Cristian Forte: Throw the pen – Poetic performances

Cristian Forte came to Berlin in 2009, having left Argentina that same year. Why is this important? Because Cristian is the kind of poet that is very sensitive to his surroundings and the places he performs his poetry. This turns every one of his pieces into a political question, too.

Credit: Cristian Forte
Credit: Cristian Forte

(Julia Schiefer:) Cristian, you engage in poetic performances: Mail-Art, guerilla-like performances, musical tabula rasa, and from time to time the written word, poetry. Please tell me more about your work.

(Cristian Forte:) With poets you usually associate a Romantic image of a writer at a desk reading and writing in private. It is the image of the poet bent forward over his desk under a single lamp. Even though it is nothing new and maybe you avert your eyes from it, this image nevertheless persists to the present day – regardless of how many attempts have been made to do away with it. It’s an image that doesn’t satisfy me entirely. Back in Argentina I was part of a surrealist collective called Etcétera from 1999 to 2006 and I was always interested in the visual arts. This laid the foundation for my present artistic practice. Given the recent developments in past decades beginning with the sixties in art and literature, I cannot help but perceive poetry as not merely confined to words or text alone. I consider poetry as a transdisciplinary art that is basically defined by its context and its media.

Poetry is the search for knowledge. And each question needs to have its own media, its own means of transportation that carries the meaning of what is intended most suitably. I draw my inspiration from conceptual and experimental artists and word artists that mix theater, performance and literature. Take for example the project I did in Leipzig in May 2015 which was curated by Lena von Geyso und Elisabeth Pichler called “Wunsch, Augenblick, Vergessen” (“desire, moment, forgetfulness”).

Its main features were time, text and poetry. The salient point was to make inheritance and origin visible in the three modes of how passing time is considered, that is the future, the present, and the past. The performance took place in front of the German immigration office. You have to know that Leipzig is a city that is itself left-wing but is encircled with right-wing groups in Saxony, Germany, so migration is a delicate topic that can easily get people worked up. I think that this kind of performance opens up the possibility for the search for knowledge which is most essential part of poetry. Not only was the experimentation itself enlightening but moreover the risk that was taken (indeed, the police intervened) is an example of what can lead to new knowledge. 

Do you use technology in your works or the internet as a means to connect people?

No, you could say that could not be further from the case. I have a lot of old computers – all of which were given to me. I own quite a few of them, eight in total. But what I mean by this is that I prefer slowness. My punk band is called “leise & langsam” (“silent & slow”).

I think we can agree on the internet being more public than public society. So would you not at least want to see how the public in the internet is composed, what kind of reactions you may get?

Digital data media is always in the light. I, on the contrary, need shadows. I need something that smells. Digital data media is not always healthy.

Do you think that literature has to be brought to the stage to be experienced?

Yes! You know, I am a bookbinder as well. I founded a publishing house called Milena Berlin in 2010 together with my friend Milena Caserola. It is a yet-to-sell-publishing-house. That means we don’t sell in Berlin (though Milena Caserola sells books in Buenos Aires) –  but at present we give workshops where books are made. They serve to establish a sense of community rather than pronouncing the final product. We want the very medium of the book to be an open source. We imagine the project to be fruitful in five years eventually.

I have a kind of fascination for failures, you know, with failings and break downs and the like. This is exactly what selling poetry is about. (laughs)

Credit: Cristian Forte
Credit: Cristian Forte

I consider this publishing house as an empowerment for people to fail, on a micro-political level. Failing is awesome. It is the dark side of the moon. The same goes for societies. People like me live on the shadowy side of society.

What can you learn at your workshop as it is?

One learns how to fail elegantly.

In Argentina where I come from nobody earns a proper salary, everybody is constantly broke. However, the number of people visiting the independent book fair FLIA in Buenos Aires exceeds 3000 even though there is no money involved.

In Europe, a critical objectivity arose from a crises-consciousness society. In light of this development we have to find new methods. I turn one eye in the direction of my heart and the other one to the context in which this is all happening. The key element of art is ‘perception’.

You reflect a lot on the place you live. Can you tell me more?

One of the most crucial factors in poetry is space. Did you watch the video I sent you beforehand? It deals with the importance of space. This performance took place in an off-space location, at a auto repair shop.

The next most important thing is the people involved, not the borders. That means that language becomes central.

What do you think about universal poetry?

Poetry is a mode of knowledge, of language, poetry is a feeling – not a universal language.

It is different from being different?

It is living with the difference, that means organic, bacterial.

Thank you, Cristian!

Thank you, too. ‘Twas a pleasure!
One last question you wanna ask me?

In the contemporary world packed with talks about problematic ‘communication’, do you think that there is hope for poetry to change the status quo?

From 1999 to 2006 he was part of the artistic group Etcétera, in Buenos Aires, and in 2009 he arrived in Berlin, a city that offered him a new reality to describe and fresh ways to do so. In 2010, in collaboration with Milena Caserola (BBAA), he founded the independent publishing house Milena Berlin. In 2014 he won first prize with Erica Zíngano at the festival SoundOut – New Ways of Presenting Literature thanks to the project KM.0. consisting of several interventions in the city. In 2015 he curated the performance cycle RAUMumDICHTUNG (Förderung künstlerischer Projekte 2015 Kulturamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg) and the performative workshop “Die Stadt als Lochkamera” (“The city as a pinhole camera”) with Mirella Galbiatti and Ginés Olivares (Forum Stadtpark, Austria). In 2016 he received an artist residency in “Beta-Local” – a bookbinding project in cooperation with Nicole Delgado, in Puerto Rico. In July 2016 he will be a guest of the 19th Hausacher LeseLenz Festival (Germany).

Publications: Abr. ( CopyRoboter – 2010, Germany), Alfabeto Dactilar (2014 / Edit. LUPI,  Spain)

Photo credits: Cristian Forte