Emeralds, Album Records, and Turkish Delight

February 3rd, 2013

In the past six months, I’ve had a handful of experiences that I’ve come to consider gems. These are passing instances that are small relative to world events; that are mostly brief and light, unlike the span and weight that comes with life; that are ephemeral as the second that just passed by. Yet, these are significantly shining, valuable moments to treasure. So when artists Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson invited me to participate in their new project with and about gems, I accepted with no hesitation.

I wore one of the four precious-stone artworks created by the artists. It was a work in the form of a pendant. This was a roving, intimate display of sorts preceding the artist’s current exhibition, Making a Record (Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald). My then pendant has three emeralds: the larger one is the raw, natural mineral; the thinner one is sculpted as a sharp spine, and was used as the stylus to record an album about emeralds; a rounder piece is a cut crystal, like those more commonly seen in jewelry.

Emerald was the color of the tunic I was dressed in the day I met Caetano Veloso. That sunny morning, I learned about a song he dedicated to his friend, the artist Lygia Clark. Apparently I gifted that musical theme to someone with whom I didn’t exactly want a friendship. (Where did I go wrong?) Emerald the present’s ribbon. Emerald also the color of the box of pistachio Turkish Delight, those candies savored on the afternoon of farewell to such affair. Hexagon the shape of that little candy box, as the form of the pendant’s largest, natural stone.

The gemologist and jewelry designer Karen L. Davidson, who was interviewed by the artists, her words recorded onto the album with the stylus on the pendant, tells that emeralds are a gem considered both fragile but hard; that these have a longer history than most stones; that they are great for one’s vision. It’s been hard not to associate my temporary pendant with other comings and goings that have, at best, arrived and ended because of some misinterpretation, at worst, because of finding indistinguishable the differences between possession and comprehension.

Now with the pendant’s physical absence yet its luminosity’s presence, I keep on reconsidering the assumed but most probable fragility of this hard, long-history stone. And so, I recognize that emerald is indeed the color, the mineral, the hexagonal crystal that has accompanied me lately in learning about what bonds, on how intimacy or complicity binds. Emerald is my gemstone. It’s the brilliant companion that keeps me lit even when it’s hard to shine.

Pictured above is the emerald pendant of Making a Record (Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald) by Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson, an exhibition on view at Audio Visual Arts in New York City from January 18 to February 17, 2013. Pierre Huyghe, Marina Warner, and Jamieson Webster wore and wrote about the three other pendants.

Brown Sugar, Electric Cigarettes, and Sculpture

November 25th, 2012

Brown sugar, electric cigarettes, and sculpture. Overpriced, all three, all the time. And hard to get here, all three, most times. No doubt, availability of things, their prices, depends on location. Enough learned of over-determinism; distributive economy, overrated. Point is, all three things I want here, and wont it now appears to be.

Sea, sí, I want to get rid of that refined dust that spoils my morning coffee, and instead feel the more brittle texture of its sandy sister on my tongue; want to blow scentless, evaporating clouds in environments prohibiting the dragon smoke of my reds; want to quit images for a moment, be compelled to walk around shaped matter that draws me, it, beyond a picture. I want some kind of gravitational force.

Just that is what I want for now. And here, without that, no magnet around, I am left to fingertips tap dancing passwords into portals where imagination machines are said be treasured. Once in, says so, one floats among some kind of cumulus monotypes that rain experience. Weather permitting.

Image: somewhere in the Pacific.

Why I Always Cry on Airplanes

September 14th, 2012

I was unsure of leaving this entry’s title in first-person. Was also unsure of how and if I should punctuate it—to end it with ellipsis, as in here goes the list of reasons, or to add a do before the I and end it with a question mark, as in I am bewildered.

Point is: I always do cry during air flights. It seldom happens before take-off or landing, so no need to associate it with fear of flying. It actually tends to happen mostly after an hour or so on air. Sometimes tears just begin rolling down. Other times tears are announced by a knot on the throat or accompanied by some indeterminate muscular pain. Few times there’s actual weeping, and I am unsure if it’s because these are tears of exhaustion or of measured emotion. For sure, never are these alligator tears.

I’ve decided to wear prescription sunglasses during flights to avoid exhibition. Reddened sinus effects, blush cheeks, and slightly swollen lips rarely manifest. Though parallel and occasional teardrops from the nose are inevitable. The uncertainty of these discrete waterfalls prompts me to push the orange-button on the seat dashboard. Once the steward arrives, I request a tissue, then some bubbles, and if possible, I add to my request, to serve them on a crystal glass rather than a plastic cup. Sunrays or stars are hidden from the aisle seat—my preferred area on-board—so seeing sparkles on a glass and feeling them down my throat always trigger the experience of moving in a landscape, of being grounded yet on air.

From the explanations available online, the reason for my tears is probably because I fly coach, unfortunately. According to recurring travelers and pseudo-scientists that populate the Web, oxygen is limited in the back of airplanes, making those people seated in economy more sensitive, teary, as they say, during flights. That theory, however, is mostly associated to crying while watching movies on planes, specifically romantic comedies and generally-tasteless Hollywood melodramas on airline repertoires, which, to me, this only means that films on planes (should I add tears here?) cannot be taken all too seriously. In any case, that popular theory would not reason my tears, as I tend to read or dream on flights.

It’s unclear when this started happening, the crying. I barely noticed them last year or so. When the tears actually settled into ritual was just some months ago. As of late, it is their appearance of comfort, their I am here to stay while on air, that has become somewhat preoccupying, sometimes even more daunting than the tears themselves. And so, I’ve begun wondering if crying is because I am leaving a place—my home, or a place that feels like it, or a space that could be that should I had stayed. I’ve also wondered the opposite, if crying is because of having to go back home, or to a place that feels like it, or to a space that could be that someday.

Whether it is the sense of impending arrival or the acknowledgment of a departure, I’ve begun coming to terms with tears and some day will do so with the idea of home—whatever or wherever that is.

Image: detail of Dear Mr. _____ (from a desert to a mountain to a waterfall), 2012, by Tania Perez Cordova.

El día del ojo

August 20th, 2012

Especially conceived for the Museo Tamayo, El día del ojo is a new work by Pierre Huyghe entailing research, travel and chance encounters across Mexico. It will be inaugurated next week, as part of the re-opening of this newly expanded and renovated museum. Pierre and I started discussions and work on this project in 2009, during my tenure as director of Museo Tamayo, and it’s a pleasure that it’s finally come into fruition.

The artist’s work consists of a water-filled pool inhabited by live, blind-cave fish and by floating volcanic rocks. It’s built in the museum’s indoor sculpture patio. Within that quasi-natural, quasi-artificial environment underground, these species are left on their own, without any other being bearing witness to them. This work, which is made invisible or visible at the museum according to rituals defined by the artist, will be uncovered by opening the floor… and will remain so until future yet undefined protocols create its disappearance.

To create this work, the artist sited natural phenomena and cultural manifestations that exist, but that are invisible or likely go unseen. Aside from this being insinuated formally through the work, this is also implicated in its title: El día del ojo. If the exhibition title was literally translated to the English, it would refer to a designated day for the warranted observance of the eye or simply of observing; if the translation was more openly interpreted, it would suggest, possibly, looking at the predicaments arising with eye witnessing.

Presented along with this live-sculpture by Huyghe are a number of artifacts and sculptures, all made of minerals and drawn from the collections of the Museo Tamayo and the Museo de Arte Prehispánico in Oaxaca City, both institutions founded by the artist Rufino Tamayo. The placement of these objects in the sculpture patio is determined by the sunlight radiating through the building skylights and cast on its grounds at specific hours. And, their presentation calls on the display that Huyghe experienced on his first visit to Museo Tamayo in 1987. However, it is far from a reconstruction of the exhibition that Huyghe witnessed at that time, and that he captured others seeing with this own film camera twenty-five years ago. Instead, it is an attempt to reverse the condition of encounter: from exhibiting something to being exposed to something.

One more component in a multiple set of operations that constitute El día del ojo is a publication on Huyghe’s journeys and encounters in Mexico. Neither a visual essay nor a travelogue, it includes a text that I penned preceded by images of the Museo Tamayo’s 1987 exhibition drawn from the artist’s personal film-reels; pictures from his journey to the Naica Caves in northern Chihuahua, and; several other points of interest that were unearthed from caves to archives in the process of creating this work.

Huyghe’s El día del ojo—the work and its opening rituals, the presentation determined by a sun-clock, and the accompanying publication—attempts to either expand or constrict the sense of time between what exists in itself and what appears to the eye. In doing so, it is an invitation to reconsider the spaces of interpretation that reminiscences and oblivion create as the place of the unknown. In between all that, the figure of the witness is observed.

Pierre Huyghe’s El día del ojo opens to the public on August 26, 2012 at Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. El día del ojo is commissioned by Museo Tamayo; Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, curator; Daniela Pérez, project coordinator; Melissa Dubbin, producer; key collaborators include the biologist Víctor Hugo Reynoso and architect Juan Carlos Garduño.

Smoke Signal

August 16th, 2012

On Monday, the Fundação Bienal do Mercosul announced my appointment as the chief curator of the 9th Mercosul Biennial, scheduled to open on September 13, 2013 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. A press release of this announcement, and, perhaps most importantly, a curatorial statement for the biennial, can be found here. All the while, I will continue to work as curator of contemporary art of the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. Seems like I should also begin writing more regularly here, posting research-in-progress.

To join me in the adventure of organizing the biennial, I’ve brought together a team of curators and educators that I highly respect. The team includes Raimundas Malašauskas, a curator who I’ve collaborated on several projects before, as well as the educator Mônica Hoff and the curator Bernardo de Souza, both based in Porto Alegre. They will be closely involved in the curatorial research, including the artist selection, commission of new work, and the conceptualization of the biennial’s exhibitions and educational programming.

In addition, an interesting group of curators will be engaged in the research towards the biennial through a curatorial fellowship program. I’ve called this program the “Cloud Fellows,” as they will help determine the shape, the place and the experience of information in the biennial. They will certainly also influence the artist’s selection –are already doing so– and project development in general. These are the fellows: Sarah Demeuse, based in New York City, and co-founder of Rivet; Daniela Pérez, based in Mexico City, and co-founder of De Sitio; Julia Rebouças, based in Belo Horizonte, and member of the curatorial team of Inhotim; and, Dominic Willsdon, based in San Francisco, and the Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Programs at SFMoMA.

The appointment of the curatorial team for the 9th Mercosul Biennial was publicly announced through a smoke signal on Monday, August 13, 2012 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The image above is of this event; it was taken by Cristiano Sant Anna (indicefoto.com).

On Hypnotic Shows and Paper Exhibitions

April 14th, 2012

A while back, I wrote here about Raimundas Malašauskas mesmerizing Hypnotic Show—an exhibition that an audience experiences while hypnotized. It’s one of those curatorial projects that I wish had occurred to me… but it would have been impossible, my mind works differently, even while in trance. The latest iteration of Hypnotic Show took place in Turin, Italy last November within the framework of the art fair Artissima. On that occasion, the show had a slightly different format (for a description, please read the earlier post linked above). For that new iteration, Raimundas invited me and three other peers—Angie Keefer, John Menick and Robert Snowden—to write scripts about historic exhibitions.

We wrote scripts for about thirty or so other exhibitions, which were used as instruction pieces generating the phenomenological experience of the hypnotized audiences. Once in a state of trance, audiences could time-travel and experience exhibitions like the first Documenta (1955) curated by Arnold Bode in Kassel, Germany; witness the Charioteer of Delphi (474 BC) at the Delphi Archaeological Museum in Greece; visit Information (1970) curated by Kynaston McShine at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; and, walk around the city of Ghent and visit private homes to see the various projects of Chambres d’amis (1986), a multi-sited exhibition curated by Jan Hoet for the Museum Van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp.

Artissima published a small book with the scripts for this latest iteration of the Hypnotic Show, and you can download it here for your perusal—to read or use for getting hypnotized at your own risk.

Image: Tomorrow evening, at McNally Jackson Books in New York, Raimundas Malašauskas launches his book of collected texts, Paper Exhibition. Some Ten Years of Writing, published by Sandberg Institute, Kunstverein Publishing, Sternberg Press and The Baltic Notebooks by Anthony Blunt.

Some pieces here and there

April 12th, 2012

The intensity and pace of my travels since the start of the year have produced many impressions, but have left me with little to no time to turn those into entries for Sideshows. I shared however some thoughts in Art in America’s Roving Eye column during the month of January, contributing three pieces on what I was looking and thinking about at the time: the first text, Fuel for Design, is about the Cooper Hewitt’s Design with the Other 90%, an inspiring exhibition at the United Nations; another one, Tropical Realism, are impressions from a trip to the Dominican Republic; and the third, The Language of Resistance, reports on a lecture by the art historian Tom McDonough at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Additionally, some weeks ago, the artist and writer Georgia Kosteros interviewed me for Art21’s web-column Inside the Artist’s Studio, where we exchange thoughts on curatorial field research. It’s nicely illustrated.

Image: Elevator of my Casa Particular in La Habana, where I did research in February.

Artistic Sensibility, Civic Responsability

August 11th, 2011

Since the 1990s, Tania Bruguera has exhibited widely, making performances, staging interventions, and creating installations that destabilize received notions of power. Perhaps her most recognizable work is her performance “The Burden of Guilt” (1997-1999), in which the artist, wearing a raw-lamb carcass, eats dirt with her hands; the performance, we later learned, was a re-enactment of a colonial legend in Cuba, a suicide attempt; a legend of an indigenous act of resistance against the Spanish.

In the last decade, the protagonist role that the artist’s body had in her earlier work, disappeared almost entirely. In her placement, Tania Bruguera has engaged actors, and more usually invited the general public to perform. In one of a series of artworks titled “Tatlin’s Whisper,” Bruguera hired two policemen on horseback with expertise in controlling riots to choreograph the course of the museum’s audience. That performance was presented in 2008 at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, as part of the two-day exhibition The Living Currency (La Monnaie Vivante) curated by Pierre Bal Blanc. In another work in the series “Tatlin’s Whisper,” the public could use the microphone to exercise a minute of free-speech. This latter work was staged in 2009 at the Centro Wilfredo Lam in Havana. I should add: authorities were not exactly pleased.

As part of an expanded artistic practice, Tania Bruguera has taught and lectured internationally, and in her native Cuba created an itinerant art school called Catedra Arte de Conducta. This school, which she begun in 2002 and concluded in 2009, created dialogues between local artists and visiting architects, theorists and other creative professionals in order to envision and discuss ways in which art contributes to society. Through courses for performance and time-based art, a new generation of artists could and would be encouraged to work politically with their social reality.

This year, Tania Bruguera has come to live in New York City to initiate another of these kinds of projects. Initiated by the Queens Museum and Creative Time, this new, long-term art project by Tania Bruguera is called “Immigrant Movement International” and emerges from her long-standing inquiry on ‘useful art’.  One of the artist’s main supporters, the art critic Claire Bishop, has explained Tania’s idea on useful art as a “conjunction of political action and illegality … pushing the boundaries of what authority recognizes acceptable”.

To what extent and for who will the “Immigrant Movement International” be useful? Well, I suppose this we will learn in the coming months, possibly over the next couple of years. I am confident, though, that this project will at the very least remind us of the role of the modern public museum, which is to cultivate its audience with the aim of creating civic responsibility; of building more informed and creative audience, a more productive and sensible citizen. This responsibility is one that a handful of contemporary artists, including Tania Bruguera, have been taking on to themselves.

The image above is of the headquarters of the Immigrant Movement International in Corona, Queens in New York, which I visited yesterday afternoon. Events take place daily. Consult the website for more details and a calendar of programs: http://immigrant-movement.us.

In Black and White

July 16th, 2011

Marta Traba in Black and White – the third publication from Murmur, released today – is a translation from the Spanish to the English of selected passages from an essay by Nicolás Gómez Echeverri. His text examines the 1950s-era Colombian television programs produced by the influential South American art critic and historian Marta Traba. The selected and translated passages are depictions of the encounters with the images that inspired Gómez Echeverri’s investigation into Marta Traba, reorganized and interspersed here with factual research he collected on her television programs. The essay’s accompanying illustrations, one pictured above, are by Gómez Echeverri himself. You may download at no cost a PDF of Marta Traba in Black and White: www.murmur-print.org.

I first came across Gómez Echeverri’s research project on Traba at the exhibition 41 Salón Nacional de Artistas in Colombia, where it was presented as an art installation. The edition of that national, biennial-like exhibition had taken place in 2008–2009 in the city of Cali. Curated by Victoria Noorthoorn and a team of local artists – Wilson Díaz, Jose Horacio Martínez, Oscar Muñoz and Bernando Ortíz – the exhibition introduced me not only to Gómez Echeverri, but to a number of artists, artworks and curatorial issues that I still think about today. Not surprisingly, the exhibition had a huge impact in the local art scene in general, raising controversy about the exclusiveness of a curatorial voice, and provincial anxieties by the international participation in a traditionally regional exhibition. Such tensions are not particular to one single art scene, but to every cultural context in the face of globalization.

Murmur is an independent curatorial initiative that I am developing intuitively and quite apart from my institutional work.


June 19th, 2011

At the moment I am in Spain, tearlessly working on the installation of The Cry, a group exhibition that Maria Ines Rodriguez and I jointly curated for MUSAC. The title of the exhibition suggests that crying, aside from being a manifestation of a private emotion, is a public call for bearing witness. During the curatorial process, we asked ourselves: What if, for a change, we shift the lens for looking at contemporary art from conceptualism to expressionism? We then looked at what could be thought of as artistic gesture in recent art, and attempted to articulate in the exhibition possible structures of feeling.

The exhibition includes artworks from the 1990s to the present by Absalon, Allora & Calzadilla, Hernan Bas, Irina Botea, Luisa Cunha, Lara Favaretto, Jesper Just, David Maljkovic, Christian Marclay, Teresa Margolles, Olivia Plender, Ugo Rondinone and Javier Téllez; as well as performances by El Resplandor, Loreto Martínez Troncoso, and von Calhau. The exhibition design is a special project by the artist Terence Gower, who developed what we might call an “emotional architecture” (a term coined by the Mexican artist Mathias Goeritz). The graphic designer Scott Ponik made the exhibition title illustration, above.

The Cry opens June 25, 2011, and is on view until January 8, 2012.