Seminal Art (We all are co-creators)
Sonia Falcone | Artnold Jiménez
Curated by Aluna Curatorial Collective
At The Siberian Centre of Contemporary Art, Novosibirsk, Western Siberia.
By Adriana Herrera
“Seminal Art (We Are All Co-Creators)” is an invitation to traverse and expand the space where the work of Artnold (México, 1972) and Sonia Falcone (Bolivia, 1965) converge. They both experience art as a medium that is bound – and is binding – to life; to its psycho-emotional fancy, and to the milieu of geographies that become the landscape where day-to-day occurrences are portrayed. Their art proposes different forms of integration; giving form to the question of what is it that we wish to cherish of humanity once the great utopias have withered away.
With their projects they relocate the space-time coordinates and reconfigure the perceptions of social reality. One of Artnold´s installations at the Siberian Center of Contemporary Art is an idea for the ecological and communitarian rescue of a contaminated river in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. The spectators are invited to contribute their imagination to the social ideas that shall unfold in artistic practices in Chiapas in the near future. Simultaneously, in her installation Falcone brings together in one room the markets of Tokyo and Bolivia – or other two distant cities- with an arrangement of dozens of spices that configure the cartography of an Earth without hegemonic nations, eliciting a multi-sensorial perception that blurs the north-south, east-west axis, in order to create a world nourished by the plurality of cultures.
Both artists share a multi-ethnic origin and a life of migrations that allow them the possibility of connecting their local roots with the numerous human destinies that, like never before, inhabit the uncertainty of not only border crossings, but also mental frontiers. The uncertainty is spawned by the fact that we are standing on a tense time line that looks at the future from the emptiness left behind by failed utopias.
Through a visual form of thinking, participative imagination and aesthetic strategies that sensitize other perceptive dimensions, the art of Artnold and Falcone constitute a fresh way of imagining the future. Their optimism notwithstanding, in the midst of crisis in the epicenters of power and in all totalizing forms, their projects do not bode further historical realizations; instead they propose practices that integrate subjectivity, as well as the social being, practices that open the senses of sight and thought. In a certain way, their projects serve as artifacts that compel us towards the interstices of the possible, or towards projects that are still unborn.
In the field of that the works Artnold and Falcone are instituting the key is to use the visible as an avenue to modifying our thought; leading to other ways of visualizing the relations between culture and frontiers, between the spectator and the artist, or between the latter and the art piece. Their proposals are somehow conceived as works-in-process; as creations that continue to grow.
The pieces and installations also work as foundations for thought, as artifacts for future modes of pursuing an endeavor that is never grandiloquent and that does not escape from the uncertainty of the ordinary passing of time but that -on the contrary- opens up the possibility of a notion of co- responsibility that goes beyond a passive contemplation, to become new modes of interaction.
Artnold: forms of relation and integration
Through a vast diversity of mediums and explorations, Artnold proposes a relational art that integrates multiple spheres of life in a manner that includes the participation of others, or the sense of co-creation, in the development of practices related to social imaginaries integrated with the caretaking of the Earth.
One of his greatest influences, pioneer conceptualist Joseph Kosuth, argued that, instead of questioning its nature, to continue painting was to accept the background of traditional art. This constituted for Kosuth the primordial role of the artist. Artnold disobeys the master and insists in painting portraits – often women – or figurative scenes, that at a first glance evoke the sensation of what has already been seen, even in the recur- rent beauty of a postcard, or eventually in the images found in magazines. His pictorial aesthetics, however, is simple appearance, whilst the problem he proposed transcends the iconic.
In fact, what really matters in this kind of painting is not the scene, nor the faces that we see, but the pictorial process of construction in a painting that postulates itself as a practice opposed to the material wasteland of western culture; in other words, a gesture of sustainability which consists in using in the painting the residues of the palette, recovering even the dry paint. The strange mirror where the portrayed woman contemplates herself, for instance, is the same palette that the painter used to create the painting. The gesture of attaching the tool to the canvass works on two levels: it is spectacular, self-reflective, in so far as it inserts the object used in the pictorial creation, and it is a declaration of the maximum harnessing of resources, a saving that stands in stark contrast to the wastefulness that prevails in the planet’s hegemonic locations.
Other paintings by Artnold, also “constructed” with residual paint, offer a renovation of a movement that has been reborn through a language that fuses its earlier expressions. In “Boy 7:25″ he fuses the shell of a new- born´s body with the expressionist space of abstract painting, built in grayish whites, where the child´s stare has harsh angles, a cold surface that is drawn to the facial features using hyperrealists techniques. The stripe tie juxtaposed to the baby´s delicate neck belonging to the world of adults can be read as a sign of reality´s preexisting configurations; suggesting the possibility we have of simply ignoring them…
This metaphoric possibility of shredding ourselves of imposed ties – insinuated by the very weirdness of im- posing this object on a baby – is also connected to a representation of the world as an imposition that denies the space for intervention. This piece can be read from the perspective of Heidegger’s philosophical “Dasein”, to a conscience structured from “being in the world” that can generate anguish when faced with a institutional- ized way of life; a discombobulating that can generate alternative practices to those that are currently accepted by contemporary art; explorations that are a search for realizing the “concern” and “solicitude” that Heidegger mentions in Being and Time.
Artnold uses the same poetics of his ancestors used in the investigation of the universe´s nature and con- structs in his New Mayan Caldendar the sculpture of a child that reminisces the notion of growth – related to human development in the womb as a metonymy of the course taken by civilization – occupying the place that the scribe occupied when they engraved their knowledge in stone. “The drawing that sketches the spiral of the
Sonia Falcone: re-imagining the map of the Earth
Sonia Falcone´s Fields of origin is a variation of the installation Fields of Color that was presented at the Venice Biennale 55, with the curatorship of Alfons Hug. The new installation, Fields of Origin, also presented by Sonia Falcone at the Contemporary Art Center of Siberia, incorporates to the minimalist aesthetics of cones shaped by spices from cities across the globe, the spices from this Russian region. Every new permutation of the original installation enriches the multiplicity of colors and aromas found in the previous work, thus adding a political dimension to the invisible weight of the many centuries of expeditions and symbolic memory of the quest for spices. In this occasion, under the curatorship of Aluna Art Collective, a documentary made with images of the distant urban markets that the artist visited to acquire the spices is also screened. If the search for spices in centuries gone by were characterized by colonizing journeys and cultural imposition, Falcone now gathers them in order to re-imagine a map of a world without supremacies. The 88 containers positioned on the
floor works as an imaginary cartography of the entire Earth. The installation synthesizes the millenary history of
spices in a geometrically repetitive minimalist structure that also functions as an archive for the world’s palate, arranged in such a way that it suggests a revision of current geopolitical structures. Spices and edible minerals that once promoted navigation expeditions, discoveries, territorial wars and commercial endeavors, constitute the basic materials for the piece. These spices have not only been essential parts of sacred rituals or culinary cultures, but have also impacted even the layout of entire cities. As Levi-Strauss knew too well, the kitchen is the primordial space for the interaction between nature and culture. In the same vein, the markets that had the most sophisticated spices became the catalyst or urban sprawl, particularly during the Middle Ages, and are still the epicenters of food trade, a mirror to the relation between the collective body, architecture and memory.
Falcone´s repetitive geometric arrangements, made up of intensely colored organic materials, reminds us of the post-minimalist tradition that was advanced as a proposal to reconnect art and life particularly by women in the United States. The installation also awakens the memory of a time when the opening of commercial routes transformed the geopolitics of the world, in order to reformulate this search for new paths within the current context.
This organic material bears, in effect, the invisible weight of centuries and posses a symbolic memory that is also laden with political implications. If the search for these food substances produced in remote regions of the world unleashed colonizing journeys and sometimes poisonous enterprises of cultural imposition, Falcone now uses pepper, salt and innumerable spices – achiote, chocolate. cumin, clove, anise, coffee, curry, infu- sions, willkaparu corn, cinnamon, nutmeg, amongst others – as an alphabet to re-imagine a map of the world without supremacies, from a perception that recognizes the richness of the “substance” that each culture contributes to the whole of the world´s cartography.
The 88 clay vases work as a metonymy of the planet, represented by a variety of colors and aromas of the cooked and ground food substances that, multiplied in geometrical formations on the floor, reproduce a global
SONIA FALCONE “Creation” / Oil on canvas / 340 x 203 cm. 13
dimension where what circulates is not money, but food. In Fields of origin, the representation of the world paradigm that divides it in dominant hemispheres is resolved into only one homogenous plane, where “the salt of the Earth” comes from all of the corners. Spices and nutritional minerals are a metonym of the richness of diverse cultures: an exuberant conjugation of colors – inigo, ochers, reds, yellows, pinks, whites- and aroma, textures and tastes, which allows for the experience of an alternate vision of the power relations in the midst of the world´s cultural heterogeneity.
In order to enter Falcone´s installation at the Siberian Center of Contemporary Art , one must go through a alleyway where the spices are aligned and placed such that people can literally see them, touch them, smell them and even taste them. A couple of empty vases are placed such that, when people return from Falcone
´s Fields of origin, they can fill them with the names of the spices they use in their own kitchens and are not pres-ent in the installation. When the installation goes on a tour, it shall take with it the new samples, as a testament of the different spaces visited during its cultural voyage. If the visual is a generator of thought processes, Fal-cone rediscovers the power in food by appealing to all of the senses and – beyond the uses that are born from necessity –using spices she constructs a renovating vision of the world we all share.
According to curator Manuel J. Borja-Villel, mass culture does not seek to represent the world, it aims to con- sume it. Nevertheless, the representation of the consumption of food in Fields of origin transcends its own materiality, its own sensuality, in order to finally configure a space for perception that suggests a different cartography, where diversity is not homogenized (each substance is maintained pure, not mixed with the oth- ers), and on the contrary they have an equivalent relation. There are no relations of prevalence between the different spices, or traces of exotic flare; what exists is a vision of plurality between the samples recollected and a vast array of places.
Falcone displays the material she recollected in various markets of her birthplace, Bolivia, and others like Mexico, India, Bogotá and Hong Kong, in such a way that it shapes a sensorial grammar on the multiple daily rituals and flavors that come from kitchens all over the world, inserting them into the spaces of contemporary art. The way in which the spices from markets of distant cities were garnered is displayed in a documentary screened in four monitors located in cardinal points. This way, visitors participate virtually in the travel that was undertook in order to recollect the variety of substances that are integrated and unified in this powerful installa- tion, constructed from the gift of each and every kitchen of the world. In addition to the Mexican añiles, Bolivian spices, black salts from Hawaii, red salts from Egypy and pink salts from the Himalayas, other elements found in the Siberian kitchen shall further enrich the installation.
If Daniel Spoerri includes leftover food or maps of objects found at different tables to write a diary of hos vital and artistic journey, using perishable materials Falcone creates this beautiful installation that overcomes the dichotomy between popular markets and museums, between art and life, between the minimalist and the mil- lenary learning of the world´s gastronomical heritage. It also presupposes the creation of cartography of colors, smells and tastes that draw an Earth that is both diverse and unified.
Humberto Eco once said that contemporary societies “have lost the sense of the feast, but have kept a dark attraction towards it”. In that regards, Falcone shines the spotlight on that attraction, bringing sunlight to it and extending the attraction unto an olfactory-tactile mantle, in order to make it a celebration of colors. With the source of the materials anchored in a millenary memory, the installation is a vehicle for learning through the palate and for transforming that learning into a different way of drawing a map that brings humanity together.
Fields of origin presents the possibility of seeing in each spice or nourishing substance a letter of a new alpha- bet, that allows for a grammar that invites the individual to engage in a sense of movement and approximation between the distant and the different. In the creation of this powerful metaphor that uses spices as a metonym for diversity – a metaphor intended for bridging the gap between cultures – the many travels necessary to recol- lect also became a means for making otherness intelligible. It is surprising that many substances with strange names have been introduced to the food territory, because it would seem unlikely that they may be incorpo- rated into a diet. This weirdness is vital to the extent that it reveals just how limited our idea of the immensity of the world really is.
As Gestalt psychology states, the totality is constituted by the interrelation between parts. When proposing this interrelation between spices that does not blur their differences, another possible way of perception is being structured. The images – in this case a feast of colors, aromas and tastes arrayed geometrically in equivalent relations – have, as Arnheim argues, the possibility of shaping reality, of producing meaning through the senso- rial experience, in order to create meaning or an interpretation of reality that generates other visions of reality and that potentially can change its form. Falcone uses the power to sculpt in smell and the power to generate though in the senses, in order to transform not only the surrounding space, but also the perceptive threshold for all who wish to engage with Field of origin.
Falcone´s installation can act as a “conceptual modifier” of our idea of the world. In any case, it distances itself from the habitual logic and method of the predominant cartographic representation, to update the map where Torres-García inverted the south and the north, by presenting a continent that has been “straightened” under the coordinates of vision. In its own way, Field of origin superimposes to the current map of confrontations and cleavages an invocation to a structured perception of realities. The reading that emerges from our engaging her piece also depends on us not falling prey of the institutionalized multiculturalism that Graciela Speranza denounces in her book Portable Atlas of Latin America, where she warns us that such multiculturalism renders the other as a fetish that exists in the margins “without altering the structures of the central powers.”
Paraphrasing the aforementioned author, Falcone has redrawn the map of the world as a double abstract, “revising the coordinates, calibrating the distances and relative proportions between East and West, North and South”. Field of origin superimposes itself to an uncertain time filled with divisions, in order to signals towards another possible way of inhabiting it. In that sense, her work reminds us of Speranza´s statement regarding the way in which Latin American art seems to have found “stray forms”, “forms that are at once poetical and critical ways of erasing the geopolitical frontiers and transcending the current construction of language (…) to create maps and spatial narratives that transform frontiers into passages.”
Breathing in Artnold and Falcone´s work is a sense of bequeathing an offering, something sacred that pal- pitates in the installations to announce an “rabble-rouser” art form, willing to integrate the same garbage, the very discarded materials turned into venom of the earth, into new forms of beauty, that involve common actions. Far from the flippant attitude of the vanguard art of the XX century and its wariness towards the con- struction of meaning, their vision of art leans towards integration or unification, in the midst of a dispersion of locations and dispersed efforts of the XXI century. Both artists bring new life to the idea of trying to save some- thing, thus recovering art as a means for re-imagining the configuration of the Earth. By bringing that which is distant closer and by renovating the paradigms, they establish a different poetics of relations.
divine proportion reflects a vision of time and of a history that advances in many dimensions, and creates a conceptual and subjective tension”, Artnold states when explaining why he constructed his figure precisely in the movement that opens a path to tri –dimensionality. Instead of engraving signs using an improvised and swift brush, the child depicts a palpitating open circle, as if he took in his hands the stream of life and proceed- ed to free it, including from its predetermined courses.
His enormous painting- performance Incident, incident also defines the unpredictable. The initial image rep- resents foods, but the nourishment emerges from the process of constructing a piece that is co-created with the spectators, whom are invited to interact with it, including harming it, in a process that take us back to the surrealist games of the cadavre-exquisit. In the piece, one has the freedom to alter its original form before it returns to the artist. For this process of deconstruction of the painting, Artnold prefers the participation of children, given that beyond the result that may be achieved is a growth process, where the child is confronted with uncertainty and must apply the co-creation concept. This co-creation is present not only in the sense of creating pieces and/or readings using multiple hands and senses, but also in the subverting a passive recep- tion on the part of the spectator, a passivity that for Kosuth was problematic for a culture that organized art as a kind of verticality, which ultimately leads to a simple and innocuous consumption.
Through the participatory process, a twist is introduced to the painting that reverts it back to the ancient illusion of representing reality using figures only as appearance, while simultaneously unleashing other perception processes. Artnold will finish the foods installation during the weeks when the exhibition is being presented more as part of a performance, where everyone can participate, than as an individual pictorial process.
Artnold has also renounced to the artists role of endowing its final form to the enormous mural-type painting. The mural depicts faces or figures at full scale that cast an enormous shadow (a reference to the Jungian con- cept of that-which-is-denied); a shadow that becomes separated from the rest of the figures and assumes the distortion as a kind of parenthesis of the referential. By having in the room smaller copies of the piece the artist presents a ludic correlation that allow for as many possible ways to be concluded as there are spectators that wish to participate in this co-creator game.
In this sense, this piece, Plan for performance, serves the purpose of a test not only for art, but also for the possibility of transplanting an intellectual provocation that – beyond the immediacy of iconographic percep- tion – connects the visual signs to a kind of thought capable of inserting itself back to social existence, in so far as it becomes a precursor of co-creation. We also find here the legacy of Kosuth´s investigations (Artnold was a tireless reader of his book Art as Idea as Idea). In this piece we find no trace of iconic value or a private self-referential definition of art. What the artist was looking for is multiple propositions that generate collective practices. That step implies doing something more than a transition from art as object to art as concept: a proposition that becomes radicalized when the concept is implemented in a reality sphere. It is precisely what is being proposed in the section of the exhibition where people find a replica of the artist´s studio, or what can be considered a visualization of the inner workings of his mind during the creative process of conceiving ideas in the context of rescuing a river in Mexico.
The piece Eco-Grijalba works as an interface between the ideas generated by visitors, geared towards design- ing in the near future an ecological action to be executed by Artnold and many others in Chiapas, Mexico, with a sense of co-responsibility. The material in art becomes a sense of connection between the individual and his/ her social and natural context. “Potentially everything is material for art, because at some point it has to have an aspect of concretion and must be framed in relation to people’s lives”, said once Kosuth in an interview with Stuart Morgan for Frieze Magazine (# 16, May, 1994).
Artnold displays some burgeoning ideas still in process of development, aimed at the transformation of his birth place Grijalva River, one of the main sources of water and feeder to the largest canyon in the state, in- corporating to their every day existence the conceptual legacy of the word conceived as a visual object. These ideas have been influenced by Rudolph Arnheim´s understating of how the visual – including the graphs of diagrams – help us to think more clearly. As this investigator argues, visual perception is a critical aspect of the cognitive capacity to resolve problems. The installation´s proposal in regards to the eco-social recuperation of the Grijalva River reverses the habitual directions: it begins in the museum and only then shall it be transferred to the dimension of life.
The installation also includes a map that shows the river´s orographic conditions in a territory that constitutes
30% of all water sources in Mexico, as well as diagrams of the project with a time line dating back to a era when the Chiapas Indians, defeated by the conquistadores, hurled themselves to the river so they would not have to live as slaves. The multiple eco-social artistic instances in the installation are a proposal for a new form of intervention to our present, such that we may recover the river for future generations.
Amongst the actions to take place in Chiapas with the state government participation is a video mapping of images at the base of the bridge as a commemoration to the resistance of a community that struggled against colonization with greatest zeal. This resistance has now been transformed in a resistance against contami- nation and it shall assume the form of a voyage in which the artist and local leaders shall brave the currents in order to implement a garbage extraction effort. The trash shall be used as materials for a sculpture to be located at the river´s bed. “I am going to create monster”, Artnold tells us “because there is too much garbage in it, which is polluting our water source”. The garbage that soils the river will now become the materials for a sculpture, a creative process that shall also contribute to the cleaning of the river.
This future action is delineated in a piece-diagram that, since it has yet not occurred, is an invitation to the visitors to the museum to suggest other possible interventions. The drawing of plans serves as a resource for the optimization of social thinking and, given that the primary function of thought is to develop images, they are intended to directly influence thought. “That is where things start to happen”, explains Artnold.
On the other hand, an invisible millenary bridge joins together two regions as distant as Siberia and Chiapas, bringing together two peoples that – according to researchers of prehistory – has a common origin; for the inhabitants of Siberia seem to have crossed glaciers in remote times to become the first inhabitants of Ameri- ca. This is in a certain way a return to the artist´s origin. Artnold was born in the border between Tabasco and Chiapas, in a region where one of the first Mayan calendars was discovered. During nine years he lived in a different town, where life gravitated around “Netzahualcoyotl”, one of four hydroelectric dams that are fed by the Gri-jalva River. After completing multidisciplinary and itinerary learning in different cities in Mexico, New York and Chicago – where he studied art, cinematography and theology – he returned to his original birthplace by the river in 2010.
“The dream” – he states – “is to provide art with a real social transformative role that does not simply remain as a metaphor”. “I would like to call myself an integral artist because poetry, theory and the multiple dimensions of language can achieve a practical social sense. I wish to plant a seed of memory and action in the peoples of the eleven tribes that speak and dress differently, but that have a common past and future, in order to then plant the seeds in the rest of the state and the nation to transform the minds with a more harmonious life with our surroundings.”