Category Archives: Reading Responses

Reflections & End of Semester Proposals

The skillset that is most new to me this semester is the curatorial skillset.  Where I found myself struggling the most so far this semester was distinguishing the line between artist and/or curator and authorship, in particular the role that the curator plays in that authorship.  For our midterm presentation I felt uncomfortable putting words in the artist’s mouth.  This feeling eventually assuaged when we were able to communicate directly with the artist and get her feedback (we spoke most directly with Yasmin).  This interaction with the artist made me realize that these relationships with artists and interpersonal skills are essential to the curator being able to do their job correctly.  This seems obvious, but experiencing it firsthand allowed me to learn about the intricacies that curating demands.  I am excited to see how this process develops this semester on such a tight timeline.

This uncomfortableness is already something that has begun to change and I hope that by the end of the semester I will feel more comfortable stepping into a curatorial role  with more confidence.  I believe that more exposure, firsthand experience and education about the art of curating will eventually get me closer and this goal will be attained come May.  One of the best ways for me to do this is by focusing on the themes of memory (both historical and personal), storytelling and narrative which I feel most drawn to in this course and investing in projects like El olvido que no sabe es olvido and Me eschuchas(Can you hear me)? which deal directly with this topic.

Outside of this class I have been extremely interested in studying augmented reality as a medium.  In particular, I have been interested in personally using augmented reality to bring memories and wishes to the visible realm through virtual objects. This semester I am working on a project for another class where I am writing a fictional first person story that is augmented in order to explore memory.  In this story I will reveal my overarching narrative, to be somewhat revisionist.  I am hoping to use narrative and augmented reality to explore the important things that we forget to say, that we may or may not realize we aren’t saying when we tell stories.

By the end of the semester I think I would like to write a critical comparative essay about how different types of DIY art invasions (augmented reality being one of these) and invasions of space (like the performance art we have been exposed to this semester) can be used and are used as forms of protest and social activism.  I would also want to further look at how digital interventions contribute and can be employed, while also considering the digital divide and what this mean in terms of artistic interventions. This essay would be a way for me to continue to explore where art, personal narrative and public space intersect.

Another idea that I had for a media piece about Guatemala Despues would be augmenting our own exhibit.  When we spoke with Radhika and Lydia last week, they mentioned that a critical contextual piece, and one of the more challenging aspects of our exhibit, would be to make connections to the United State’s complicity in the Guatemalan Genocide and silenced history, and our ability stateside to be pretty wholly oblivious to this.

I think I would like to create a piece that would further reveal this. Using AR to do this would be powerful in the context if the NY exhibit because of the medium’s nature as well as the concept of not only Guatemala’s silencing of the past, but how the US helped silence this past.  Many times DIY tactics and DIY art invasions are employed as subversive tactics.  In the case of our exhibit, which is already seeking to subvert historic memory in the context of Guatemala it would be used to further reveal how it is that we could have so easily silenced the past and ways that we can open up this particular dialogue regarding the US.


Reflections 2.25.15

In reading the supplemental articles that were provided by Brenda Cowen, our guest speaker today, I learned a lot about the different ways that narratives and story forms can be exhibited in different ways, to create different connections with different audiences.  I fell in love with the idea of  Wilson’s, “Mining the Museum” and how he mocked the museum while using the museology as a medium to undertake social justice issues of institutionalized racism.

Of course, all the time while reading for this course I try to draw connections to our project, Guatemala Despues. The setting of his exhibit taking place in a museum, while critiquing museums was critical.  Similarly, I think our location is critical too.

It was noted of Wilson’s exhibit that he, “has formidable narrative skills and a talent for fashioning installations that pack a punch more powerful than the individual components”.  This was a technique that made was crucial for his overarching goal of the exhibit, but seems to be the opposite of ours. This made me consider how we will tell our story, how can we guarantee that certain projects voices aren’t heard more than others.  This is where the O’Neill reading was particularly helpful, especially his idea of “The Exhibition as Form”, which focuses specifically with group exhibitions, like ours.

This is where he introduces the idea of the exhibition space as always being a narrative space and the exhibition as a spatial medium for thought and experimentation.  He further categorized these spaces as being either background, foreground, and middle ground.  The background is is the structure/architecture of the space, this area is easier to figure out for us, I think.  It becomes more difficult when deciding what will be our middle ground-where the audience partially interacts and the foreground- where there is more direct interaction between the viewer and the art.  How we differentiate between our foreground and middle ground elements will be more difficult, and this is where the curatorial process and role of the curator as a storyteller becomes most apparent to me.

Curatorial Practice – Mining the Museum

Reading Paul O’Neil’s chapter on the evolution of curatorial practice, discourse and design, I could not help but think of artist Fred Wilson’s work in 1992 in the Maryland Historical Society aptly named “Mining the Museum” in which he used artifacts found in the museum vault that laid bare the hypocrisies and omissions dominant in art discourse at the time –and present today.  Wilson combed through the museum collection selecting artifacts that he juxtaposed with pieces from the same period that were “hidden” in deep the institution. His selection included a collection of intricately cast silver tea sets (see below) juxtaposed with a set of slave shackles in the center, thus calling into question the exhibition site (a former slave state) and curatorial position of the museum as purveyor of a dominant historical and cultural narrative.     tumblr_mm4ugcZ48r1qjo3peo2_500

I also thought the class might be interested in a critique of an exhibit called Re-Inventing Abstraction at the MoMA a few years ago. It speaks to some of the issues discussed in class the other day about identity and cultural erasure in Guatemala. The work in the exhibition was wonderful, however the curatorial lens was faulty to say the least!   

Decolonial Ways of Seeing (and Creating) an Exhibition

There is an awkward but perhaps healthy tension in the exhibition of artworks relating to resistance, indigeneity and repression.  As a mode of display that first began as cabinets of curiosities, exhibitions and museums have historically been a space for the colonial class to share the objects and artifacts of their conquest. Still, Terry Smith argues that since the 1950’s, “Art exhibitions have played a major role within colonial and national liberation struggles.” He argues that as decolonization has emerged as a major driver of social, political, and cultural change, “Survey exhibitions in major galleries and the biennial form itself became an important medium to both manifest and examine this world transforming force.”

While exhibition and biennials can certainly create spaces to “examine” and investigate the effects of decolonization, they can also easily become spectacles that lack the rigor or criticality needed to spark this deeper engagement. Derived from the Latin word exhibere “to show, display, present,”  or “hold out, hold forth,” exhibitions are quite literally a vehicle for viewers to see, look and sometimes even gawk. However, while seeing is an important element of the exhibition, I wonder if there ways we can encourage visitors to be seen?

As Kency Cornejo points out in Indigeneity and Decolonial Seeing, “Why is Indigeneity relegated to a romantic past, one that is to be depicted, that serves to inspire artists and that is only to be seen?” The distancing format of the exhibition and the literal distance between New York and Guatemala will be a challenge for creating an experience that does not simply reinforce this muted past. However, as curators and exhibition designers I wonder what the spatial, narrative and even performative strategies may be for moving visitors beyond this mode of passive consumption to one of a more embodied presence?

As Paul O’Neill states exhibitions can be, “Political tools for maintaining the status quo – modern ritual settings that reinforce identities, whether these be artistics, avant-garde, gender, racial, subcultural, regional, national, international, global, etc.” The exhibition thus still retains its original flair for divisiveness. Yet, at the same time, O’Neill acknowledges the emergence of a more dialogical approach, noting that exhibitions, “Have the potential to activate discursive processes that enable dialogical spaces of negotiation between curators, artists, and their publics.” In this light, exhibitions can be spaces that both close-down and open up new way channels for communication. How we create this openness in both our design decisions and processes will be an important question as we move towards implementation.

Bodega “See the story around you”

Katerine Vasquez

Guatemala Despues

February 23, 2015

Exhibition design have a huge impact in the way  human beings observe, study and interpret history, cultures, people and life overall. Exhibition design is a conjunction of colors, forms, and concepts that once is put together it educated its viewers. As Brenda stated, in her article “Getting to great ideas: Brenda’s fab five activities for fearless exhibit designers”, “there’s no right or wrong answers, there’s no right or wrong questions”. In this article she points out the following points:

  1.  Start with questions, not answers
  2. See the story around you
  3. Look at the audiences
  4. Brainstorm I teams of equals
  5. Design the intangible.

Each of the aforementioned topics are essential when putting together an Exhibition Design, yet the one that etched to me the most was “See the Story around you”. She gives the sample of a Bodega (Convenience store).  She sees these small groceries stores “as if it were a person sharing a story about its neighborhood, incorporate objects, juxtaposition. Content and a deep awareness of visitor experience”, and this is true. I am from the Dominican Republic, in every block there is a “Colmado/Bogeda”. Here you will find everything you would buy at the supermarket but in smaller portions. The “Colmado/Bogeda” is also a place where you will come across a neighbor, friend or family member. People often take advantage of this encounter to have brief conversation with such individual you have not seen in couple days. People from the community also use the Colmado/Bogeda as their hang out place. There is always music playing and people playing board/card games.  The first time I traveled to New York I felt like I was back home when I saw a Bodega. The replica of Colmado/Bogeda was exactly the same. I was able to hear the same music playing, buy the same foods and speaking the same language.

Overall with colors, forms and concept the exhibition designer should illustrate how a particular group of people share the same story, culture or experience. At the same time an exhibition design should not leave any questions unanswered to its views. The whole purpose of an Exhibition design is to provoke and emotional impact and educated its audience. This is what Brenda illustrates in her article “Getting to great ideas: Brenda’s fab five activities for fearless exhibit designers”.


Socially Engaged Contemporary Art: Tactical and Strategic Manifestations 

This article introduced two important overarching approaches taken by socially engaged artists, strategic and tactical manifestations.  While reading this material the most obvious connection I was trying to make was to our overall project that we are tackling with Guatemala Despues.  Both manifestations, strategic which aims to bring about structural change and tactical which aims to create interventions (in discourse and popular narrative), have their merits. But on which side of the scale does the Guatemala Despise exhibition fall?

This really made me start to think about the exhibitions, the one in New York and the one in Guatemala, and in my mind I began to sort of separate them and consider them based on their different contexts.  After considering the exhibits separately I have come to the understand that they should not necessarily be interpreted in this way, as being separate entities.  Although, the contexts are different I think that the ultimate goal is the same, although this goal will manifest itself differently based on these two separate contexts.

In light of this reading I reached the conclusion that our ultimate goal is a more tactical one because “tactical projects have a very different relationship to power, and can make more pointed critiques” (Thompson, 12), or at least I momentarily did. Our exhibitions will create  critical discourse about historic memory and repression and disrupt traditional monolithic narratives. Guatemala Despues’s two exhibitions are site specific and short term, but they will continue to live on in our digital archive.  The exhibition is also complimented by public programming, which at this point is not concretely defined .

I would say that yes, our project is an intervention— but there is also something transformative about what the Guatemala Despues team of artists is proposing to do.  I truly believe that these projects have the potential to transform society and it is in that vein that I find it hard to say that our project is not in some ways not structural.  At least from what I gathered from this reading, tactical interventions have a fleeting quality to them and I do not think that Guatemala Despues’s mission is a temporary one.

Acknowledging Knowledge

Cornejo in her piece “Indigeneity and Decolonial Seeing in Contemporary Art of Guatemala” refers to a colonialist misrepresentation of the indigenous community by Guatemalan artists who were formed in Western countries outside of Guatemala. Through different artistic techniques these artists misrepresent the indigenous body, since they were merely inspired by their bodies and expressed them, even objectifying it at times. He refers to the artists who simply see the indigenous body as a muse, as a “subject matter”, considering this type of art a form of colonialism, since those artists impose their ideas, their power, over the indigenous community.

On the other hand, Cornejo presents artists who show the indigenous community as a source of knowledge. I believe this is a crucial point since by considering the indigenous community a source of information, the artist is empowering them, transforming the indigenous community from a subject matter to a resource, a person of crucial value.

In a lecture by Professor Kjetil Fallan, he referenced to “subjugated knowledge”, referring to the popular, local, regional knowledge. The decolonization of the indigenous community in Guatemalan art is an acknowledgement of this type of regional knowledge, recognizing the value of the indigenous culture without its romantic component. As curator Pablo Ramirez commented in his talk, recognizing the indigenous community as a different type of knowledge -that is literate even though many of their members cannot read or write- is the way we acknowledge the richness of this culture and the value of its history for Guatemala.

As Cornejo explains, modern Guatemalan artists have drawn experience and knowledge from the indigenous community, producing activist art that acknowledges the indigenous culture. Chavajay and Sandra Monterroso are two artists that not only employ performance art as a sociopolitical critique, but also draw knowledge and experiences from indigenous tradition. The way these artists used indigenous tradition as a form of activist art as a healing and condemning process as Cornejo refers, is a de-colonial way of representing the indigenous culture, learning from it and despoiling it from its romantic aspects.

By Ivana García

Deconstructing the Colonial Body

In her piece, Indigeneity and Decolonial Seeing in Contemporary Art of Guatemala, author Kancy Cornejo, writes about how the indigenous body was and is still used as an object of violence, historical discourse and sociopolitical analysis, which in many ways continues to uphold problematic Western perspectives. Within art, the indigenous are usually depicted as representations of a fictive romanticized past. This is a dangerous lens with which to approach their history because it allows the public to veil itself from the lived reality of the people; a reality which can most generally be defined by racist and dehumanistic colonial treatment. In order to decolonize minds, the indigenous identity can no longer be manipulated and used as a source of silent artistic inspiration. This brand of historical romanticism and revisionism enables the violence of the past to continue onwards into the future.

Many groups in Latin America, Guatemala in particular, believe that actively preserving collective memory will serve as a foundational mechanism with which to protect people from future injustices. Social justice based art is used globally as a form of collective expression, healing and identification. As noted in the piece specifically, visuality and performance art are valuable vehicles of expression because both recognize how sound and language remain implicated in coloniality, and thus by intervening in public spaces with their bodies, these artists are able to enact visual and corporal screams of denunciation.

Moreover, visuality and art is a vital transmitter of histories and identities because many of the repressed lack the educational resources to access these issues through other mediums. Art becomes the means through which people can come to reevaluate, reflect and respond to what has happened to not only themselves, but also their communities. Given this, decentering Western perspectives is critical in order to reinstitute the position of the dispossessed. By romanticizing the lives of the indigenous, the West enacts a massive disservice upon these marginalized communities. It’s incredibly valuable to continually highlight how indigenous groups are reclaiming their discourse in order to protect their cultural identity and spirituality. These acts help clear the path towards implementing justice and overcoming silence. Decolonial gesturing is critical to de-colonializing ways of seeing, approaching knowledge, and truth. That said, this process will always be in flux and decolonization is an ongoing endeavor which will need to constantly be examined. Nonetheless, movements, especially those taking place within the arts are working to revitalize societal consciousness.

Curating what is no longer there

“I cannot write poetry. Poetry no longer exists inside me” Javier Sicilia.

How to remember that which has been taken, that which is lost not simply during but in the aftermath of terror and violence? How to give form to something that is essentially a gaping hole, a void that may never be filled? This week’s reading further reminded me of the monumental task at hand when attempting to curate an exhibit that dwells on such incredible loss.

Across each of the different narratives in the Memory issue of Revista, Harvard Review of Latin America, is a pain that is at once collectively understood and yet so personally experienced. For a ninety-year-old mother it is a memory kept alive by the light bulb left on by her disappeared son, still for others it is a taxi cab that memorializes the drivers who lost their lives at the hands of the paramilitary and guerrilla leaders. In the absence of what was and no longer is, loss manifests itself in unique and varied forms.

Diving into the curatorial discourse of Paul O’ Neill in, “The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture” provides an interesting lens to examine our attempts to bring together these varied and distinct memories. As he notes the exhibition is a medium that is part of a “consciousness industry, (with) complex tools of persuasion that aim to prescribe a set of values and social relations to their audiences.” (90). I am greatly interested in the kinds of values we as curators will impose on this work, either unconsciously or not. How throughout his process of co-investigation can we “productively engage with the past” as Pamela Yates points out, in ways that animate rather than overshadow this experiences.