Berlin-based artist Julian Charrière moonlights as a poet scientist in the pursuit of his work, which The Guardian calls, "bracing, beautiful, quick with ideas and driven by a highly adventurous curiosity." Using specimens and photographic evidence collected on his adventures, the internationally-acclaimed artist encourages a confrontation between humanity and the elements, while lending a human element to both the sterility of the empirical world and the wilderness of the natural world.
From a great distance, our planet appears a perfectly spherical blue-green globe suspended in space as if by a string. If we zoom in, topography begins to appear, and upon even closer inspection, as do things like large cities and international borders. At such grand scales, these features, both geological and artificial, seem permanent, but when the scales of time are also stretched, the fragility of these attributes becomes clear. Volcanic eruptions can erase the great trade hub of Pompeii from existence or form whole new archipelagos. In much the same way, human influence can redraw borders and shift identities. As it was with the Partition of India, the largest human migration in history, a person can start their day one nationality and end it another.
It is the ever-interconnecting feedback loop between these kinds of synthetic and ecological forces that informs the art of Julian Charrière. His installation piece We Are All Astronauts, 2013, features antique globes suspended by strings over a table. Using an “international sandpaper”, of his own making, created with mineral samples from all UN-recognized countries, Charrière rubbed away the features of the globes, allowing the debris to settle on the flat surface below, forming something new and uncalculated from the static order that existed before, reflecting the chaos and creation inherent in change.
The work of the young French-Swiss artist includes performance, photographs, and installations, but the pieces serve more as evidence of Charrière’s process or, in many cases, his adventures. One such excursion found him on an ancient Icelandic iceberg, where he spent an entire day in blistering conditions attempting to melt the berg with a blowtorch. Monumental exercise in futility that it was (the small amounts of liquid water he was able to produce refroze almost as soon as it thawed), Charrière’s endeavors speak to the greater impact of humanity en masse, in which melting ice caps, mass extinctions, and rising global temperatures implicate our collective ability to affect geology and ecosystems far older than civilization. Charrière’s impermanent feat is immortalized in The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories, 2013, photographs that capture the lone man and his Promethean flame against the colossal berg.
The pursuit of his work has taken Charrière from the bustling streets of Venice, where he (humanely) painted bold colors into the plumage of live pigeons, to the desolate expanses of a Bolivian desert, where he collected compressed core samples infused with lithium—one of the simplest of elements, yet responsible for fueling our batteries and single-handedly regulating the minds of individuals with bipolar syndrome. This enduring pursuit has left him no stranger to extremes.
Now, Charrière prepares for a new solo show at Despacio in Costa Rica, a country whose tropical jungles boast some of our world’s greatest terrestrial biodiversity. Charrière’s diverse works will seem right at home in this hub of ecotourism. And yet, as if to exemplify by contrast this verdant cornucopia, the work that will be showcased will boast an almost utter lack of life.
Displayed pieces will include the aforementioned We Are All Astronauts, 2013; Tropisme (Helio), 2015, a series of photographs of his flash frozen, stalagmite-like plants; Blue Fossil Entropic Stories, 2013, photography of his Icelandic iceberg adventure; as well as new, never-before-seen video work.
We are all astronauts on this great planetary ship hurtling through space, and Charrière is a worthy navigator.
Thoughts by Schandra Madha
Julian Charrière’s solo show at Despacio in San Jose, Costa Rica opens October 20th and runs through December 17th, 2016.
Photo credits and copyright: Installation views courtesy of Despacio, all other images courtesy of the artist and Galerie Tschudi Zuoz (Switzerland), Sies + Höke Düsseldorf (Germany), Bugada & Cargnel Paris (France), and Dittrich & Schlechtriem Berlin (Germany).
There is a time in every artist’s life that, for their art, they must go so far that they risk falling right off the map. We have developed a unique residency for Despacio that begins with an incredible two-day journey on foot through the dense Costa Rican jungle to bring you to one of the world’s most isolated indigenous tribes, the Cabécars of Alto Telire. Once there, you’ll engage with a local community totally disconnected from the world of contemporary art.
Experience a place that has been inhabited for centuries but rarely appears on a map.
If we want to establish new paths in the field of art, it is essential that artists seek inspiration in places far away from the old, ingrained patterns of thinking. It is only by questioning and rethinking established rules that artists have achieved innovation throughout history and have led us to where we are now.
Like many of the world’s most secluded places, contemporary art has no meaning in Alto Telire. There is no place for art as the rest of the world knows it in the everyday life of the Cabécars, nor is there a word for it in the local language.
The application period for the 2017 residencies closed on September 1, 2016.
What the residency includes:
The residency takes 6-14 days, depending on the availability of local guides. Please note that you may be asked to carry a certain amount of food or medicine for the community you are visiting.All images above by Alberto Font.
A pioneer of performance art in Central America, Aníbal López has become notorious for his extreme actions and disruptive urban interventions. Generally aimed at immersing viewers into the region’s social and political tensions, his works combine the dry language of 1960s and 70s conceptual art with the revolutionary ethos of a Latin American guerrillero.
The exhibition dedicated to Aníbal López (1964–2014) co-organized with Fundación Yaxs and X Central American Biennial opens on Wednesday August 31st from 12-8pm at Despacio. For more details: Facebook Event.
Recreations by Ana Lucrecia Muñoz, Aníbal Catalán, Antonio Ortega, Audrey Houben, Crack Rodríguez, Diego Giannettoni, Erica Muralles Hazbun, Illimani de los Andes, Jason Mena, Jorge Linares, Kevin Baltazar, Mario Alberto López Cruz, Nuria Güell, Sergio Rojas, and Proyecto 44.After the opening, the exhibition will be open Fridays and Saturdays 2–7pm through September 30th, 2016.
THE BLACK HERALD
Was there a better chronicler of the pitiless cruelty of Guatemala’s urban society than the artist Aníbal López? A profile of a provocateur, of the artist as thug and transgressor.
Piglets are plentiful, on hog farms. But a piglet with a name, ‘Hugo,’ dressed up with a beautiful blue bow is something special; a pet, almost a person, a character like one of the three pigs who vanquished the wolf, or like the cartoon Porky Pig. Aníbal López, the controversial Guatemalan artist who died recently, knew this well. And it was he who brought ‘Hugo’ to Milan’s Prometeo art gallery where, over the course of several days, visitors could play with the piglet, feed the piglet, and stroke the piglet as if he were some grunting phallus mounted on four hooves.
And then, on the show’s opening day – the horror! – Hugo was slaughtered, gutted, baked and served up at the opening reception, to the great dismay and revulsion of all of those who had grown fond of him.
The work, which forces the spectator to confront the hidden cruelty of the world of the consumer, and confront his own hypocrisy, is an example of the venomous games that this artist subjected his audiences to.
Aníbal López occupies a place apart among Guatemalan artists. “The Missing Link,” the artist Regina Jose Galindo calls him. In Guatemala, he marks the hinge between modern art and the transition to conceptual art, which tends to be made up of actions, installations, and performances. Lopez heralds and embodies the generation of artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians who, with the end of the civil war in the middle of the 1990s, began to defy the militarized conformity of urban Guatemalan society.
There are only four or five national artists who are really known abroad, about whom books and theses are written. Lopez, who won the Venice Biennial contemporary art exhibition in the category of young artist in 2001, is one of them. An artist who makes use of all of the means at his disposition, even illegal ones, in order to attack the double standards and sentimentality of the public. His work creates discomfort, anxiety, and outrage, even among contemporary art audiences who are accustomed to and look forward to provocations.
“In Guatemala, there are excellent artists doing very good work,” says Thomas Laroche-Joubert, a French artist resident in Guatemala and an expert on trends in global art. “But if you go to Mexico, you are going to run across a dozen people like them, and in China, you’ll find a hundred people doing the same thing. But there are not even two Anibals.”
There are still misconceptions and erroneous and superficial interpretations surrounding Lopez’s art. Many are unable to see anything in his work beyond a series of increasing provocations, or they dismiss it with a definitive “these people don’t know how to come up with anything new anymore.” Others however, appreciate not only Lopez’s subversiveness, but also the sharp formal logic of his work.
As for the man himself, there are probably similar gaps in understanding–between those who knew him little, and only in those final years when alcohol had transformed him into a kind of ill-tempered ghost–and those who knew him better, when Lopez was in full command of himself, who enjoyed his conversation, those who knew that in spite of his contentious and even perhaps conceited personality, he could be very generous and kind with those who mattered to him.
The artist Jorge de Leon remembers the evenings with him. “He would come to the house. We’d drink booze and talk. We talked about politics, cinema, music. As far as music went, he would listen to anything from Tigresa del Oriente to Beethoven, all the way through jazz and rock. They we’d get into visual art and eventually philosophy. It was dope, because it was confrontational.”
Leonel Jurucan, a writer who in the artist’s last years was his secretary, his nurse, and his wingman at bars, describes Lopez’s way of interacting with others as follows: “His motto was that everybody wants to walk all over you, and so he’d be very aggressive from the get-go. He would really piss people off, and he made more than one person cry. But if you stood up to him, and you had good arguments, you would win his respect.”
An artist who couldn’t stand beating around the bush, he made many of his friends think out their work more carefully. “Before I get started on a piece, I have to check and make sure Anibal hasn’t done it already,” says artist Jorge Leon. “There are works that I’ve abandoned because he’d already done them, and his were better thought out and executed. He makes me think more and try harder.” Regina Galindo, the Guatemalan performance artist, remembers: “Anibal was a philosopher. For me, he was an extremely intense learning experience, because he confronted me on everything. He wasn’t my teacher, but he was the closest thing to a teacher I ever had.”
Marginality always marked Aníbal López’s life. He was born in 1964 to a family from San Marcos, one of the first to homestead the vacant land in Mixco that is now the neighborhood of Tierra Nueva [in Guatemala City]. His father was a carpenter and an alcoholic, his mother a seamstress and a victim of the alcoholic who died young.
He had to fend for himself very early. His studies ended in middle school. As soon as he could, he migrated to the US as an illegal. He took jobs as a workman for a Mormon temple and a home remodeling company.
Returning to Guatemala, he enrolled in the National School of Plastic Arts (ENAP); his friends do not recall the exact dates of his studies there. To make a living, he worked for an advertising company and drew stickers for children’s’ albums with themes like “wildlife” and “the human body.” According to Leonel Jurucan, his later series “Ladino Hardware” which shows anatomical images of muscles in the human hand, resulted from this experience.
At ENAP, he was bored. Other than Dagoberto Vazquez, not a single professor there had anything useful to share with the students, he would later tell Rosina Cazali in an interview. He started hanging out with gallery owners, and with artists like Moises Barrios. His first solo exhibition, at the beginning of the 1990s, was planned to last only a single night. The owner of the El Sereno Gallery, in the capital’s Old City, could not stomach looking for any longer than that, at his collection of pictures of Saints, Virgins and Christs painted as if they were fashion models or style icons. “It was a way of mythologizing big brands, as well as a reflection on bisexuality,” the curator Rosina Cazali says of the show.
These were learning years for the young artist. Anibal was reading frenetically. Wittgenstein and Foucault became his writers of reference. “He realized the importance of readings and theory for an artist,” Cazali says.
His learning period culminated in Mexico, where he lived for a while with his first wife, the anthropologist Ligia Pelaez. There he became close to the dynamic artistic movements at play in Mexico City and became friends with the prominent Spanish artist Santiago Serra. “He came back to Guatemala transformed,” Cazali remembers. “He no longer would allow you to get away with a superficial analysis of artistic works. He was very confrontational, but he had the tools to be that way.”
Some forty or fifty people are present at the Los Cipreses funeral home on vigil with the body of Aníbal López. The majority are artists and writers. There is real sorrow here, a communion of pain and friendship unaccustomed among these people who are usually an archipelago of isolated egos. The writer Leonel Jurucan, one of those who seem most affected by the death of Lopez, is talking with the artist Yasmin Hage a few steps from the coffin.
“As artists, I feel like we are always being pushed to go farther, push the limits further, until we destroy ourselves,” Hage tells him.
“It’s true,” Jurucan says, a bit frenzied. “They want you to kill yourself. That’s what they want, for you to kill yourself to prove that all this shit is just not working.”
“Even between artists, there is a kind of callousness,” says Hage. “You can’t say this or that is very nice, because immediately they’ll tag you as corny or kitschy. Everything has to be hard, violent, dark. It feels like what they want is that you throw yourself out a window and document your corpse splattered on the cement.”
Lopez’s two young children chase each other through the hallways, tumbling over each other, fighting, complaining to their mother. Every once in a while they stop to peer through the window of the casket.
A group of Mormons cluster together in the chapel. A year before dying, Lopez and his partner Jennifer Paiz joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Every week they went to services. Anibal sang baritone in the temple’s choir. From the congregation they both received assistance that was very much needed given the declining health of the artist.
The Mormons are a powerful contrast with the crowd of bohemians. Water and oil. The believers sing hymns and praises in the chapel while the artists remain on the outskirts, in the outdoor corridors of the funeral home.
Abruptly though, the poet Simon Pedroza and the filmmaker Sergio Valdes burst into the chapel through the singers, as if determined to seize the lost territory. Pedrozo begins reading poems in his punk style, followed by Alejandro Marre, while Valdes flails on an out-of-tune guitar. The Mormons fall silent, waiting without complaint for the improvised performance to end, and when the poets and their audience retire from the room, lift their prayers again.
The next day, the day of the burial, water and oil continue not mixing. It is difficult to even believe that these two communities are here for the same interment. Lopez is buried in a tomb at the back of Los Cipreses cemetery. The dizzying Belice Bridge, behind it a mountain covered with farm fields, a highway snaking up out of the canyon, and the immense galleries of tombs arrayed under a sky of clouds charged with storm, all form a fantastical backdrop which would surely have pleased the artist.
There are speeches. Andreas, the oldest son of Lopez and his first wife, now a young man of 24 with an intelligent gaze, remembers that when they lived together, his father would ask him questions, and nothing but questions, instead of explaining or demonstrating things to him. Leonel Jurucan, between sobs, reads a short homage to the artist: “He has died like most of the great men who had the courage to love this country, broken, when they were not simply disappeared.” The Mormons sing a little bit, and their bishop offers some words that seem impersonal, as if he did not know the dead man very well. He even goes so far as to emphasize the ‘humility’ of Lopez; a humility which clearly formed no part of the dead artist’s defects.
Regina Galindo approaches the coffin. She pours out a bottle of whiskey on it. A bit of the liquor remains in the bottom of the bottle, and the artist slurps it down, weeping, before the unmoving gaze of the gravediggers. The Mormons will later complain to the artist about her sacrilegious and inexplicable behavior.
The 20th century draws to a close. Aníbal López has twice in a row, in 1994 and 1996 won the Paiz Biennial Art Exhibition. He could certainly keep on painting the canvases which have won him a certain amount of recognition in Guatemala. But no. He needs to seek out other mediums: he understands that painting “is not enough if you want to speak to people, it is not the most appropriate language to think and express yourself,” as he says in a 2011 interview with the Spanish Cultural Center.
A language that he does consider appropriate is that of ‘urban interventions.’ To his friend Leonel Jurucan he announces: “Well, they’ve signed the peace treaty. Which means that if we do things in public, they’re not going to beat our asses. Let’s demonstrate it.”
One of the demonstrations, perhaps the most extreme one, is carried out on the 30th of June, Army Day, 2000. At dawn, he spreads charcoal all along 6th Avenue, where the traditional military parade is going to pass. The charcoal is swept away before the parade, but traces of it remain, and the soldiers have to march over them. This work’s documentation, photographs of the parade and the boot tracks in the charcoal, are entered in the Venice Biennial and win him the Golden Lion in the category of young artist.
The work is an allusion, as the jury understands it, to the country’s devastated landscape, to its mass graves of burned corpses, to the massacres carried out by the same men who parade over it, swollen with patriotic pride.
There are other notable urban interventions, like the one called “One Ton of Books Dumped on Reforma Avenue,” in which a dump truck drops a ton of books in the middle of the avenue, obstructing traffic and inviting pedestrians to search out, in the heap, works of interest. The extraordinary “Ribbon of Black Plastic 120 Meters Long and 4 Wide Hung From Incienso Bridge” is his personal protest in 2003 against the participation of Rios Montt [former general and president convicted of war crimes]in the presidential elections of that year, a work which also recapitulates the living conditions of the neighborhoods that perch on the edges of the city’s ravines.
Systematically, Lopez attacks the moral values of Guatemalan society, demonstrating the country’s crudest and most violent sides. The climactic work of this facet of his efforts is “The Loan,” presented in the Context gallery in 2000. The work consists of nothing but a simple text printed on a vinyl sheet, which begins with these sentences: “On the 29th of September, 2000, I carried out an action which consisted of mugging [at gunpoint]a person of middle class appearance.” What follows is a description of the victim, Lopez’s modus operandi, and the amount robbed, 874.35 quetzales [$115]. It ends noting that the wine that spectators are drinking was purchased with the stolen money.
“In the face of the magnitude of this work, no one was able to even react at the time,” the curator Rosina Cazali, present at the opening, remembers. “’Now what, Anibal? Are you going to kidnap and murder us to make art?’ was the first thing anyone said, another artist. The work just transgressed all of the moral codes, and moreover turned all of the spectators into accomplices of a sort in the robbery.” On the subject of “The Loan,” Lopez says in his interview with the Spanish Cultural Center, that “The worst part was that no one reported it. People just drank their wine, and the wine meant complicity. Nobody is safe, least of all the artist. I feel that I offered up a sacrifice, because I still feel guilty [about this urban intervention], it still pains me, it was something really powerful, to say that an artist does not have the right to just get away with anything.”
“The Loan” also transgressed the formal codes of visual art: a simple text without photos or any other documentation affirming that a certain action was carried out. Whether it happened or not, nobody could testify. But nevertheless, the work stays fixed in the mind of the viewer, isolating him with his doubts and questions. What arises, according to Cazali, is an involuntary and perverse hope, like a fantasy, that the robbery really did take place.
With the rhythm of a machinegun Lopez keeps producing works and scandals. His actions and his pieces highlight certain aspects of the economy, like exclusion, or the possibility of hiring someone to literally any task. “The Dinner” (2000) involves a beggar having a meal in the gallery during the October Festival, served by an impeccable waiter from Altuna restaurant. “The Beautiful People” [titled in English]is a show watched over by security guards who only permit entry to people they consider good looking. In “Personal Defense Weapon,” (2005), a con man from the city’s central park sells stones to pedestrians with striking success, arguing that they are they are an effective weapon against crime. In “See You at the Top” [in English], a beggar walks around New York’s Wall Street wearing a sandwich board which in English says “See you at the top” and “Those Who Persevere Will Acquire.”In Lacandon (2006), an Indigenous man from the Lacandon jungle region poses for an entire day as if he were an object on display in a museum, next to a placard explaining what a Lacandon Indian is.
His work opens him doors at the biggest global contemporary art shows. A-1 53167, his identity card number with which he signs his work, as if trying to confound the very idea of identity, ends up becoming a recognizable brand in the art world.
His unmistakable figure, tall in stature, robust, with a salt-and-pepper goatee, thinning long hair combed back, enormous black plastic eyeglasses, becomes commonplace in large gatherings of artists. His works sell for 30 or 40 thousand dollars. He might have lived on his work in any great city. But he remains in his own country, land of his most deeply rooted hatreds and loves. He never stops being marginal. He affirms, loud and clear, that the national reality has no effect on him. He thinks himself unconquerable, invulnerable.
Guatemala takes charge of showing him how wrong he is.
“There are blows in life, so powerful…I don’t know!” The famous opening line of The Black Heralds by Cesar Vallejo well applies to the last years of Aníbal López. The fact is that in 2007, we find an artist at the height of his creativity, producing work almost without rest. That year, when he and Jennifer Paiz get together, Lopez is living and working with discipline in a well-appointed studio in the city’s Zona 9. Mornings, he jogs on the Avenue of the Americas, sometimes carrying a video camera to film the awakening city.
In 2008, something breaks in him. Lopez plunges into a profound alcohol addiction. “He had this new passion, alcohol, and his principal passion stopped being art. Alcohol changed him,” says Regina Galindo.
Life’s blows rain down one after another on the artist, deepening his depression and his addiction. First, there is the death of his father by alcoholism, which seems to mark him as already condemned to the same fatal destiny. Later a brother dies. Simultaneously there are anxieties brought on by another brother, a small-time drug dealer in Tierra Nueva who goes to prison and is then extorted mercilessly inside by gangsters. Lopez, with all the money problems already besieging him, pays again and again to save his brother’s skin. In 2012, just after being freed from jail, the brother is murdered in Tierra Nueva, his body dismembered and scattered around the neighborhood; a message. Lopez becomes the last surviving member of his family.
It is from this period that his show “Anthology of Violence” emerges; a series of handicrafts in clay that present scenes of daily life in Guatemala: hired killers firing on a bus; rescue workers extracting human body parts from a tunnel, a police patrol car smashing into a wall.
Money problems force the family, with three small children, to roam from place to place: cheap rooms, friends’ houses, hotels, a sordid tenement in front of the General Hospital. The artist disappears frequently, to reappear drunk lying on a sidewalk or on a hospital gurney. He drinks whatever he can; Jaguar aguardiente, rubbing alcohol, whatever his friends will give him. His health collapses. His work turns melancholy; there is a series of canvases painted in blood, vomit and feces, and another series called “Urban Trees” in which he paints, as if he were a novice, a series of humble, almost beggarly trees, isolated. It is a reference to a psychological test in which the subject is profiled by having him draw a tree. In one of them, the tree top is made with the business cards of gallery owners from around the world, as if trying to show the silliness of building networks of contacts.
In 2012, he is invited to the dOCUMENTA show in Kassel, Germany, the world’s most important contemporary art event, which takes place once every five years. For any artist, this is rapturous, the culmination of a career. Lopez, depressed, ill, with problems at home, is incapable of even enjoying the commotion his work causes.
He brings with him to Kassel a hit man. “Testament,” the work’s title, presents the killer for hire behind a curtain which only allows his silhouette to be seen, to answer questions from the public. “Do you believe in God?,” “Do you enjoy your work?,””Do you have nightmares about the people you murder?” are some of the concerns that the killer responds to.
The work turns on its author. An hit man with whom Lopez had been in contact previously starts extorting the artist when he isn’t the one chosen for the trip. The family has to take refuge in a house Guatemala City’s old city, and later in a room in the Pasaje Rubio.
In spite of his illness, he does not stop creating, both pictures, as in the beginning of his career, as well as actions. His last action, in Italy, is a soldier manipulating a loaded gun in front of the public. He returns from this trip in bad shape.
A-1 53167 breathed his last on September 26, 2014. He approached life, art, and his contemporaries without making any concession. And he received in recompense no concessions. His death, his methodical and resolute self-destruction, perhaps was trying to tell us something as well; something dark, terrifying, insidious, something that is as present in the bars as it is in the churches, on the buses, in residential neighborhoods and down in the ravines, in the courtrooms and the maquila factories, and even in the art galleries.
Reportage by Sebastian Escalon for Plaza Publica. Translated from Spanish by International Boulevard.
The exhibition Aníbal López is co-organized with Yaxs Foundation & Central American Biennial. The opening takes place on August 31st from 12-8pm at Despacio. Afterwords the exhibition is open Fridays and Saturdays 2–7pm through September 30th, 2016. In October, the exhibition will travel to Yaxs Foundation in Guatemala.
Credits for photos and videos used online: Soldado, 2014: film Centrale Fies (Live Works Performance Act Award Vol.2), Prometeo Gallery (Ida Pisani); photo by Sara Bugoloni for Prometeo Gallery // Tonelada, 2003: film published by Art Bus; photo by Prometeo Gallery // Hugo, 2007: Prometeo Gallery, published by International Boulevard // 30 June, 2000: Prometeo Gallery, published by Abstraction in Action // Lacandon, 2006: film: Fundacion Televisa; photo Prometeo Gallery // Economía Informal, 2011: photo published by William Yac Son // El prestamo, 2000: photo by Selene Mejía for Soy502, video by Centro Cultural de España (entire video) // Testimonio, 2012: dOCUMENTA; photo by Elisa Penagini // La distancia entre dos puntos, 2002: Sol del Rió Arte Contemporánea and Prometeo Gallery
When his actions are directed towards the specific reality of contemporary art and its related fields, languages, communities, and venues , Moor’s investigations are almost epidermal, embracing art conceptually and physically. His exhibition at Despacio, entitled Heirlooms, advances this position further, with a special focus on objects that constitute the syntax of what we can call the “art language.”
The exhibition runs from July 28th until August 20th 2016 at Despacio in San José, Costa Rica. The opening takes place on July 28th from 6pm - 9pm at Despacio. (FB Event)
As part of the exhibition Sabrina Röthlisberger Belkacem (LGG$B, Geneva) organized the evening Hija de la luna on August 5th.
Florence Jung is an artist, kidnapper, Disney princess, luxury goods smuggler, chicken forger, punk stripper, crook, dead academic painter, Marxist nail stylist, clandestine street seller... But what is tragic – she says – is the impossibility of being someone else.
Don Quixote is a gentleman who one day decided to become an heroic knight in Spain. Florence Jung takes on the quest to make Don Quixote disappear from Costa Rica: buying all the copies in all the bookstores, borrowing all the copies from all the libraries and offering to buy people’s personal copies. This singular one-book library is now hidden in a secret place in San José.
The book you have in your hands is a rare exercise of reinvention—a collection of one and the same book, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, a crucial text for the Spanish language and obligatory reading in the school curricula, even in Costa Rica.
The book you have in your hands is a rare exercise of reinvention—a collection of one and the same book, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, a crucial text for the Spanish language and obligatory reading in the school curricula, even in Costa Rica.
Collecting all existing copies of the book is both a way of breaking the colonial phantom of the language and its origin, Spain, and a way of constituting a singular library, where one can only read that text. Then another book is produced, one that does not actually refer to the classic text but to the covers of its different editions.
The covers are text, a continuous exercise in interpreting the figure of Don Quixote and Sancho. Flipping through them, they aim to activate the imagination regarding the text, its cultural status, its philosophy, and its relationship to the practice of art today. The sum of the library and the book of covers prefigure a kind of artistic research concerned with the transcendental conditions of knowledge, that is, with the a priori that make possible empirical knowledge in general and artistic knowledge in particular. What is still knowable? How can the relations between ideas and things, ideas and ideas, things and things, things and beings, beings and ideas, beings and creatures be challenged? Speculation is a possible method.
It is not by chance that Florence Jung decided to study this pioneer Modern “novel.” It has to do with a key question we need to confront again and anew: the production of the possible. To speculate is to let the imagination take a place in our working methodology. What distinguishes an artistic practice that undertakes the risk of engaging in speculation—as a method rather than an idle diversion—is its capacity to make clear that the reality of the empirical existence of things and beings is nothing without the irreality of its value.
There is no purpose for art, but it is its force, its movement, as Deleuze would put it, towards the irreal that makes thinking possible. Producing new hypotheses is crucial to culture. Space is not the result of critical reason (rather, critical reason produces diagnostics), since space only mirrors an already existing space. But by provoking the appearance of a different logic, critical reason will help us to relate differently to the real.
This project constitutes, as well, a strange colonial to postcolonial exercise. El Quijote, as a mandatory reading in the schools, not only in Central America but in Spain and many of the Spanish-speaking countries, is not a novel any more but a vehicle of a norm: how to speak and how to feel Spanish. Therefore, collecting these text-novel books constitutes an act of freedom and also, by concentrating on their covers, a liberating library, since the images and not the words take the central position.
This book of covers, this library-exhibition represented a wish to turn art into a mandate of the general will and common good by reflecting differently on the past and the nature of a commonality: the language. It takes to almost wild lengths the idea of service (a public library), of mediation, to a public in transit through a familiar substance—a book they all read or should have read in school—teeming with aesthetic and political redundancies, in order to boost to the full the idea of a single culture, of society as a contract that we must all comply with, of a wish to bow to a common good defined by a group in a historical and economic context that is now increasingly remote and which, for this very reason, is more present in a type of intellectual life akin to a mediocre imagination and ready to believe that things will go back to being “like before.”
The importance of this exhibition, in my view, lies in the exuberance with which the artist arranged all the elements that conditioned the mechanisms of trust in a reading of cultural bonding that remains capable of generating an idea of continuity. The ultimate value of this exercise lies in its ability to situate all the cultural apparatus that surrounds an event—the collecting of a book—in a place in which this ingenuous gesture will be able to make the machine function at unexpected maximum. This produces an idea of a new cultural exuberance that reveals the absolute apex of our humanist ideas of the common good, but which also pushes us, if not today, then in a tomorrow yet to come, to find a way of contradicting it.
Text by Chus Martínez. Born in Spain, Martínez has a background in philosophy and art history. Currently she is the Head of the Institute of Art of the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel, Switzerland. Before she was the Chief Curator at El Museo del Barrio, New York, and dOCUMENTA (13) Head of Department and Member of Core Agent Group.