AN ANGEL, COLUMBUS, WRESTLERS AND A PAIR OF WINGS: THE COUNTER ALLEGORY AS A RESIGNIFICATION OF HISTORY
The echoes of the bells from the Church of San Ignacio of Loyola, in Buenos Aires, resound on the stones of the old Manzana de las Luces historical complex, one of the last buildings from the colonial era that survive in the city’s historic center. The place, which through the centuries has been a convent, a Museum of Natural Sciences and even a Faculty, transpires hispanic barroqueness. It is now a museum without a permanent exhibition; it is, in its way, a monument of its own. In the courtyard, the spectator looks upwards and there stand the balconies of the old cloisters, higher up the glass and steel walls of the skyscrapers of the financial district and, poised on the museum’s ceiling, observing this ancient patio, an unwinged angel that looks out of place. And it is. Or maybe not.
The sculpture is a reference to one of the allegories that is part of the monument to Cristopher Colombus (1921), by the Italian artist Arnaldo Zocchi, a monument that after years of fierce political and symbolic tit-for-tat, went from standing in the Casa Rosada, the country’s presidential palace, to the shores of the Rio de la Plata. The angel’s juvenile and indecipherable silhouette, which in the original sculpture points forward, towards the future, setting the transatlantic path for America’s Conquistador, in this case is signalling downwards, towards this colonial courtyard on a mild, typically porteña, afternoon.
It is here that the project “UNOFFICIAL. Mounted Stories, Dissident Narrations” (NO OFICIAL. Historias Montadas, Relatos Disidentes) is held, in the context of BIENALSUR, a biennial born in the South’s South and celebrated simultaneously in 124 venues around the world between July and December. The first of the episodes in UNOFFICIAL is “The Piety in the Statues”, a group of sculptures by Argentinean artist Alexis Minkiewicz. This angel is one of the four pieces that make up the exposition, which can be visited until February 28th.
In the courtyard, Columbus enjoys, immersed in a surreal and underwater sexual dream. If the sailor, in the original monument, stands erect, potent, masculine and imposing, Minkiewicz’s version features this majesty, yes, but of another kind. Here, Columbus lies naked half a meter above the ground, entangled in a bewildering orgy with two octopuses, a direct reference to The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (1814) by Katsushika Hokusai. The vulnerable navigator, co-opted by a spasm of pleasure, holds the back of his neck with both arms while an octopus devours his sex, in the same way that the whole exhibition devours, with eroticism and a hunger for resignification, everything that the original monument represents. “There’s this established notion: that monuments help to build a national identity. But they build one national identity, a hegemonic story”, says Leandro Martinez Depietri, co-curator of the exhibition together with Diana Wechsler. "Monuments are platforms for thinking about new identities," he adds. And in that line is inscribed "The Piety in the Statues", which takes its name from the poem "Plegaria" (Prayer), by the Uruguayan Delmira Agustini. "Eros: have you ever felt / piety in the statues?"
Minkiewicz shares that fascination for sculpture, a voracity so aesthetic that it becomes physical, a desire to “climb onto a sculpture, merge with it, make it my own; to have a physical relationship with that inanimate and represented being". Demonstrations of such avidity emerge in every aspect of the exhibition, one that is both a historical-cultural critic and a libertine manifesto, a platform for the resignification of stories and an ode to erotic power.
In the third of the sculptures, which the artist informally baptized as “Los luchadores” (The fighters), eroticity gushes out of every inch. Sailors, in the original sculpture, both figures intertwine in a contortionism halfway between the violent and the lustfull. Wrapped in ropes with the Japanese shibari technique, placed by Alejo Petriz, it is another nod to Japanese culture, for which Minkiewicz cultivates a fondness. In the figures, of about three meters, one can perceive the musculature, the tendons outstanding visibility, the fusion of the bodies. It is even difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins, while both swing, supported by ropes, above the colonial stones, in a soft dance of light and shadow. Sculptural dynamism in its purest form. From above, they are too observed by the angel, who contemplates like an adolescent voyeur, intrigued, with a facial expression that cannot be defined precisely.
Intrigued, and also unwinged. Minkiewicz, in what makes up the fourth piece of the work, "hung" the angel’s wings on a self-supporting structure that embraces two columns without damaging the original material (an absolute priority for the show). In what is, according to the artist himself, the most hardcore moment in the exhibition, the wings hang like a half beef pierced by hooks. A violent dismemberment, in an almost fetichist manner. “I’ve replaced the Catholic angel for something else. This angel has a sexual desire, an impulse”, says Minkiewicz, who once again included the shibari technique in this piece. Deglorify in order to resignify. Or, as the curatorial text elaborates: “The irreverence in the iconographic mutations, the fold of the heroic narrative on itself and the rich intertextuality with the history of art and with the various transits of the monument allow us to think of this work as a resurgence of the dissident tradition of the Latin American neo-baroque. A game of polysemic thicknesses settles, of passion for excess and artifice, which break with a monolithic vision of identity to open up other foundational myths that dispute the official story”.
That is what this is all about. Dissent and alternative channels of expression. New counter-hegemonic narratives, sometimes explicit, sometimes ambiguous. Even a wink that is almost ironic: the inauguration was held on the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity. Minkiewicz also won a contest sponsored by the Nation’s Ministry of Culture to erect a sculpture of María Remedios del Valle, the only woman named captain of the Army of the North by Manuel Belgrano. The sculpture, which will be located in a popular intersection in Buenos Aires, in November, is also a manifesto of this quest. An Afro-descendant, this national heroine was “forgotten by history,” and in the background of the Black Lives Matter movement, Minkiewicz chose Louis Yupanqui, a trans and Afro-descendant woman and activist, as a model. "I want to actualize that cause", says the artist.
“History has other potential outcomes, other future possibilities. Instances of the expression of dissent that have to be open. These are steps forward in artistic and democratic expression, symbolically held in public spaces”, Depietri concludes.
The exhibition can be visited until February 28th. The Manzana de las Luces Historical Cultural Complex (Peru 294, kilometer 2 of the biennial) is open from Wednesday to Sunday between 12 and 7 pm, without prior reservation.
Framed in the same project, from October 15th until November 26th every Friday afternoon, the public will be able to observe the performances "Barroco furioso" (Furious Baroque), by the company Ópera Periférica, and "Cabaret Neo Bar Otra”, curated by Loréne Belloni. Both proposals work from the perspective of gender, diversity and social transformation.