On, after, by the Guaíba

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Back in early September, during the installation period of the 9a Bienal do Mercosul | Porto Alegre in Brazil, several of us working on the project occasionally took a break and met at the terrace of the cultural center Usina do Gasometro to experience the sunset. Up until that point, a period of cold, rainy days had overextended its stay, but Southern winds had taken mercy on us for a little over a week, blowing away clouds far into the Atlantic and leaving bare the skies over Porto Alegre’s river, lake, or estuary whatever called Guaíba. Whenever weather permitted, during the following nine weeks of the exhibition period we continued frequenting that terrace to observe the sun apparently sink into the Guaíba, and with that, to welcome the depths of a day arise with the dimmer light that’s night. That landscape. How much time it occupied my mind; the minds of others, too.

Once a month, from May to November, we had taken a boat that docked at the Usina and navigated into the Guaíba for a voyage of about 12 kilometers—coincidently, a similar distance between troposphere and atmosphere, and also the extent of thread used in Jason Dodge’s textile sculptures included in the exhibition—until reaching a little rocky island locally known as Ilha do Presídio. Our vessel did not exactly have the engine of a speedboat, so it took us over an hour to get to the island, another or more to get back. We had time, though, and good company. With a geological history dating back millions of years, this now-abandoned, former prison-island for political detainees was one of the venues of the Bienal, whilst not as host to the exhibition. That minute remain of continental split was the conceptual anchor and physical site of Island Sessions, a discussion and publication initiative of the Bienal that directly involved more than one hundred participants.

I’ve made a video to introduce you to the Ilha do Presídio and to Island Sessions. Clearly, the video is homemade, like this blog, so don’t expect being blown away by it, although the Ilha could and would have done so to some of us who visited. It’s just a brief video-clip to show you the place, to tell of the initiative. Its soundtrack includes an instrumental piece and a song created by Mario Garcia Torres for the Bienal. Most importantly: here you can see impressions, as well as read inflections, perceptions and reflections—essays, short stories, anecdotes—authored by participants of Island Sessions. (On the left column, click on a date/session, which is a chapter of sorts, each with individual contributors.) For a geological and cultural history of the island, refer to the essay by Eduardo Bueno; for a conceptual approach to the island, read instead a piece by Sarah Demeuse; for writings in prison or imprisonment and writing, consult an image/text work by Angie Keefer; for either a recipe or a timeline on censorship, go to the contributions by Luiza Proença; and so on.

Anyhow, it was good to be there: chilling on the Usina’s terrace at sundown; navigating the Guaíba; visiting its Ilha; spending time in Porto Alegre; being involved in the project. Indeed, the Bienal has now closed. After that fact, and, eventually, after a voyage in the high seas of the Pacific visiting remote islands and experiencing sunsets from places afar, this time around witnessing sunrises, too, I am finally back home contemplating other scenarios. Now, here, more so than memories of the Bienal, there are a number of questions that keep emerging. Among these, a nagging one: What is will? More amply: How does such a thing, a palpable sensibility of sorts, a force from a wholly unbeknownst source, shape language in the visual arts, create conditions for its expression?


Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

The first publication of Murmur is a brief but incisive anthology titled Conceptualism and Economy. The publication gathers text-based works by visual artists: a performance script by Mario Garcia Torres in collaboration with writer Aaron Schuster; a project proposal by Lee Lozano; an essay by Seth Price; and a manifesto-like speech by Joe Scanlan.

More than the market strategies of conceptualism or financial aspects of art, the texts included raise questions about the economy of means. With original texts in English and translations to the Spanish, this inaugural publication of Murmur is shy of 30 pages and available here as a downloadable-PDF at no cost. A small edition of a printed version is out, too.

Murmur is an independent curatorial initiative, which I’ll be developing intuitively and quite apart from my institutional work.

Report on Autopsy

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008


Less than a week after its opening, the group exhibition Autopsia de lo invisible (Autopsy of the Invisible) at MALBA has received critical acclaim in Argentina: art critic Fabián Lebenglik writes an extensive article for the newspaper Página 12; so does Mariana Rolandi for the newspaper Clarín; Ana Martínez Quijano for Ambito Financiero, and; Mercedes Urquiza for Perfíl, who makes fun of me by referring to the exhibition as a “show” (a colloquial and telling word in itself). A video walkthrough of the exhibition was produced by the website of the newspaper La Nación, and another one was produced by Cultura al Dia, which was aired on television on Sunday, March 2, 2008. (It aired by METRO in Argentina on Channel 13 of Multicanal and Channel 13 of Cablevisión.) The independents Beatriz Montenegro de Antico and Alejandro Zuy, who are interested in researching contemporary curatorial practices, interviewed me for their arts and culture website, Leerlo.com.

Addendum. Two more reviews were published: Judith Savloff writes one for Diario Crítica and Alicia de Arteaga for La Nación. Also, Carmen Boullosa includes a note on the exhibition for a column on Art of the Americas published in El País of Madrid, Spain. (March 17, 2008)



The Imperative to Communicate

Friday, February 29th, 2008

After lunch, we took a walk at a busy street in Barrio Palermo. It took us about five blocks to get to New York. The year was circa 1966, and Eduardo Costa had taken me to me moment he proposed the editor of Vogue to incorporate his newest conceptual artwork in that magazine. Soon after, Fashion Fictions was published there and in a couple other magazines. I had met Eduardo in New York about six years ago, while he was still living there. But shortly after he had moved back to his hometown Buenos Aires and I hadn’t seen him since. Eduardo had been an integral part of the 1960s avant garde art scene in Argentina, and a conceptualist at heart. Now, forty years later and with much longer and shinier silver hair, his attention to detail and the sophistication of his thought process were even sharper. We discussed his move back to Buenos Aires and life thereafter, his recent body of work, a series of volumetric paintings, and the revival he had experienced in I Am Not a Flopper or… (2007) by artist Mario Garcia Torres.

During the 1960s, Eduardo was part of “Arte de los Medios,” doing collaborative works with artists Raúl Escari and Roberto Jacoby that emphasized tactical communication in conceptualism. Earlier that week, I had also met with Roberto. Unlike Costa, Roberto had stayed in Argentina. His conceptualism turned more political in its motivations and forms as the 1960s ended and the decade of the 1970s arrived. But later, during the eighties, he distanced himself from art making, yet his work remained creative: from creating the identity of an Argentine rock band and writing its musical lyrics to consulting on identity and promotional strategies of various industries. Roberto never left the idea of communication as a means and end in his work, and this in addition to organizing and mobilizing artists have been at the heart of his practice. Roberto is the mastermind or instigator or supporter or something along those lines in almost every artistic venture that emerges in Buenos Aires. Among these ventures are: Fundacion Start, a platform from where a number of events happen and projects emerge; Proyecto Venus, a working currency and social network that he launched at the turn of the twenty-first century and that peeked during Argentina’s crisis in 2002 (the project concluded last year); Bola de Nieve (Snowball), an online archive of portfolios by local artists; Ramona, a magazine he co-founded in 2000 with the art collector Gustavo Bruzzone. With almost 80 issues published to date, Ramona has become a key source for contemporary art there and elsewhere, many times including the first and only Spanish translations of key theoretical and art historical texts originally published abroad, as well as new art historical and theoretical essays about Latin American art.

Gustavo Bruzzone is also a key figure in Argentina’s art scene. Aside from his connection to Ramona, he is more commonly associated with the art scene of the “Rojas” generation or “Arte Light.” I visited his apartment on a Friday evening. What I thought would be a simple guided visit to his art collection turned out to be an intense art history seminar. Gustavo began collecting art during the early 1990s, most times as support gesture or money advances to a group of then-emerging artists that he had become acquainted through a painting class. But Gustavo is not an artist; he is a lawyer and a respected judge in Argentina. He is a great storyteller, too. His memory of the 1990s art scene is as fresh as his narrative. He told me of the times when artist Jorge Gumier Maier was curator of the art gallery of the Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas in Buenos Aires. His exhibition program was said to be representative of an aesthetic pursuit giving precedence to the search for beauty that was far from the over intellectualization of neoconceptual art and instrumentalization of high art. Critics condemned this, called the works exhibited there arte light, gay and so on. Today, however, many revere that moment. Gustavo’s collection has early works of every artist of that art scene, including works by Gumier Maier, Marcelo Pombo, Sebastian Gordini, among many others. The works are installed in salon style throughout the house—hanging from every wall space from floor to ceiling, and sitting on any type of flat surface available. The collection is also complemented with a series of documents and ephemera of the time—newspaper clippings, exhibition invitations, posters, even early gallery checklists with price lists. It’s an admirable collection, and it’s formed wholeheartedly by a unique eye and empiricist soul.

Autopsy of the Invisible

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Autopsia de lo invisible MALBA

I’ve been in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a bit more than two weeks. The purpose of my stay is the exhibition Autopsia de lo invisible (Autopsy of the Invisible), which I curated for the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires – Fundación Costantini. (The museum is most commonly known as MALBA.) Autopsia de lo invisible is one in a series of contemporary art exhibitions that are part of MALBA’s program Contemporáneo, a series of rotating exhibitions featuring work by local, national and international artists through in-house and guest-curated exhibitions. Begun in 2002, MALBA’s Contemporáneo typically presents four exhibitions a year, one of which is organized by an international curator, as in the case of Autopsia de lo invisible.

Autopsia de lo invisible is a group exhibition including artworks by Juan Manuel Echavarría (Colombia), Regina José Galindo (Guatemala), Mario García Torres (México), Ignacio Lang (Puerto Rico) and Teresa Margolles (México). This exhibition explores the idea of artistic research as an autopsy that involves dissecting a topic or social body of sorts in order to reconstruct historical deeds or contemporary events. Beyond the aseptic, clinical format of a scientific laboratory or the white cube of modern and contemporary galleries, the exhibition design of Autopsy of the Invisible proposes to go backstage, so to say, behind a curtain. The exhibition’s title plays with the early and the contemporary and most common definition of autopsy. “An eye-witnessing” is a definition of autopsy that emerges during the mid-seventeenth century, which derives from the combination of the Greek “autos” (self) and “opsis” (a sight). The most common meaning of this term today refers to the dissection and inspection of a corpse to determine cause of death.

There are two other strong influences in this exhibition. One comes from the history of conceptual art, from the movement’s beginnings during the 1960s in particular, when the articulation of ideas came before objects’ materialization, where the assumption was that viewers would put into practice a sort of faith in something unseen, something without a physical presence. The second influence comes from contemporary cultural and socio-political events based on some kind of ambiguous presence—events that at times seem not to exist, events presented as phantom deeds, whose concrete definition is hard to discern and whereby any determined impact that these have on collective memory is similarly elusive.

Autopsy of the Invisible presents a group of artists who work with pseudo-scientific methodologies—physical or social autopsies—in creating their work. Their practice involves collecting and presenting fragments of existing narratives or objects, which in their reconfiguration make use of extended object labels or accompanying text to explain the work’s context or materials. In this sense, you could say that these works depend on a diagnosis in order to be comprehensively understood and experienced. With the works presented in this exhibition, these artists delve into disappearances, kidnappings, deaths gone unnoticed and deformations and interruptions in reality.

While the English section of MALBA’s website does not have a description of this exhibition (nor of others in the Contemporáneo program), a brief description is included in the Spanish section, which you can read here. In the following days, I’ll include some exhibition installation shots, as well as details of the artworks.

Finally, I should add that aside from working on the exhibition –which opened last Thursday, and closes in mid-April– I’ve been visiting numerous artist’s studios and exhibitions in town, as well as attending other cultural events and parties. Meeting people here, all creative, bright and beautiful, has been one of treats of my stay. I’ll write about this next.