Julia: You and your brother take a great interest in food. How did this shared love come about?
Raul: I was born in Mexico City into a large family and spent most of my early life here. When I was growing up we used to do thematic dinners once in a while where we would pick a country someone in the family had recently visited, and we would cook cuisine from that place. If the theme was ‘pre-hispanic’ or ‘cowboy dinner’ for example, we wouldn’t use cutlery, or we would eat worms, or whatever made sense. We always brought costumes back from our travels to wear at these dinners. This was good fun, but not always the most flattering. But thanks to this I got to know other cultures through their stomach and my family still does that.
JS: In the States, everyone is talking about the burgeoning art world in DF, and how hip it is. How does that manifest itself in the daily life of a Mexican artist?
RO: Many artists who live here don’t work with Mexican galleries, but live here and produce their work here. It is still cheap to rent a decent space and its cheap to hire others to help you produce your work. This is a good and a bad thing. It’s good for the artists but its mostly bad for the people who help artists produce their work. They are often not properly credited for their collaboration (if there was one), or aren’t paid fairly for their contribution to the work.
There are also a variety of options here to exhibit and/or to see art. If no commercial gallery wants to represent you, for example, you can just open your own space in your living room or get together with other artists and make a show. So you can end up experiencing a great show in someone’s living room or in a large museum.
JS: How has the art scene in DF changed since you have been there?
RO: It’s changed a lot. It’s become more global and more professionalized. But that’s not always a good thing because it’s sacrificed some of its experimental nature and its freshness to become more mainstream. In fact, I find this to be a problem with art students in several parts of the world right now. Their main focus is the gallery, and this causes them to sacrifice experimentation and the development of their work. But fortunately places like SOMA, Biquini Wax, No-space gallery, artist’s collectives like Crater Invertido, Neri Vela and many more ventures are appearing and are expanding the conversation.
There is nothing wrong with participating in the art market, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that artists talk about.
JS: You have worked with food in your practice. You even attended Culinary Institute of America in NY. What was your intention there? Did you have a goal or was it more general research?
RO: When I’m developing a new series, I immerse myself as much as possible in the field I’m researching by getting jobs or taking courses for extended periods of time. And for the series in which I worked with food I wanted to seriously learn cooking and/or cooking techniques to use in the production of my work. I took as many courses as I could.
JS: Can you tell me a bit more about the Babel Fat Tower? How is it, “a coherent metaphor of our times?”
RO: Our generation has been sold many pipe dreams by the food industry. and The Babel Fat Tower illustrates that persistent cycle of illusion and deception we experience with many of the industrialized food products.
JS: And The Last Supper, what prompted that piece?
RO: In food, something secular can become sacred and something sacred can become secular. I was exploring the idea of ‘transubstantiation’ that the Catholic Church uses to explain how the bread and the wine actually becomes the blood and the body of Christ.
JS: What was it like to shoot your video of the tomato fight in Spain? How did you do that?
RO: It was an experience that surpassed my expectations. There is something quite animalistic about it that you only get to experience when you are there.
JS: I know your brother is a professional chef, do you share the kitchen when he is around?
RO: In Mexico when someone helps a cook they are called a ‘pinche,’ which is also a derogatory word for something insignificant, or without much value. When my brother is in the kitchen, I’m just simply his ‘pinche,’ trying to learn as much as I can.
JS: How often do you actually eat crickets?
RO: Not that often as I didn’t grow up with it as a staple food but the children of my brother who are born and raised in Oaxaca, where they are eaten quite often.
JS: Where did these recipes comes from?
RO: Mostly family or friends but as I mentioned when we were cooking, one of the great things that I found whilst doing the food series is that recipes are one of the last ‘open sources’ of information where copyright isn’t an issue. Even if people try to hijack them, they resist appropriation and freely travel and mutate.