Gabriela Bettini, the Argentinian artist making waves

1st March 2019

Gabriela Bettini is a Madrid-based artist, who hails from Argentinian. She uses natural landscapes to interrogate issues related to feminism and colonialism and this month is showing her work at JUSTMAD, Madrid's freshest art fair for young talent, open until 6 March.

Her work is currently showing at JUSTMAD, an art fair in Madrid that runs until 6 March. On 28 February her work Saccharum officinarum, 2018, was acquired by the DKV Seguros Art Prize at the fair, for a collection attached to the Spanish insurance company DKV Seguros. The collection, which is dedicated to Spanish artists, is one of the most prestigious in the country and committed to championing emerging artists.

Bettini also has a show opening at a venue called Tasman Projects in Madrid this month, which stays on display until 30 March, and is preparing a specially commissioned solo project for Arte Santander in July.

Candid sat down with her to hear about everything she has in the pipeline.

Work by Gabriela Bettini. Courtesy the artist

Candid Magazine: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Gabriela Bettini: I always had an inclination for painting and drawing and I loved studying art history in high school. I finished my studies in fine arts and started my career professionally, but very soon after I got a job in a cultural foundation whose art collection I had always admired. It was an exciting, challenging position where I spent five years. But keeping up my career as an artist was very difficult due to lack of time, which became very frustrating. Eventually I quit my job and decided to pursue my dream, which involved working full time in the studio. So, I guess I’ve been solidifying my commitment gradually.

CM: Did you have formal training as an artist? 

GB: I did. I studied a degree in fine arts at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, though in my last year I went to Leeds Metropolitan University in an exchange programme. After that, I got a scholarship from La Caixa Foundation and the British Council for postgraduate studies in UK, so I studied my MA in fine arts at the University of East London. And barely longer than a year ago, I enrolled in the Universidad de Castilla La Mancha for PhD studies.

The artist Gabriela Bettini

CM: What’s a day like in your studio?

GB: As a routine, I try to get there quite early to make good use of the morning hours, which are the most productive for me. I also paint in the afternoons, especially in the times when activity is more intense, but I usually save those hours for more mechanical tasks that don’t require as much concentration, like mounting canvases on their frames or varnishing finished paintings. I organise things this way because it’s more likely that in the afternoon/evening I’ll have to interrupt my work to attend a conference or an opening or to simply go shopping for materials.

CM: Where does your inspiration come from? 

GB: Most of it comes from my readings, which are quite often outside of the art field. Right now, I’m working on the violence of capitalist advancements over nature in Latin America and the defensive reactions it encounters, especially from women defenders. As I advanced in the research, one of the first questions that arose is how natural landscapes from the Global South have been represented from a European perspective over the course of the centuries, ever since colonial times, and whether that Western gaze may have contributed to strengthening an idea of nature as a permanent resource. Thus, I started making connections between historical painting and what I consider one of the most urgent contemporary issues of our times.

CM: Where did your interest in cultural colonisation come from?

GB: The book Monocultures of the Mind (Vandana Shiva, 1993) starts like this: ‘In Argentina, when the dominant political system faces dissent, it responds by making the dissidents disappear. The ‘desaparecidos’ or the disappeared dissidents share the fate of local knowledge systems throughout the world, which have been conquered through the politics of disappearance, not the politics of debate and dialogue’.

Work by Gabriela Bettini. Courtesy the artist

This sentence shocked me because one of my earliest projects as an artist (Recuerdos inventados, 2003) consists of a fake album in which I place myself together with my uncle and my grandfather, who disappeared during the last dictatorship in Argentina. Many years later, I started working on the link between the capitalist exploitation of nature and the violence towards women, especially in Latin America, and I found that various referents on Ecofeminism place the origin of that double exploitation in American colonisation and that all these violent episodes are part of the same project.

CM: What is Madrid like for young artists?

GB: I don’t consider myself a young artist any more – but because I’ve been one in the past, I can say that it’s an exciting city with an interesting art scene, full of good artists and appealing events. At the same time, it can get to be quite harsh sometimes trying to find the right place for your work to be shown. 

CM: What are you showing at Tasman Projects?

GB: The exhibition is called Contact Zone and it’s a solo exhibition that reunites new works together with others from my recent series, like: Primavera silenciosa (2018-2019), La memoria de los intentos (2017-2018) and Paisajes de excepción (2016). In them I continue my ongoing examination of the capitalist manipulation of nature and forms of resistance to the devastating consequences of this process in the Global South.

Work by Gabriela Bettini. Courtesy the artist

CM: What has been your proudest achievement to date?

GB: It’s hard to say because every last achievement seems to be the most relevant one, but I guess there are various. Getting the grant for the Spanish Academy in Rome; or winning first place in the Obra Abierta International Visual Arts Prize; or getting the Madrid Region Visual Art Creation Grant. Also, having my work shown and discussed in several essays like the one published by The J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Photography in Argentina: Contradiction and Continuity, edited Judith Keller e Idurre Alonso – Text by Ana Longoni and Natalia Fortuny. Getty Publications) or by Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies (The Politics of Postmemory. Violence and Victimhood in Contemporary Argentine Culture, by Geoffrey Maguire).

Words by Toby Mellors

Gabriela Bettini's work will be displayed at the 10th edition of JUSTMAD in Madrid, 26 February – 3 March 2019, represented by Galería Silvestre. Her solo show at Tasman Projects continues until 30 March

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