When Argentinean critic Victoria Verlichak suggested me to present an exhibit of Paraguayan contemporary art in Buenos Aires, we both knew we had to fight not only against ignorance, but also against generalized biased feelings among Argentines who relate Paraguayans only to a handful of folkloric expressions and a marginal population mainly consisting of housewives and construction workers.2 The exposition was held in late 2007 at the Recoleta Cultural Center, the meeting grounds of Argentina’s artistic movement, under the title of Elusive Paraguay and an traveling exhibition cycle is about to kick off around some South American capitals. Artworks from Bettina Brizuela, Fredi Casco, Sara Hooper, Carlo Spatuzza, Angel Yegros and Marite Zaldivar let the public take a firsthand look at both the elusive and seductive condition of a country that has always been “nobody’s dream.”3 Privadísimo Perched on a narrow borderline that divides –rather links- the public and the private, Bettina Brizuela’s works revolve around a nitty-gritty matter: the symbolic reconsideration of the memory that sways between the socio-cultural creation and the intimate personal beats. Exploration, mummification, excavations: the same procedure that, through different stages, digs out memories, makes it stand still and projects it. Privadisimo (Extremely Private) showcases the footprints of history itself by developing the archeology of intimacy, a concept that might as well be applied to other works by this author. By means of straightforward impression of personal belongings and items deployed over plaster planks, Brizuela makes an inventory of contemporary habits: the daily rituals of an ordinary world that makes no distinction between humdrum and heroism, or it rather merges them in the inanity of serial creation. These inane outlines –so many times hurt by the force of openhandedness- are precisely the ones that define the identity of things, articulating and reordering the sequences of a story that acquires amazing poetic intensity. The Return of the Sorcerers For a number of years, Fredi Casco has been working on the slight displacement of representations in an easygoing fashion. From his early Polaroid tryouts in the late 1990s –when he used to shoot the aura of Baroque-Guarani religious carvings, taking the sacred meaningfulness away and dragging them into the realm of video- to the latest installations that arouse disconcertment from minimal gesturing, the artist has pocked cracks in the traditional blueprint of the world. The work displayed in Buenos Aires is entitled The Return of the Sorcerers Vol. I: The Cold War Disasters and was welcome news at the Porto Alegre Biennial in 2005 and the Valencia Biennial in 2007. Banking on pictures bought at the flea markets in Asuncion, Casco recomposes a Paraguay tamed by 35 years of “peace and progress.” These are documents that, stripped of any historic significance, shed light on the diplomatic activity under the Stroessner rule, a blurry and dull activity that used to grab headlines in the daily press either with deference or resignation. Casco enlarges the images –they had been originally taken in small-scale format- and tampers with them digitally. Based on brief yet accurate humorous touches, this series boasts abundant sarcasm and encourages the viewers to explore the essential sideline ramification of the last dictatorship whose violence has been apparently wiped out, but whose trite gestures in the protocol of power have remained unchanged until quite recently. Projects Sara Hooper walks down conventional pathways to reach odd and even wicked places. Featuring quasi-Renaissance technique and Japanese style with the palette, her work has been construed in the cloister of the very divagations and fears. Projects is a series of pencil drawings aimed at pictorial creation that appeals to the subjectivity of the body entrails. Visceral fragments fold and unfold like ghostly entities that take the form of societies and individuals. This Argentine-born artist with over three decades of residence in Paraguay, has always remained “outside the walls.” Hooper is yet to join the local artistic circle and her inclusion in this exhibit has been a testimonial statement to the inscrutability of a country that opens or closes randomly. Her solo work –warped inside a city that lacks public spaces and shows a reluctant cultural life- clearly accounts for inadaptability, but it also speaks volumes of a resistance stance in the face of a Paraguay that sways between hospitality and hostility toward foreigners. Spatuzza Purse Maker Under see-through acrylic bells, Carlos Spatuzza deploys strange and suggestive women’s purses made of pig bladder and ancient iron fittings. They lie on rundown metal tables –like the ones used to sell roast meat in Paraguay’s street markets– but with the inventory codes of the big-time fashion stores tagged on them. By the hand of this lampooning device, he paints a “social picture” with the help of “accompanying objects,” as the artist calls them. Just like persons, each and every one of these purses has a name and smell, skin and memory. The labels –written in Guarani– provide well-encrypted keys to approaching the mesh of conflicts and tensions the pieces bring to mind. When submitted to long chemical treatments, the material in these pieces acquires poetic refinement rather than visual and tactile smoothness. The thin animal tissue marks the limit between the inside and the outside, configuring a borderline space on which the developments occur. Surface and organ, the skin –a superb scent fixative– is the element that retains the evanescent. Thus, these translucent bodies egg on to devour veiled stories, those typically found in conservative societies. Requiem Since his early going back in the 1960s, Angel Yegros’ visual narrative has been branded by his seduction for debris. Even though in those times he used to include elements of diverse origins in his works –from dregs of street billboards to human nails and hair– in the 1980s he found himself captivated by the poetry of Tinguely. His language is underlined by the use of industrial wastes and is further enriched through the eclectic usage of such materials as glass, metal, semiprecious gems and natural fibers. Nowadays, these materials are coupled with organic elements and chemical resins. With this work, the artist weaves a piece of embroidery with old-timed wisdom and linguistic references to the ancestral Paraguay and the one found in his own biography. Personal mythology is lodged in the ragged edges of collective history. Requiem responds to the “poetry of the edges” –in which the undefined form is the name of the game– and appeals to the energy of things themselves. We’re not before the shrewd form of the found object, but rather before the crux of the matter. Yegros makes his creatures endure successive involvements by churning out translucent amber-hued capsules. He vacuum-packs pieces of charred wood, a giant viper skin or a fossilized marine formation. Suspended in knocked-down wrappings, these are chrysalises of memory that evoke either threat or utopia. As if they were sloughing off their own flesh, these pieces tie up cosmic and human times, the natural and biographic times, the magnum and the trivial times. In the crossing of these three axes, appealing to the organ equals the desire to bear out the existence of a vital core in a country whose natural resources are plundered on a daily basis. Flags Marite Zaldivar’s work shows a close linkage with the original cultures and the rural habits of the mixed-race society, revealing the historic, social and ethical debt that Paraguay as a country holds with the indigenous peoples that make up its social fabric and whose ancestral territory helped pave the way for the evolvement of an independent nation. Marite Zaldivar builds her own teko –way of being with and in the world in Guarani- on matter. She uses that matter to “reinstate both the personal and collective memories from a romantic-restoring position and, at the same time, from a critical and ironic standpoint, as she herself puts it. The country’s institutional iconography –maps, flags, rosettes– has been inlaid and reformulated in many of her artworks in which the cultural reconstruction effort spearheaded by Paraguayan women after the 70s war –a restoration process that reaches therapeutic characteristics– pops up loud and clear. This time around, the “flags” hold a different symbolic function: they do not hoist an identity code, but they rather get a hold on natural elements that speak louder than differences and individualities. These cloths knit in cotton in cocoons, seeds, tree bark, tobacco or garlic come up with a harmonious philosophical proposal. “Our identity is a passage through the matter,” the artist says. A contemporary maternity called “pre-modern” with a flair for spell and enchantment.