Currently, Madrid’s Casa de America presents a group exhibition of Spanish and Latin American artists, ‘Mientras sea posible’. The brief is not one I’ve come across elsewhere: to show humankind’s adaptability and potential for change. This topic has been explored in many a new media/digital art exhibition, but here the focus is on natural materials and homeostasis: the tendency to equilibrium between interdependent elements, in particular that of the body, or even the earth, as a unified organism.
Transforming the environment is something all of us who live in cities forget about, because the built cityscape shows change less dramatically than sites in transition from a rural to a more urbanised status. This exhibition offers no reflections on the loss of natural landscape, however, but enough on that can be found in any publication by Greenpeace España.
The questions asked by the curator have been interpreted with more references to local mythology and traditions than I would have expected, and I enjoyed that surprise.
This is Chilean artist Catalina Bauer’s contemporary rendition of quipu, an Andean accounting system. I am fascinated by how many knowledge systems exist that most Westerners like myself never hear about. It makes me question dominant paradigms, and the increasing spread of them. Will the minority ones become extinct, or preserved as a token, like older languages that carry a culture but have little use since they are only used by bilingual people who communicate mostly in their ‘stronger’ tongue? Either way, the artist is pointing to what is on the other side. It is up to us to glimpse through the grass curtain, and discover an alternative paradigm or a message on the inside vs. the outside.
Argentinian artist Ana Gallardo uses a Mexican tradition as a source of inspiration for her installation. The religious rituals of pilgrims to Oaxaca’s Virgen de Juquila are re-enacted by visitors to this space. Viewers, like pilgrims, may give material form to their wishes, out of mud, and leave them en route to the sanctuary, which is here reduced in size so it looks like a room-sized train-set. Because of the miniature landscape feel, it bears similarities with Jake and Dinos Chapman’s now defunct Hell, but made by a younger sibling. Gallardo asks us to make a wish for our own old age, so a resonance of proximity to death is inferred too. However, this is a home-made and interactive kind of artwork which grants hope, and sees people united in good will rather than a bloodbath. Believer or not, making mudcakes is a pastime that kept me happy for hours as a child, and I therefore wholeheartedly recommend it. Even if your wishes don’t come true, it will do you good.
Catalina León is another Argetinian artist, whose curtains of fallen and falling leaves give no indication of their origin or intention. By way of an artist statement, Catalina says only: ‘May nothing trouble you, may nothing frighten you, everything passes’. Such buddhist-style wisdom fits in well with the calm beauty of the piece, but leaves you wondering if you are indeed feeling cheated out of a deep theory for the artwork. Of course I had enjoyed in the work of the other artists learning about legends and stories new to me, here I get no such education. But the cascading sheets of leaf-shaped blankets filling the space with a warm foresty smell, carefully made of hand-stitched leaves, provoke plenty of imaginings of tribal crafts and the cloak of nature to keep one satisfied.