Visiting “Under the same sun” exhibition was a unique and new experience to me. The title of the exhibition suggests a number of provocative thoughts, one could be the common struggle Latin American countries face/ed, another could be the common interests of Latin American artists to voice out a history of conflict , loss, and pain through their artistic projects.
Through a vast array of rich presentations I found myself driven towards Brazilian Rivane Neuenschwander “Mapa Mundi/BR Postal – 2007”. She presented a collection of photos that she took from different parts of Brazil such as bars, streets, restaurants, shops…etc that are named after International cities and countries such as New York, Tokyo, even Baghdad. These photos are made into Brazilian postcards with no Brazilian names. I find her work combines an element of humor, subtle messages, sarcasm and beauty all at the same time. As mentioned in the Guggenheim description this may be a translation into how local communities identify themselves with global culture. I am very curious to know on what basis are these international names selected.
For example in Cairo particularly in Almohandessen area a lot of the streets are named after Arab cities. I am not sure if it’s a coincidence or not but it’s not hard to see that the name of the street reflects the social class of the neighborhood. Sadly, Alsudan street happens to be one of the worsts ! I also think that this tradition stemmed from the fact that Cairo hosts the official HQ of The Arab League.
Is Brazilian identity at risk? References to international cities in local areas is it a way of brining the world to Brazil or it is Brazil’s way in adapting a new more universal attitude? These are the questions that come to my mind when I look at the postcards.
Rivane describes her work as”Etherial Materialism” . This makes a lot of sense since her style seems to make use of current material aesthetics as in the postcards or utilizing natural ingredients in constructing and deconstructing a piece of art. I came across another project by her “Contingent” that is worth watching.
“A new film work Contingent (2008), recalls the didactic videos screened by natural history museums. Made with time-lapse photography, the film deconstructs the formation of the continents by allowing nature’s wilful course to unfold. A map of the world, rendered in honey, is gradually consumed by an army of tiny ants. Landmasses shrink to islands, isolated from their previously contiguous bodies. The whole is reduced to parts, and the system of the seven continents is reformed into a strange new alignment.”
“The circle of fires” by Jaun Downey 1979 , was also another attraction to me. Sitting closely and surrounded by a number of screens that are displaying the same video scenes with a difference of seconds in terms of timing creates moments of intrigue in figuring out the idea of film, and one tries to catch up with change of/transition of images in each screen. I feel my reaction physically and emotionally to the film is the same way a member of Yanomami group would have reacted gasping in moments of Oh, deep observation and realization.
Having said so, I have an inner conflict in the depiction of Yanomami in this film. I understand Downey’s interests in showing the indigenous group way of life through their own eyes upon filming this rather raw and organic documentary. But, what does it serve? My first impression was the primitive state of the Yanomami. Is the message sent to viewers upon watching this film is “is this what happens to indigenous groups when they live in isolation? “, ” help indigenous groups to evolve?” … I don’t get the purpose and frankly speaking accept it as just a conceptual piece of arts, it’s certainly beyond that.
“Much of Juan Downey’s pioneering video work critiques the purported objectivity of ethnographic observation and documentation. To produce The Circle of Fires, the artist lived with his wife and stepdaughter among the Yanomami indigenous group in the Venezuelan Amazon for seven months; inviting the Yanomami to both make and watch videos of themselves, Downey inverted the conventional roles of observer and observed. Likely seeing themselves in this medium for the first time, the subjects are presented with a new vision of themselves through the screen’s alternate reality. The installation’s multi-monitor design refers to the circular layout of a Yanomami settlement, encouraging viewers to see themselves not as outsiders, but rather as existing within the community it represents.“
One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind as I explored the exhibition at the Guggenheim: why do I find the written blurbs accompanying each art piece, more compelling than many of the art works themselves? Perhaps when it comes to art which serves to promote social justice, the focus IS meant to be on the actual subject matter it is attempting to bring attention to. The art work is merely a vehicle and a platform, an expression of the intention of the artist. Throughout the exhibition, I preferred art works which took the art out into the public, onto the streets, where it interacted with passersby, and forced people to think or do a double take.
For this reason I found the sculpture by Ivan Navarro, “Homeless Lamp, the Juice Sucker,” where he created a shopping cart made from white fluorescent tubing, particularly arresting. In 2005, the artist, pushed this cart through the streets of Chelsea, searching for public sources of electrical power. A powerful way of bringing attention to the matter, as we are all familiar with the image of homeless men and women wandering NYC streets pushing all their worldly belongings around in a shopping trolley.
This form of artistic protest reminded me much of Guatemalan artist, Regina Jose Galindo, who walked around the Congress of Guatemala building in 2003, dipping her bare feet in a white basin full of human blood as a protest against Guatemala’s former dictator becoming the president. As I mentioned in our class discussion, these two artists had similar intentions when taking their art out into the streets, but in the case of Regina’s work, the tone and theme is so, so much darker.
This, too, was a work of art, taken out into the public space, forcing non-art-appreciators, simple passersby, to stop, look, think. Isn’t that what art should be about? (I don’t want to say art ‘should’ be about anything, at the same time, art should be whatever an artist wishes to make it, whether he or she takes it out to the public or keeps it locked up in a room for nobody to ever witness) Art shouldn’t be simply restricted to those who intentionally go to the Guggenheim, buy a ticket, and choose to ‘see’ art? Are we not then preaching to the somewhat, converted? One of the artists at the Guggenheim also suggested the consumerism behind the visiting of museums. Ironic, seeing as he was housed in the same sort of exhibition 🙂 I can’t remember his name, but it was the artist who projected the squares of light onto the walls.
Another thought I kept having was, art seems to lose a lot of its value when it is housed in a sterile environment of a museum exhibition, I find. The exhibition felt like a display, rather than a live exhibit, one emitting energy and experience and dynamism. I would love to explore: how does one curate an art exhibition that is ‘alive’ and breathing? i recently went to Photoville, a photography exhibition, housed in numerous shipping containers, out on Brooklyn Bridge park. This exhibition emitted energy, somehow… it was an ‘experience’ for me, and I enjoyed simply wondering through the arena, taking in the atmosphere, the photos, the people.
From the Guggenheim: I also really loved Runo Lagomarsino’s piece, ContraTiempos, where he found shapes that resembled the silhouette of South America in the cracks of the concrete sidewalk.
He saw the concrete fissures as a metaphor for the flaws in the modernist project as a whole. I loved this idea of seeing metaphors through something as easily ignored as a sidewalk. I wanted to share some photos I took recently, for a Visual Storytelling class I am taking with Shari Kessler. They can be viewed here.
From all the art works that we could appreciate in the Under the Same Sun exhibition, the one who struck me the most was Javier Tellez video Bala Perdida (One Flew over the Void). This short film try to cross the social and political boundaries in two ways. First is the most obvious one, when a human cannonball is shot over the border into the United States without a visa, we clearly understand that is a statement against boundaries and the hardships faced by millions of Latin Americans workers who cross the border illegally every year in search for better life. But there is another social and political border that Tellez crosses with this film when he documents a parade organized by local psychiatric patients, in this specific case, he show us the other as the “normal” and give an unexpected space to the unexpected people.
Javier Tellez, a Venezuelan artist who lives in New York, creates films that combines documentary with fictionalized narratives to question definitions of normality and pathology. When he is going to do an art installation, he looks first to make a collaboration work with institutionalized patients living with mental illness, to rewrite classic stories or invent their own, he creates what he calls a “cinematic passport to allow those outside to be inside”. His work is understood as a therapy that attempts to cure viewers of false assumptions, rather than the patients, he tries to build a bridge through the desestigmatisation of those who are different.
There are two main elements in Javier Tellez films. One is the use of masks as an allusion of the therapeutic potential in the change of roles. The second one, is the constant communication through boards and the dissociation of sound and image, the constant use of voice over, reminds us the voices that the patients hear.
I like Javier Tellez work because he gives voice to the voiceless, he portraits the other, the individuals that we usually don’t think about. As he said “his work is for the “normal” society, who must be cured from their fears and prejudices against those who are different”.
If you want to learn more about Javier Téllez here is an good interview about his work, is in english and spanish: http://bombmagazine.org/article/3379/javier-t-llez
The in-class comment “i don’t always understand art,” or something like that, is a thought that is never too far from my mind on museum visits. For this trip to the Guggeinheim I wasn’t sure what to expect, going in with the image of “a man walking into a cow” from the previous class I was up for anything.
The first thing i encountered were the musical instruments everyone was staring at, waiting for the first person to play them, waiting for the general permission to actually touch the art. Although I don’t recall the artist’s name I found it be a great introduction to the exhibition; a don’t take this so seriously approach. The aura of the Guggenheim changed as more people dared to play with these cymbals.
The exhibition was filled with mixed media, nothing close to “classical.” (Classical being a term that’s up for discussion) I enjoy this different approach to art, especially in a space known for it’s strict definition on “classical ” art. Albeit, a few pieces were lost on me without context, others needed no prior knowledge to understand how strong they were, even in their simplicity.
Carlos Motta’s screen print, ” Brief History of US Interventions in Latin America Since 1946,” was the piece that took me away, the one that reminded me this generation of artists have a lot to work off. The list of US interventions touches the surface of how many times the US has mingled in Latin American affairs, providing a foundation for the current despair in many of the mentioned countries. The success of this piece is similar to the cymbals, in that people can be apart of this art; they can read it, think for themselves and best of all take a copy home (or multiple if like me you want to share with others.) This takes the piece out of the museum, a place in the Upper East Side with a particular audience.
Under the Same Sun was the name of the most recent Guggenheim exhibition that explored the scope of Contemporary Art in Latin America. “Under the same Sun” also seems a very appropriate phrase to use in the title of an article that analyses the work of two artists from the lower part of the continent and the influence that the local-global binomial have had in their work.
Tania Bruguera is a Cuban contemporary artist, mostly focused on performance and conceptual art. At present time, she works between Chicago and La Havana.
Jessica Kaire is a Guatemalan contemporary artist, mostly focused on performance and conceptual art. At present time, she works between New York and Guatemala.
There is no need to point out the obvious similarities, but by looking closely at Bruguera’s and Kaire’s work -specifically at Dignity has no nationality and Can you hear me? respectively- an interesting dialogue between their discourses can be appreciated. Let’s just start by describing both pieces:
Dignity has no nationality is a public project (a collective performance?) that challenges the idea of nationality and borders. Guggenheim’s website describes Bruguera’s proposal:
“The artist and her collaborators will be stationed outside the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to gather signatures on postcards addressed to Pope Francis. Referring to Vatican City as a place that was “born as a conceptual nation without borders,” these cards request that the Pope grant citizenship to all immigrants as a concrete gesture of support and protection. Members of the public who are unable to visit the museum may also contribute their signatures online at dignityhasnonationality.org.”
On the other hand, Can you hear me? was a series of performances and their respective video-record, in which Jessica Kaire recreates identical settings in both sides of Skype conversations she held with Guatemalan friends and family while being in New York. In her website, the Guatemalan artist explains her project as follows: “This low-tech project is an exploration of the dissolving of boundaries through new technologies. It also presents an opportunity to alter our spacial and temporal awareness.”
Image courtesy of Jessica Kaire’s website
After this brief introduction, we can start digging deeper on these projects similarities and specificities.
First, let’s go over what these artists share: Both were born in countries with a rough political history and a significant diaspora (which somehow they are part from), both are currently based in the U.S., globalization and its influence on identity are part of both personal quest, and both embrace technological and social practices’ languages and aesthetics (petition signing and Skype conversations) to create their pieces.
As there is some common ground between both pieces, there are also differences on the way they approach to the subject matter (understood as the intersection between identity, migration, and globalization). Dignity has no Nationality tries to detach identity from its geographical and national constrains. Can you hear me? explores the role of geographical distance in preserving identity, which in this case is not necessarily a national or geographical one, but one that builds up from personal, intimate relationships.
One could say these are variations on the same theme, but while Tania’s proposes a political approach, Jessica’s offers a more ludic one. The former poses again Debord’s and Benjamin’s questions about the role of art and its possibility to promote change. The latter puts those questions aside (at least in this particular piece) and focuses on the experience, on the now.
Bruguera’s and Kaire’s selected pieces ignite several reflections regarding the nature of art, its purposes, its formats, its environment. One thing is certain; a blog post is not enough to express the understanding one can get from posing both pieces “under the same Sun”.
Having a field trip last week at the Guggenheim, I remember one of the performance arts displayed in the museum. The title is Tatlin’s Whisper created by Tania Bruguera, a politically motivated performance artist from Cuba.
Tatlin’s Whisper (2009), was created for the 10th Havana Biennial. I quote the information she provided for the audience and can be found on her website as well:
“Bruguera constructed a raised podium in the central courtyard of the Wifredo Lam Center, distributed 200 disposable cameras, and invited audience members to step up to the microphone to exercise freedom of speech for one minute each. This call tapped into deep emotions in a country that has repressed free speech for over fifty years and where the consequences of self-expression can be grave. During the performance, each speaker was flanked by two individuals dressed in military fatigues who placed a white dove on his or her shoulder, evoking the moment in 1959 when a dove alighted on Fidel Castro during a famous speech. A variety of anti- and some pro-revolutionary voices were heard, a woman wept, and a young man said he never felt so free. Nearly forty people spoke in all. Their calls for freedom echoed for an hour, after which time the artist ended the performance by stepping up to the podium and thanking the Cuban people.”
I found her work compelling since it has an element of public engagement. There’s an involvement by the public using art. In Tatlin’s Whisper, the artist provided a public platform for the audience to speak out against censorship. For audiences who live in a place where a totalitarian regime is in power, public engagement in art can be a useful forum socially and politically.
I remember Jessica Kaire’s performance art – that’s also has an element of public participation – using fruits and humor about how to make homemade weapons for self-defense in Guatemala in Such is Life in the Tropics. It is a performance recorded in a video and looks like a normal instruction video but it contains a deeper meaning and political message: a protest of exploitative neocolonialism that has been done by an American corporation (United Fruit Company, or Chiquita). Jessica also held some workshops involving people to make the homemade weapons themselves (at the Guggenheim, there’s the Del Monte banana – with the same message of exploitative neocolonialism – displayed in the exhibition but without the element of public engagement).
I like the term that Bruguera coined, “useful art” to call a medium that proposes solutions to social and political problems through the direct implementation of art in people’s lives. Seeing how the public engagements in art turn out in the lives of the society is always interesting and that is why I am interested to delve more on the engagement of public in art especially in the case of Guatemala, a country that has been repressed for 36 years. I would like to know if it is commonplace or even a priority to consider for Guatemalan artists particularly for the purpose of artistic awakening as well as for the healing of the society itself. What drives these performances the most to convey a message? Is it the mobility, the intensity, the humor, the interaction or the combination of all?
When reading Anabella Acevedo’s Art and the Postwar Generation, I also found how the postwar generation in Guatemala is familiar with the art that involves public engagements using public space. Javier del Cid did this in 2000 on Day of the Martyrs. Blue October, a month-long street festival in October 2000, gave a chance for emerging artistic work to participate. The youth arts collective, Caja Ludica organizes art workshops and carnival parades in villages affected by the war. The artistic awakening has spread and it can be useful as a medium of expression for the younger generation. Although their art is considered as a kind of art that only seeks attention and instant fame without clear ideological stance, what they have done is effective in triggering the public dialog. The dialog is an obvious and important step towards the healing of the repressed society. This, again, is one more interesting point to investigate the practice of contemporary art in Guatemala that uses the element of public engagement.***