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Untold Stories

Voyage without Geography

Federico's Studio

Life—or what we generally understand it to be—is a series of moments. There are the rare loud instants and the occasional quiet breaths, but mostly the moments are scarcely audible. Often, is it these seemingly unremarkable moments, ones which are neither preceded by forethought nor directly followed by reflection, that mark the beginning of change.

Essay about Federico Herrero.


Read the essay in German: Reise ohne Geografie (below)

Voyage without Geography

Federico Herrero in Costa Rica

Life—or what we generally understand it to be—is a series of moments. There are the rare loud instants and the occasional quiet breaths, but mostly the moments are scarcely audible. Often, is it these seemingly unremarkable moments, ones which are neither preceded by forethought nor directly followed by reflection, that mark the beginning of change.

What follows is an attempt at tracing the unremarkable moments in the life of Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero , who has for almost two decades resolutely sought these kinds of instances, enjoyed them quietly, and transposed them into a powerful, unbounded pictorial space like no one has done before. Serene and unhurried, Herrero translates everyday life into art, achieving a refreshing deceleration in an increasingly fast-paced art world.

There is no need to brave Costa Rica’s tropical heat to enjoy Herrero’s art. His expansive paintings have been gracing the walls of the world’s most important museums and art fairs with their unmistakable radiance for years. Because of this, I was all the more surprised when I met him for the first time at Zurich’s airport to pick him up for an exhibition. Here was a shy, thoughtful individual who introduced himself as reticently as a humble house painter reporting for work. It was as though he hadn’t at all noticed that the art world—or at the very least those who are widely considered representatives of the community—regard him as one of Latin America’s most important artists.

This rise to acclaim was marked by the 2001 Venice Biennale. There, at the age of 23, he was honored with the Special Prize for Young Artists. This distinction was also preceded by a thoroughly unspectacular moment. If the following anecdote behind this prize were to be given a tabloid headline, it might read: Super-Über-Curator Breaks a Sweat in the Tropics. However, reality is rarely ever able to keep up with the thirst for sensationalism.

It began in 2000, when Swiss curator Harald Szeemann travelled to Costa Rica. While he had long since taken his place on the Olympus of Western art history, by then just the smallest echo of his name had reached the tropics and only within the most European-oriented artistic circles.

In fact, I imagine Szeemann’s visit to the local studio, where he had been invited by the curator Virginia Pérez-Ratton, as rather uneventful. Those of you picturing a momentous encounter of the ostensibly unknown curator with the young, Costa Rican artist in a sun-filled studio are in for a disappointment. There was no meeting, not yet, because Herrero was out.

The story ends even more unspectacularly in a storage room on the lower level of a gallery in the Costa Rican capital of San José. Szeemann was visiting Jacob Karpio, head of what was then the country’s only internationally-oriented art gallery, where a handful of Herrero’s paintings still lingered following a long concluded exhibition.

Karpio recalls how Szeemann drank in one of the colorful painting before declaring he had not been thus stirred by a piece since his first look at a work by Willem de Kooning, one of Abstract Expressionism’s most important protagonists. Two weeks later, the Szeemann called from Europe. Although the list of artists had already been finalized for the upcoming Venice Biennale, which he was curating, he wanted to add Herrero nonetheless. And thus, Szeemann spontaneously invited Federico Herrero to Venice.

For Herrero, Italy’s northeastern city on the lagoon would become the starting point of his voyage of discovery. This is where he first encountered the Western European art circus, a circus which had up to that point only rarely made stops in Costa Rica. Earning the distinction of the best young artist at the Biennale crowned this opening scene.

Federico Herrero with Harald Szeemann
Herrero with Harald Szeemann, Venice 2001

An unexpected increase in attention would cause a shift in the reality and dreams of any young artist. This was certainly the case for the young Herrero. While he went on painting continuously in his studio, he also began travelling the world with his roller and brush, creating wall paintings and other site-specific works commissioned by public collections and institutions (as a matter of principle, he refused to do the same for private collections). However, it was not just the artist who had to learn to deal with an increase in attention. The galleries also had to learn to work with someone who largely avoided the limelight and was sometimes even too shy to appear at his own exhibition openings, much to the surprise of all his collectors and friends. He would often to do things like explore the city alone on foot instead.

He recently assured me that he has since learned to be present for openings.

The artist has never much considered shifting the focal point of his life to the places where his paintings hang on the walls of collectors and private institutions an option. The one exception was his moving to New York, where he went to study. However, this attempt at a life away from his homeland was broken off after just one semester when he began to realize that the art world coupled with the art market represented an equation that just didn’t add up for him.

Creating art requires time for quiet reflection and rest—a combined harmony only rarely found in New York, the city that never sleeps. As such, his further trips abroad have been more like strolls in the fresh air, always ending where they begin: en su casa in Costa Rica.

Federico Herrero at home
Federico Herrero at home, 2017

Two fundamentally different dispositions can often be identified among artists. Some travel around the world and find inspiration for their work in the constant changing and shifting in the focal points of their lives. Travel as the fertile source of all experiences, detachment as the essence of freedom, memories as the waypoints of life.

This is a contemporary life model sustained by the kind of progress that is often glorified and better suited for the accelerated rhythm of everyday life. Standing still is seen as an unproductive doldrum; like boredom, it is scarcely endurable.

For me, Herrero is an exemplary embodiment of the second type of artist, who find themselves on an entirely different journey. They are on their way to themselves, on a voyage without geography, without tangible distance, but with a clear destination. This path progresses not by way of accumulation and diversity, but by way of reduction and routine. It is a movement sustained by moments of calm.

Most writers presumably know moments of this kind: lonely thoughts that form slowly and quietly, taking shape only when they are assembled in sequence. It is in this way that, over time, a profoundly independent artist can emerge, one who is able to escape outside appropriations of his or her work.

Federico Herrero sweeping the floor

Anyone who visits Herrero, walks through his round front door, and spends a night in his unconventional house will know the calm of which I speak, the calm of the routine. It comes in many forms, such as the gentle caressing sounds that can be heard in the early morning, just audible enough to stir guests from their sleep. Those who track down the source of this rustling will find the painter, broom in hand, carrying out his morning ritual of gathering leaves and petals from the patio. Day in and day out, Herrero happily goes over this surface with systematic sweeping motions, like a warm-up exercise for the brush strokes to come.

The leaves and petals fall from the overgrown garden that separates the house from the studio. Like a little rain forest, it provides shade for the latter and, as the sun travels across the sky, it conjures up a captivating shadow theater that incorporates its surroundings, the impression of which can often be recognized in Herrero’s works.

Only a garage door indicates the studio’s original function. Like the house, it is furnished in a manner that we could call extremely minimalistic—or simply humble. Its luxury consists solely in the space and light that enable him to work simultaneously on multiple large-scale paintings.

Studio of Federico Herrero, Costa Rica
Federico Herrero's studio in Costa Rica, 2017

While verbal language serves to bring order to the world around us, Herrero’s unmistakable formal language serves the order of his own mental world and his observations from everyday life.

Colorful fields of neighboring, delimiting, and overlapping hues develop out of the fleeting encounters of shapes and colors. If we take the works’ titles into account, they often permit semi-abstract inferences based on the artist’s unique projections. These are not forced on us. At most, they are gentle suggestions.

Anyone comparing Herrero’s works from the last decade will note the great subtlety of the interaction between their precisely defined vocabulary and the dynamic syntax within which it is utilized.

Herrero’s inventiveness within his self-imposed limitations of color and form is consistently astounding. What looks random is in actuality derived from a regimen that has been nurtured by the artist’s intuition for years. Through this, Herrero always begins from a perspective of unbounded pictorial space, where memories and fantasies are united and images are permitted to remove themselves from any kind of pattern, often transcending the confines of the canvas.

In this way, his paintings become installations that fill entire rooms, spreading across walls, floors, and ceilings, ultimately vibrantly fusing site and work.

It is as if the artist were rebelling against the canvas itself in order to find his way back to the elemental originality of painting—painting that is not defined by what it depicts and how but thrives instead on the substance of individual elements and their interrelationships.

Those who are aware of Herrero’s art and attentively make their way through everyday life will sooner or later find themselves reminded of his paintings in increasingly unexpected places.

These are places the artist has never visited and never painted: urban areas, namely, which seem to exist only when observed. Hidden corners behind buildings, unremarkable curbs in parking lots, plain facades and surfaces where colorful harmonious forms present themselves only to those who are mindful enough to see them. Witnesses to their time, whose existence is pure happenstance. They nonetheless harbor stories we can only guess at.

It is through observations of precisely this kind that we arrange and prepare the world for ourselves, shifting our focus to what would otherwise have escaped just beyond the limits of our attention. In this way, a distinctive form of knowledge and orientation develops, which—like Herrero's art—shifts the processes of vision into the foreground. And it is precisely there where we are constantly moving and getting lost: in the realm of everyday life.

Reise ohne Geografie

Federico Herrero in Costa Rica

Jedes Leben – oder das, was wir gemeinhin darunter verstehen – ist eine Abfolge von Momenten. Von seltenen lauten Momenten, manchmal leisen Atemzügen, aber meistens von kaum hörbaren Augenblicken. Oft sind es gerade die vermeintlich unscheinbaren Momente, welche am Anfang einer Veränderung stehen. Momente, denen weder ein Mitteilungsbedürfnis vorausgeht noch unmittelbar eines folgt.

Der vorliegende Essay begibt sich auf eine Spurensuche nach den unscheinbaren Momenten im Leben des costa-ricanischen Künstlers Federico Herrero , der wie kein Zweiter genau solche entschlossen sucht und findet, sie leise geniesst und seit fast zwei Jahrzehnten in einen eindrücklichen Bildraum ohne Grenzen überführt. Gänzlich unaufgeregt und ohne Zeitdruck übersetzt Herrero den Alltag in die Kunst, stellvertretend für eine lang ersehnte Entschleunigung in der Kunstwelt.

Um Herreros Kunst zu sehen, muss man nicht ins tropisch heisse Costa Rica reisen. Seine grossflächige Malerei strahlt uns seit Jahren unverkennbar von den Wänden der wichtigsten Museen und Kunstmessen der Welt entgegen. Ich war umso erstaunter, als ich Herrero das erste Mal am Flughafen in Zürich für eine Ausstellung empfing: eine schüchterne, bedachte Persönlichkeit, die sich zurückhaltend vorstellte, als würde sich der Mitarbeiter eines Malergeschäfts zur Arbeit melden. Als hätte er nicht mitbekommen, dass die Kunstwelt – oder alle, die stellvertretend für die Gemeinschaft sprechen und gehört werden – ihn mittlerweile zu den bedeutendsten Künstlern Lateinamerikas zählt.

Eine Entwicklung, die auf der Biennale in Venedig 2001 ihren Lauf nahm, als er 23-jährig mit dem Spezialpreis für junge Künstler geehrt wurde. Auch dieser Ehrung geht ein ganz schön unspektakulärer Moment voraus. Und zwar in Form einer Anekdote, die man schlagzeilengerecht etwa so formulieren könnte: Superüberszene-Kurator kommt in den Tropen ins Schwitzen. Aber eben, die Sensationslust wird von der Realität nur allzu selten eingeholt.

Im Jahr 2000 reiste Harald Szeemann nach Costa Rica. Während der Kurator mit Schweizer Wurzeln längst im Olymp der westlichen Kunstgeschichte Aufnahme gefunden und Platz genommen hatte, erzeugte sein Name in den Tropen damals noch kaum ein Echo, zumindest nicht ausserhalb der europaorientierten Künstlerzirkel.

Ja, fast geräuschlos stelle ich mir die Atelierbesuche in Costa Rica vor, die Szeemann auf Einladung der Kuratorin Virginia Pérez-Ratton unternahm. Wer sich nun ausmalt, wie der vermeintlich unbekannte Kurator und der lokale Künstler Federico Herrero in einem sonnendurchfluteten Studio aufeinandertrafen, den muss ich enttäuschen. Zu einer Begegnung kam es nicht – noch nicht –, denn Herrero war gerade unterwegs.

So beginnt und endet die Geschichte viel unspektakulärer. In einem Lagerraum im Untergeschoss einer Galerie in San José. Szeemann besuchte dort Jacob Karpio, der damals die einzige international ausgerichtete Kunstgalerie in Costa Rica führte. Da lagerten von einer längst vergangenen Ausstellung einige wenige Bilder von Herrero.

Karpio erinnert sich, wie Szeemann die farbenfrohe Malerei verinnerlichte und kurzum bekannte: er nehme eine Wirkung wahr, die er bisher nur beim erstmaligen Anblick eines Werks von Willem de Kooning – einem der bedeutendsten Vertreter des abstrakten Expressionismus – kannte. Zwei Wochen später kam ein Anruf des Kurators aus Europa: Die Liste der teilnehmenden Künstler für die von ihm kuratierte Biennale von Venedig sei zwar bereits gesetzt, doch möchte er unbedingt noch Herrero hinzufügen. Und so lud er ihn kurzerhand nach Venedig ein.

Für Herrero sollte die Lagunenstadt im Nordosten Italiens zum Ausgangspunkt einer Entdeckungsreise werden. Hier traf seine Kunst erstmals auf den westlich-europäischen Kunstzirkus. Ein Zirkus, der bis dahin in Costa Rica eher selten Halt machte. Die Auszeichnung zum besten jungen Künstler der Biennale krönte den Auftakt.

Federico Herrero mit Harald Szeemann
Herrero mit Harald Szeemann, Venedig 2001

Eine unverhofft gesteigerte Aufmerksamkeit mag die Realitäten und Träume eines jeden jungen Künstlers verschieben. Sicherlich auch die des jungen Herrero, der einerseits im Studio kontinuierlich weiter malte und andererseits für Wandmalereien und andere ortsspezifische Werke im Auftrag von öffentlichen Sammlungen und Institutionen mit Farbroller und Pinsel die Welt bereiste (für private Sammlungen weigert er sich prinzipiell, ortsspezifische Werke zu schaffen). Doch nicht nur der Künstler musste lernen, mit der gesteigerten Aufmerksamkeit umzugehen, auch die Galerien mussten lernen, mit einem Künstler zusammenzuarbeiten, der das Rampenlicht weitgehend meidet und auch schon mal bei eigenen Ausstellungseröffnungen – zur Überraschung aller Sammler und Freunde – schlicht nicht auftaucht und stattdessen etwa lieber zu Fuss und ganz alleine die Stadt erkundet.

Mittlerweile habe er gelernt, bei Eröffnungen anwesend zu sein, versicherte er mir letzthin.

Seinen Lebensmittelpunkt dahin zu verschieben, wo seine Bilder an den Wänden von Sammlern und Institutionen hängen, schien für den Künstler nie eine Option zu sein. Bis auf einen Studienaufenthalt in New York. Der Versuch eines Lebens ausserhalb der Heimat endete jedoch vorzeitig. Nach einem Semester. Begründet in der Erkenntnis, dass die Kunstwelt gekoppelt mit dem Kunstmarkt eine Gleichung darstellt, die für ihn so nicht aufgeht.

Sein Kunstschaffen braucht Zeit und Ruhe. Eine Kombination, die in New York nur selten als Einklang ertönt. So gleichen bis heute alle seine Reisen ins Ausland Spaziergängen an der frischen Luft, die immer wieder da enden, wo sie beginnen: en su casa in Costa Rica.

Nicht selten lassen sich bei Künstlern und Künstlerinnen zwei grundverschiedene Gesinnungen ausmachen. Die einen reisen um die Welt und finden in der stetigen Veränderung und Verschiebung des Lebensmittelpunkts die Inspiration für ihr Schaffen. Die Reise als Nährboden aller Erfahrungen. Die Losgelöstheit als Inbegriff der Freiheit. Die Erinnerungen als Wegpunkte des Lebens.

Federico Herrero at home
Federico Herrero zu Hause, 2017

Es ist dies ein zeitgenössisches Lebensmodell, das sich vom oft gepredigten Fortschritt ernährt und sich einreiht in die beschleunigte Taktung des Alltags. Stillstehen als unproduktive Windstille, die wie die Langeweile nur schwer zu ertragen ist.

Herrero verkörpert für mich geradezu musterhaft den zweiten Typus von Kunstschaffenden, die sich auf einer ganz anderen Reise befinden. Sie scheinen unterwegs zu sein zu sich selbst, auf einer Reise ohne Geografie, ohne lesbare Distanz, aber mit einer klaren Destination. Dieser Weg führt nicht über Akkumulation und Diversität, sondern über Reduktion und Routine. Es ist eine Reise, die von ruhigen Momenten lebt.

Momente, wie sie die meisten Schriftsteller kennen dürften. Einsame Gedanken, die sich nur langsam und leise formen und erst aneinandergereiht Gestalt annehmen. Erst so entsteht über die Zeit ein zutiefst eigenständiger Künstler, der sich äusseren Vereinnahmungen zu entziehen vermag.

Federico Herrero sweeping the floor

Wer bei Herrero zu Besuch ist und in dem unkonventionellen Haus mit der runden Eingangstür nächtigt, weiss, was die Ruhe bricht. Es ist die Routine. Beispielsweise ein sanft streichendes Geräusch, das frühmorgens die Gäste aus dem Schlaf weckt. Wer dem Geraschel folgt, findet den Maler mit dem Besen in der Hand beim morgendlichen Zusammenkehren von Blättern und Blüten auf dem Vorplatz des Hauses. Tag für Tag. Als wäre es eine Aufwärmübung vor dem Malen, bearbeitet Herrero die Fläche vergnügt mit systematischen Wischbewegungen.

Die Blätter und Blüten fallen vom überwachsenen Garten, der das Haus vom Atelier trennt. Wie ein kleiner Regenwald spendet er diesem Schatten und zaubert im Verlauf des Sonnenstands auf alles Umliegende ein eindrückliches Schattenspiel, das man oft auch in Herreros Werken wiedererkennt.

Lediglich ein Garagentor zeugt von der ursprünglichen Funktion des Ateliers, welches wie das Haus äusserst minimalistisch – oder sagen wir bescheiden – eingerichtet ist. Der Luxus besteht einzig im Raum und Licht, die es erlauben, gleichzeitig an mehreren grossformatigen Gemälden zu arbeiten.

Atelier von Federico Herrero, Costa Rica
Federico Herreros Atelier in Costa Rica, 2017

Während uns die Sprache zum Ordnen der uns umgebenden Welt dient, so dient Herreros unverwechselbare Formsprache der Ordnung seiner eigenen Gedankenwelt und seiner Beobachtungen aus dem Alltag.

Aus Formen und Farben, die flüchtig aufeinandertreffen, entstehen bunte, sich an- und abgrenzend überlagernde Farbflächen. Bezieht man die Werktitel mit ein, lassen diese oft abstrahierte Rückschlüsse zu, geleitet von den ganz persönlichen Projektionen des Künstlers, die sich nicht aufdrängen, die höchstens angedeutet werden.

Wer Herreros Schaffen über das letzte Jahrzehnt hinweg vergleicht, dem fällt auf, wie subtil das Wechselspiel zwischen dem genau definierten Vokabular und dem dynamischen System ist, in welchem es angewendet wird.

Dabei erstaunt immer wieder Herreros Einfallsreichtum bei der selbst auferlegten Farb- und Formlimitierung. Was zufällig aussieht, entstammt vielmehr einer Routine, die sich über Jahre hinweg an der Intuition des Künstlers nährte. Dabei geht Herrero stets von einem Bildraum ohne Grenzen aus, wo sich Erinnerungen und Fantasien vereinen, sich Darstellungen jeglichem Raster entziehen dürfen und sich oft auch von der Leinwand lösen.

Bilder werden zu raumfüllenden Installationen, die sich auf Wand, Boden und Decke ausdehnen und so letztendlich Ort und Malerei auf belebte Weise fusionieren.

Fast als würde sich der Künstler auflehnen gegen die Leinwand selbst, um zur ureigenen Originalität der Malerei zurückzufinden. Eine Malerei, die sich nicht dadurch definiert, was und wie sie etwas darstellt, sondern vielmehr von der Substanz einzelner Elemente und deren Beziehungen untereinander lebt.

Wer sich mit Herreros Kunst auseinandersetzt und achtsam durch den Alltag wandert, der wird sich früher oder später an ganz ungewöhnlichen und neuen Orten an seine Malerei erinnert fühlen.

Orte, die der Künstler nie besuchte und nie bemalte. Urbane Orte nämlich, die nur existieren, wenn jemand hinschaut. Versteckte Ecken hinter Häusern, unauffällige Bordsteine auf Parkplätzen, unspektakuläre Fassaden und Flächen, auf denen sich – für jene, die darauf achten – farbenfrohe und harmonische Formen und Flächen präsentieren. Zeugen der Zeit, die in ihrer Existenz vielleicht zufällig erscheinen und doch eine Geschichte bergen, die sich nur erahnen lässt.

Es sind genau solche Beobachtungen und Visionen, mit deren Hilfe wir uns die Welt zurechtlegen und ins Zentrum rücken, was uns sonst an den Rändern unserer Aufmerksamkeit entwischt. So entsteht eine eigene Form des Wissens und der Orientierung, die genau wie die Kunst Herreros die Prozesse des Sehens in den Vordergrund rückt. Und zwar genau da, wo wir uns ständig bewegen und verlaufen. Im Alltag.

Federico Herrero publication

The essay has been written by Sandino Scheidegger on the occasion of Federico Herrero’s comprehensive monograph published 2017 by Sies + Höke (Düsseldorf) and Verlag Kettler (Dortmund). Further text contributions by Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, Lisette Lagnado, and Chris Sharp.

Download essay: English, German

Federico Herrero (born 1978) is considered one of the most important contemporary artists in Central America today. He lives and works in Costa Rica. Solo exhibitions were held at La casa encendida, Madrid; 21st Century Art Museum, Kanazawa, Japan; Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; Casa de America, Madrid; Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany and CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco. His work has been featured in group exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, the Havana Biennial or the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York or at the Saatchi Gallery, London. All photos of Herrero by the author, except image with Szeemann (courtesy by the artist).

Naked Fish Festival

ArchivedHappened in April 2017

If Paris were an aquarium, Charly would be its tropical fish, jumping out of the water each night with no one watching. The award-winning fishmonger peddles fish during the day and tours as a drag queen through the French capital’s underground scene at night. Now, for the first time, Charly is crossing the Atlantic to take part in the Despacio performance festival, uniting his many worlds: fresh fish, art performances and queer appearances.


Upon entering Charly’s fish market, situated on a busy Paris street, one quickly observes a universe of dreams and desire: glassy eyes of dead fish stare at you; posters for drag shows paper the walls; a handwritten thank you note from the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, perches alongside his Michelin medal. It’s more than a fish market, it’s a hodgepodge of the various stories life can offer when one's passion is given free reign. It’s a stage, where fish are the props and the clients become the public.

When day turns to night, our fisherman lets his diva emerge, darting like a tropical fish through the underground rivers of Paris. In placing Charly's fish-market at center stage of the festival, Despacio celebrates the grandeur of a man's dreams, desires and duality – each one a stand-in for our own.

On April 29th several international and local artists will turn his shop into an unending stream of performance and fantasy.

From drag shows, musical contributions, theatrical interventions, to long-durational art performances – all will question the roles we tend to play in life, as well as those we tend to ignore. To transgress the rules of society and fashion is to give rise to an inner creativity and break with conformity.

Visitors will bear witness to a real fish-market, one where they can buy fresh fish and see them prepared into meals on-site. For French speakers, there will be plenty of opportunity for conversations with the enigmatic fishmonger. For the non-French speakers, body language will suffice. In Charly's grotto, it's anything goes.

The fish market and performance festival takes place on April 29th 2017 at Despacio. (Facebook Event)

Participating artists: Charly Le Poissonnier, Dino Real, Elyla Sinvergüenza, Javier Calvo, Monsieur Bien, Oscar Ruiz-Schmidt, Señorita Abril, Robertito and more.

Directed by Sandino Scheidegger

This marks the second edition of the festival. It was originally conceived by Sandino Scheidegger for Random Institute and staged in 2014 in Zurich. Credits for drag film: Performer: Elyla Sinverguenza, Camera, Directing and Editing: Guillermo Sáenz, Costume and Styling: Marcus Carmon, Production: Nicholas Blevis & David Torres, Music: Arca - Anoche. Credits for film about Charly in Paris: Camera: Fabian Niklaus, Animation: Raphael Etter, Concept: Leila Hincelin and Sandino Scheidegger. Credits for film about Charly in Costa Rica: Ernesto Varga. Credits for photos of the festival: Juliette Chrétien and Erno Hilarion.


ArchivedHappened in March 2017
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San José

As if it were an appendix of the mothership, Carlos Fernández docks at Despacio a habitat that encapsulates not only his work, but also himself and even a patch of life where each one of us might find ourselves.


Upcoming workshops:
May 27th: Plants Workshop Carlos Fernández & Sergio Rojas Chaves
June 10th: La Mala Mano Farming Workshop with Carlos Fernández

COORDINATES:   9°56′00″N 84°05′00″
OTHER MARKERS:   Avenida Central, Calle 11, San José, Costa Rica
RESOURCES:   canvas, plants, seeds (I), Carlos’s hat (II), soil and chicha (III)
ACTIVATIONS:   pedagogical workshops (IV), funky bar (V), seed exchange (VI), and others, still unknown.

  1. a variety of organic, local seeds for corn, beans, pumpkins, green vegetables, forests, and also many staked plants
  2. hat from the indigenous ngäbe community, with stains from a gallon of paint that fell on it accidentally during one of its many journeys between stations
  3. alcoholic beverage obtained through a process of non-distilled corn fermentation that originated in Central and South America in pre-Columbian times
  4. drawing, botany, and urban crop–design workshops
  5. ludic moments by the heat of chicha, with good friends and music
  6. the seeds come from Carlos’s personal plot, from neighbors’ farms, from urban-agriculture projects in San José, and even from abroad, brought as gifts. The plan is to create a “seed center,” a place where they can be exchanged or given to others to plant, so that their harvests yield seeds that keep nourishing the center, thus paving the way for constant renewal.

This is a real person’s temporary and imaginary work camp. At this station, a series of live elements coexist; they are not the final products but parts of a simmering process. It is also an installation that sustains itself through collective participation and collaboration.

While participating in this experience, the concept of excess provides clues and serves as a common thread: in abundance lies beauty. The plants’ greenness blends with its smells and paintings function as registers of past lessons and future explanations. It is imperative to allow oneself to be enchanted by the layers that coat and recoat every corner—superimposed, hidden information, and the possibility of germination in every square centimeter of the space.

We discover that we can access a fragment of a practice that has long represented not the intermingling of one or two disciplines but rather Carlos’s life itself: his everyday to-and-fro and his passion for agriculture, art, botany, and education. The production of this work represents the search to redefine these practices as well as an act of appropriation.

This station, set at the center of San José, will offer moments for learning, contemplation, and dance. Always in the spirit of exchange—of knowledge and experiences, of seeds and the multiple possibilities between practices that will here appear to overflow and interconnect. There is a subtle but continuous invitation of integration; we are invited to engage in the (self)care inherent to the relationship that we can create with the soil and harvest.

Suddenly, art is life understood through the idea of purpose: of working the soil as if it were a canvas; of generating spaces to share or exhibit beyond the traditional ones. Even of needing to collect and exchange seeds as a reflex of turning the gaze toward the beginning, a gesture that seeks to perpetuate life.

Thoughts by Paula Piedra. Translated by Paula Kupfer.

Carlos Fernández's solo show at Despacio in San José, Costa Rica opens March 23th and runs through April 23th, 2017. (Facebook Event)

The indoor garden that is part of the exhibition will remain throughout 2017 and serve as Despacio’s new central archive.

An Island of Two

ArchivedHappened in March 2017

Twins Jörg and Rolf Fischer are deeply bound to one another by their fate: they were both born deaf and, due to severe diabetes, gradually lost their sight during the course of their lives. Photographer Marlena Waldthausen moved in with Jörg and Rolf to capture one of the most remarkable relationships ever recorded, forged by their love and care for one another, everyday in every way.


Born deaf and now blind, 49-year-old twins Jörg and Rolf Fischer are totally reliant on one another for companionship and communication. They share everything, including a bond that transcends everyday brotherly love.

The brothers experience life very differently from the way most of us do, and that is what makes their relationship so unique. As it is understandably difficult for them to communicate with the outside world, they support each other in their daily lives through their own language and humour.

Jörg is now completely blind. Rolf, who is still partially sighted, tries to support his brother as best as he can. He guides Jörg, even though he does not see the way properly himself. If there is written information, he reads it to Rolf in spite of the great effort.

Photographer Marlena Waldthausen lived with Jörg and Rolf at their care facility and in their parents home for more than 7 months, documenting their bond with her camera and doing her best to learn their language.

This solo exhibition opens on March 23th and runs through April 22nd, 2017 at Despacio (Facebook Event).

Marlena Waldthausen was born close to Stuttgart in southern Germany in 1987 and is currently based in Amsterdam. She spent several years in Latin America living in many different cities, including Buenos Aires and Mexico City. From 2008 to 2012, she studied Regional Studies of Latin America at Cologne University before becoming a student of Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hannover.

Outside of her assignments, Waldthausen works mostly on long term personal projects in film and photography. She won the 2016 VGH Award, is one of five winners of the 2016 Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Award, and was nominated for the 2016 Freelens Award and the 2015 Balkan Photo Award.

Residencia en la Selva

ArchivedHappened in February 2017
Alto Telire

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.

Update April 14, 2017
The application period for the 2018 residencies will be announced on Instagram later in the year.

Update February 15, 2017
Ayami Awazuhara and Matthias Dolder’s returned from their ten day trip to the jungle. A selection of images have been published on Facebook.

Update November 18, 2016
Despacio is pleased to announce the successful applicants of the 2017 Jungle Residency are Berlin-based artist Ayami Awazuhara and Cali-based artist Matthias Dolder.

The application period for the 2017 residencies closed on September 1, 2016.


  • In 2016, all residents must be fluent in Spanish (English is not spoken in the area). However, we are planning to open the residency up to non-Spanish-speaking artists in 2017.
  • You must be able to walk for 4 days (8 hours per day). It is a two day journey to and from Alto Telire.
  • You must be in good physical condition. The nearest doctor may be as far as 18 hours walking distance away.

What the residency includes:

  • Airfare to and from San José, Costa Rica
  • Lodging and a stipend in San José
  • Travel to Limon by bus
  • Travel from Limon to Vesta by private transport
  • A guide to lead you you to and from Alto Telire
  • Return private transport to Limon and bus to San José

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.
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