High Art
Winter, 2003


Other select Vega exhibitions include:
Prague Biennale 1: peripheries become the center

National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic. Installation: Stills from the Genesis According to Parrots, curated by Julieta Gonzalez.
Bienal Ceara America: De Ponta Cabeça Museo de Arte Contemporanea do Ceara, Fortaleza, Brazil, curated by Philippe Van Cauteren and Jan Hoet.
Excerpts from Modernismo Tropical Julia Friedman Gallery, Chicago
Bellas Artes de Caracas, Venezuela, curated by Julieta Gonzalez.
Melodrama, Artium, Centro-Museo Vasco de Arte Contemporáneo, Vittoria-Gasteiz; Centro Jose Guerrero, Palacio de los Condes de Gavia, Granada; and MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo. Spain, curated by Doreet Levitte Harten.
Yokohama Triennale 2001: MEGA-WAVE
Yokohama, Japan, curated by Shinji Kohmoto
Sonsbeek 9: Locus Focus
Arnhem, the Netherlands, curated by Jan Hoet
V Biennale de Lyon: Partage d’Exotismes
Lyon, France, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin.


by Nicolás Guagnini


But you have also ended up generating a trademark. One of the most difficult tasks for contemporary artists is to make a trademark that is multidimensional. In other words, can you pull a universe out of your parrot?

Vega: The parrot is the stereotype given the role and three-dimensionality of the main character in the story. The iconology is extensive, but it starts with the role of the parrot in the Garden of Eden. In Eden all animals could speak, but after the original sin they lost that capacity, with the exception of the parrot. That is why the imagery of paradise is so populated with parrots, because they are the only remaining witnesses. The discovery of the New World brought a parrot fever to Europe. Europeans speculated that Eden may have been in Brazil, because the territory hosted the most species of parrots. Now, if you go to a travel agent, you’ll see posters of parrots advertising vacations to anywhere in Latin America. Rubens painted a replica of Tiziano’s Adam and Eve painting in order to make one change: the addition of a large red parrot. Ironically, Ruben’s parrot is of the same species that today live on the limestone cliffs in the Brazilian plateau where the Garden of Eden was thought to be. In my diary of El Paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo, I have a chapter titled Genesis According to Parrots. The parrots I encounter in the jungle speak the perfect language of paradise­Adam’s tongue­and relay the events of the Garden as they witnessed them at the beginning of time. There is another issue here: the search for the perfect language.

Bomb: Talking about le mot juste, you are skipping the most notorious 19th-century parrot, Flaubert’s. At a time when the discovery of the exotic other was in fashion in French high culture, we have this simpleminded woman named Felicity (happiness), adoring a parrot on an altar. Isn’t the parrot mania also a reflection on stupidity and happiness?

Vega: Well, I made a piece called The Holy Parrot in 1996 representing the vision of Felicity at the moment of her death, when she sees the gates of Heaven opening and a parrot comes down to welcome her. The parrot mania has to do with many other things. I believe there is a fascination with an earthly paradise in the culture at large as a consequence of some of the latest sins of humanity. The anxiety about the extinction of the rain forest, (thus losing paradise) and the experiments on genetic manipulation (eating from the Tree of Life). In that whole mélange where the parrot starts as an icon of the third world, and the interlocutor of the profane (parrot’s dirty talk), we begin to see him as a sacred species who speaks directly to God in the tongue of Adam. But more than anything, parrot mania is about recognizing the wounded inner parrot we all have inside. It becomes an impulse, like a way of life, to let him out in the sun, to let him say what he has to say, to let him take a nap if he wants to, to let him dance a mambo and sing a prayer if he feels like it, to let him have a drink and tell a joke, for God’s sake!

Bomb: Are you implying that liberating the inner parrot and letting him speak freely is a significant part of artistic practice? Is this interview a staging of Vega’s parrotism?

Vega: Let’s not forget that parrots are a complex, liberating phenomenon: performative and mimetic in terms of language­Warholian, Aesopic­and nonmimetic in visual terms since most of them stand out with their pure colors­Mondrianesque, primitivist. They are both sacred icons of Paradise, and profane representatives of the third world. I envision that one day parrots will get organized and lead a massive biblical exodus to the northern side of the globe. Invading the pale skies of the cities with their colorful plumage, their presence would seem natural, a transition explained as one of the effects of global warming. Once comfortably installed on top of the highest buildings, parrots will be doing enough talking to run the world. Let’s forget the eagles; they are lonely cannibals heading toward extinction. Parrots are empathic, communicative, communal and live for centuries tasting the most delicious forbidden fruits. I say we give them microphones right now . . . and let them shit all over the place if they have to.

Bomb: Your utopist parrotian future could not exist without Marcel Broodthaers’ criticism of both the museum and the idea of the romantic artist as hero. And I also believe that Magritte plays a role in your marriage of conceptual and Surreal strategies. Let us talk about your own genealogy as an artist.

Vega: You are absolutely right on Broodthaers, he certainly paved the road from which my work takes off in order to go somewhere else. I am particularly interested in his idiosyncratic inventories of the collective unconscious through icons, and his dead serious scientism of the absurd, which I see as going far beyond institutional critique. Magritte’s influence resides in his staging of the contradictions between nominal and embodied meaning­although I consider magic realism to be very different from Surrealism. In my view, Surrealism aims to dismantle signification through chance, whereas magic realism dismantles signification from a critical perspective that is radically specific. But I truly think that my main influences are, like yours, from the field of literature: Borges, Marechal, Carpentier, Dante. I studied Dante with Michael Sonnabend who taught me how to read the texts in medieval Italian. That opened the doors to a more insightful understanding of the text. Michael would always talk about the structure of the Divine Comedy as a Gothic cathedral where the consciousness of Western morality is carefully constructed in stages and sites. Set in motion as a journey of casual encounters, the Comedy simultaneously maps past and present, the personal and the political, the religious and the philosophical in a continuum that is seamlessly fluid, and that is because Dante’s allegories manage to function as transhistorical archetypes while being entirely anecdotal. Although following Dante’s argument, the allegories I visit in my paradise project inevitably derail into the absurd.

Bomb: It is quite obvious to me by now that Parrot-Dante is actually a self-portrait. Are you devoting the rest your life to the making of your paradise?

Vega: I used to think that my parrot was guiding me in my journey, like Virgil did for Dante. I guess that since the Virgil of the Comedy is Dante’s alter ego, he is also Dante’s self-portrait. I will always be devoted to paradise in one way or another. One way of ending it would be to simply move there, and live in the Garden of Eden forever after. Although I’m thinking about other projects for the future. One of them is to isolate Saint Francis’s and Che Guevara’s DNA, then blend both of them into one being and resurrect him like Lazarus. Designed to be a great leader, he will turn this nasty world we live in into a paradise for all. If I fail with the experiment, I’m going to get a parrot and teach him to sing the Internationale.

Bomb: What you mean is that making art is like being in paradise?

Vega: Making art is like being in paradise. Being a professional artist is a lousy purgatory.

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