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Urban Codes, Crossings and Migration: A Public Walk

IMG_8797_3 Urban codes, Crossings and Migration is a participatory walk that we created with The Walk Exchange in collaboration with Sitio-Seña. Symbols designed by the artists in Guatemala were dynamically used in the participatory walk to consider the use of visual codes in navigation of the urban landscape in New York City and to reflect on traditional and contemporary symbolism, transmigratory flows, and language.

We have collected our experiences from the walk on a website and we made a video that captures some of the moments from the walk experience.

Novel, Walis, Katerine and Lisa


Guatemala Después End of the Class Workshop

Co-Lab: Curatorial Design and Media Practices: Guatemala Después

Guatemala Después End of the Class Workshop, April 29, 2015

Developed by Mae Wiskin, Laura Sanchez and Ivana Garcia

Overarching Question(s):

  • Having taken the course, what does Guatemala Después mean to you now?
  • What do you hope public audiences in New York City (and elsewhere who engaged with the project onsite or online) take away from this exhibit?
  • How would you (re)design the exhibition/a curatorial space and/or curatorial approach?

Goal + Intent:

The goal and ultimate intent of this closing session is to provide closure and critically examine any final issues related to the course and exhibition as a whole. Additionally, based on feedback from the survey responses from students in the course, we believe it is important that for everyone to have the opportunity to actively understand the nature of effective spatial design (as it concerns such exhibition projects), and while engaging with curatorial practices of their choosing.

Additional Background:

The purpose of the course was to “bring together students with interests in artistic practices, exhibition design, digital media archives and civic engagement to work collectively on the Guatemala Después exhibition project currently being developed at The New School in partnership with artists and curators in Guatemala. The course involves a process of co-investigation and design with artists, curators, filmmakers, students and community-based creative practitioners in Guatemala and New York City from 2014-2015.“

Mission Statement:

Guatemala Después is a collaborative project that seeks to support site-specific artistic investigations that may reveal, activate, provoke or transform the ways in which we understand historic memory, repression, healing and forms of utopia or dystopia emerging in Guatemala in the past 30 years, and what is happening today. It also critically examines the political, economic and cultural influences (including foreign policy, migration and creative exchange) between the United States and Guatemala. The project uses an experimental, inclusive and participatory approach towards engaging creative practitioners and the general public using multi-disciplinary forms of investigation and expression (including visual, sound, film, performance, poetry and narrative).

Given this, how have your ideas evolved in relation to the course description?

Workshop Agenda: (4:00pm – 6:00pm)

Venue: Aronson Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center (SJDC), 66 Fifth Avenue

  1.   Icebreaker 4:00 – 4:20pm

Go around the room and have each participant write down a message of their choice; it can be a note of hope, encouragement, intention or reflection to send to our Guatemalan counterparts – place each piece of paper in a container.


    2.  Follow up: 4:20 – 4:30pm

Each participant picks a note and reads it aloud.

  1.  Thinking Through Objects: 4:30 – 5:00pm

Participants will explore artworks in the space and examine them from different angles, using the excerpt below to guide thinking:

Excerpt from Martha Fleming, Thinking Through Objects:

As a collection interpretation, its basic assumption was that objects can be subject to multiple interpretations and have an innate capacity therefore to signify concurrently in a number of different and sometimes even conflicting registers: the chronological, the formal, the disciplinary, the aesthetic. If this quality of ambiguity is embraced, and used skillfully with attention to equally multiple contexts, it means that individual objects can become pivots, or hinges, between separate thoughts and even separate modes of thinking: careful juxtaposition of objects can actually produce new thoughts and new ways of thinking.

What then are the techniques of the representational discourse? What are the practices of making exhibitions that convey meaning?

Conceptualizing exhibitions, designing the way those constellations of objects will look to a person other than the person who has configured them as such, involves deploying as many representational techniques as does writing. One can use objects in similar ways to words: objects can be metaphors, partake of metonymy, synecdoche, allegory, allusion, analogy. Also like words, one can string them together in narratives, in causal relations, in antithesis, chronology or diachrony. One can use relational techniques such as Humour, Intimacy, Distantiation. And one can use techniques that are not so easily deployed with words, techniques specific to space:

  • Perspective
  • Sight Lines
  • Scale
  • Color
  • Light
  • Reflections
  • Transparency/Opacity
  • Surfaces/Textures
  • Time
  • Sound
  • Spatial Divisions
  • Between rooms
  • Inside the room volumes
  • Using room heights
  • Floors as well as walls

Examine any 2-3 artworks or artifacts (including the timeline) in the exhibition and consider how their representation engages with the space effectively and in relation to other pieces in the space and the overall space itself. To what extent does it create compelling new meanings and interpretations or allow them to be understood in effective ways?

  1.  Spatial Design Activity 5:00 – 5:30pm

Each participant examines a copy of the original exhibition design, using specific prompts to augment it, taking on the role of “head art director/curator” of the exhibition. This will enable every participant to rethink and reflect upon how they would spatially design an exhibition.


What kinds of new relationships can you find across these artworks?


Do you see any unresolved tensions or issues emerging that should be investigated further?


Are there new opportunities to activate and engage these artworks in dialogue with each other or the themes of the exhibition?


How would you consider reconfiguring these elements differently – either thematically or spatially? Are there changes you would make to any of the language used in the exhibit?


What is one thing you hope the various public(s) (including different kinds of audiences in New York and in Guatemala) will take away from this exhibition?


Spatial Design Activity

  1. Group Reflection 5:30 – 6:00pm

Given this exercise, participants will be asked to reflect on their original intentions and identify any other ideas that they believe will be important to share with the Guatemalan partner organization Ciudad de la Imaginación before their exhibition planned in June 2015.

Impromptu Interview with Daniel Velasquez at the Gallery

As I stopped by the gallery for our Guatemala Después​ exhibition today, I found a young man intently gazing at the timeline for quite a while. I decided to approach him and ask about why he was there and what he thought of the exhibit. It turns out that he’s a Guatemalan living in New York. You can hear my impromptu interview with Daniel Velasquez here; it was quite moving hearing from him about his experience.

Después de Guatemala Después: Three Questions Post-Launch

1. What does the visitor take away?

In a recent interview with Radhika for a different class project she mentioned (wildly paraphrasing here) that when she plans exhibitions she is constantly looking for that “thing” that lingers. She used the metaphor of a burr that you might find tucked away in your sock at the end of a long day. It is the “thing” that follows you around without having even realized it.

After the Guatemala Después launch, I’m still not entirely sure what that thing is. The works in the exhibit are more or less impactful in their own ways but I’m not sure together what they have to say about memory, healing, or trauma. This may be because there is no one thing– people are still struggling to negotiate the past in their own unique and different ways. This is a fair, and yet as curators I wonder how we could have better assembled these disparate elements into a coherent whole that offers something larger than any one art work could have done alone.

How could we have created a stronger presence for the exhibit?

Due to time/communication constraints I don’t think we really got to take advantage of the huge window facing fifth avenue. If our exhibit was about trying to make these issues more visible and engage a wider audience I think it was a missed opportunity not to consider how we would draw in visitors from the outside.

This street and the interior hallway get a lot of foot traffic but in my observations, few people actually lingered or attempted to understand what was in front of them. Or on the other hand if they did try to engage they were often confused or bewildered. Sitting in the hallway for our design symposium this past weekend, I had quite a few individuals approach me to ask what this work was and why the video was being projected. This was both a tactical problem as the sign for the video was not easy to distinguish, as well as a conceptual problem as people couldn’t easily draw associations and connections between the curatorial statement and the art works in front of them.

Furthermore, in my time at the gallery I saw almost no one (outside of opening night) attempting to truly engage with the timeline. This was likely because the text was quite small but also because reading a heavy amount of text in such a transient space is difficult. So again, how could we have created a more dynamic and magnetic presence?

How can performance art retain it’s performativity?

La Máquina de la Fortuna and Hipnosis are both pieces that draw heavily on this notion of an “intervention.” Their pieces look at the enunciative possibilities of words and language to change our relationships with past, present and future. A challenge for most pieces like this is how to bring their messages to life in the exhibition space. La Máquina de la Fortuna encourages interaction, and provides an interesting form of engagement as the visitor must press a button to receive their fortune. It’s a simple gesture that could likely be expanded in more nuanced ways but this tactile experience is still enjoyable.

This is in more of a contrast to work like Regina Galindo’s, whose intervention exists solely in video and photographic evidence from the event. Her process is captured in the documentation from that day and yet this doesn’t fully reveal the complexities of this work. I really enjoyed the “Take a Photo, Tell a Story” project at the Prison Obscura exhibition– the ways it blended, audio, image and space to create a more visceral experience. Perhaps it would be worth exploring other models like this that effectively translate public interventions into more sensorial representations.

Exhibition reflection

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 16.20.28

The gallery space at The New School is currently occupied with artworks from emerging and established Guatemalan and US-based artists. In the hallway outside the gallery space you are introduced to a timeline that serves as a backdrop to Guatemalan history and art. The timeline is informative and helpful to give a context to an audience that might not be familiar with Guatemalan history and art. The amount of text seems to be overwhelming to some of its viewers, as they quickly continue to the exhibition space. However, some of its viewers are more patient with the content, and spent more time on the timeline. I noticed the same interaction with the text accompanying the artwork; the audience that was at the gallery space the opening night did not invest much time to read about the artworks.

Inside the gallery space a given amount of art pieces have been curated and collected, and the various artwork unfolds organically in the space. The gallery space is small, but the room manages to hold the artwork without the artwork cancelling out each other. As you walk through the space the textiles made by Sitio-Sena are an aesthetically strong contribution to the space, as well as the piece by Daniel Hernández-Salazar.

One piece that stands out in the room is the large table with the red and black traditional Guatemalan woven tablecloth. The table is a part of Jessica Kaire and Daniel Perera’s contribution to the exhibition. On Saturday, April 11th, they lead a televisual gathering via Skype, where a conversation between one group in New York and one group in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, took place. In two identical scenarios in two different locations, the two groups shared a meal. The conversation was in Spanish, so for non-Spanish speaking viewers, such as myself, the concept was a bit confusing at first. However, during the course of the meal, it started to make sense. A different way of being “together”, across cultures and counties, was playfully performed at the gallery for a few hours.

Lisa-Mari Stenhaug


The art of textile and textile tradition in Guatemala has in spite of years of conflict remained authentic. Maya textiles are, and have been, a significant factor in the culture and ethnic identity of Guatemala. Weaving with the garments that came out of it, but nonetheless the act of weaving itself represents and embodies knowledge passing through generations. Artists of younger generations working with textile as a medium, such as Quique Lee, have however an approach to the medium that has less to do with traditional Maya Textiles, and more to do with the story of Guatemala during the years of conflict. In an interview last year he described his work with textiles in relation to memory: “One of the recurrent topics in my pieces is memory, and how an individual remembrance relates to a collective sub consciousness. I express myself through textiles and embroidery. Therefore my war-related works might seem superficial, but they reflect another point of view, sometimes forgotten, of what I see as a collective memory.”

For the exhibition at the New School I am a part of the group working with the textile artists in Sitio-Seña, where one of the members of the group is the artist Quique Lee. Sitio-Seña are working with quilts and codes to tell the story of how symbols allegedly were used to guide transmigrants from Guatemala to the United States for the exhibition in New York. The artists in Guatemala have been working with their project for a long period of time, they have gathered a great amount of work, both research, artwork and specific plans for the exhibition. During our conversations and with our correspondence we have narrowed our contribution to be an activity outside the gallery space, a walking experience in the city. The walk will be designed by The Walk Exchange, and both Sitio-Seña and The Walk Exchange are interested in arranging a walk in Guatemala as well.

As Guatemala has a long tradition in textiles, and artists in Guatemala currently use textiles as a technique to express their artwork, this has become to be something I would like to learn more about. In addition to Sitio-Seña and Quique Lee, I also found Jessica Kaire’s work with textiles in her project CONFORT Series to be interesting as it addresses the violence that occurred in Guatemala as an antithetical proposal. The CONFORT Series is a fictional brand of soft and warlike sculptures in textile. According to Jessica Kaire in her talk at our class-session, her work is addressing the violent history in a different manner than artists from earlier generations; the seriousness is still there, but amongst younger artists a there is also a sense of humor that was not present earlier.

Museums Today: A Glossy Curatorial Redesign

The juxtaposition between the museum’s Victorian façade and its high-tech contents is both jarring and depending on your personal taste, aesthetically off-putting. The Cooper Hewitt’s grand reopening has turned the classic design of a museum on its head and digitized it, replacing minimalism with technological overdesign; quiet with restless rustling and constant din. Everything about the museum’s massive transformation is completely new and encourages digital consumption. Upon entry, every visitor is equipped with an electronic Pen that records information that can be later accessed by the user online. It “collects objects,” enables the visitor to interact with myriad ultra high-definition-touch screen digital worktables and tracks content. In addition to the Pen, which the museum notes is its “most innovative and integral new tool,” most patrons couple the device with their personal cellphones; screens, therefore, ubiquitously stand between the visitor and whatever is directly in front of them. The amount of technology at the Cooper Hewitt is overwhelming and many of the additions scream of design for design’s sake. According to New York Times Museum journalist David Wallis, “Many cultural institutions have also turned to digital technology to transform static labels into compelling interactive attractions.[1]” The Cooper Hewitt purposefully underwent this monumental shift and extended it into all aspect of visitor engagement. It’s not a space where a visitor can simply walk in and explore with ease and it’s definitely not a museum where one would go seeking quiet contemplation, rather, it’s the exact opposite. Obtrusive informational briefings are required in order to train visitors how to experience the space before they can even begin exploring. Understandably, for some, the technological advancements add to their overall experience. The tools temper their wandering attention spans and reframe the museum into a more playful and accessible place. However, for others who go to museums seeking solace and to be with things personally, peacefully, and without constant distractions, the smart devices and high-tech immersion rooms greatly take away from the traditional museum experience.

Museumgoers have changed and museums are rapidly altering their approach to the public in order to remain relevant and build patronage, especially among younger audiences. Museums tend to serve as a respite, a break from the constant distractions of the outside world, however, today, there is no longer any separation. Museums, like libraries and other cultural institutions were once places people could go to escape from the buzzing anxieties of reality. They were places to simply be present, introspective and quiet. Holland Cotter of the New York Times, poignantly writes in her article, Just Being There: Art is what’s in front of your nose. You might not know it, looking at a cellphone, “They (museum patrons) move through galleries fast and with a new purpose – cellphones in hand, they’re on Instagram treks and selfie hunts – and with a new viewing rhythm: Stop, point, pose, snap. If you want, you can even take the tour remotely, virtually, as more and more institutions make their collections accessible on the Internet.”[2] The Cooper Hewitt’s newly renovated galleries cater to this type of audience. According to their new literature, each gallery, “promises new experiences, not only in the way content is displayed, but in how it can be navigated, positioned, interpreted, and seen in relation to collection objects not in the physical galleries. Our exhibitions invite interaction, play, and participation.[3]” These changes push the boundary of what a museum could be, and also, poses the question of what will be the museum of the future? Or as Cotter asks, “What exactly in an age of expanded digital access, are museums audiences seeing? Through electronic media – cellphone screens, laptops, Pintrerst and Skype- we can survey an extraordinary amount of art, see how it is displayed in museum galleries, zoom in on close-up details. But what are we missing by not putting these filters aside and just standing in front of the thing itself (F34)?”

I asked myself these same questions. The Cooper Hewitt is a lively, noisy and highly interactive space that does not invite thoughtful discovery, but rather, encourages active and immediate engagement. It’s a museum that would likely be more attractive to extroverts, and people who wish to talk through their experiences with others. I spent the majority of my time looking for quiet corners where I could personally explore Beautiful Users, an exhibit that highlights designers addressing contemporary human needs and desires, without being molested by other visitors trolling around for their next photo op. It was an enervating experience, which left me to question my position on how museums ought to be configured for the twenty-first century in order to pacify diverse needs.

The ground floor Process Lab is a hands-on learning space aimed at immersing visitors in the design process. Its digital and physical activities are engaging, however, design is presented with a glossy Apple product finish. The why and intentionality of the space is missing, leaving visitors to simply make because that’s what their guided to do. The Cooper Hewitt implemented the lab in order to enable visitors to “Play Designer,” nonetheless, even though it may be an entertaining way to experience the space, it does not provoke museumgoers to actually critically think about design, its implications or consequences which is a dangerous trend within the industry.

Additionally, the high-tech Immersion Room, made me feel as if I were in a design “incubator,” trade show or even lab as opposed to a museum. The room offers visitors an interactive experience and provides them with the tools necessary to sketch their own designs and then project them onto the walls. The shift into the visitor as curator has its merits, however, as a paying visitor, I prefer an educated specialist to subtly guide me through a gallery by establishing a thoughtfully designed floor plan and curatorial statement. Although, the Pen, when it works, is useful to collect large amounts of data, I am skeptical as to how many patrons actually go home and then access what they preserved through their Pen. That said, the Cooper Hewitt was conceived as a “working museum” for designers to engage in an immersive and interactive design experience where direct physical engagement was viewed as a critical part of the creative process. It’s a museum that will not satisfy all audiences, however, for those who seek a “twenty-first” century museum-incubator experience, the Cooper Hewitt is successful and provides a truly unique space to explore.

Museums ought to be seen with the eye and not through a Pen or lens. The Cooper Hewitt’s new identity and reconfiguration as more of a participatory design resource center has fundamentally redesigned the way visitors view its collection. For some, these alterations are absolutely revelatory, and represent a broader cultural transition. However, for people who are less technologically adept, I believe they miss out on the totality of what the museum has to offer. Ultimately, although I personally have an affinity for technology, when it comes to museums, I would rather be left alone to look at what’s in front of me without a filter.

[1] David Wllis, “You Are Here Now, Looking At This, New York Times (New York, NY), March 19th, 2015.

[2] Holand Cotter, “Just Being There, New York Times (New York, NY), March 19th,       2015.

[3] Cooper Hewitt Design Journal, November 2014

Reflections 03.18.15

My involvement with “Guatemala Despues” began over a semester ago, in  Spring 2014, and since, with each new speaker we have been introduced to, my interests within Guatemala have broadened. Because of the high volume of performance/ installation art, I, a self proclaimed non-artist, have seen the art coming out of Guatemala as not typical of what’s around. Artists like Regina Jose Galindo, whose 2003 piece “¿Quién Puede Borrar las Huellas? “ have shown me a bold and socially aware community that is fed up with the erasure of history and demand to be acknowledged, even if it means leaving a trail of actual human blood in front of the national palace. Time and again we have been introduced to a strong aesthetic, a medium I appreciate very much so.


The aspects of Guatemalan society that have intrigued me have been race centered; understanding the race relations in a country whose horrific genocide was led with goals of wiping out indigenous groups, whose horrific genocide, that lasted 36 years, was left unknown to citizens from towns over, even for years after. The race relations of Guatemala have been presented as strict, with many rules that are understood within the country. With the majority of the country identifying as indigenous, mestizo and/or ladino, but the power laying in the hands of the minority-white (affluent) community the race relations seem poorly distributed throughout the city.


My personal project along with my partner, Novel Scholars, Black Banana, aims to represent the  black community of Guatemala, a marginalized group within the country. The black identity is part of the latin american identity. The majority of slaves were transferred to Latin America, migrating throughout the Americas and Caribbean. Guatemala included. Today, there is a black community in coastal areas of central america, some countries with stronger representation than others. Guatemala’s representation of their black community is seen as a disturbance, something they have forgotten about but that is still around. Our project rose out of what we noticed as a lack of black stories from a country that we know to have multiple ethnic groups. It aims to  explore this absence in Latin American art curations, particularly in Central America.

I would like to continue my exploration of race relations in Guatemala, specifically how it ties into the memory and identity of the people, through interviews captured on film. My goal is to collect footage of Guatemalans talking about the race relations within the country and how it has influenced how they see themselves.

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.