A Conversation between Jerónimo Rüedi & Kit Schluter
Aeromoto is the first public library for contemporary art in Mexico City. Founded in 2015 by four individuals, the library functions as an open shelf information center. Aeromoto provides free access to printed materials specializing in visual art and contemporary culture. Books can also be taken home on loan. It proposes public and common book circulation. Jerónimo Rüedi is a founding member of Aeromoto; since mid-2017, Kit Schluter has co-organized the space’s poetry reading series, Salón de Belleza.
KS: You’ve often told me that when you started to paint—well, how old were you?
JR: It’s hard to say. I think we all start painting when we’re, like, two—it’s just that some of us stop, and some of us don’t.
KS: Well then, when did you start taking painting seriously?
JR: I was 21 when I rented my first studio.
KS: So you’ve often told me that when you were 21 and you really started painting, you quickly started thinking that being a painter was the worst decision you could have possibly made. But then you started to hang out with poets…
JR: And that’s when I realized that being a painter was the second worst thing I could have chosen to be. Being a poet was worse.
KS: Why? I take offense!
JR: Suicide rates…
JR: I really think that’s true. I read it somewhere.
KS: I thought all poets died of tuberculosis. Anyway, I heard dentists have the highest suicide rates. Painters, poets; tuberculosis, schmuberculosis…at least we’re not dentists.
KS: So why did you start Aeromoto? And when?
JR: You already know, Kitty. You work with us.
KS: But the people want to know!
JR: I would say that Aeromoto started as a social experiment between me and three friends involved in the arts and the art world. Mauricio Marcín, a curator and editor. Maru Calva, a designer and musician. Macarena Hernandez, an art historian. And myself, a painter. [Kit’s dog bites Jero’s leg.]
KS: Down, Xochi! Did the experiment have a “hypothesis”? Or a purpose?
JR: We wanted to see what would happen if there was a space in the city that wasn’t trying to sell you anything. The idea was to rent a private space and make it public. And to put our private book collections there, and make them public, too. This might end up sounding like Marxist propaganda, but we thought, and we still think, that the people need spaces that exist on the margins of capitalist logic. [Raises fist into the air, like a good Communist.] A space of non-productivity where, paradoxically, the things that are important to us can be produced.
KS: So, why Mexico City?
JR: To begin with, we all happened to be here at the time. And even though Aeromoto is responding to local needs, these needs seem global now. The problems Aeromoto is working against, I suspect, exist in most major cities around the world. Many people visit us for the first time—it’s a very common comment—and say, “there’s nothing like this in my country, in my city.” And that makes me think these kinds of initiatives wouldn’t only be useful in a Mexican context, but could serve a purpose really anywhere. The spirit of the place could be applied to any subculture and help create a sort of community center for whatever niche is in question. I would love to see the same thing happen with cars, for example, where people just give you car parts for free, and hang out with you all afternoon and talk about cars.
KS: Even though you think these issues are international by now, are there any specific things that Aeromoto offers to the particularly Mexican context?
JR: There are two things, above all, that I think apply here. First, the issue of students. The university libraries in Mexico don’t provide easy access to much contemporary culture. You can find the major philosophers, sure. But if you want something more up to date—if you want to read theories on the circulation of images, for example—you’ll have to go buy those books with your own money at the bookstore, and that can be difficult for students here. The universities aren’t buying them—they’re dealing with their own low budgets and the cutbacks of recent years—and they’re not out there for free. That’s the gap we wanted to fill. Second, and more positively, is the issue of independent publishing. Again, this isn’t a specifically Mexican thing, but there is more independent publishing happening in Mexico now than ever before. Many of these publishers didn’t have distribution channels or places to present their work. On top of that, there weren’t any archival efforts being made to gather these works under one roof, and we thought it would be worthwhile to make a space that collected all this work we saw happening around us before it disappeared. Mauricio once said, “Aeromoto is an archive of the present,” and I think that sums us up well.
KS: Has it been a success?
JR: I’m not any richer now than I was four years ago…but I do own an axolotl.
KS: Julio—after the Cortázar story. I’ve seen the way you spend all afternoon staring into his aquarium, imitating his postures, almost yogic. Are you ever worried you spend so much time looking at him that you’re going to switch subjectivities and remain forever imprisoned in his body?
JR: Yes. But it’s a trick. I actually named him after Julio Iglesias. After the color of his skin, you know …
KS: [Sings entirety of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon. Jero leaves the room during first verse.]
JR: [From other room.] Are you done yet?
KS: Not yet, I’m going to sing it again. This time with feeling.
JR: Anyhow, that joke came from the fact that success is usually measured in money, but money’s not really the point when you open a library. We’re more concerned with what the space offers to the fabric of the community. When we first opened, during the first couple weeks, no one really came, and we were kind of freaking out and wondering if we made had a mistake, if people actually wanted books. But from the second month forward—even though we’ve never put out a call for presentations– we’ve rarely had a week without an event, or several. I think the library is a success, especially when you think about it in terms of fulfilling a need, giving people a horizontal platform for sharing their ideas and their work.
KS: I always love seeing people who just happen upon the place. It’s down this small one-way alley, the space is unexpected. They act like they’ve passed through the looking glass and found themselves in a world of art books that only Lewis Carroll could have imagined.
JR: Can we switch roles now? I feel like asking you a couple questions… What has it been like for you as an American poet and translator living in Mexico these past couple of years?
KS: When I arrived in Mexico City in the beginning of 2017, it didn’t take long to notice that there was very little mutual visibility across the border with the US. The Mexican poets, even the ones translating the Americans, would ask me, “Who are the good poets from your country under 60?” The American poets—we’re generally so monolingual—could name a few, but for the most part couldn’t tell what was happening down here beyond the anthologies. I didn’t either. And how are we supposed to know? What resources do we have? Ugly Duckling Presse has the excellent Señal series, which focuses on bridging this very gap by getting American poets to translate Mexican poets. Occasional Mexico translation features in excellent journals like the now defunct Aufgabe, Words Without Borders, Two Lines, a few others, like the new Archive/Archivo 48, which is just starting out, and the internet. But although the internet may make it seem like all the work is out there and that our local communities are somehow universal now, it’s just not the case. There’s so much interesting writing that will never get beyond the immediate towns, cities, communities where it’s being written. It’s the nature of things. But that’s where translation comes in. This invisibility across borders is a question of language barriers, it’s question of empathy—that is, are people really willing to engage with writing that speaks of unfamiliar things and customs?—and it’s a question of nationalism. Even in the most radical, seemingly anti-nationalist poetries, the idea of national tradition and the fact of linguistic divisions often end up building enormous walls that are very hard to get beyond. American poetry has its international darlings, but we’re generally talking about life on American soils. Translation is the hole in those walls, where other traditions can sneak in, can be invited in. And that’s why I came to Mexico City, to take part in cracking some hole in the wall.
JR: Right. It seems to me that no matter how hard you try, how deeply you research from a distance, it will never be as good as living in the place itself. Taking the pulse of a scene requires being in the thick of it. But anyhow, that ethic is why I invited you to curate the reading series. Because Aeromoto also wanted to provide a platform for just this kind of dialogue. Mexico City is a place where artists and writers of so many different traditions are coming together, especially from Latin America, but also more and more internationally, and we thought having a poetry series would help facilitate conversations between these traditions. And then you went and turned it into a circus of translation! Tell us about the series.
KS: I organize the series with Tatiana Lipkes—Mexico City poet, translator and co-editor of the great publishing house MaNgOs De HaChA, which has published a lot of Latin American work and translations of American poets such as Charles Olson, Susan Howe, Ronald Johnson, lots in the Black Mountain vein. We named it Salón de Belleza, or “Beauty Salon,” after the novella by our neighbor, the author Mario Bellatin. The idea behind the series, which you proposed, was to help facilitate dialogue and collaboration between all the foreign poets visiting Mexico City and the Mexican poets, and that’s what we’ve tried to do. Most of the work, then, is in Spanish, but whenever there’s a poet presenting original work outside of Spanish, which is very common, we organize translations to be made my a Mexican poet-translator, and, as often as possible, have the translator read alongside the poet. This does the double work of making sure that the work is accessible to everyone in the room, and highlights the work of the translators, who are often obscured by the format of readings. As you know, we’re going to gather all of this work—original and translation—together in a mutually bilingual anthology.
JR: One week you have super big names, and the next you have all these amazing younger poets who take psychedelics and organize wild events. And they’ll all be published together in this anthology.
KS: My favorite event was the First Annual OuLiPo Conference, which was held on a rooftop above a print studio where some of those poets work and live, in a neighborhood called La Obrera. There came this moment where one of the writers was giving his paper on Raymond Queneau –or more of a manifesto on chance operations– and one of his friends, she was drawing on his face in Sharpie the whole time, and no one batted a lash. And did I tell you the story Tilsa told me about this one night where they all took acid and drank cough syrup until sunrise, and rode the first metro for an hour and a half wearing masks and reading poetry to the commuters, on their way to visit the grave of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro? This kind of thing is very much happening here. It doesn’t just happen in those Bolaño novels. It’s fun, delirious.
JR: Can you tell us a little more about the anthology project?
KS: As Mauricio said that Aeromoto is an “archive of the present,” we’re thinking of the reading series and the anthology in the same kind of way. Which poets are established, which poets are emerging, what are the styles and voices and concerns that are developing around us as a consequence of our world? By no means will it be even near a complete picture, but we’re trying to include as many writers whose work we’re into, for all sorts of reasons. As a result, Aeromoto has been a meeting place locally for a pretty great amount of writers. But the anthology will make this local thing visible more widely. In general, an anthology, as an object, is generally there to provide readers with a sense of what’s happening in a given place, or a given scene, at a given time. And ours is going to try to do that. But I also want to think of the anthology, and this anthology in particular –because, as a translator, this is how I’ve used good anthologies– as a resource for translators who may not have access to local scenes of the language they’re working on, the poets who haven’t already been translated, and whose names may not circulate as widely. So yes, I want the anthology to be there for curious readers who want to know about what’s happening on both sides of the border, and beyond. But I also hope for translators—present and future—to consult the anthology, look through the poems, and find work that excites them, maybe even go ahead and translate a book of one of the poets. The dream is that books in translation will come out of it. Because translation happens slowly. Often it takes twenty, thirty years for even the good poets to get translated into our English. So, as much as I hope this anthology will serve as mau’s archive of the present, I also aspire for it to be a “translation acceleration machine” so traditions and anomalies can come into dialogue.
JR: It’s not an anthology that’s being made from a distance. It’s also made by chance, and often has to do with who happens to be around, whoever is able to come, whoever has made plans to pass through town. Whatever’s happening in Aeromoto is a part of whatever’s happening in Mexico City, and that’s what happens in the series now and, later, what will happen in the anthology. I like this chance ingredient.—And by the way, that’s a good name. Translation Acceleration Machine. I think we should stick with it. •