anselmo López gave a wonderful concert; Vytas Brenner put on an extraordinary and successful Rock event. The exhibition was a great event, visited by more than 250,000 people, a box-office record. That same year in the Avellan Salon of the Ateneo de Caracas, I staged my legendary "Post-Mortem Tribute to the Black Prince." It was a great installation made up of several coffins, music, Vytas Brenner, a special performance by the leading actor, Héctor Mayerston, filmed by Julio Neri, and still photos by Diego Rísquez.
Then I went back to N.Y.C., and in the mid-80s, I returned to Venezuela with much enthusiasm where I also participated in several interesting projects; I also traveled a lot to Europe... Paris, Spain, Italy, Germany, and everything flowed very well. Until Chávez appeared. Everything went to hell thereafter. Chavismo is an immense disgrace, an extreme curse, an evil, a red plague originating in Fidel Castro, who in turn copied it from Stalin. It is a kind of vicious circle, a maze of HORROR. Unfortunately, it continues to expand to many countries; it is a virus, an extremely dangerous and harmful cancer, and where it enters it destroys everything... it is worse than a tsunami. I carry Venezuela in my heart, in all my organs, in my DNA; what is happening is very painful and very regrettable, it is a regime taken by CARTELS, it is an operational hub for drug traffickers, coup plotters, and terrorists of the worst kind. It is a PANDEMIC that is invading the entire region.
“Don José Gregorio Hernandez Blessing the Birth of Venus”
|“Don Simón Bolivar Having a Good Time”
“The Virgin of Coromoto and Her Son Coromotico”
|“Mi Santa Madre”|
“Saint Carlos Gardel el Morocho del Abasto”
Anecdote: This screenprint was bought by the Uruguayan journalist Ernesto González Bermejo who lived in Paris, he bought it directly from me in N.Y.C. as a present to Julio Cortázar. Then he called me to tell me he had delivered it to Julio Cortázar who was moved.
Invitation and image of the "Post-Mortem Tribute to the Black Prince":
Testament "Post-Mortem Homage to the Black Prince":
You did several shows denouncing the Chavista revolution-dictatorship. Did you have problems with it?
Yes. At the Hall of Photography of the Caracas Athenaeum, I exhibited “Images of the Resistance,” murals of events and protests against the regime I had held in Paris and at the Venice Biennale. It was a controversial exhibition, and of course, the misgovernment was very upset and I was vetoed and ostracized from all the official organisms of the country, which made me very proud. On several occasions, I was threatened with jail, attacks, and so I decided to emigrate again since I had no future and they could make me disappear. It was useless to stay in my home country.
Do you have hope? What do you think is going to happen in Venezuela?
Things in Venezuela are very complicated and deteriorating daily. I do not lose hope even though I am 100% an optimist, I see everything very black. The only way out of this regime of horror is with a unified intervention by several democratic countries. There must be a great democratic coalition, and unfortunately, that is difficult. The complicity with the petro $$$$$$$ is infinite. It is very unfortunate, but it is so.
Elisa Lerner said: "Loneliness is the homeland of the writer" (wonderful Elisa), what is the homeland of a, one, multimedia artist?
WOW, Elisa Lerner, a wonderful being, brilliant writer, and with a humor that is sharper than a Toledo knife. I had the immense honor of having shared with her on many occasions… I met her in the garage of my house where the “Techo de la Ballena” was located, beginning in the 1960s, Caracas, I met her many times and we talked.
My reply to your question: The homeland of a multimedia artist is the UNIVERSE.
Are you religious?
I believe in Zen Buddhism. And I am 100% a libertarian.
How was your childhood?
My childhood was very particular. My holy mother was married five times and had several affairs; she was a pioneer in women’s liberation, so I had a very shaken childhood; she moved many times as she did with husbands and adventures. Therefore, I studied primary and secondary education in different schools and lyceums, it was a very troubled and uneven childhood and adolescence, but of course, very rich in experiences; hence my love to travel, to learn. I am immensely curious, and I love to experiment, to take chances, I love RISK.
Were there artists in your family?
My father was a writer and a diplomat. My holy mother wrote everything that went through her head and read a lot. My younger brothers, Iván Loscher and Roberto Loscher, are very talented, Iván was the best radio host/deejay in the country and Roberto is a great photographer.
How did you find out you wanted to be an artist?
As a child, I drew and obsessively built up Meccano toys (similar to Lego but with metal components). Since I was asthmatic, I never played baseball or soccer because I would get tired and breathless very quickly, and that is the reason why I never smoked. I read a lot, especially adventure novels, Emilio Salgari, the Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Western novels, books on magic, witchcraft, etc., but I always had a feeling for creativity and art, it is in my DNA. I was passionate about drawing, very strange landscapes with golden palm trees, multicolored sandy beaches, and black seas. Meccano was my other passion, I always assembled them and took them apart, it was my way of surviving and communicating.
How was your adolescence? Were you the popular nerd, or one or the other?
I was very shy and introverted, and this bothered my colleagues, it was not easy, they made fun of me and I ignored them. Little by little, I began to understand how I could relate to them, and gradually I lost my shyness and made my way, and that's when things started to change for the better. I began to accept myself, and that opened doors for me to relate naturally and socially. I realized that I had a good sense of humor, black but witty, and that amazed and went down well... Anyway, these are things of life I will never understand but that's how they were.
You did your first performance in 1948, as a child, in front of an oil tower, naked from the waist down. How did that idea come about?
As always, I do things... spontaneously. I confess that it happened because it had to happen. I have always believed and continue to believe in spontaneity, improvisation; I just about remember that when I saw the lake full of towers, of pump jacks, I felt something very deep, and that feeling has remained over time.
Your second performance (1952) is “My First Communion”, and it is incredible that a child could realize the theatricality that surrounds the Catholic religion. Did you really transform your first communion into a happening? What did your mother, your father say?
My mother was a very groundbreaking and challenging woman, therefore she celebrated my mischiefs and my occurrences in a very particular way. As a child, I used to like churches, altars, candles, incense, masses, ceremonies, the parishioners, the faith they showed, passion, beatings, prayers, confessionals. I found the act of confession was wonderful because when you sin and confess, then the priest tells you to pray several Hail Marys as a punishment, and then, you pay for your sins. That seemed unusual to me and as time has passed, even more... curiosities of the Catholic religion.
How did you get to the theater?
From a very young age, I was excited about the idea of the theater. Standing in front of an audience and putting characters together was a magical act for me. At that time, I used to read a lot and I was passionate about the works of William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Calderón de la Barca, García Lorca, the grotesque tales of Cervantes, Valle Inclán, Zorrilla, and many others. I also felt a lot of attraction for dance; dancing on a stage in front of an audience you did not see was a wonderful feeling. In 1955, I entered Andrés Bello High School, and as I was walking through the hallway when I saw a half-open door opening onto a stage. I heard the reading of the play "The Stone Guest" (Alejandro Pushkin’s Don Juan). I went in and sat quietly in the last row. The young man who was reading the character of the Priest was Claudio Perna, who later became a famous conceptual artist; and the young man who was reading the character of Don Juan was Rudy Tarff, who years later would become Head of Psychology at the Central University of Venezuela. The director of the production, Professor Calcaño, was very upset with Claudio and scolded him for misreading the lines. Suddenly, he turned to me and said, "You, what are you doing sitting there?" I barely answered that I was watching the reading and he asked me: "Do you know how to read?" I replied very nervously that I thought I did and then he said, "come up on stage." I went up almost trembling, he gave me the book to read and I read it quite nervously but he liked it, and he asked me if I would like to do that character of the play to be presented a month later. I accepted and that was my first experience in the theater, which indeed marked my life.
You did a lot of shows with Cabrujas, what were they like? Did he write and direct and did both act? Or were they collective creations?
They were collective creations and each one of us had a role. "Testimony" and "Tribute to Henry Miller" were my ideas. I mentioned them to José Ignacio, and I invited him to participate since he had shown interest in us doing something together.
My idea was to make shows where all the arts came together: dance, theater, cinema, electronic music, slide shows, etc., all at the same time while improvising but following a structure; that is, they were multimedia happenings. Cabrujas loved this idea and we started rehearsing at the Experimental Architecture Theater (TEA), where José Ignacio used to give theater workshops while I was teaching contemporary dance. It was a unique experience followed by most architecture students.
“Testimonio'' was the first multimedia show to be held in Venezuela; with a group of first-line collaborators: Antonio Llerandi, who was the production assistant; Miguel Ángel Fuster composed the music or soundtrack with sounds from the street, traffic, natural noises, several radio sets on at the same time, sounds from machine guns, pistols, shotguns, bombs, grenades, sirens, etc.; Fernando Irazábal, who designed abstract slides made with oil that expanded when heated; Eduardo Mancera collaborated in Cabrujas’s monologue. It was all very dramatic, very strong. I was standing in the middle of the stage covered in a long white shirt improvising the movements to the beat of the background sounds. The slide images were projected on my body acting as a screen. Simultaneously, José Ignacio Cabrujas was reading a monologue written by him but that he was also improvising... the show was an outcry of what was happening in the country at the time. The audience was screaming, crying, it was a great coven. "Tribute to Henry Miller'' had the same concept but the slides were images taken from Playboy magazine by the architect-artist Domingo Alvarez. These wonderful images were nothing more than the magazine models’ big tits, asses, pussies, etc. Cabrujas, standing at one end of the stage, had several Henry Miller books on a table, randomly opening and reading them. Of course, the audience reaction was strong, there were screams. The two shows marked, without a doubt, an entire era.
Homage to Henry Miller
Was it difficult to study dance due to the macho prejudices of the time?
Yes, at first, they looked at me suspiciously. A dancer who was not gay, who wore a beard and who also told to fuck off whoever said anything about their sex... it was not easy, but things changed after slapping and hitting some of them. I think there is still prejudice in many countries. In short, it all takes time, but it is worth fighting for your beliefs, and breaking down walls, opening doors, windows, eliminating prejudices leave a very pleasant flavor, and one feels useful.
You had a successful career as a stage, film and television actor. Why did you leave it for performance and happening?
It was not that I left it, I was simply more interested in everything related to the avant-garde. I found theater very conventional and cinema schematic, stiff, accommodating, and the television of that time was frankly a mess without any interest. Of course, all these media have progressed and improved over time. We must recognize that the experiences of underground, experimental, and author cinema, the experimental theater of Broadway, and the cable TV channels, were an excellent influence of these media.
Did you lean towards performance and happening instead of theater because they are freer expressions than theater?
I have always been a fan of jazz music and I consider it the Gods' music; the fact that 70% or 80% is improvised always seemed magical, excellent. Of course, you must know very well what you are going to improvise, otherwise, it does not make any sense; that must be made very clear. My contemporary dance teacher, Grishka Holguin, used to say, "to break balance you have to know it," that is key. Based on these premises, the happenings and the performance readily caught me because they are part of my DNA, the feeling of freedom... the risk, the feeling you are for real, without compromise, like crossing a tightrope without a safety net... it is priceless, risking everything. One is in the middle of nowhere, totally alone, a somersault over the void, it is great cosmic intercourse. For these reasons, I decided to choose that uneasy path, but it is my FREEDOM.
In 1979, I performed “The Seven Vanishing Points'' (installation and performance) at the Cayman Gallery in N.Y.C., which meant an important confrontation with my work and myself. For this installation, I presented large-format collages with images of perspectives from classic books, and intervened with a series of photo-booth snapshots that I started doing since 1960. These collages have a lot of theatricalities and a sense of humor. The performance setting was made up of two 2m x 2m square cubes. In the first cube, completely covered with mirror mylar, I sat drinking a bottle of champagne, and when I finished, I came out of the cube and then broke seven mirrors of 1m x 2m each located on the opposite wall. The second cube, which was made of wood, had a small hole in the center of one of the panels, where the viewer could see a sitting mannequin dressed in a tuxedo who was me. This was the last show we did as Foundation for the Totality. Andy Warhol wrote in my exhibition catalog: "The Seven Vanishing Points is much, much, much better than Studio 54."
Collage of "The Seven Vanishing Points"
The poster and the catalog
“The Seven Vanishing Points” filmed by Juan Downey
When you were very young you went to Havana and met Che ("he was a petulant" you said in 2013). And a few years later you made a movie in tribute to Che where, if the photos don't deceive me, you were him. What attracted you to Che? Were you seduced by the idea of armed revolution? As a contestatory artist that you were, weren't you distressed by the lack of freedom that existed in Cuba, its creative narrowness, censorship, injustice?
It was not a tribute to Che; it was speculation about his death. When we made the movie “Dialogues with Che,” José Rodríguez Soltero and I were in our 20s. At that time it seemed very unfair to us how they killed him; the film is based precisely on those final moments of his life; we were naive and well-intentioned. I proposed to José the idea ofmaking the film in a very improvised and natural way, “Cinema Verité” style to create controversy. He agreed, and I bought the "Che Guevara's Diary" that had just been published. A small group of friends collaborated with us, including Taylor Mead who was at the time one of Andy Warhol's superstars. The film was totally improvised and filmed by José. At one point I look at the camera and say to José, "José, I'm not really Che Guevara and I have nothing to do with him," and I began to improvise a dialogue with José about what we were, what we represented, about our situation as Latinos in N.Y.C., and in Latin America. The film fitted in the underground spirit of the time.
Our film participated in the Berlin Film Festival thanks to an invitation from Jonas Mekas. We gave us enough time to go to the Cannes Festival beforehand, and there Dennis Hopper, whom I had met in “The Factory” with Warhol, presented his movie “Easy Rider” together with Peter Fonda. He informally gave us a space to show our film to the audience, of course generating a lot of controversy. Already in Berlin we officially participated in a special section together with the film "La Gai Savoir" by Jean Luc Godard and Antonio Das Mortes by Glauber Rocha and, once again, it caused quite a stir. At the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the film created a great scandal and they almost lynched us because the public assumed it was a mockery of the figure of Che Guevara. In general terms we concluded we were very successful because right from the outset we had considered making a very controversial film and that was achieved.
More recently in 2017, the film was recognized at the first Experimental Film Festival in Latin
America is called "Ismo, Ismo, Ismo", which was held in the United States at the Los Angeles Film Forum. Over the years, we realized that this supposedly humanitarian revolution that sought justice and equality was the opposite. Now we know that it was a huge lie, the consequences have been disastrous, devastating, and where they arrive, they destroy without any contemplation. It is the search for power by power and that is the only thing that matters to them; kill, extort, blackmail, everything is valid for them. Now they are a big cartel, narco-terrorists. It is terribly unfortunate, but it is so.
Our film participated in the Berlin Film Festival thanks to an invitation from Jonas Mekas. We gave us enough time to go to the Cannes Festival beforehand, and there Dennis Hopper, whom I had met in “The Factory” with Warhol, presented his movie “Easy Rider” together with Peter Fonda. He informally gave us a space to show our film to the audience, of course generating a lot of controversies. Already in Berlin, we officially participated in a special section together with the film "La Gai Savoir" by Jean Luc Godard and Antonio Das Mortes by Glauber Rocha and, once again, it caused quite a stir. At the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the film created a great scandal and they almost lynched us because the public assumed it was a mockery of the figure of Che Guevara. In general terms, we think we were very successful because right from the outset we had considered making a very controversial film and that was achieved.
More recently in 2017, the film was recognized at the first Experimental Film Festival in Latin America called "Ismo, Ismo, Ismo", which was held in the United States at the Los Angeles Film Forum. Over the years, we realized that this supposedly humanitarian revolution that sought justice and equality was quite the opposite. Now we know that it was a huge lie, the consequences have been disastrous, devastating, and where they arrive, they destroy without any contemplation. It is the search for power by power and that is the only thing that matters to them; kill, extort, blackmail, everything is valid for them. Now they are a big cartel, narco-terrorists. It is terribly unfortunate, but it is so.
You got a scholarship to study dance with Martha Graham. How was that experience? Why did you drop out? Is it true that Graham was mad at you?
True, the Martha Graham Dance School gave me a scholarship and I was very excited. But while practicing and studying at the school, I realized that the Graham technique was very rigid, more rigid than ballet, and that caused me a lot of disappointment. It is a forced technique that ultimately hurts you physically, in the knees, back, hips, etc. Once in a class she was giving, I told her; she got very upset and asked me to leave her school, and that's what I did, I left and I feel happy that I did it.
By the way, at that time, in 1965, after spending some time living in the small studio on 10th Street and 2nd Avenue, I met Clara Thomson and I moved with her to an apartment on 10th Street between University Place and 7th Avenue. It was an incredible coincidence that Marcel Duchamp lived in front of our building. Every morning, when I went out early on the street to take the subway to Martha Graham's school, I met this impeccably dressed man who was out walking a small dog. Then I realized this man was Marcel Duchamp, sometimes I would say "bonjour M. Duchamp," he never acknowledged. Eventually, I went to visit him in his studio with Marisol Escobar who knew him very well. I told him I was his neighbor for a while and that every morning I saw him walking his puppy, he replied very laconically... "I never realized."
What did you do after leaving Graham's studies?
I went immediately to study with Alwin Nikolais, an extraordinary teacher, choreographer, researcher, 100% avant-garde. With him and his group, I had the opportunity to develop my ideas as I had conceived them, the world opened to me thanks to him. I always remember him with admiration and gratefulness, Nikolais was and is one of the great, a GENIUS, he completely revolutionized dance and the show. Dance, theater, shows, in general, owe much to him... BRAVO NIKOLAIS...
You came to New York very young and in a moment of creative explosion, was it easy to integrate into the medium?
I must confess that I felt like a fish in water, I integrated immediately; of course, with ups and downs, it was not so easy, but I felt that this was my environment, my place, my habitat. It blended with my way of seeing the world, art, life, filling me, and I was extremely happy...
Shortly after arriving in New York you acted in several movies directed by Andy Warhol when Warhol was the king of the counterculture (and of culture as well). How did you meet him? What was he like as a director?
I met Warhol on my first trip to N.Y.C. in 1963. He was at the home of Adelaide de Menil, an excellent photographer, and daughter of John de Menil, collector and patron of the arts, an interesting character from that time. I was invited by a friend who was a painter, to a cocktail that she was giving that night to a group of artist friends, whom among the famous guests was Andy Warhol. We were introduced, greeted each other, and I did not see him again until 1965 when I returned to that city. One night, I invited to dinner a beautiful dancer who was a classmate from the Martha Graham School, and we went to El Quijote restaurant at the Chelsea Hotel, the most emblematic hotel of the time, where many of the avant-gardes of N.Y.C., Europe, and elsewhere were staying. At that time, I was not aware of this, and because I was living very close, and because it was Spanish food and they spoke Spanish, I found it attractive because my English was not good. We sat at a table, very close at a large table where Warhol was with his group: Viva, Gerard Malanga, Ultraviolet, Nico, and others. At one point, Gerard Malanga came up and began to speak to me in English. I told him that my English was not very good, that he spoke Spanish and a little Italian. And he said, no problem, we will mix Spanish and Italian. This was how we understood each other. He told me, “The person sitting with us is Andy Warhol, you called his attention because of the way you are dressed, all in black with a cape, and he asks you if you are interested in participating in some film projects we are planning.” I, of course, answered yes, that I was interested. I had already participated in theater and cinema in my country. I thought it was a good opportunity to enter the artistic world of N.Y.C. When we finished our dinner, we went to their table and drank wine with them, and they invited me to go to "The Factory", where they used to work and plan everything. That same year, I had to travel to Venezuela and lost track of him. When I got back a year later, I founded the “Foundation for the Totality,” and we started to do many events in the city. Among the founders of this organization was Waldo Díaz-Balart, who was a very good friend of Warhol, and one day he invited Warhol to dine with me, we resumed contact and then filmed the movie "Four Stars", which lasts 24 hours. Much of it was filmed in a house Waldo owned on the beach in East Hampton; the whole group went there, and of course, this film raised a lot of controversies, and that's where my relationship with Warhol began.
Was Warhol as strange and ugly as his biographies paint him?
Warhol spoke very little, was rather a shy person, he was very sparing in everything, he did not smoke, he did not drink, he never took drugs, he was not interested in sex… he said that this was a waste of time, and in general, he was very expressionless. He was not what is called to be "good looking" although he was certainly very interesting, he had those Slavic features and wore a toupee. I do not consider it strange, but it was different. Warhol was always very nice to me and we used to talk. One day a journalist told me that many people were surprised about that, and I replied; it is very simple, he does not understand what I say and I do not understand him either, that is why we understand each other...
In 1966 you participated in the Allen Ginsberg show The Illumination of Buddha at The Village Theater. How did Ginsberg summon you, what did you do on the show?
Arriving in N.Y.C. On my second trip when I came to stay, I got a very cheap studio in East Village on 10th Street and 2nd Avenue. There was a good and cheap coffee nearby where I often had breakfast located on 2nd Avenue and 8th Street. There I met Allen Ginsberg's group, we were neighbors and soon I became friendly with the group. I told Ginsberg what I was doing and showed him the catalogs of “Testimony” and “Tribute to Henry Miller” which he thought were excellent; especially “Tribute to Henry Miller” since it was the first tribute made to Miller in life. Right after, Ginsberg invited me to a poetry recital at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. We went together and he told me to bring the catalogs and the press releases about the show “Tribute to Henry Miller” because Miller lived in Big Sur and we would visit him. Lo and behold, after the recital we went to visit Miller and I showed him all the material of his Tribute. He was totally amazed... it was very exciting. That night we stayed in his house, we had dinner, we talked a lot, we drank, it was a magical night. Upon returning, Ginsberg told me about a project that Timothy Leary was planning to launch as a prophet of LSD, and he asked me if I would be interested in participating with them; I said yes. From there came out “The Illumination of Buddha”, which was first presented at The Village Theater. My participation consisted of mounting a psychedelic dance, with several dancers naked and painted with phosphorescent paint insignia on a stage illuminated with a black light. The audience was really pleased.
In the beginning, could you live on your art?
I lived very modestly. I gave dance classes, massages, talks... With this kind of job I earned enough money to pay my expenses and live decently, it was perfect for me.
Why did you go to Paris? What did you do there?
I often went to Paris... I adored and still love the city. They gave me an excellent artist workshop at the Cité des Arts in the heart of Paris. I exhibited on several occasions and had a great time; I had several love affairs, and I met many people whom I still love and appreciate. In Paris, I made a very important individual exhibition at the Maison de L'Amérique Latine, “Le Pétrole c’est a moi”, which helped me a lot and opened many doors. I collaborated in exhibition projects with Soto, Cruz-Diez, Alejandro Otero, Asdrubal Colmenarez, Victor Lucena, Narciso Debourg, Joan Rabascall, Veronique Chanteau, Kitty Holly, Fernando Arrabal, Jack Vanarsky, and others. One day I decided to go back to Venezuela to collaborate with the country, and I stayed until the Red Plague arrived, and the country went to hell.
What was the theme of the films you directed and performed, La Cotorra and La Cotorra No. 2?
The name of the films arises from the irony of a bird called Cotorra that repeats the same sounds recurrently. La Cotorra is an improvised and random conversation that I had with my brother, Iván Loscher, where we talked about the country, political events, social life, art, his daily life, etc. La Cotorra No. 2 is different because it deals with the lack of communication. Ivan and I were trying to communicate on a plot of land where they were building a Caracas metro station and the noise there was hellish, nothing was heard. It was very impressive, and I have successfully presented it at several International film festivals with great success. Woody Allen saw it at a private screening in N.Y.C. and bought a copy. La Cotorra No. 2 was recognized and highly applauded at the first experimental Film Festival in Latin America called “Ismo, Ismo, Ismo”, which was held in the United States at the Los Angeles Film Forum in 2017.
Which artists influenced you?
I have great admiration for Leonardo da Vinci, Marcel Duchamp, the Dadaists, the Surrealists, the Fluxus Group, pop artists, Warhol, Lucio Fontana, Robert Wilson, Marisol Escobar, Jesús Soto, Alejandro Otero, the New Realists group led by the great and unique Pierre Restany, art critic, curator, and philosopher. There are many more, but these were the main ones.
Why is oil the central axis of your work?
Oil is energy, it is a sign of power, it is a great mirage. Because of the given misuse, the large corporations with their excessive ambitions have transformed it into a nefarious, negative element. That caught my attention and I accepted it as a challenge. No one had used it the way I have; I have transformed it into a concept of contemporary art, into a symbol, for better and for worse.
How do you feel about the barrels of oil? Hate, love, indifference?
The oil barrel, as an object, I find aesthetically beautiful. Its proportions are mathematically perfect; of the different measures that exist, 60 cm x 90 cm is the most widely used. I like their meanings; what is known as an oil barrel is a kind of mask, a great lie since it never receives the liquid from the oil, only its derivatives. It is a great camouflage.
It is difficult to be a prophet in your land but it seems to me that you, who went against the current and walked your own path, did it. Do you feel that
I feel I have made a very coherent monumental work. I have never made concessions, quite the contrary, and little by little they have been discovering and accepting me. It has not been easy, but I am pleased that it is; furthermore, I wonder, what is easy...?
When you look back on your life, do you feel happy about everything you lived, everything you created?
Yes, I am satisfied. I did what I felt I had to do, I bypassed useless conventions without concessions, I have defended my freedom above everything and everyone. I look back with joy, with satisfaction, with pride and that is not easy.
How is a day in your life?
I get up very early, I meditate a little, I reflect a lot, I walk several kilometers, I have never driven a car, I have never smoked. I check my computer, I share on Facebook with many friends, I think about the things that interest me, I work on my projects, I check them, Karla helps me put together the proposals, we discuss, reflect and proceed to work on them. Through Facebook I send messages; sometimes I am controversial, but in general, they are positive; I eat breakfast with fruits, granola oats, I am 100% a naturist; I kiss Karla before bedtime and when we get up. We laugh all the time, she is the marvelous reality, she is my sublime angel, my inspiration, and every day we love and respect each other more.
I am going to copy myself from Clarice Lispector who in an interview with a writer told her: "Say something that surprises me" and he replied: "748" and she was really surprised. So, finally, Rolando, thank you very much for this wonderful interview and, please, surprise me with something.
Firstly, before answering I would like to thank you for such a brilliant interview. I reply to your question: Hahahahahahaha, I am surprised that you ask me to surprise you when I am surprised myself, HUGS.