The revealing space of Focus Latin America at ARCOmadrid 2012

The selection of 23 artist carried out by the curators Cauê Alves, Sonia Becce, Patrick Charpenel, Alexia Dumani, Manuela Moscoso and José Ignacio Roca for the second edition of “Solo Projects: Focus Latin America” may function as an orientation map of artistic practices in the south of the American continent.

By Adriana Herrera
The revealing space of Focus Latin America at ARCOmadrid 2012

Thus, several political art strategies may be observed: the tackling of the silences in history and of their substitutes − absences or censorships −; of the dark spaces in society, spaces which are, however, capable of penetrating it and expanding; the sweeping of urban areas in which the dimension of chaos is parallel to that of social abysses; or the rendering of those other natural territories subject to the voracity of uncontrolled modernization.
In Minimal secret, the Chilean artista Voluspa Jarpa (Isabel Aninat), winner of the 5th Illy Sustain Art Award at ARCOmadrid 2012, bases her work on residual historical material and builds bridges between different legacies: in this way she brings together the minimalist − clean, repetitive forms − and the conceptual − the incorporation of crossed-out texts that draw back the veil of silence cast upon a fateful period in the history of her country. The collective memory is re-established by means of the visible signs of censorship: the negative spaces in the de-classified CIA archives on the 1980s, during the Pinochet dictatorship.
In the installation composed of hanging black pages the eliminated texts and their corresponding voids not only show the interventions of that organization as a security measure but also all that which disappears from the collective memory. Her work re-establishes it paradoxically through the absent spaces on the pages, and on the other hand, it resorts to the reproduction of the censored texts to produce books that comprise a “Library of non-history”. Multiplying the evidence of that which has been eliminated has the effect of transforming it into a reopened and incisive question.
In Los sellos que nunca viajaron y las aves que nunca volaron, Diango Hernández (Benveniste Contemporary) also works with denial. Together with the installation inspired by a post office with windows that make reference to the intersection between power and communication relationships, he displayed amplified versions of letters with no addressees bearing Christmas stamps decorated with birds which never circulated due to the official elimination of that celebration in revolutionary Cuba. The installation is a monument to that which has been retained, to the banned symbolic spaces.
There is another type of political reflection in the project presented by Adriana Bustos (Ignacio Liprendi Arte Contemporáneo), who resorts to the old school methodology of the didactic posters to recreate the route of the “mules” (women who transport drugs) by means of an informative diachronic collage tracing different data of the explosive combination of tax-free money and violence which has marked the identity of several nations. Of particular interest is the artist’s fragmentary gaze, capable of presenting crime through a logic that levels every piece of information within the tacit category of “curiosities”, perhaps a reflection of the collective perception. Destruction takes on a different nuance in the Colombian artist Miguel Ángel Rojas’s (Sicardi) impeccable installation: the formally flawless esthetic of a mural made with dehydrated coke leaves, coal and gold leaf on paper mounted on polyethylene which maps the lucrative and dire extension of the trade involving gold and cocaine which are “the New El Dorado”, according to the artist, and which feed the demand of the First World undermining entire social and ecological systems. The Puerto Rican Gamaliel Rodríguez (Espacio Mínimo) incorporates the notion of realistic documentation of architectures that reflect a combination of private luxury and a type of fear that has its source in power. His one-of-a-kind drawings of houses-shelters built in Bayamón by millionaires fearful of a nuclear threat quote illustrations and engravings reviewing historical moments in such a way that they reveal the nature of the fictions that provoked them.
The inquiry into the tension of urban phenomena is common to several of the participating artists. In their video, Jonathan Harker + Donna Conlon (DiabloRosso) build an immense plastic mountain with bottle caps catapulted by two “players” competing at tossing them, alluding to pollution but also to the construction fever. The site it occupies is precisely the one that formed part of a former military premise built by the United States during the occupation of the Panama Canal. Urban development and the effects of socio-economic processes of colonization modes coalesce in a play that evokes destructive yet somehow unavoidable co-existences.
Marcela Armas (Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo) exhibited one of her “machines in agony”, which show on the one hand the potential of energy to generate movement, but reveal, on the other hand, that the gigantic mechanism of urban societies rests upon non-renewable resources. The Brazilian duo Dias & Riedweg (Filomena Soeres) literally takes advantage of the extended resource of touring the city and reflecting its contradictions on the traffic: the camera follows a man moving towards the suburbs carrying a mirror under his arm. Another form of approach is that of the Salvadorian Adán Vallecillo (80m2 arte&debates), who in Topografía I presents a beautiful abstract mural made from a residual material: used tires that toured Tegucigalpa and are, as he points out, “a skin that makes it possible to experience a series of tensions”. In Alambrado/Fence, Lía Chaía also associates the human and the urban skin, and she creates, using wire, magnificent abstract works inspired by the electrical circuit boxes found in the streets and in private homes.
Another type of exploration, which draws inspiration from meta-artistic thought and from revisiting avant-garde movements, encompasses a wide variety of modalities, from the inquiry into the frontiers between crafts and trades, as may be seen in the work of Jaime Tarazona (Nueveochenta arte contemporáneo), to forms of appropriation that may range from transforming tributes to a sort of pillaging which is filled with irony. In Tarazona’s work the conceptual stands out: he conceived an office of modern architecture design which allows him to imagine buildings through the fictional role of artist-architect. Independently of the fact that they are non-viable constructions and of the transgressions to customary procedures − he shifts from models to two-dimensional work − what is interesting is his way of challenging the borders between art and fiction. There are peculiar appropriations in Rosana Schoijett’s (Zavaleta Lab) collages featuring sewn illustrations of famous masterpieces; in the surrealist installation of Cecilia Szalkowickz’s (Alberto Sendrós), who has always played with mechanical reproduction and the mental collages of legacies, or in Ester Grinspun’s (Transversal) reliefs whose forms evoke Lygia Clark, although redirecting her aims. Felipe Mujica (Christinger De Mayo) intervenes in the space
with his geometric installations which, on account of the materials employed, function as “ephemeral” architectures. In Karina Peisajovich’s installation La máquina de hacer color, featuring rotating color discs, the essential element is de-synchronization. The nature of Edgar Cobián’s (Plataforma Arte Contemporáneo) geometries reveals the perspective of the generations born in the aftermath of the great narratives: he creates floral motifs, almost ornaments, using the typical colors of anarchic syndicalism. Although in her installation at ARCO, Luciana Lamothe (Ruth Benzacar) did not foster any destruction, she incarnates the possibility that once utopias and avant-garde movements are exhausted, vandalism may be the source on which artists draw inspiration.
Based on a different strategy but with a perspective that closely contemplates the mentioned exhaustion, another Argentine artist, Alicia Herrero (Mirta Demare) presented a meta-artistic performance-installation featuring an exploration that dismantles the art market’s speculation mechanisms and leaves in the hands of the collector the task of continuing the investigation of another end-of-utopia modality.