The Chilean resident in New York Alfredo Jaar (Santiago, 1956) has today won the Albert Camus Prize in recognition of his entire work, halfway between artistic installation, activism and architecture. This quiet man – requested by the main cities and museums of the world – has made entire museums burn (literally) to the flames; His advertisements with a critical message have been seen on the giant screens in Times Square or Piccadilly Circus; He has worked hand in hand with emigrants of all times, in recent years with those who cross the Mediterranean; He has witnessed the Rwandan genocide and other tragedies of our time… While waiting for the great retrospective that Spain owes him one day, he attends this newspaper in Sant Lluís (Menorca), where he received the award in the presence of Catherine Camus, daughter of the French Nobel Prize winner.

In a few days, a retrospective of his work will open in Vienna. How it will be?

In my career, I have dedicated a lot of time to the issue of immigration. The most important work that we are going to show is from the 80s. It was the time of what they called ‘boat people’, who left Vietnam because even though they had won the war, the Western bolcot caused a lot of poverty. On their way, on their ships, they first arrived in China, but China did not want them, it gave them water, food and rejected them. The next whereabouts were Hong Kong, at that time a British colony. Margaret Thatcher had concentration camps there for these refugees. One day, in New York, I read that she had decided to return all 15,000 immigrants to Vietnam and that they threatened to commit collective suicide in protest, ingesting the rat poison they had taken from the camp warehouses. I read that news and said: ‘I’m going there.’ I spent three weeks with them: they arrested them, they almost stripped them, they threw hydrogen peroxide and antibiotics on them, to make sure they didn’t have any illness, it was all very humiliating. And then they dressed them and took them to the concentration camp.

How did you turn that tragedy into art?

I placed some very long developing trays, bathed in blue light. Inside the trays there are photos that I took in those fields. And they are there, they are revealing themselves and they are also dissolving. And, as they disintegrate, we post new photographs. It is to show how memory is there, but it also disappears, it is fragile. That is the most important work.

Last year, he made another work about emigration in Munich.

Yes, in the Pinacoteca, I wanted to highlight the position of Angela Merkel, who opened the doors of Germany to emigrants for a year, a position that was not supported by any other country in Europe and that was not continued in her country either. She allowed a million people to enter. In the following elections, her party, the CDU, lost a million votes to the far right. so I erected a sculpture built from a million German passports, seven meters by seven meters and 80 cm high. He asked people: what million Germans are you with, with the new arrivals or with those who have gone to the neo-Nazis?

There are also those about the Rwandan genocide.

I was in Rwanda for three weeks, during the genocide. I lived with victims in the Goma refugee camp, the largest in the world, where a million people were stored. I took many photos, which are shown. I also have photos of the border between Mexico and the United States, of the ‘coyotes’ that cross immigrants illegally. I have photos of Afghanistan, Sudan, Algerian emigrants and their journey to Spain… They are, let’s say, historical images in my repertoire.

Recently, we saw one of his works on the giant screens at Piccadilly Circus in London.

For a whole month, last November, they censored me in a way that had not happened to me since Pinochet’s Chile; I never believed it would happen to me again. They gave me three minutes a day of giant screen time, every day, after 8:30 p.m., and first I wanted to ask for a ceasefire in Gaza, but they wouldn’t let me. Then, denounce the genocide… but less so. Didn’t they tell me to do whatever I wanted? Yes, but they told me that, before and after my notice, there were advertisements from multinational companies, like Coca-Cola, that did not want to be politically involved in that space. Three minutes in that place cost 300,000 pounds, it was very expensive. In the end I opted for a verse by Adrienne Rich: ‘Tonight, poetry will do me no good.’ Luckily, having lived and created in a dictatorship, I have learned to speak between the lines, in a more poetic way.

You have Palestinian ancestors. How do you see the role of the media in the current Gaza conflict?

It is interesting how governments do not want to talk about genocide, they refuse to use that word, against all evidence, and how the media in the United States has been incredibly docile, repeating the words of the American government, of the government of Israel.

Did Pinochet make you an artist?

No, I wanted to be an artist before Pinochet but my father thought it was a bad idea and suggested that I study architecture. I am an architect who makes art, I have no idea what art is, and thanks to that I am free. I am an architect, I respond to the context. With Pinochet I posted the question on billboards: “Are you happy?” Nothing more needed to be said. For this reason, my political art is not as confrontational as that of most of my colleagues. I am also interested in not being propaganda, but in transmitting a true emotion and for that poetry is needed.

Was burning a museum poetic?

Hey, that’s one of my most successful projects. I was invited to the Swedish city of Skoghall to do a public project and I discovered that the entire economy of the city depended on the paper industry, the largest in the world, it is a city dedicated entirely to the manufacture of paper, specifically Tetra Pak , a little thicker than normal, used to make cartons for milk and juices. And I discover that the paper mill has financed every civic facility in the city… except a museum. Well, we have to make a museum. But no one cared about having it, that’s why they hadn’t done it. I told myself: I’m not going to impose it on them, but I am going to show them what a museum is. That’s why I had the idea of ​​making one out of paper and burning it later, to leave them angry at what they had lost. And, indeed, I gave birth to the desire to have a museum.

Now in Barcelona there are two of his works, in a group exhibition about the war in Borne.

The first is a piece about Ukraine that shows the cover of ‘The Economist’ dedicated to the Ukrainian war, the country’s flag bleeding. It shocked me because ‘The Economist’ had never done a similar cover with any of the world’s wars. So I made it for you: a cover from Yemen (500,000 deaths, caused by the Saudis supported by the US), one from Iraq, one from Syria, one from Palestine, one from Afghanistan, one from Ethiopia…

And the second piece?

It’s a New York Times article with Putin’s photo and the headline ‘How do we deal with a superpower led by a war criminal?’ Then I change the image and show the same headline with photos of Bush, Nixon, Kissinger, Dick Cheney…

He had already dedicated several works to Kissinger…

Yes, many, for me he was enemy number one until he died because he was the one who financed Pinochet’s coup in Chile. Another Nobel Peace Prize winner, like the European Union, which leaves migrants to die at sea and prevents them from entering.

What are you preparing now?

My first work on climate change. I’m going to show you. See this cube?

So little…

Each part is 4×4 centimeters, they are the 10 minerals on which the world depends, fundamental for life today. They are what is going to generate the great conflicts that are coming. The war over Taiwan is not about democracy, it is because Taiwan masters microchips and the rare earths needed for them. This is a very small, symbolic object, to represent the end of the world, made with real materials. It took me many years. A geologist has written 10 essays on these materials. I am going to show this tiny cube in a very impressive, majestic space, in Berlin, in September, the Kindl, 17 meters high, and the cube alone will be on a pedestal, in the center of the immense room. And nothing more. For a year. The space will be darkened with a red light and there will be a small light above the cube. I want the immensity of the empty space to reinforce the theme. Our planet is broken and no one does anything. The criminal indifference of the world, companies and governments, regarding this issue is astonishing.

Have you ever made any movies?

Only short ones.

Maybe he will ever make a feature film?

I hope so, I am a frustrated filmmaker. The thing is that I am very impatient and a film requires a very large production, with a large team and large resources that I do not have.