ENTRE SIEMPRE Y JAMÁS (Between Forever and Never) Latin American Pavilion – IILA (Italo-Latin American Institute) 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia
4th June – 27th November 2011 IILA (Italo-Latin American Institute), International Organism, invited by la Biennale di Venezia since 1972, organises its own Pavilion dedicated to Latin America.
For the coming 54th International Art Exhibition IILA will present a project about the culture of the whole Latin America, through the artworks of artists from all the Continent. The Latin American Pavilion will be housed in Isolotto, inside the Arsenale. For this 54th edition, IILA, together with the Commissioner Patricia Rivadeneira, IILA Cultural Secretary, has chosen to invite Alfons Hug as Curator of the Pavilion. Hug, one of the most important expert on Latin American art, was curator of the Bienal de São Paulo (2002 and 2004) and the Bienal del Fin del Mundo, Ushuaia (2009). At the moment he lives in Río de Janeiro, where he heads the Goethe-Institut, institutional partner of this exhibition. The exhibition is entitled “Entre Siempre y Jamás” (Between Forever and Never), a quote from a poem by the Uruguay writer Mario Benedetti, is dedicated to the Latin American Bicentenary of Independence. The project recovers the concept of that independence and the significance of its social and cultural influences, articulating through art the temporal and local echoes that stem from it. The artists participating in this exhibition have explored the length and breadth of Latin America. They’ve visited small, tranquil towns in the hinterland of various countries as well as crowded and overflowing megalopolis. Places firmly rooted in the past as well as modern metropolis that have entirely up-rooted all vestiges of history. Using contemporary resources, they’ve explored all 200 years of Latin American independence and its cultural patrimony. The works on show recount the cultural, social and political worlds experienced by the contemporary American states.
The artists invited to reflect on this theme are:
Leticia El Halli Obeid (Argentina), Narda Alvarado (Bolivia), Neville D´Almeida (Brazil), Sebastián Preece (Chile), Gianfranco Foschino (Chile/Italy), Juan Fernando Herrán (Colombia), Sila Chanto (Costa Rica), Reynier Leyva Novo (Cuba), María Rosa Jijón (Ecuador), Walterio Iraheta (El Salvador), Regina José Galindo (Guatemala), Adán Vallecillo (Honduras), Julieta Aranda (Mexico), Rolando Castellón (Nicaragua), Humberto Vélez (Panama), Claudia Casarino (Paraguay), Fernando Gutiérrez (Peru), David Pérez Karmadavis (Dominican Republic), Martín Sastre (Uruguay), Alexander Apóstol (Venezuela). In addition, because IILA’s institutional aims include promoting cultural relations between Latin America, Italy and Europe, the exhibition project includes a number of artists who have realized their works in Latin America: Alberto de Agostini (Italy), Christine de la Garenne (Germany), Olaf Holzapfel with Teresa, Mirta, Dionisia, Noelia and Luisa Gutiérrez from the Wichi indigenous community (Germany/ Argentina), Bjørn Melhus (Norway/Germany).
TECHNICAL FORM Entre Siempre y Jamás (Between Forever and Never) Latin American Pavilion – IILA (Italo-Latin American Institute)
54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia Isolotto, Arsenale – 30122 Venice
Commissioner Patricia Rivadeneira
Deputy Commissioner Alessandra Bonanni
Curator Alfons Hug
Co-curators Paz Guevara Patricia Rivadeneira Exhibition design: Paola Pisanelli Nero Catalogue: Entre Siempre y Jamás, Sala Editori, Pescara , Italy 2011
ENTRE SIEMPRE Y JAMÁS – Between Forever and Never
Latin American Pavilion – IILA at 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia in the occasion of Latin American Bicentenary of Independence
by Alfons Hug, Paz Guevara
Entre Siempre y Jamás [Between Forever and Never] cites a poem by Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti pointing to the distance between the tradition of momentous historical dates and contemporaneity. In this way, we recover a complex meaning of Independence, articulating its temporal and local echoes through contemporary art.
This exhibition features artists from twenty Latin American countries and constitutes the contribution of the pavilion of the Italo-Latin American Institute at 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia.
Entre Siempre y Jamás is the continuation of the project Menos Tiempo que Lugar [Less Time than Space] that addressed the Bicentennial of the Independence of Latin America through a series of exhibits in more than 15 cities of the continent in 2009 and 2010.
On the one hand, the exhibition is a map in that it follows a geographic dramaturgy and has all the countries of the continent file past us; but on the other hand, it is also a timeline that scans history year by year. What emerges is thus a chronotopos, the fusion of space and time.
Simón Bolívar wrote his legendary Letter from Jamaica from exile in Kingston to an English friend in September 1815 at the age of thirty two. In this, his most important text, the independence hero drafts a magnificent panorama of America from the USA to Argentina and Chile.
The brilliant analysis begins with an appraisal of the freedom movements between 1810 and 1815 and the reasons that had motivated the “American Spanish” to seek independence. This is followed by an appeal to Europe to support the Hispanic American cause. In the third part, Bolívar, who is regarded by many as the greatest South American politician of all time, talks about the future prospects of the individual republics. He concludes his elegantly written treatise with an appeal for the unity of the American peoples.
But Bolívar also regrets that the future of this, the last continent to be settled by humans, which is called Abya Yala (Tierra Firme) in the Kuna language, is so uncertain:
“In my opinion it is impossible to answer the questions that you have so kindly posed. Baron von Humboldt himself, with his encyclopedic theoretical and practical knowledge, could hardly do so properly, because, although some of the facts about America and her development are known, I dare say the better part are shrouded in mystery. Accordingly, only conjectures that are more or less approximate can be made, especially with regard to her future and the true plans of the Americans, inasmuch as our continent has within it the potentialities for every facet of development revealed in the history of nations, by reason of its physical characteristics and because of the hazards of war and the uncertainties of politics.” (1)
For a number of reasons the Letter from Jamaica is a perfect starting point for an exhibit marking the Bicentenario of South America’s independence. For one thing, it targets the entire continent; for another, Bolívar’s visions make it possible to project the Carta into the present and the future.
The ingenious blueprints of Bolívar are the standards that today’s realpolitik – permanently wearing itself out in crisis management – needs to measure up to. The words of the forefathers, seemingly carved in stone, in turn help art to clarify esthetic positions. How close may art get to everyday life, and how far can it distance itself from the pressing problems of the present? Where does history stand in the way, and where can it be a guideline?
Wherever there is a major gap between a historic promise and present-day reality, politics and art also go separate ways. Whereas the former has lost a large proportion of its ideals on its long journey through time and space and must now painstakingly evoke them all over again, art can dream on undaunted. Moreover, it would befit politicians well if they filtered their messages through the purifying catalyst of contemporary art.
A contemporary reading of Bolívar’s work will have to take account of artistic positions that are sensitive to the drastic societal and cultural upheavals to which the states of America are subjected today.
Of course the artists are not expected to come up with a “political design” or solutions for day-to-day politics; rather, they will re-interpret Bolívar’s utopian project completely subjectively using esthetic means. In this they allow themselves to be guided by that inner restlessness that drove the Venezuelan dreamer and idealist, who throughout his life discharged his great mission like a priesthood and experienced all the highs and lows of life as a revolutionary between his triumphal entry into Caracas and his ignominious end in Colombia.
“Your eyes that watch over the oceans,
over the oppressed and injured nations,
over the dark cities in flames.” (2)
What was pure curiosity about a terra incognita among the 19th century explorers, becomes a cartography of the political and cultural currents running through the continent in the works of contemporary artists.
“How beautiful it would be if the Isthmus of Panamá could be for us what the Isthmus of Corinth was for the Greeks! Would to God that some day we may have the good fortune to convene there an august assembly of representatives of republics, kingdoms, and empires to deliberate upon the high interests of peace and war with the nations of the other three-quarters of the globe.” (3)
The following Octavio Paz quote always applied in the western hemisphere: “We Latin Americans are condemned to look for the foreign in our own country – and for what is our own abroad.”
The artists and intellectuals of our exhibition have roamed Latin America in all directions. They visited small, tranquil towns in the hinterland and exuberant mega-cities that were bursting at the seams: some places that cling to the past, and modern cities that have eradicated even the last vestiges of history. They languished in harsh concrete jungles and enjoyed the elegance and peace of shady courtyards full of harmoniously curved arches – the kind that could only be created by Spanish colonial architecture. They experienced capital cities that didn’t want this role – we think of Sucre in Bolivia – and others that are bursting with energy. In La Paz they wondered whether indigenous self-determination might put history on a new track, and in Buenos Aires whether the social movements might be the answer to globalization.
There is no lack of powerful points of reference in South America. Just think of Potosí, 4000 meters above sea level, one of the biggest cities in the world in the 17th century, which founded capitalism with its mines. At the Casa de la Moneda in Potosi one can admire not only the baroque painting La Virgen del Cerro Rico, but also the coin minting machines that made this one of the richest cities in the world during the colonial period on the basis of extreme exploitation.
“For thou knowest nothing about colors, lines, parallels, zodiacs, ecliptics, poles, solstices, equinoxes, planets, signs, bearings, the measures of which the celestial and terrestrial spheres are composed; if thou wert acquainted with all these things, or any portion of them, thou wouldst see clearly how many parallels we have cut, what signs we have seen, and what constellations we have left behind and are now leaving behind.” (4)
An exhibition hall, however small it may be, is a model for the world and the smallest unit of a community. The search for suitable premises for exhibitions is therefore a journey into the entrails of Latin American societies. Cultural infrastructure provides information about the self-identity of the respective nations and their administrations. The state of the museums is thus a symbol of the respect that the capital cities show for their cultural heritage and its projection into the present and future.
In some cities, time passes too slowly, in others too quickly. In some, contemporary art finds it difficult to gain a foothold, in others it is welcomed with open arms.
The most striking example for such a privileged space full of aura is the Venice Arsenale that was described by Dante Alighieri as early as in the 13th century:
“Quale nell’arzana de’ Viniziani
bolle l’inverno la tenace pece
a rimpalmare i legni lor non sani
chè navigar non ponno; – in quella vece
chi fa suo legno novo e chi ristoppa
le coste a quel che più viaggi fece.” (5)
Let’s continue with a shining example on the equator, at an altitude of almost 3000 meters. The city of Quito has been caring for and developing its historical fabric in an astonishing act of cultural and societal affirmation. Gems of Spanish colonial architecture have been lovingly restored and converted into spacious
museums and cultural centers. Contemporary art is thus placed quite naturally into a historical context and invited to join a dialog with the works of New World baroque.
All the great works of the past, and especially those of a sacred origin, bear their virtual translation into the present within themselves. The contemporary artists have learned to glean a spark of poetry from the most inconspicuous residuum and to decipher the secret index of the past, so that we are touched by a breath of the air that once surrounded the earlier artists. It is almost as though there were a secret arrangement between the masters of
Baroque and today’s artists, a weak Messianic power echoing down the centuries.
Therefore, for artists one aspect of a visit to a Baroque city is that we are taught a new way of looking: we regain subtle shades of color and esthetic “temperatures” that we had thought were lost forever. In addition, Baroque has answers to such central questions of contemporary art as coming to terms with space and context, the ephemeral, and the problem of visibility and invisibility.
By contrast, other cities seek refuge in merciless modernization, sacrificing their historical structures to monstrous highways and shopping centers. A few galleries – fighting a losing battle against the ubiquitous din – cower anxiously in a haze of dust and exhaust that is only penetrated by the infernal noise of the construction sites.
Taking inspiration from baroque might well be helpful in many cases. After all, in baroque architecture, art, religion and performance all combined to form a Gesamtkunstwerk (complete work of art) which was able to redefine entire cities and develop grandiose urban scenarios.
Now that the global economic and financial crisis has exposed the weaknesses of the modern, metropolitan project, a departure from conventional urban patterns can be observed among several artists of our exhibition, be it by processing history, returning to indigenous traditions, or exploring the precariousness of the present time.
Germán Grau looks like he came straight out of a painting of a historical battle, mainly in light of his oversized sideburns and his uniform of the Peruvian Navy, which fought various battles with Chile during the War of the Pacific, from 1879 to 1884. Grau’s great-grandfather, the legendary Admiral Miguel María Grau Seminario, known as the Knight of the Seas, fought heroically but was finally vanquished by the neighboring country. The defeat led to the annexation of Peru’s extreme south by Chile, a trauma from which Peru has never recovered, until today.
Fernando Gutiérrez invited Grau’s descendent – the living portrait of the admiral – to travel the 4000 kilometers from Lima to southern Chile in an old VW van. Along the way, the group also visited the Huáscar – a Peruvian ironclad captured in the war and currently anchored in Talcahuano, Chile – and organized performances in the coastal towns. If it is impossible to rectify history, at least one can give a turn on the ironic screw.
Reynier Leyva Novo used the sense of smell to catalyze historical memory, obtaining perfumes based on the combination of essences extracted from elements present at the sites of the three battles for the independence of Cuba at the end of the 19th century, in which the great patriotic leaders were mortally wounded by the Spanish colonial troops. José Martí is thus brought to mind by the fragrance created based on some vestiges of the 1895 battle of Dos Ríos, Ignacio Agramante by the 1873 battle of Jimaguayú, and
Antonio Maceo by the 1896 battle of San Pedro. The artist, who worked together with alchemist Yanelda Mendosa and historian José Abreu Cardet, collected the herbs, mud, palm leaves, rain water and river water from the site of each of these battles, producing three perfumes. His work, Los Olores de la Guerra [The
Smells of War] evokes the history of his country, presenting the viewer with the remnants of the smells of the last battles fought by its heroes.
Leticia El Halli Obeid recovers history by bringing it to a nonspectacular reality. Aboard a train moving through Greater Buenos Aires, the artist copies Simón Bolívar’s Letter from Jamaica by hand while a depressing urban landscape goes by the window. An act of archaic writing in a place that does not admit the lyrical. It is as though, with her handwriting, the artist seeks to verify every word written by Bolívar. The density of her text bears close relation with the recent past. In her performance, Obeid compares the historical promise with the current reality, and in light of the wide gap that emerges, critically questions the legitimacy of the celebrations around the bicentennial.
In a poor district of Caracas, Alexander Apóstol has a group of community leaders read the Letter from Jamaica by Simón Bolívar out loud, in English. Since they are not fluent in English, the result is an incomprehensible babbling whose grotesque effect is only enhanced by the growing enthusiasm of the actors. Thus, the political messianism with its eternal promises and empty discourse is sarcastically reduced to the absurd. Like other artists in this exhibition, Apóstol takes a satirical approach to the frustrating contradictions in the real world at the moment of this bicentennial.
The video by Christine de la Garenne shows Campo de Carabobo in Venezuela, where the battle that sealed Venezuela’s independence was fought, commanded by Simón Bolívar in 1821. In this field there are statues of the main patriot leaders, an Arch of Triumph and an Altar of Nationhood. Garenne films the soldiers in the field during their daily routine of guarding and parading, and while they continue to wear the historical red uniform and recalling the independence day by day, the public has disappeared from the scene. Instead of a massive celebration of the independence, the viewer is confronted with the striking contrast between the field’s monumental geometry and the absence of any visiting public.
Sila Chanto carries out an action in public squares and monuments in Costa Rica and other cities on the continent. Resorting to the technique of printmaking, Chanto spreads ink on the plaques commemorating the independence, printing the patriotic inscriptions onto a new support, and finally exhibiting them as inverted writing. The celebration of the revolution for independence, its heroes, the foundation of the young republic and the new Hispanic American ruling group commemorated by these plaques is placed into contrast with the setbacks that came due to their nationalisms and neglect of forgotten sectors. Through this operation of historic inversion, Chanto creates a symbolic and ironic access to the setbacks of Latin American independence.
Claudia Casarino revisits the history of the Paraguayan woman. In the 16th century, the indigenous Guarani peoples of Paraguay offered their daughters to the Spaniards to avoid any sort of hostility. For the centuries, this country was known as the “paradise of Mohammed,” due to the widespread custom of polygamy. When, between 1864 and 1870, 90% percent of the male population died in the War of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, the Paraguayan women needed to take charge of the devastated country’s affairs, which provided them with a degree of independence higher than the norm for the neighboring countries. The title of the artwork is Pynandi, which means “Barefoot” in Guarani, alluding to the painting La paraguaya [The Paraguayan Woman, 1879] by Uruguayan artist Juan Manuel Blanes, which depicts a Paraguayan woman who is barefoot and surrounded by dead soldiers but still standing. Claudia Casarino’s homage to these Amazons throughout Paraguay’s history consists of three artistically interlinked dresses. Are they dresses that pertain to the daughter, mother and wife, or to the widows?
Saqueo [Plunder] consists of eight very small sculptures in gold displayed in a showcase. To realize this work, Regina José Galindo asked a dentist in Guatemala to make three openings in her molars, and inlay them with national gold of the highest purity. In Berlin, a German doctor extracted all the gold fillings from her teeth. Thus, with her own body, Galindo reincarnates the operation of plundering that characterized the Europe-America relation during the period of conquest and colonization, by which the original communities, such as the Maya civilization in Guatemala’s case, were pillaged from the 16th century onward. Even though the Latin American countries gained their independence in the 19th century, the monopolies of North American multinational corporations have implanted new types of plunder, modernizing it and making Galindo’s performance not only a reference to history, but also an action full of contemporaneity.
Martín Sastre, who masterfully reinterprets pop culture at the global level of international politics, has found in Spain a look-alike of the new president of the United States. This fake Barack Obama dances in front of the Museo Reina Sofía. At a significant moment, Sastre suspends the logic of daily life to offer a cover version of reality, extending the question about Latin America’s attraction to North America and its new dependence on it.
The Indigenous Heritage
When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they were struck by the great importance that the indigenous population attached to dancing during all the stages of life and states of the soul; while being a form of entertainment it was nevertheless undertaken as a serious task, pervading all aspects of their life. In the video artwork Politeísta Ecléctico Fiestero Eterno Cotidiano [Daily Eternal Partying Eclectic Polytheist], we see Bolivian artist Narda Alvarado lying on her bed and in the kitchen of her house, daydreaming about a choreography that involves objects of daily life in an imaginary dance show. In the course of the video, she imagines so many accessories that a true dance of costumes passes before our eyes, like the emergence of a new carnival.
Neville D’Almeida documented an indigenous community of 700 inhabitants, the village of Caiapó Ukre, located in the interior of the state of Pará, Brazil, showing their current way of life: their rituals, clothing, dances and tribal songs. The nearly intact culture of this community shows the resistance of the relation between man and nature, which has been harmed worldwide by modernity.
In Cuenca, Ecuador, Humberto Vélez convoked two local communities – that of Cristo del Consuelo, in Cuenca’s outskirts, and that of Ingapirca, an indigenous community in the neighboring province of Cañar. In a collaborative effort, they prepared a beauty contest for llamas, held at the city’s Museo de Arte Moderno. Vélez thus recovers the aesthetic value of the popular and indigenous custom of decorating and celebrating these animals, and incorporates it within the museum as a strategy of coexistence between popular and refined culture. The competition involved a parade of the llamas through the city, accompanied by popular-music bands, culminating in the selection of the most beautiful llama. The ideal of beauty in this case does not correspond to the classifications of a traditional museum, but rather a new form of intercultural beauty and relationship, proposed based on the context of contemporary art.
Olaf Holzapfel constructs provisory structures and flexible figures that look more like improvised partitions than solid walls. Thus, Holzapfel radically questions the conventional urban architecture by using his fragile dwellings to refer to indigenous forms of dwelling, such as those of the Onas in Tierra Del Fuego, which in former times led a nomadic lifestyle; a destiny which in recent times is shared involuntarily by many inhabitants of the big cities: from the “Enfants de Don Quichotte,” who set up their tents along the banks of
the Seine in Paris, and the “rooftop dwellers” of Hong Kong, to the homeless people in the South American metropolises. For this show, the artist produced a collaborative work together with the Wichi community in northern Argentina. Based on artisanal fabrics made by members of this community from agave fibers, the artist constructed a temporary dwelling. Agave fibers come from a cactus which until today is harvested from the wild by people of the indigenous Wichi ethnicity. The Wichis, who possess an abstract language for the creation of geometric forms on their looms, interpret the computer-generated grid proposed by the artist, engendering new forms and a context for experimenting with common patterns.
The video by María Rosa Jijón begins with maps of the Amazonian region of Ecuador and Brazil. The maps, which were one of the most valuable tools for the conquest of the continent, do not appear distant from their colonizing function. While these cartographies allow for the precise localization of Amazonian rivers and routes, there appear the chilling denouncements of the indigenous organization COICA (Confederation of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Watershed), announcing the imminent threat of an ambitious multinational project that seeks to join the Pacific and the Atlantic through the construction of a navigable route that would cross the Amazon, between Manta (Ecuador) and Manaus (Brazil), as an alternative to the Panama Canal. The beautiful and tranquil Río Napo, a real territory that underlies these new abstract atlases, will be used as a part of this new Amazonian waterway. Jijón’s work underscores the paradox between modern progress and the devastation of the natural reserves, the displacement of the local indigenous communities and the impoverishment of the ecosystem. The song that emerges from the images of this video is that of an indigenous cleansing ceremony, realized by a Quichua shaman, from the Limoncocha region of the Río Napo. Although the ritual song drives away the bad energies, the possibility for sustainable development for Latin America remains without a solution.
The 1933 documentary Terre Magellaniche [Magellanic Lands], filmed by Salesian priest Alberto Maria De Agostini in Tierra del Fuego, in southern Chile and Argentina, constitutes one of the first and only filmed records of the extinct Onas, Tehuelches, Yaganes and Alacalufes ethnicities. The film is the testimony of the impact that these communities suffered with the arrival of the colonizers. As the vignettes of the film state: “By a phenomenon common to all the indigenous races, upon contact with the invading civilization, the Fuegians became extinct with startling quickness.” By way of the filmmaking technique of montage, De Agostini contrasts scenes of modern life in the city of Punta Arenas, its European architecture and the activities of its port and industry, with the marginal situation of the original inhabitants, whom De Agostini meets after sailing a boat up the windy channels into the mountainous confines, penetrating a geography which was up to then unknown. By way of panoramic shots from the boat, De Agostini presents us with the majestic nature of the continent’s southernmost tip: its glaciers, mountain peaks, waterfalls, icebergs and animals. With special interest, De Agostini’s camera lingers on the Ona community, in the Eastern region of Tierra del Fuego, also known as the Selk’nam, recording their customs. Nomadic hunters, the Selk’nam appear dressed in wild guanaco skins, living in temporary dwellings built of sticks and skins, making their bows and arrows and carrying out their shamanistic rituals. In front of the camera, De Agostini and the shaman Pa-cek [Great Sword] greet each other. Two worlds meet. De Agostini demonstrates that it is possible for two cultures to encounter without exploitation or colonization. De Agostini arrived in Punta Arenas from Italy in 1910 as a Salesian missionary. In his travels he discovered unexplored regions such as
the Patagonian fjords that bear his name. He was a cartographer, mountain climber, explorer, photographer and documentalist, publishing 22 books about the region.
The Precariousness of the Contemporary
Colombian artist Juan Fernando Herrán contemplates the poor districts that go by different names depending on the Latin American country they are in, most of them euphemistic: villas in Argentina, barrios in Caracas, or favelas in Brazil, the latter being the most descriptive. His photographic series shot in the outskirts of Medellín speaks of making the land cultivatable again in adverse circumstances, laying the cornerstone, and the primitive forms of taking possession. Construction is taking place all over the place, pillars and fences are going up, along with roofs and stairs. “My staircase to arrive at God” is the phrase we read in the Book of the Dead of ancient Egypt. For his part, painter Xul Solar tries to escape from Valley of Tears with a forest of stairways. Because, as they say in Argentina: “The escape from any labyrinth is always upward.” In Herrán’s case, this escape is in the form of stairs made from reinforced concrete that lead upward through impassable and adverse lands.
The photographic series Faraway Brother Style by Walterio Iraheta parodies the international publications by Taschen concerning architecture entitled New York Style, London Style or Paris Style, focusing on the emigrant architectural style in El Salvador: Faraway Brother Style. The term hermano lejano [faraway brother] refers to a friend or relative who emigrated from El Salvador, generally to the United States, and who sends back money that helps the family finances of the Salvadorans. Iraheta resorts to a photographic series to identify certain recurrent patterns in this new style. He calls attention to substantial changes in the architecture of the rural zones, where among modest houses there now begin to sprout “small-scale castles or palaces” with various floors, built in an eclectic style that freely blends columns, decorative elements, colors, arches and ceramics of classic, baroque and kitsch style or even the North American style of the shingled roof sloped for snow, transplanted into the hot climate of El Salvador. Iraheta’s series identifies the way of life of the Salvadoran emigrant as a particular style in its own right, like that of one of the metropolises, approaching the concept of style more in terms of a way of life than frivolous and arbitrary connotations of elegance or good taste.
Bjørn Melhus jumps into the fracas of the fighting in Mexico. Armed to the teeth and inspired in the traditional charros [local cowboys], he attempts to impose order in deserted cities and places. In Mexico, the regular police and the official army are regularly confronted by paramilitary groups of every sort, militia and private security forces, with increasingly blurred borders between them. The artist’s armed performance sheds light on an increasingly militarized Mexico.
Sebastián Preece excavated in the ruins of an old adobe house in Los Ángeles, in southern Chile, recovering a set of books. At the moment he found them, the books were soggy, muddy, and infested by worms that were eating their pages, evidencing a process of decomposition. He removed the volumes from there, cataloged and recuperated them, allowing the tomes to dry and to enter a state of semi-fossilization. As in archaeological ruins, in the book-stones one can catch sight of the texts on an eroded support. The main content of the books concerns parliamentary acts in regard to territorial demarcations of Chile in the 1950s through ’70s. Preece’s original architectural intervention, which sought to find the elements to generate a portrait of the family, is extended in this reflection on the historically disputed territorial borders, the lines of a national portrait.
The series of sculptures Joyas de Pobre [Jewels for Poor People] by Rolando Castellón is a set of decorative objects, elaborated from precarious materials such as tree branches, seeds, frayed fabrics, laminated coconut, stones and rusty metallic scraps that are shaped by the artist’s hammer into new assemblages, creating a series of modest jewels. Castellón’s project involves the recovery of the creative mechanisms of the informal street commerce in Central America, where small groups of artisans offer their objects, which though constructed by humble means from cheap materials nevertheless add color and creativity to the commercial environment of the cities. While the street commerce presents an alternative for small producers and a means of earning a living for the poorest sectors of society, Castellón’s work criticizes the region’s socioeconomic inequality, placing the jewels of the poor in counterpoint to the jewels and privileges of the rich.
The sculpture Fisiología del Gusto [Physiology of Taste] by Adán Vallecillo presents the contradiction between the stainless steel tray, from the world of gourmet cooking, and its content of hundreds of corroded teeth. This macabre recipient alludes to the foreign medical teams that have arrived at the indigenous communities in the poorest regions of Honduras, extracting the decayed teeth of the inhabitants. Vallecillo exposes the waste and precarious living situation of these groups, while shedding light on the accumulation of this extraction, and the need for a remedial politics. Physiology – the science that studies the organs, including the functions of taste – operates in this work as a critical metaphor to identify the socially approved and the rejected. The tray with the teeth therefore provokes in the viewer a physiological and social distaste, generating a moment of awareness and recognition of the violence involved in these politics of extraction.
David Pérez Karmadavis carried out a performance in which a blind Dominican carries in his arms a legless Haitian. The two form a structure that allows them to walk along the street without their normal limitations: the blind man does the walking, while the legless woman guides his steps. This performance, and its corresponding video recording, is entitled Estructura Completa [Complete Structure], referring to the relation of dependence and negotiation of the two bodies to form a finally functional unit. This structure symbolizes the situation of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, political units physically located on the same island, but separated by their national borders. Disabled people therefore symbolize the privations of both nations as well as the complete structure that represents their political option for cooperation, in the shared context of poverty in which most of the island’s inhabitants live.
The video Home by Gianfranco Foschino consists of a single take by a fixed camera, which presents a rural scene. While the image is reminiscent of a rustic painting lacking any sort of modernity: the soil of the land, the old wooden house, the barrels, and the chickens pecking at the ground, the image’s contemporaneity, its high definition and clear, modern grain, displaces us from a melancholic perception, situating us in today’s world. The modernist project where the city challenges the countryside is radically questioned by the artist’s work. Rural life appears just as present, clear and contemporary as the life of the big cities. Not by chance, all of Foschino’s works consist of footage shot during his trips through Chile, and each one of them evinces how the rural peripheries or provinces are demanding the right for their own contemporaneity.
The distance between the present and the future is measured anew in each era, by different measures. Sometimes the future seems close at hand, at others it appears far away in the unreachable distance. Sometimes this distance is measured in nanoseconds, sometimes in years, decades or centuries. The engineers try to transfer the temporal dimension into a concrete space and define the distance between the present and future with physical categories such as miles, kilowatts or the numbers on a speedometer, while the artists often record the ruins strewn along the edge of this path.
The fear of transformation, or the desire for it, always make the future appear in different colors and extensions, and throughout history the present has always been a projection of the future. Perhaps past and present are nothing else but an accumulation of futures.
Julieta Aranda seeks the lost time within that critical interstice between yesterday and today, between forever and never.
In their ambiguous web of interactions and coexistence, the works of this show register the “Creole” or “neo-Creole,” a kind of lingua franca never spoken, which Xul Solar has envisioned to replace the colonial languages and as a source for true utopian thinking.
Some places only last for a moment – these are those rare moments that only art can record – and, says Mario Benedetti, for some times there is no place. This paradox may apply to the present, which compresses time in an extreme way, but offers it no location as an ideal home. Again, only art can locate the present time and offer it shelter.
1) Simón Bolívar, The Letter from Jamaica ,1815.
2) Pablo Neruda, Un Canto para Bolívar, 1941.
3) Simón Bolívar, The Letter from Jamaica , 1815.
4) Don Quixote to Sancho Panza, in Chapter XXIX of the second part.
5) Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, XXI.
“As in the arsenal of the Venetians, all winter long a stew of sticky pitch boils up to patch their sick and tattered ships that cannot sail – instead of voyaging, some build new keels, some tow and tar the ribs of hulls worn out by too much journeying…”
Press Office Latin America Pavilion-IILA
Federica La Paglia
Photos by Cosmin Năsui
Modernism.ro vă prezintă, în premieră, un serial dedicat expozițiilor pavilioanelor naționale și evenimentelor paralele și dar și a celor colaterale ale Bienalei de Artă de la Veneția, unul dintre cele mai importante evenimente europene de artă contemporană.
Mulțumim Institutului Român de Cultură şi Cercetare Umanistică de la Veneția și ICR București pentru suportul și sprijinul acordat la realizarea acestui serial.