Interview: Patrick Charpenel
by Leslie Moody Castro
As the new director of the impressive Jumex Foundation/Collection, Patrick Charpenel has assumed the lead role with a clear vision on collaboration, public service projects and a focus on education and transformation through art. Additionally, he is taking the helm to oversee the construction of a brand spanking new building for exhibitions and archives in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City.
Leslie Moody Castro [LMC]: I’d like to talk about what the plans are for the future as well as some of the changes you have already implemented at Jumex. Can you begin by telling me a little bit about the foundation, the collection and your personal history with Jumex, including how you became their director?
Patrick Charpenel [PC]: The Jumex Foundation/Collection just recently had its ten-year anniversary. It’s a foundation and collection that is relatively young, and it was born from the corporate entity that manufactures juices. Eugenio Lopez Alonso originally owned the Foundation/Collection, well his father actually, but Eugenio is the only child of the owner. Together they founded a separate area within the company that was concerned with culture, philanthropy and education, which is what the Jumex Foundation is. Ten years ago Eugenio Lopez decided to formally start the Jumex Foundation in order to give a structure to the collection that was started a few years prior, but to grow the Foundation to become something that concerned itself with education and research aside from just showing contemporary art. Through the support of research projects and educational programs with art they also contributed to publications and underwrote projects with artists, students and outside art institutions with the help of other donors and philanthropists. These projects were mainly in the realm of public arts and provided support to artists, students and institutions that needed this support in order to move forward with their programs
LMC: So there is the collection and there is the educational component that supports art and culture in order to diffuse it?
PC: Yes. The Foundation is not just the project of creating a collection of contemporary art nationally and internationally, but is also focused on constructing a platform so the collection and the function of the collection has much more to do with the experience of the artistic product as well as its knowledge.
LMC: As director of this collection and this program and platform, why did it call your attention? You are a curator and have a strong and long history of curating. Why did you want to become the director of this Foundation?
PC: First, the Jumex Foundation/Collection is a project that I’ve known for many years although it is young. I’ve worked with Patricia Martín, a former curator and director here at Jumex, and I also worked closely with Abaseh Mirvali the former director here between 2005 and 2008. I started because I consider it a social tool to transform the world specifically with art. I don’t see art only as a species for fun or as a product within a specific location or that has to be in a historical space. I see museums as laboratories for experiences and centers for research and education. So I considered the Foundation/Collection a platform. A Foundation like Jumex that is so big and with international recognition allows us to move forward with a series of projects that are perfectly and totally aligned with what I was just saying. It has a social character, and that is concerned with opening a space for reflection. Through this, it can be a vehicle for change that provides an opportunity to think about our present political, economic and social conditions, as well as seeing what types of conversations can emerge and which changes will permit us to make our world better for the future.
LMC: What are your plans moving forward and how do you plan on making that happen?
PC: The theme of research and education has always existed. It’s not just this concern that exists, now we want a new turning point so that the Foundation becomes a new platform for all the activity and knowledge that I spoke of. I’ve been thinking about institutions that don’t have the goal of legitimizing an artistic product, but instead become spaces where cultural products are problematized. Instead of legitimizing we should be problematizing, instead of shielding ourselves and being closed off we want to make ourselves more vulnerable and open. We want Jumex to be a project that goes out and operates in different contexts, so the education program is operating in DF, in distinct spaces. There is one program in jails, we have others in public schools, in public spaces, it’s also in Universities. We are looking at problems in research, at problematics within education and projects of art in locations that are nontraditional.
LMC: These educational programs and programs in public schools that are outside of the collection, do they always use the collection or do you reach outside of the collection and work with other artists or works of art?
PC: Some of them yes. Remember that it’s not just the collection. The collection is a compliment to the program that we have been working on. But yes, some things have to do with the collection, of course. One quick example, we are starting to work with a collective called Superflex which is a collective of artists that have a strong political and social character. We want to work solely with things that have legal characteristics. We are generating contracts with institutions where we make them obligated to conserve energy via legal compromise, not just moral but legal, that have to be complied with and are sanctioned by the government. In this same exhibition or project they are also testing a biodigestor that works with excrement and has to be in rural areas in order to create energy. They have been working on a prototype that they’ve been doing research on for a number of years and it’s starting to work very well. In the future they want to bring the product out to the open market. It’s for those rural areas that have waste and excrement from cows and farm animals that is then converted into energy that then enables them to cook and have electricity. If that works we want the product to be cheap so it can reach thousands and thousands of rural areas. It’s also a product that doesn’t create emissions or contamination while generating a very important money saver in communities outside of the large cities and municipalities in the third world.
LMC: Wow, you’re really collaborating within a lot of projects, people, schools, etc.
PC: Exactly. The ones that I just spoke of are just two examples, but there are many programs. We are really trying to create some exhibition projects that are more than just the works of art we present. We are also in the beginning stages of working with a very important archive where we want to show the importance of what an archive is—where we can allow an archive like this one to illustrate how it can inspire education and knowledge in a region of the country. Apart from this we are also trying to work on a project to see where we can generate conferences and workshops that will provide a launching point for exhibitions. It’s not just going to be the products that artists create, but products that are educational; that can circulate and are then presented in a gallery.
LMC: Can you tell me a little bit more about the educational programs that you are working on in the public schools? The public school program is very different here in Mexico, and quite honestly I’m very removed from it. Can you tell me how that functions apart from the other social programs you are working on?
PC: We are starting to work on specific projects that bring in artists and groups of artists—such as Torolab—that have a marked social character and generate dynamics in specific contexts. But there is also this idea to infiltrate certain economic structures that are already in place. We want to dislocate the foundation of this system in some way. So, right now we are starting to open these programs, but at the same time we are also starting to move forward with implementing thousands of workshops and analytical courses in elementary schools. Some of these are courses and within the Jumex prototype artists are invited to realize them. For example, here in Ecatepec, artists’ Ana Gómez, Gabriela Galván and Adrián Monroy are doing an entire study of urban integration where the juice plant was originally established 50 years ago. But we are also working in other important municipalities such as Ciudad Juarez. Not only are we working with the artists in the area that hosts these programs, but we are also constantly active with workshops and projects with artists with the intention of modifying the social urban spaces of Ecatepec, so that these spaces become ones of integration and interaction. We are motivated to become more educational by working with other people, being research conscious and developing the gene of being socially aware and reaching out to more people, much like an activist project; something that is more than just an artistic product.
LMC: Jumex is really becoming more of a link between the greater public and the world of art. You’re opening the doors for the public so that they understand that art is part of life.
PC: Yes, exactly. And also that it’s a link for transformation.
LMC: I went to Jumex yesterday and I was really surprised that the entire space is completely open; the public can explore the entire building, gallery space, the archive, and even the offices. I realized that it is a space that’s really open to the public even though it’s really hard to get to.
PC: Yes, we are going to keep the gallery in Ecatepec and continue to do experimental projects. Our storage will also stay in Ecatepec. You only saw a part of the library, we have another thousand or so books in storage. All the library space is at capacity, so we are also going to open a new section for books that will make the library space considerably larger in order for researchers, students and the general public to have access to them and consult them in order for it to be a library that can serve anyone’s needs. That said, we are also going to open a new building in Mexico City that will be 4,000 square meters of space. Half of that space will be exhibition space and the other half will be divided between the lobby, restaurant, bookstore and offices. We will also have two auditoriums: a small auditorium, and a main one that can be used for conferences, workshops and projections. We are also going to have a small reading room that will connect the library in Ecatepec with the new one in this building.
LMC: And where is this new building going to be?
PC: In the Polanco neighborhood.
LMC: You know, getting out to Ecatepec to see the current exhibition (Poule!) was great, and the show was fantastic, but I have to say that it’s really a trek. However, I think it’s also kind of a shame that not everything will be there once the new building is built. It is, after all, Jumex, and the original location of Jumex. Yes, it’s a pain to get to, but it’s worth it. However, considering the type of social engagement projects that you are looking to do and have started doing, and in order to use this Foundation/Collection as a tool for general change, it’s absolutely understandable that Jumex needs to have a more accessible and visible presence in the city of DF.
PC: Yes, we also want the experimental projects in Ecatepec to generate a strong link between the municipality of Ecatepec and the business, which are two things that we still have not explored within the foundation. So the example that I mentioned earlier with Superflex; we have precisely these commitments between the business and this artistic project, the economic and legal structure and of production of this business and this artistic project in which we are working.
LMC: Wow, there’s a lot of really important things on the horizon.
PC: Exactly. We are going to generate a new collection of books which will be directed at specialists such as curators and artists. Another collection will mainly be fundamental art and culture texts about themes that are important here in Mexico. We are also going to open a collection with an international focus.
LMC: Are you more focused on projects here in Mexico or internationally?
PC: No, we want to do many collaborations and we are trying to identify places, like film institutions for example. We are going to do projects with universities like UNAM which is one that we are looking at, and with other art and educational institutions. We are making alliances because we think it’s ridiculous to try to do all of this alone. We have the complete conviction that these are social projects that need everyone's interest. We also need to create these alliances so that the projects are better planned and have a bigger impact so they can go further, reach a broader audience and have a wide social penetration.
Leslie Moody Castro is an independent writer and curator living in Mexico City.
With special thanks to Andrea Aragon López for her invaluable assistance in translation.