Upon arriving at the exhibition opening I was struck by how minimal, muted and sparse the space seemed. It was airy and each piece was more or less thoughtfully laid out. Given the gravity of the subject matter, and the sheer number of artists being represented, I expected the exhibit to feel more chaotic and populated. The overall layout was palatable, almost unassuming and the placement of each piece felt purposeful. If I were to offer any criticism concerning the “museography” of the exhibition, it would mostly concern the language/writing of the placards and the timeline, which was overdone and poorly designed. In addition to the strange color combinations, which were distracting and aesthetically off-putting, there was far too much information on the timeline without the necessary context to properly situate the content. If the timeline were to be redone, I would have it heavily stripped and make sure that the language presented was meaningful; illustrating quality over merely sheer quantity.
Regarding the setup, “The Metamorphosis of Devaluation,” felt incredibly contrived and confused despite our best efforts to bring integrity and authenticity to the work. The receipts were pinned as flippantly to the sidewall as one would place memos on a corkboard in a conference room and the quality of all the prints in the entire exhibition was blatantly poor. There was a craft (DIY) element to how things were presented which, depending on taste, could be perceived as either charming or cheap. To improve the presentation of The Metamorphosis of Devaluation, I would actually take the whole project down and completely reconstruct the concept. This would obviously mean that the entire design and delivery would be different. The other work that I was equally unmoved by in terms of both its visual layout and labeling was the “Cliff Writing” by Yasmin Hage. I do not think there is a lot of clarity of thought behind this project and its manifestation was a sincere stretch to me. The intent to illustrate “ancient text in classic Mayan language,” had potential, however, unfortunately the project as a whole simply fell flat.
Alternatively, I did think that Sitio-Sena’s work was well displayed and I could immediately see the work and thought that went into the project. That said, I wasn’t really taken by it and rather immediately thought about the incredible work I have seen being done with encoded textiles and “coded stories” by other artists. Sitio-Sena reminded me of the work of Guillermo Bert, however, his artistic voice has far more presence and intentionality behind it. Bert designs hand-woven, large-scale tapestries, which, combine contemporary bar codes, indigenous design methods, and the stories of native peoples in order to both celebrate and revive traditional art forms. Guillermo’s work is both clear and incredibly layered and his production seamlessly conveys the intricate histories of indigenous weavers in Southern Chile. Sitio-Sena was successful in its depiction of a collaborative art project, but I personally failed to see the analogy between what happened with African slaves and the Underground Railroad in The United States and current migration between the U.S. and Guatemala. I found this element of Sitio-Sena to be incredibly problematic in myriad ways.
Lastly, two works that I did find compelling were K’ak’ Mul (Nuevamente. Otra Vez)/ K’ak’ Mul (Once More, Again) and Quema. Although very literal, Quenma was visually beautiful and displayed a vulnerability which, I found refreshing, compared to other pieces in Guatemala Despues. It alluded to other historic cases of persecution, censorship and book burning, therefore, it was memorable to me. Moreover, K’ak’ Mul was independently powerful, however, I’m afraid that given its placement, most people fail to take note of it. The piece was a modestly constructed video clip that showed the commemoration of activities conducted at the peak of Mt. Alaska, where a massacre of protesters took place in 2012. These two pieces provoked me on both an intellectual and emotional level, however as a whole and given the thematic nature of the artworks, the exhibition fell short. No one narrative was coherently crafted and as a result, I think a lot of value became lost in translation. Once I left and crossed the street, almost immediately, I stopped thinking about what I had just seen.