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Fallen walls, upright walls

Fallen walls, upright walls

Walls have always existed and apparently continue to exist: some have fallen definitively while others remain, and there are those that insist on raising new ones. In ancient times, they served to protect communities and nations from the “other”, almost always the enemy. Historically speaking, the first was built around the city of Jericho, though the best known today was almost 6 thousand miles long and has been rightly called the Great Wall, whose ruins can be admired even in places near the city of Beijing and from any spacecraft. Both, to not let in or out, which is different but equal. The wall is an ancient expression of bipolarity: ourselves and others, and a symbol of the continuing struggles of man as long as there are vestiges of intolerance, adversity, conflicts and confrontation on the planet. Called to reflect upon After the Wall... it’s worth to wonder: of what wall? We assume, thanks to the massive propaganda that accompanied the incident in 1989, it is the Berlin Wall that was torn down to inaugurate the era of post-history as some claimed after the famous statement that Francis Fukuyama created shortly after. But, if we look closely at the world map perhaps we can see walls of equal or greater magnitude and transcendence than the Berlin, but did not cover the same popularity; for example, the one the United States builds along its border with Mexico, the one Israel has placed around certain areas and cities where thousands of Palestinians live, the one placed by Morocco on the warm sands of the desert to stop and isolate the Saharawi people. Most are made of reinforced concrete, with specific sizes. And there are others that are intangible such as the one Europe spins towards immigrants of African and Arabic countries or that one placed by the United States on their airports with their eye-detection cameras and measurement of fingerprints: all of them having the goal of controlling the 175 million people living outside their homes-according to the United Nations files in 2002 –dispersed and wandering through the world–, in addition to nearly 10 million more every year. The Berlin Wall has undoubtedly been the most notorious for it meant the downfall of an entire economic and political system that made the world capitalist system counterpart, and marked the end of the bipolar US-USSR. On the other hand, it gave signals about the end of the Utopia and the final “entry” in the realm of economics that other “liberal capitalist utopia that was supposed to solve all problems”, as noted by Slavoj Zizek. On November 9, and later on, many people celebrated the fall of the Wall for different reasons though soon some began to doubt about the effectiveness of the act and what it really meant to millions of Germans, Poles, Czechs, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Yugoslavs, who can now enjoy many “shops full of things,” as recently declared one of those former socialist presidents. We hope that there won’t be another in the old continent, despite a new spectre runs over Europe, just like the ghost of communism did in the 19th century: the ghost of xenophobia, which could lead to the erection of a new wall to stop further progress of Islam, considered as the second religion in France and England. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fall coincided with the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, overthrown by its own weight and that of history, towards the modest and undeniable advance of democracy in the rest of the continent. Before, the dictatorial walls had equally fallen in Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and years later those of Guatemala and El Salvador, which paved the way in the 90’s to a decade of transition and hope after years of repression, disappearances, darkness, isolation, misinformation, ignorance. Until then, Latin America staked out a controversial and contentious geopolitical panorama since Mexico established strong economic ties with the United States –questioned by other countries in the region– while Central America was emerging just shattered and hungry after years of internal conflict. Colombia, meanwhile, managed to control the continent’s oldest guerrilla while illegal cultivation of hallucinogenic plants and drugs on a massive scale was growing inside and outside its borders. Brazil and Argentina began a slow economic recovery process that would lead the former to the level of other industrialized countries in the world today, and the latter one to a crisis that still has not found a way out in its own national space. Venezuela, another great Latin American liberator took a new direction from the ranks of its army, and from a broad popular grassroots, to design a country different to the one hitherto existed, and call together the rest of the continent to join in the strengthening of a Latin America as the founding fathers had dreamed of. So it is no exaggeration, much less a cliché, to recognize the level of diversity and heterogeneity of a region that becomes multiple politically, economically and socially speaking. If we add to that, following Néstor García Canclini’s line of thought of, the degrees of sedimentation, juxtaposition and interweaving of indigenous traditions, the Hispanic colonial Catholics, African legacy and modern educational and communicative actions, the result cannot be other than “one of the most exciting regions in the world”, as stated by Noam Chomsky recently. It is no secret that democratization and modernization in Latin America has been an unequal and asymmetrical process in sub-regions such as Central America and even within the national space of countries where different historical and cultural times coexist and overlap.(something that had already troubled our intellectuals in the 19th century) and, possibly in the future. The 90s came to us groping and searching in the context of integration for the first time: henceforth a movement in the region that included the Caribbean islands began to be structured. These are precisely those that are organized first by CARICOM, a regional bloc willing to establish links between dozens of small and newly released nations and break the wall of balkanization, designed, funded and implemented by the United States and Europe over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Subsequently, new entities with the same integrator end in the continental mainland emerged as a result of the democratic transition and irruption of a new left with greater political and ideological importance: Mercosur, CAN, ALBA, UNASUR, PetroCaribe, a regional bank capable of facing off with the traditional hegemony of the IMF and the Development World Bank, and a new currency, the sucre, for financial transactions as opposed to the historical dominance of the U.S. dollar. What can be thought then of our identities as countries, nations, their constant reconfiguration and re-composition before these new signals in an unprecedented situation as we live today? Latin America faces a huge challenge as that experienced by our founding fathers in the 19th century since it is now a second, I wonder if the last opportunity on earth to achieve full independence as free nations and implement modernization often postponed without dissolving our specific cultural identities. If we plan as a region to destroy the wall of American balkanization, we must realize that others persist: those of ignorance and crassness that we have of ourselves even though we now experience a greater flow of communication through personal contacts and the fact of living in what is known as the “Google Age.” The dialogue among our countries, among our local cultures, is part of that challenge, as well as the dialogue among us and the rest of the world’s cultures, which could lead to a new Babel in human history, this time around much richer and more conscious of the possibility of being built in harmony with our goals of global coexistence.  However, the current political and economic strategies that have been planned in parts of Latin America with integration purposes, not necessarily involve the construction of similar discourses in art; since those strategies almost always take implicit notion of metanarratives, by usually dominant signs that the artist is reluctant to take in these post modern times where racial mixing, hybridization, transdisciplinarity and, above all, relativism, occupy important places. Geopolitics is better outlined, or emerges more clearly now, in the concert of Latin American nations but it cannot find speculative actions in the present artistic practices, because art is influenced by other mechanisms. Our artists have assumed modernized even post modernized positions –long before the politicians were aware of their local and regional realities and the phenomenon of globalization. They placed themselves in the modern space of almost 30 years -before the fall of the Berlin Wall- when they began to question, among other things, the notions of subordination, center, periphery, and got inserted critically in their context in order to deconstruct such rooted bipolarities as north-south, folk-worship, traditional-modern, national-universal. Geopolitics in art reached another dimension starting from a clearer understanding of the artist’s role in the public sphere at the local level and his links with other cultures worldwide.  Geopolitics is a broad term that sometimes omits other voices in the great concert of expressions of popular imagination that characterizes us as countries, and heterogeneous regions and sub regions. Geopolitics in art is a complex statement, contradictory, if wanted, because of the changing movement of the artistic practices of the last decades. We must not forget that the ideological and aesthetic map changes constantly since ideas and projects that emerge anywhere in the world are immediately known and accepted, critically or not, by artists and institutions everywhere. Many views on this new reality gained strength in some Latin American institutions, especially in the Havana Biennial, which second edition in 1986, incorporated to its structure- for the first time in a global way- expressions and artistic practices of three continents and other geographic and cultural regions on a scale never conceived before, articulated and then expanded through a curatorial concept defined in its third edition in 1989. The Havana Biennial enhanced the exchange and dialogue among the artists and the expressions thanks to a new structure including all those nuances of visual effects and the collective imaginary, from crafts to environmental arts such as architecture and urbanism. The participating artists, along with experts from throughout the region and beyond, became a sort of critical consciousness of what was going once operating within a new structure for exchange and confrontation as the Biennale turned out. Its performance contributed to the breakdown of the hegemonic models of cultural power in this type of event, by providing space for a better understanding of our local, regional and global processes. The wall of “localization” of Latin American and Third World art -even when it contained some sort of hollowness produced in some specific moments of the twentieth century, where indisputable modernizers winds slipped in, began to collapse in Havana months before the European socialist wall and almost at the same time that the mega exhibit Les magiciens de la Terre was to be held in Paris: this happening altogether with the Havana Biennial have been recognized as the most significant events of contemporary art of that period worldwide. While Europe “rediscovered” not only American but also African, Asian, Arab artists at the meeting in Paris, Havana was locating them in international circuits, causing a change in the perception of our expressions and uniqueness, though the effect of our actions was modest at that time for being in a small Caribbean island, away from the centers of hegemonic power. The truth was that, to some extent, we took the lead to processes that today’s politicians want to implement. A vast area of Latin American art received a significant boost in the late 1980s when post modernity raged worldwide. There was an outward movement through which artistic discourse overflowed its borders motivated, among other reasons, by the search of an audience wider than the one they usually addressed to. The artists themselves proposed research studies and experiences outside the boundaries of traditional art institutions and succeeded in many cases, with the city becoming one of the preferred scenarios for confrontation and debate. Looking back from that time forward, the subjects covered by many Latin American artists, we can observe the vastness and heterogeneity of these. This allows us to understand some of the causes of this expansion and gives us greater visibility in the international arena and, in turn, has remapped the symbolic image of our production. Migration (Kcho, Marcos Lora, Antonio Martorell, Sandra Ramos, Albert Chong, Marcos Erre, Allora and Calzadilla) social marginality (Paz Errazuriz, Miguel Rio Branco, Roberto Diago, The Mares of the Apocalypse, Marcia Schwartz, Alejandro González Aziz Cucher); economic globalization (Boullosa Marcelo, Marcelo cipis, Jose Guedes, Abel Barroso, Ricardo Benaim, Pablo Helguera), poverty (Robert Stephenson, Rachel Schwartz, Paolo Gasparini, Esso Alvarez, Edgar Moreno, Sergio Cesar, Ricardo Lanzarini, Elson Barrantes); rooted and present violence (Doris Salcedo, Rodrigo Facundo, Jose M. Echevarria, Siron Franco, Oscar Bonny, Brooke Alfaro, Isabel Ruiz, Regina Jose Galindo, Veronica Riedel, Carlos J. Molina); epidemics (Fernando Arias, Víctor Vázquez); ecological crisis (Nicholas G. Uriburu, Victor H. Irazábal, Nan González, Luis F. Benedit), religion and power (Nelson Garrido, Bensaki Kuki, León Ferrari) individual and collective memory (Luis González Palma, Rosangela Rennó, Roberto Huarcaya Carlos Garaicoa, Oscar Muñoz, Lucia Chiriboga, Eustaquio Neves) appropriations and cross-cultural (Fulvia Marchezi, Nadin Ospina, Rosana Fuertes, Peter Minshal, Marcos Lopez, Pepón Osorio, Patrick Hamilton, Paul Siquier, Adriana Varejao, Fernando Bryce, José Patrick), the body (Raul Stolkiner, René Peña, Teresa Margolles) individual behavior and social responsibility (Tania Bruguera, Guillermo Gomez Pena, Santiago Sierra, Javier Tellez), represent some of those issues. The list could be too long if we add, among others, public and private settings, sexuality, neo cosmopolitanism, social integration of art, integration and resistance, art and life, nation and Diaspora, representation strategies, something unimaginable just a few decades ago.  In the 80s, where the local issue began to be defined more clearly from the speeches and global strategies in art, the bases of the situation we live today were consolidated. The interconnections between the two poles to which the regional one could be added as a third element in order to propitiate a truly multipolar-space, have produced works containing in themselves several speeches at a time. We are experiencing a revitalization process that seeks without programming or through “manifest”, the reconstruction of our cultural identities seeing that today’s Latin American artist has greater awareness of his local reality, of his country, and the world he lives in. He is prepared to clarify his individual role and social responsibility in any context because it has also expanded equally with his artistic practice: today his context is essentially cultural, with broad resonance and register, far beyond the place he lives in, through the fluidity of global communications but his people, his city, his country, his region, are major players in his production, although some people might ignore it.  In most countries of the region, except perhaps in Brazil, we see the impetus given to art by various forms of contexts embedded in old, dramatic and complex problems since, following the words of Ivo Mezquita, “the formation of contemporary Brazilian art is completely different to that of any other Latin American country” maybe because we do not possess that “tragic sensitivity of our Hispanic neighbors and having learned to “laugh at others and ourselves”, that’s what, without further question, makes it really different.  These Hispanic neighbors we learned a lot from those early modern Brazilian times when it grew roots in the 1920s. And even when in the midst of a military dictatorship during the 60s, their creators contributed to the universal Latin American culture with the bossa nova, the tropicalism, the cinema novo, the new objectivity, postal art, dematerialized trends in art, and a number of objects and assemblages, installations and happenings. That vocation of Brazil and other countries in the region throughout the 20th century, to stimulate a cultural production of its own in accordance and close relation with other world cultures, is one of our great hallmarks. While in most of the western area, art is now measured by the amount of thousands and millions of dollars that people pay for artworks of Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Murakami or Andreas Gursky, in Latin America there are many artists who are interested in acting as a kind of “critical consciousness”, a highly praised attitude by the radical and progressive thinking of the European intellectuals of the second half of the 20th century. Their speeches on politics are more elaborated as time goes by, even from their own body-reckoning with an art of a broad social inclusion, which at times approaches an activism that generates strong controversies. This is clearly seen in Cuba since the 1980s and in groups of Mexico and Colombia, as well as in Brazilian collective creation groups that, according to Brian Holmes, are capable of conceiving “aesthetic-political devices of encounter and confrontation with repressive and normalized forces. With this purpose they resort to performances, video, art of action and everything that allows them to manage and visualize a behavior that implies an ethic and aesthetics view of it, in sense that opposes to the traditional formalism whose points of support, as know, are the classical canon and the aura inherent to every work of art. The degree of politicization of our artists and their works is higher today with regard to any previous time. Even that of the 20’s when peasants and workers, exploiters and exploited, rich and poor, blacks and whites, Indians and half-breeds appeared for the first time in our paintings. The varied and incredible socio-political problems of our countries and our region are now of essential reference for many artists needless of articulating common strategies or models of integration in the style of politicians.  In contemporary Latin American art emerge centers of resistance to the banality of the cultural industry, the medias and the entertainment, and primarily to the globalization ideology that seeks to homogenise as much realities and contexts; although, as Donald Kuspit stated : “Uniformity is now an illusion”. Globalization has created the myth, among others, that everyone who does not participate in it is automatically out of the world history. But: which world? From which history? It is the same hegemonic world, the same history, for sure. Perhaps what is likely to be beneficial for the economy is not necessarily so for culture. If we analyze the transfer of technology and capital in our contexts, we will see they act as glass bubbles, ivory towers, aluminium and steel, whose most obvious example are the toll-corn workers. By contrast, exchanges in general, information, and intercultural crossings in the sphere of art are developed in other ways, including face to face, which represent beneficial pollution levels for our artistic practices. Long ago, we learned not to yield to anything or anyone due to the “anthropophagic” sense Brazil left us: this awareness to eat and digest food is profitable for our souls and spirit, whatever their origins are. Carlos Jauregui claims that:  In the cannibal scene, both devouring and devoured body, and the devouring itself, provide models of identity formation and dissolution. The cannibal constantly destabilizes the antithesis inside / outside, the cannibal is, paraphrasing Mikhail Bakhtin, the body eternally incomplete and eternally created and creator [...] Cannibalism has been a key trope in the definition of Latin American cultural identity since the first visions of the New World as monstrous and savage, to the narrative and cultural production of 20th and 21st centuries in which the cannibal was redefined in different ways in relation with the construction of (post) colonial and post modern identities Globalization functions like a sort of virtual scenario where we make some of our local artistic practices, where we feel better to “act” while the actual scenario remains that of our challenging contexts. Our art has expanded greatly but has not de-territorialized as some conjecture. There is nothing but globalization, where seemingly there are no walls but a secret rearrangement of identities and differences in order to control them. Today’s globalization is the mainstream of years and decades ago, considerably altered by the emergence of new local and regional components. After 1989, international events multiplied all over the planet in an attempt to update us and gradually eliminate the insulation. Biennials became the spearhead of this movement forward –Cuenca, Santo Domingo, Mercosur, Ushuaia, Biennial of the Central American Isthmus, Curitiba-Ventosul, Chile Triennial– although this process has generated its rhetoric, a homogenizing discourse at an institutional level and euphoria among the artists since it increased their levels of recognition. It might be said that from them issued a “common language” at the curatorial and creative levels allowing us to express and understand ourselves better: the unhappy face of this new situation was the indiscriminate borrowing of artists from different events, and the fact that some curators found greater opportunities for their work by simply moving from one city to another, “solving” the complicated issue of “selection”. It is true that now we know each other better once that we see so many broken walls of misinformation and oblivion, and we can feel the multiplication of new centers where mutations suffered by the local, regional and global can be found. The biggest challenge remains the policy and the market, both for artists and for curators, critics and institutions: it would be added to them the superabundance of art. In all our countries the number of artists is daily increasing, so the variety of works and in some, the number of events and institutions. Our artists travel either from inside the region to the old metropolitan centers of cultural power, creating an attitude of “give and take”, a culture of eating and being eaten without prejudice, with total freedom, though the tables and dishes found in some countries are more attractive than others. The map of Latin American art is changing due to the fact that more open and changing structures appear, but in return we cannot think mapping will become a museum thing, as some claim. Our countries have just begun to be aware of themselves, their history, their circumstances, and their geography. The deconstruction and fracture of the Western canon, in which we participate today, runs mainly on an intellectual level that does not diminish the meaning and significance to our natural territories. When we talk about specific countries we know perfectly well what we are referring to, but when we speak of Latin American art the dialogue becomes more complex. What art are we talking about? The one in northern or southern Mexico? In Fortaleza or in Porto Alegre? In Cali or in Bogota? In Havana, Lima, San Juan, Quito, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Sao Paulo? Given this heterogeneity, the local analysis becomes of paramount importance because of the complexity that fixing the basic coordinates of the vast regional artistic production demands, especially when we have seen the cracking, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, of the stereotype of “Latin American art”. The walls, fortunately, have failed to define processes. Their existence is due to unpleasant or tragic accidents in the life of any society, the need to control or to warn that, as Hamlet said, “There is something rotten in the kingdom of Denmark”. We live today in a Latin America with no apparent walls redefining itself every year in the midst of democratic reforms (despite the unfortunate incident recently endured in Honduras), in intergovernmental dialogues, restructuring itself in sub regional blocs facing the difficult challenge of continental unity, communicating in a common language where we notice the different words, accents and tones that conform it.  It is hardly impossible to make predictions of what will happen in the next three or four years because of the speed of changes and transformations that occur. It may even be some social and political backwardness but not in art: artistic processes and operations are constructed and reconstructed faster than in other areas of life. Traditional geopolitics does not seem applicable to the expanded field of art of our diverse region as we are discovering every day the complex reality of our countries within their own borders and beyond. Everything or almost everything is to be said in Latin America starting from a new image that is constantly changing. Maybe for the first time we have the responsibility of inventing the reality of our countries as many times as needed, before others do. Let’s learn how to do it faster and much better than they those Europeans who arrived to our shores just over 500 years did.  Havana, October 2009

Para no olvidar, 2007 / Juego de mesa / Table set

Elliptical life, 2009 / video-instalación / video-installation

Bajo presión, 2008 
Tejido tradicional guaniquiqui / Guaniquiqui traditional fabric

Movilizaciones, 2007
Instalación / Installation / Dimensiones variables / Varied sizes

Mística, 2007 
Acrílico sobre lienzo
160 x 118 cm