«Few things impact and transform us more as individuals and as a society than a cultural experience
Valerio Rocco Lozano is a Philosophy Doctor and Professor at the Autónoma university in Madrid. His time in different management positions at the university provided him with a comprehensive experience encouraging him to apply for the direction of El Círculo de Bellas Artes cultural centre in Madrid.
His Italian-Spanish origin and international training gave him a deep vision of Europe, and this approach prevailed in his programming for El Círculo de Bellas Artes, which is currently implementing alliances with diverse European educational and cultural institutions.
In this interview we are discovering his intense and interesting career.
– You are Italian-Spanish, how did these two cultures influence your education?
In a decisive manner, I believe. Not only by having an Italian father and a Spanish mother, but also because of having an upbringing in both countries and both educational contexts which allowed me to develop a certain capacity for establishing connections (linguistic, cultural, social) between two areas that are partly similar but at the same time quite different. I lived In Italy until I was three and then I spent six years between Luxembourg and France, allowing me to immerse myself into French language and culture. From age nine my education was in Madrid: studying at the Liceo Italiano in this city (an excellent school, not only in humanistic areas but also in theoretical ones in general) was crucial for developing my passion for philosophy, art, literature and humanities in general. All of this concurrently to establishing bridges between Italy and Spain: Even today when returning from a trip to Italy me and my (Spanish) wife keep on speaking some sort of “Itañol” [portmanteau of Italiano+Español – t/n] —a hybrid language built from feeling, play and irony.
– You speak five languages and you lived and carried through studies and research in several European countries. How did this international education enrich you?
Having learned English relatively early and then German (essential for what I already felt becoming my vocation: philosophy) effectively allowed me to conduct research stays —during my doctorate— plus living for long periods in Germany and the United Kingdom. Thanks to this I was immensely lucky to somehow realise a project of hybridization and cultural blending in myself which I consider indispensable for Europe. Especially these days of identities rearmament and border closures, centrifugal temptations (such as Brexit) and ultra-nationalist outbreaks, I firmly believe in the importance of “building Europe” from its citizens. For an often quite hybrid and transnational generation like mine —the “Erasmus generation”— that may be the best antidote to anti-European impulses, and also to a merely bureaucratic and formal Europe.
«I had the immense luck to somehow realise a project of hybridization and cultural blending in myself I consider essential for Europe»
– You are a Doctor in Philosophy and professor at the Universidad Autónoma university in Madrid. How did you become interested in this discipline and in Hegel particularly ?
My love for philosophy started as a challenge, precisely during my years at the Italian Lyceum. Contrary to what happens in Spanish educational system, in that school philosophy was one of the most difficult, fearsome and respected subjects. And of the three intense years devoted to studying the history of philosophy, Hegel was unanimously considered the most complex philosopher (or most unintelligible one, depending on the recount). I believe this challenge of philosophy’s complexity in general – and Hegel in particular – was what led me to this wonderful profession.
«My love for philosophy started as a challenge»
– You held diverse management positions within the Autónoma university of Madrid, such as coordination of the Master in Philosophy of History: Democracy and World Order or Vice-Dean for Research, Knowledge Transfer and Library of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature. What skills had you to develop for these positions?
Management tasks have multiplied exponentially for any university professor in recent years. This is perceived by many – not without reason – as a serious problem for it compromises the essential missions of any teacher: teaching and research. However, I believe that management also has an important educational component, with great utility in other fields of life. Take for example the case of organizing a congress: today any university professor must take care of everything: from programme setup to budget devising, funding requests, text translations, organizing presentations, travel and hotel bookings to even putting up posters … If this is such a complex thing to do for a simple congress, directing a research project (even more if it is an European one) is even more demanding, becoming more and more comparable to company management. In addition, for those of us who for a number of reasons embarked directly on university management it allowed us to develop numerous abilities for budget control, team management, international and institutional relations, and above all skills for «political» negotiation within quite different fields (such as Science Faculties or corporations). In my case, the challenge of a four year coordination of Research and knowledge Transfer from the Vice Dean in a Faculty with 450 professors and 70 research groups represented a definitely multifaceted and enriching learning.
– All your projects had an international purpose. Also, working at the Autónoma university you developed an investigation with significant support from European funds on the concept of «Failure» in Modernity. How was this project carried out?
The request for the Failure project. Reversing the Genalogies of Unsuccess —which was granted to us (in the first round!) by the European Commission within the framework of Horizon 2020— was an extraordinary adventure, spawned from two elements “as much difficult as they are rare”, as Spinoza would put it: In the first place, an genuinely transdisciplinary mind-set, that is, the pooling of historiographic, philosophical, literary and artistic approaches to investigate a concept as complex as failure throughout the Modern Age. This allowed us to form a quite young, dynamic team around the Madrid Institute of Advanced Studies (MIAS) of the UAM [Autónoma university] and its director, Antonio Álvarez-Ossorio, eager to break down the barriers between departments and fields of knowledge. The second determining factor —in my opinion— was a balance between attention to the past (the gestation of the concept from the 16th century) and its possible current applications: our idea was and continues to be that only by deeply understanding the mechanisms of ascription of the failure «label» to individuals, groups and communities it becomes possible to develop public policies and intellectual strategies to reverse the processes of marginalization, stigmatization or exclusion that always accompany «failure(s)». Thanks to these two elements (hybrid approach and social commitment) we have been able to develop a very ambitious project, financed with a budget of 1.4 million euros, bringing together 11 prestigious European and American academic institutions and a hundred participants from all fields. If all goes well, soon the Círculo de Bellas Artes will also join the Project as another member, something that —for personal reasons— makes particularly excited.
«Our idea was and continues to be that only by deeply understanding the mechanisms for ascribing the failure ‘label’ to individuals, groups and communities is it possible to develop public policies and intellectual strategies to reverse those processes of marginalization, stigmatization or exclusion»
– How did your relationship with the Círculo de Bellas Artes begin?
My personal relationship with the Círculo dates back to my years as a university student: at that time it was a point of reference for me and many fellow Philosophy students. Not only did we attend conferences, debates or the screenings of the Cine Estudio, but oftentimes we just stopped by Calle Alcalá 42 to see what was going on that afternoon or to have a drink in the cafeteria. Later, during the Doctorate I organized several congresses and events at the Círculo: I particularly remember a presentation of the book Thinking Europe —edited by me along with Diego S. Garrocho— in which Gianni Vattimo, Ángel Gabilondo, Teresa Oñáte, Félix Duque and other personalities took part, something quite thrilling for me. My relationship with the Círculo intensified as of 2014: that year I received a call from my predecessor in office, Juan Barja to intervene in the start-up of SUR. School of Artistic Professions —a fascinating educational project (and one still enjoying excellent health) which the Círculo undertook together with La Fábrica. Being able to conceive and teach (along with other colleagues, great friends) such innovative and stimulating theoretical subjects from philosophy and art such as «Sequences», «Analogies» and «Resources» was one of the many things I am grateful to Juan Barja for, who has always been a reference point for me intellectually as well as personally. When the Board of Directors identified me as a possible candidate for the Directorate of the Círculo in sight of the imminent departure of Juan, I obviously felt overwhelmed but also quite enthusiatic, precisely in virtue of that intense personal relationship that always bonded me with this institution. Being chosen, after a long selection process, was a veritable honor: I was granted a leave of absence by the Autónoma University (where I continue to teach in the Master of Philosophy of History) and here I am a year later as exhilarated as the first day despite it was a quite complex year.
«Being chosen, after a long selection process, was a real honor»
«Here I am, a year later thrilled as the first day, even though it has been a quite complex year»
– What was your project for the Círculo and what course are you taking the institution towards?
The project I presented could be summarized in three concepts: internationalization, youth and innovation. Firstly I consider very important strengthening the international presence —especially in other countries of our continent— of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, which by the way holds the status of Casa Europa. For this we are working on different lines: creation of international alliances, communication beyond our borders and above all request for European projects. Secondly, I deemed essential to strengthen the bond of younger generations with the Círculo: for some reasons, today our institution has not fully managed to reach ages less than 35. Through a commitment to online activities, a more tailored content towards the interests of the youngest and a new communication policy we believe we are achieving our objective. Finally, commitment to innovation —understood as a transfer (and not merely a disclosure) of research. This axis of the project involves a series of relationships with Spanish and foreign universities we are already unfolding through various initiatives. These three axes are complemented with other very important elements of transversal nature, such as a greater presence of women in our programming plus special attention to the great challenges of our time: environmentalism, feminism, digital transformation, migration crisis and radicalisms of diverse kind.
«I consider it very important to strengthen the international presence—especially in other countries of our continent— of the Círculo de Bellas Artes — which by the way holds the status of Casa Europa»
– You took part in the creation of CIVIS —a network of European universities— what does it consist of and what link does it have with the Círculo?
CIVIS. A European Civic University is one of the great “European Universities” recognized by the european community institutions in recent years: an alliance of eight higher education centers sharing teaching, research and social involvement projects. I believe these types of alliances —which allow the generation of multilingual and plurinational learning and research areas— constitute the future of the university and are very important for the construction of Europe: that is why I consider myself fortunate I could contribute to this project leading one of the working groups of the consortium from the UAM. By the way, I believe similar initiatives are extremely important in the field of culture. In a few weeks – if the pandemic allows it – I will travel to Berlin to a meeting at the Akademie der Künste to promote one of such projects: the Círculo will become one of the founding members of the Alliance of Academies —a network of european cultural centers with a vocation for social transformation. For this kind of network I believe the experience of «European Universities» such as CIVIS will be quite valuable.
«the Círculo will become one of the founding members of the Alliance of Academies —a network of european cultural centers with a vocation for social transformation»
– During your student days you were critical of companies gaining entrance into university. From your experience in management at the Autónoma university and at the Círculo, how do you understand now the relationship between public institutions and private companies?
In my time as Vice Dean at the UAM I already realized there is no point in demonizing the relations between public research and the private sector: usually—in my experience— agreements reached between them are quite beneficial for both. Now, from the Círculo de Bellas Artes, I mantain this conviction: in fact, we promoted different collaboration agreements with several universities, including an industrial Doctorate project with the Autónoma university of Madrid: between the CBA (in this case, a private institution) and the UAM (public university) we will train a doctoral student to investigate the concept of «critical innovation» —a crucial notion for the artistic and humanistic field today. By the way, the Círculo itself is a strange and successful mix of public and private: we are a private, non-profit entity declared of public interest. Only 7% of its budget comes from public institutions, but at the same time we have a Board of Trustees (Ministry of Culture, Community of Madrid and City Hall) which is essential for us.
«The Círculo itself is a strange and successful mix of the public and the private: we are a private, non-profit entity, declared of public interest»
– You are interested in expanding the concepts of Innovation and Transfer in relation to Culture and Humanities. Do you think these terms have been appropriated by Science and Technology ?
Of course. In the humanistic and cultural sphere, there is a certain objection to using concepts such as «innovation»: but the result of this resistance (which may have good theoretical reasons, I cannot deny it) is that now thinking of «innovation» we usually identifiy it with mere technological or digital issues. I believe that this term (as well as others: i.e. «creativity» or «impact») must be «reconquered» [regained] for culture. Few things transform and impact us more as individuals and as a society than a cultural experience (a book, a film, an exhibition, a conference). From philosophy and the arts, for example, one may not only answer a question or apply a theory but transform the questions or refute the theory. There’s nothing more innovative than this point of view.
«From philosophy and the arts you may not only answer a question or apply a theory but transform questions or refute the theory»
– What adaptation is the institution undertaking to meet the limitations of the Covid-19 pandemic?
In addition to adapting to the new seating capacities and other provisions to achieve un utterly safe enjoyment of culture —something we are fully prepared for towards the 20/21 season— I am especially proud of the activity we enhanced during confinement : During those months we transferred to online format our conference cycles (Los Lunes Al Círculo), our activities for members (with online workshops of several disciplines) and our exhibitions (one of them —that of Alfonso Berridi— even had a «Virtual inauguration»). On our website we developed specific projects to reflect on the times we are living, such as the Glossary of the Pandemic. We made available to users a large number of publications, concerts and events. Statistics show that during confinement we tripled the number of visits to the web; Furthermore, the average age of web users lowered by 23 years. Both data suggest we managed to capture the interest of younger generations without losing that of the more experienced. Now, after the reopening, we hope we’ll be able to physically welcome this varied public (with all safety measures) in our building on Calle Alcalá.
«On our website we developed specific projects to think about the time we are going through, such as the Glossary of the Pandemic»
«After the reopening, we hope we manage to physically welcome this varied public (with all safety measures) in our building on Calle Alcalá»
– How is your free time?
In addition to my delight in travelling, my free time has always been bound up with enjoying Madrid’s incredible cultural offer: theater, cinema, exhibitions, concerts … Ever since I assumed the leadership of the Círculo a large part of my free time has taken place right there: not only out of duty but also out of passion that I spend several afternoons a week taking pleasure in activities we program. In any case, being with my wife and two-year-old daughter is my favorite way of enjoying free time.
– A wish you would like to come true
It may seem a bit «Faustian» but it would be this: «never stop wishing».
It may seem a bit «Faustian» but it would be this: «never stop wishing»
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