Interview with Marco Villalobos > Author>New York
Tara Herbst

Tara: Do you think you are capable of producing images or discourse that is not only circulating inside a certain community but on the level of media representation?
Is it something you are striving for?

Marco: Do I feel capable, yes, in the sense that I know what I am capable of. It does not matter whether I answer as a writer or a musician or filmmaker, I feel capable of producing something that I would feel comfortable or even enthusiastic about circulating amongst popular culture or through traditional avenues like established media complexes. I feel capable of producing a product that slick and that tight or if needed, that raw and that edgy and cutting and relevant. Yes. But do I think that it would be accepted by those complexes and embraced into circulation or allowed? No. That has to do with the environment. That’s why people stay on a certain sub stratus or underground levels in order to get their ideas across. If somehow my work was accepted by this mainstream in order to present an opposition to the major productions, as if in order to foil those dominant ideas and expressions they accept a few alternative ones, the media in question would then subvert even the idea of subversion through accepting my work, like they accept a few radical ideas in order to present this facade of liberality, this façade of freedom. And I feel like to some degree I would enter that trap, purposely, just for the simple fact that there is a fuse to a bomb that is only so long, and before that fuse blows out I have to express myself or we have to express  ourselves before the fuse is down to the gunpowder. And even if this means entering the room full of hungry lions then we have to enter the room full of hungry lions, just at least to scream while there is the opportunity to be heard, if not we would not be heard at all.

Tara: Did that ever happen to you?

Marco: I would say no. Writing for a magazine I have been told before 'less history, less context, more fun.’ The problem was not that they wanted it to be candied and sweet, because even if I had made something smart and made it candied and sweet, they would not even accept anything smart, they just cut it all out, you know? I don’t have problems with making things palatable as long as there is something to be digested in the end.  That is as close as I have been to that situation: an instance where people wanted my work, but wanted it strictly for their image power, to project a fictitious reality. I never tried to work for that magazine again, they turned out to be a catalogue of advertisements.

Tara: And seen from another perspective. If your work really could not be absorbed, what about money and fame?  Could you imagine living without?

Marco: (laughs) Yeah. Definitely. I could definitely imagine living without money and without fame. Somehow living with those things is harder to imagine for me. It is easy to fantasize about, but I think I stopped wasting my time dreaming about fantastic money and fantastic fame long time ago. Achieving success in those terms often involves surrendering what ethic or morals you prioritize—I mean, in my own experience. So, I can't say that I have ever really concerned myself with who I should submit to in order to get ahead. To me it is more a matter of how badly I should tell this asshole that he is a fucking idiot. Should I tell him now? Should I tell him later? And in that case I just leave. And in some cases if I can get your money before I walk out the door, I'll do that first. You know? In general I don’t think anyone should sacrifice their integrity or humanity to achieve some social construct like money or fame. I can play the game to an extent if absolutely necessary in order to get what I need to feed myself or to say what I have to say to an amount of people who I think can be swayed somehow to watch and to be aware of something that is happening. So to some extent I'll play a game, I'll play THE game as they call it, I'll play the fucking game. But I know there is a limit and that limit has to do with when I begin to affect people in a negative way, people who I feel are outside of the game. I don’t want to hurt people: this is a very fucking naïve and romantic thing to say but it is a very real thing to say and the point at which I have to begin being an asshole is the point at which I step back. I don’t have to fuck anyone over. And if I have to fuck someone over for money and fame then these things are obviously worth nothing. And to be talking about money and fame is ridiculous when you have like 25 cents in your pocket and a bike that does not have working handlebars . There are more important things.

Tara: Concerning the unity of identity, there is a double bind: The conflict between our values and the public opinion. There is the choice between an inner compulsion and an outer ego-boost. We all know the following dilemma: enjoy, without affirming your identity or affirm yourself, without taking pleasure, merely for the sake of existing. What would you say you live at this moment?

Marco: Pleasure. N ot only me but a lot of people I know are more concerned with pleasure than we are with affirmation as far as social constructs are concerned, that in fact we have always felt outside of these constructs and they have never done us a bit of good and they caused more trouble and tear shed and bleeding than anything else so it has been decided that they are worthless and to be avoided at any costs. But somehow deep inside, there are romantic tendencies that I have as an individual and certain ideas are harder to let go than others. When I talk about pleasure it is more about the love of being alive. I think that is more important than the love of having a life that fits into traditional expectations.

Tara: Do you remember a moment where you consciously had to choose between one and the other? Do you think this actually happens on conscious levels, do you think that you do have the choice? Do you think you have a choice?
Marco: No. I do.

Tara: No, I do?

Marco: No yeah, yeah no. (laughs) No, superficially yes, superficially I can say I am going to get married I am going to have a car and I will make my mother happy. But internally underneath that agreement to obey and to act as a 31-year old Mexican American male should act, the fact that there is this SHOULD, that there is this 'you should do this'. And if you don’t ? I shouldn’t feel compelled to always behave like what I see around me.’ I feel like a lot of that is mimicry and a lack of thought . I t is more like an artificial bond between people,  something to relate to, a middle ground in which we can meet each other: a nine-to-five job and a vacation house, but in fact it doesn't express anything about who we are other than the fact that we are nothing and we need something to define us. Superficially even if I agree to do these things and to use these affirmations, underneath it all there is a certain misery connected to it and misery is not something I like to submit myself to.


Tara: And do you think it is possible to stop to desire something that you do desire?

Marco: Yes.

Tara: You feel like having control over that?

Marco: At the present moment: No. Not in the general sense. (laughter) I don't want to have any control of my desires.

Tara: And did you ever?

Marco: No, but yes. I have gotten better recently. Recently I have gotten much better. Even in the last , in the last three days.

Tara: Since you closed up the 'L´espace out'? (laughter)

Marco: No. Then I did good. Then my desire disappeared, like the desire to talk to anybody for more than two minutes. Or the desire to actually talk to anybody-- this disappeared; the desire to see people in a room full of people, oh man. But then there was this other desire, the desire to leave the space while it was full of people— that desire became huge and I had to defeat that mentally.

Tara: If we move beyond models of oppression, both the “colonial model” of the oppressor and the oppressed and the “transgression model” of the oppressor and resistance…could you imagine a model of articulation or we could call it a “transformative practice”? Or do you think that every struggle over power has to be organized around issues of identities?

Marco: That's delicate. For me the first idea is what people are intimidated by, and what people do due to a lack of familiarity or due to preconceived notions of identity. In other words, what people react to if you say the word 'homosexual' to someone and they close up. Or you say the word 'black' to someone and they close up or 'white'. And in some ways it has something to do with how identities are communicated and perverted and mis- communicated and to form a certain resistance or to be a voice for change is difficult but possible. It’s possible to begin a new conversation with all these things in mind, with all the information that is available to us, to somehow form a new language. A new language of liberation. It is possible it is very difficult and maybe that's why it is not done so often or maybe that's why people are not so successful with questions of morality and identity politics when they discuss liberation or cultural freedom, but I think it is possible .

Tara: And would you say about yourself that you are doing that?

Marco: I would say on a good day I am almost doing that. To say that I have a method for doing that-- a very defined and communicable and successful method of doing that; not yet. Unfortunately. But at the same time fortunately not yet so that I can keep going toward it. I would say it would be my desire to do that. To somehow be a voice of reason.

Tara: But at the same time it sometimes can be necessary for taking political action, to refer to some kind of identity. Do you remember a situation where you did that and where it was helpful?

Marco: Yeah, I think I have been able to do that, but not referring to my own identity and to maybe combine multiple identities into one universal expression. Something that has to do with humanity rather than ethnic identity for example.

Tara: Like the fictive letters you have been writing…

Marco: Yeah, like that. There is something common in a voice where the voice is in a way untraceable. I think it is possible to lo se geographic identity. But in defining a perspective it is often easy to rely on identity; which is why it is less effective sometimes-- b ecause there are easy paths to take, there are predefined avenues of how to speak to someone in order to make them feel comfortable, to make them feel that you are like them—and that has a lot to do with language. And that's why I think creating this sort of new language or this new attitude or a fresh way of conversing with people is helpful and difficult but desirable, but useful and good.

Tara: And do you think that it could be useful, too, sometimes to talk in the name of your representative identity?

Marco: Yeah. Especially in cases where that identity or that voice is unheard, not present, is not even conceived or thought about in a relative conversation. When it comes to a two-sided conversation, reminding people that there is a third side or a fourth side is usually good, even if it brings in complications. I mean, relying on a specific identity or referent can be useful as a tool, but eventually you have to cut the chain to that identity and really get at the root of the existence, get at the root of the experience.

Tara: What do you mean by 'root of experience'?

Marco: Maybe an example would be when Martin Luther King talks about Gandhi, he then presents a side outside of black and white; he presents another dimension to the discussion of Civil Rights in the United States in the middle of the twentieth century by simply connecting it to a place and time around the world a few decades earlier. It is valuable to present another perspective so people begin to see less ‘right and left’ or ‘black and white’ and begin to realize that the discussion is not two sided, it is multi-facetted and to bring in another identity to illustrate that is helpful in breaking that constraint -- as when someone says, 'E ither you’ re with us or against us…' No, ‘N o! W e can be outside both sides! 'But the conversation does not end there. And if it does it is not useful.


Tara: How would you define the political? Where do you see possibilities for yourself to invest into the political?

Marco: Today I don’t see any avenue for me to participate in actual political activity in the traditional sense of representations that include one man-one vote. For me the defined area of politics exists to make people feel as though someone is controlling that over which we have no control. To be simple, I think that a lot of things that we don’t talk about are political, and I also feel that politics can be discussed in any way, shape, or form. There are so many codes and secret expressions that apply to the political; there are so many ways to infer a political thought… And that is a very vague answer, I am sorry.
I once asked this guy, this poet, about people  who were criticizing his work because it did not deal with social politics of being Puerto Rican in New York. People were saying his work was not at all political he was not conscious in the political world of his People and that somehow he was ignoring his culture. And he was ignoring the tendency of the other Puerto Rican poets to talk about quotidian struggle and how difficult it was to be this type of ethnicity at this type of place at this certain time, and he was talking about the beauty of his culture. And people said that he was not political enough. And he said 'Bullshit, I can talk about my dinner, my red beans and rice and that is a very political statement. Just for the fact that I am talking about this culture that is being shoved to the side in certain places. If someone would have me believe that this food is without art and these people are without culture and if I can say that this rubbish is beautiful then it is a very political statement and I don’t have to be overtly political. And I feel the same way that at this point in time everybody is overtly political and all they are doing is talking to themselves. And this goes back to the other question about relying on identity and how you use identity to gain support or to relate to other people you think 'okay, if I tell you I am a Mexican bull fighter and I eat fucking hot dogs and I love Apple Pie and I think that George Bush is great', there is a definite and real section of people who will respect me for that. What’s more is that they’ll even applaud me, because they love hot dogs and they love George Bush and here I am, some hot dog George Bush bull fighting fool who demonstrates that “Hispanics” can vote Republican too… that's completely crazy… I don’t know what I just said…
But you get the drift. To be overtly political is not necessary any more. Everywhere, the politics of the day are already present. You can’t not be political. So I don’t think that political expression is special  b ecause everything is political in a certain way. The sophistication of artists’ political expression only has to keep evolving. T here must be something besides the traditionally political that should have our attention as a political potential.

Tara: So what would your personal way of being political be? How would you describe it?

Marco: Oh, I would describe it as pathetic, and impassionate and explosive and genuine. My own way of being political is to make someone feel good about being next to the person they are next to. To make the people in one room feel like they could be anywhere, feel like all the walls are falling down around them and everyone is in one room all of the sudden and there are no rooms and there are no people and there is only this invigorating passion, this feeling to take another step. All the political models I am familiar with are no good and in a way its like I abandon the political not at the cost of turning my view here while this horrible shit goes on over there, but more like abandon the political and focus intently on the mess that it has made and the elements of culture that survive regardless of how much decimation takes place. People could say 'how the fuck can you look away from the political when politics is responsible for this war or for this lifestyle that the people have achieved at the cost of other people's suffering? Well, because I think politics basically is one man stabbing another with a knife, that's what politics is. At this point that is how I feel but I don’t know too much. You know?


Tara: What kind of specific spaces of your everyday life are important for you at the moment?

Marco: Specific spaces?

Tara: Yeah, like for me 'L´espace out' was a very important space for me at the time that it existed a space where you feel there are possibilities for you.

Marco: I think it’s a lot of places, man. Domestic places, I think there is a lot of possibility. And maybe it is because I am homesick in a sense and maybe it's because I don’t see people that I grew up around and my head is going back to these places that I can't reach. I am very much focused on living places, where people sleep and eat and love and fight. So for me the home is important, but also the streets. You see the looks in other people's faces and you realize what tension is in the air and how people are moving in public space. So for me the public space is very important because again there are so many possibilities in public space and there are so many things that can be played with. I don’t think art houses or galleries or museums or none of that shit is important to me, none of the bureaucratic offices or the center of finance, o r banks… all these institutions make me feel destructive, so they make me feel like going back into the street to calm down.

In a surprising way people need some sort of spike, they need some sort of kick, they need some sort of lens into reality beyond reality. I think the spaces that I am interested in are not so much artistic spaces because I think people's heads are artistic spaces. And when these internal mental spaces open up in the home or on the street I would say these two spaces for me are really important. How someone can enter another person's reality unexpectedly. I like the warmth of the home and I like the coldness of the street. And I also like the in between the way that these places meet and the way that the hot and the cold combine to different types of temperatures. Wherever that is possible I think is good, and ultimately it has to be possible in all the places I hate—like standing in line in a government building.


Tara: Communities are at the same time a threat and a promise. Do you feel being part of communities?

Marco: Yeah, several communities. And right now the communities that I am interested in are very intimate communities, communities of five people, small communities. N ot a large community where  there are hard lines to follow and rows of thinking and pathways . I like authentic communities…


Tara: What do you mean by authentic communities?

Marco: I mean communities that don’t make me feel like a clone. I like communities that we choose and we create ourselves. That we don’t enter into that are already made , smaller communities that I feel I have had a hand in creating somehow, that is important for me. And when it comes to the space we opened up for 2 months here in Berlin, the 'L´espace out' , it is a community by chance in a way. It was a community of ten people that we already knew. We invited them to that space. It is a community that we formed just by chance. And then the community has an outside, a concentric circle, it finds itself situated in a larger community of neighbors that come in. And it is an organic process of forming a community where no community existed, or perhaps it did exist and it revealed itself. We open the door to the house and everyone comes in and the community reveals itself. But at the same time it is not a community that I felt confined within because it was new. It did not have time to form to an extent in which rules where developed and expectations where developed and it came and it went and it was gone. This type of community is interesting because it easily avoids constrictions because it is not there long enough to set up the confinement. Other than that, community creates a closed experience and there are people outside that community that are excluded somehow by the fact that they exist , like every community has its outcast. Temporary community might be a good thing. Suddenly surprisingly people gather together for something.

Tara: Yes, I think so too. But this smaller community of five people, what would that be based on?

Marco: It is based on instinct or this very visceral experience nothing cerebral, something very untraceable. The reason I say this, like meeting someone like Ashis, I can meet any number of people, but there are going to be a few people and this is just from immediate experience in the last couple of months, I met a handful of people, like five people I feel I have good connections to, like I have genuine affinity for and it has been on the basis of beautiful things that I feel need to be paid attention to, like music or literature, or critical thinking. Its not that I am attached to that person because we think exactly the same and we don’t like exactly the same things and it is easy for us to insult exactly the same people…it's not that! (Laughs) That happens to be a nice little addition to it. But the thing is that we feel a bond, your spirit, you have got spirits traveling through space and time and somehow you are swirling because there is this magnetism, this five person community of beings that find each other randomly and discover purpose in chance-- that experience is a beautiful thing. And those are the communities I am involved with at the moment. Also people that are far away, that I am in a community with because we share some sort of unspoken connection and maybe it is because we have a similar dream . And the communities of people that I have never met before people that I feel I am in community with on the other side of the world. Communities of suffering in a way; communities of rage. Communities of people that are upset in different places for different reasons. Upset in a way that triggers a sort of cadence or a rhythm, there are rhythmic communities; people have these heartbeats that are in sync. And they don’t ever come into connection with each other. They exist transcendentally on another level.


Tara: And in New York for example? Would that be the same? The communities in New York?

Marco: New York is like... it’s the same. No, it is not the same. At certain times it has been the same, but small communities, like 2 people, I felt we found a community because of all the different things we brought behind us to a connection point because of me having met someone that is from a completely different experience but on the same earth in the same time, we connected and we formed a community. So me without having met everyone in your life and you without having met everyone in my life, we meet each other and these two communities connect, just through the simple fact that we connect. In New York it is the same thing for me, I met someone and they met me and our communities came out behind us and made that sort of sphere around us. And the thing about New York is that it can be an evil fucking place where people go because they want something, they need something they think they can get it there…and that community of people completely disregards the community of people that happen to be born there. They all live in the same place but they don’t form a community and it takes all sorts of tasks to make even a facade of community to become apparent. So New York is an unspecial place that has been overemphasized as special and it is beautiful and it is ugly and when I was there I wandered from community to community and for some time I never felt like I was genuinely a part of any of them. And the one or two communities I did feel a part of… I was part of a community that published a review , a literary review , and I was there in the space of that community and I was helping with things, but in the end I felt like the only reason I felt part of that community was because everyone was part of that community: they accepted everybody! In such a strange way that it was so freakish a type of a community...

Tara: It was based on freakishness.

Marco: It was based on freakitude, frequencies of freakitude. First of all, who is going to want to be part of that community? No one in their right mind wants to belong to that community, and the people that do belong to that community belong to that community irregardless of choice and that is why it seems secondary to me. It was not something I was born into, but I was introduced to it...

Tara: You were welcomed…(laughs)

Marco: Exactly. Those kinds of communities are like cults in a way and that is a strange thing about that community, you always have to distance yourself from it at one point or the other in order to remember that this is just a bunch of crazy fucking people. Maybe that is the thing with every community; maybe every community is like that: it is a bunch of crazy people that finally found someone that will listen to them.


Tara: And when you came to Berlin?

Marco: My arrival in Berlin is special to me. I was brought into the community by Darius, he had said good things about me and he said good things about the community. So my impressions even before being impressed … I felt a warmth immediately, I felt an embrace. My first impressions were like ‘these people are warm and open minded and at the same time they have world views; they are conscious of their own world views and they are conscious of their very consciousness. In fact they are conscious. And this is good.’ And so my first impression in Berlin was just a special handful of people again, and again a very intimate community and since that is what I like for me it was something to be enjoyed. I don’t think I would have come back if it was otherwise. I experienced a group of people who are immediately generous and immediately warm. At the time I arrived I was in the middle of nowhere, I was in unfamiliar territory so maybe it was very easy to be embraced, even though I wasn’t even looking for community, not consciously, I was happy alone and then boom, I met people and it has lasted and it has proven itself to be genuine over time.

Tara: Tears….. And in what way do you not feel belonging to communities?

Marco: I think in a very familiar sense, in the sense that I have been an individual all my life and being an individual excludes you from everyone else, by definition in a way. I often stop myself from being part of a community. I don’t want to have to argue with people that I am supposed to be in commune with, for example. I don't think it is about standing up for something when you are in a community. Outside a community I think it is about standing up for something. When you stand alone, even if for a moment, that is when you really stand, and you do that even when you have not community behind you. Being outside a community gives you perspective. But it is not necessary for everyone to have that . And at other times, it is nice to have one foot in and one foot out. One foot on the street and one foot on the gutter. Not on a fence but near the door, where you can see the in and you can see the out. It is revealing and it lends itself to a double consciousness which I think is a very important consciousness. And  at times a very burdensome consciousness and at times a very liberating consciousness.

Tara: And did you ever feel empowered by communities?

Marco: No, I don't feel empowered by communities, because it’s too convenient and I would rely on that feeling of community empowerment in place of real personal confidence. But I wonder if I have been in instances where a community supported me. Let's say I got a scholarship; someone gave me money for the simple fact that I was part of their community  It was support for a temporary instant but it was not an empowerment so much. Maybe it boosted my confidence for a day, but then I found out where the money was coming from… ah, I know: I got a grant from the National Hispanic scholarship fund for students of Hispanic descent or whatever. T hey give you money and you can continue to study and it is empowering because you pay the tuition and you say: ' Ha! It is paid! It is paid because I thought about my application letter and my request, and I empowered myself…’ There is a difference between taking the power and being given the power. And they both apply to the same instance where I took the pen and I wrote the letter that said: ‘Education is important to me because…’ I empowered myself from my experience and I wrote about my experience and explained why education was an important entity in my life as a Latino American making his way in the big bad world of white power and they said ‘Bravo’ and they gave me the money. I empowered myself by writing and they gave me power in the form of money which is a completely ridiculous relationship between money and power and I accepted it. I said: 'yeah more power!' and they said: 'okay more power!' and they threw it at me and then 'poing' it bounced, and went out of my hand. If that power came from this Hispanic community then that's one thing, but I found out the money came from an alcohol company that gave the money to ‘our’ community and then the community gave it to me. So in essence the alcohol company is giving me the money and the whole time they are giving me the money they are also continually taking much more  money from the community by targeted us to buy their alcohol while half of my family is alcoholic and disenfranchised-- So what kind of empowerment is that? That is one instance of community and empowerment coming into contact. The other one is maybe more organic, say a small community of people passing a microphone and saying, ‘say something, express yourself’ and then me being able to sort of say something that I would hope would be helpful or just entertaining, or enlightening or… what a blessing if I can say something enlightening or something relevant or something inspiring or something that made an impact on someone in a positive way. Maybe that is the closest I can get to community and empowerment.

Tara: And concerning your self-organized space like the 'l´espace out'. In what sense did that have an empowering effect for you? Or is it too early to ask, maybe…

Marco: Maybe. And again it has to do with family history and how I regard the exchange with money and how I regard intoxication in people's drinking habits and entertainment versus culture and night life versus purpose and expression versus a void. If that place was in some way empowering to me I have yet to discover. But as I said earlier, it did reveal a community of people and among that community of people certain individuals revealed themselves as open-minded sharing, generous people and warmhearted and kind and somehow expressive in an inspiring way. And having similar people like that meet each other and being associated with that connection-- there might be some sort of power in that, the fact that we met and that we realized we existed together and a fruitful productive thing could come out of this contact. Again I am reluctant to call that empowerment, I think it is more like a communal gain.

Tara: Which is an empowerment anyways. I felt very empowered by this space. And I was there a lot.

Marco: I think that's good. It is a blessing that… and I am not a person that feels proud all the time but it made me proud that this environment could blossom and that this person could come and play a bass and this person could come and play a saxophone and that this could be a beautiful experience. I helped to make that happen, maybe that is what is empowering, that I realized I have a certain force that I realized that people can make differences and that was immediate and local and that is the beginning and it begins from the inside and it comes out. And to see other people going through the same process, that is were we share the power. And to realize that is an even greater power. But I don’t think that I would have realized that without other people saying: 'This is good.' I might just have been too tired.

Tara: (laughs) That's a great ending for the interview. Thank you very much.

Marco: Thank you Tara san!