Canceled: Exhibiting Experimental Art in China, presented at The Smart Museum of Art in Chicago in 2000, was a metaphorical representation of It’s Me, a 1998 Chinese experimental art exhibition that was canceled by the Chinese government the day before its opening, not just because of its contents but also for fear of the public gathering and seeing it together. With hundreds of protesters being arrested across the US, it is important to ask, what is the danger in peacefully assembling and associating? Could it be that it leads to conversations, debate, and dialogue?
Following up on my last blog, where I asked the question “what is to be done?,” I now look to curator Naomi Beckwith’s Art 21 Blog post Lily Ledbetter*Art, and the ability of the 3R’s of the green revolution– reduce, reuse, and recycle–to affect change. To these I add the 3C’s–conversation, commerce, and collaboration.
While Chicago’s Experimental Station on the South side and Mess Hall on the North side for years have fostered communal space encouraging conversation and critical thinking, increasingly more artists, galleries, and institutions are initiating conversations. Artist Jason Lazarus’s recent exhibition The Search invited a cross section of strangers to engage in an hour-long conversation within a ziggurat that they ascended and descended together. From Green Drinks to the upcoming Motiroti pot-luck by Columbia College Chicago, to reading groups organized by Alderman Exhibitions or Brian Holmes’s Slow-Motion Action/Research Collective at Mess Hall–which helps explain and analyze the current economic and political situation–artists are gathering together.
For me, the opportunity for public discussion within the public realm and open to all is one of the unique opportunities created by Occupy Wall Street. All types of people are engaging in debates touching on topics ranging from questioning short sales, to founding a third political party in the US, to asking if given the opportunity would the 99% become the 1%? Amidst this is the People’s Library–donated books for people to become educated on a number of issues–as well as a Food Station, a Media Station, a First Aid Station, a PR Station, a Silk Screening Station, and an Empathy Station. When I asked a woman named Susan who was working at the Empathy booth how she defined empathy, she said empathy starts with sharing a common ground–which reminds me of my favorite poster: 99% + 1% = 100%. If we are all in this together, what should we do together?
As I am grieving the disappearance of the Minimalist from the pages of the New York Times, I am also pondering Mark Bittman’s statement from his farewell column, “the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States [and elsewhere in the world, I want to add] is a political issue.”
“Relational art” and especially the stardom of Rikrit Travanija, has made food one of the hot topics of contemporary art. Food has been re-discovered and celebrated as a means of bringing people together and creating experiences of genuine sharing and fair exchange. These optimistic notions and projects tend to overlook – to paraphrase Eric Schlosser – “the dark side of the contemporary meal,” which persists even despite the efforts of the Slow Food movement or First Lady Michelle Obama. Even more rare are artistic proposals that try to engage the dangers and inequalities lurking behind what and how we eat.
One of the little-known exceptions is the recent work of Peruvian artist, Eduardo Villanes (born Moscow, 1967), whose projects ponder the loss of the incredible biodiversity of his native land, the ancestral home of more than 600 varieties of potatoes and endless amount of other plant and animal species. Especially fascinating about his case is not only the content of his current enterprise, which puts genetic modification and patenting of crops by transnational corporations at the cross-hairs of attention, but also the particular tension that exists between Villanes’s recent work and his earlier proposals developed in the 1990s. This peculiar conflict offers an opportunity to consider two important issues: first of all, how we get acquainted with art, what we see, when and why we see it; and secondly, how complex and ambiguous the process of historicization of a living, producing artist can be.
Several months ago, even before I set my foot on Catalan ground, I was captivated by a seemingly modest photograph: a chocolate candy in a golden wrapper set on a tip of the kitchen knife, which displayed a fresh bite mark, still dripping with saliva. Its caption read matter-of-factly:
I work 40 hours a week in a Spanish high-class chocolate boutique. While working on October 12, I stole three sheets of 24-karat gold and a Guanaja chocolate bonbon. I covered the chocolate with gold and ate it to celebrate the National Day of Spain.
Instantaneously, the image and the statement conjured much more than Proust’s madeleine could ever have. A simple, indulgent gesture became the present’s revenge on the past and on its own self. There we were, set up to ponder the nationalistic pride of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas and the riches and delicacies with which he gifted the Old Continent (Spain celebrates its national holiday on the anniversary of Columbus’s first landing in the New World). However, a few swift anthropophagic nibbles were about to gnaw this self-esteem away. A young immigrant retail clerk claimed what should have always belonged to her. Her body enacted the rebellion through the most direct means available: consuming the forbidden (yet, justly hers) treat.
This ingenious piece was conceived by a young Peruvian artist living and working in Barcelona, Daniela Ortiz de Zevallos. Even though the Spanish colonial empire was dismantled long time ago, shared linguistic and cultural heritage continue to draw scores of artists from Latin America, who seek to enhance their education or advance their professional careers, to the country. Like many of her compatriots, Ortiz arrived here to continue her art studies at the University of Barcelona (UB). Since her graduation in 2009, she has undoubtedly marked the scene here with her audacious presence, participating in more than a dozen exhibitions in 2010 and sweeping pretty much all the major fellowships and grants available. Her project 97 Housemaids was published with the Art Jove grant and recently, she was awarded the prestigious Guasch Coranty Scholarship for her new project, Service Room.
As Ortiz is orchestrating another transcontinental move, this time to Mexico City (Ortiz will begin her postgraduate studies at SOMA in Mexico City, an experimental education platform co-founded by Teresa Margolles and Yoshúa Okón among others, in just a few weeks’ time), and preparing for three solo shows that are to take place here in Spain in June, we shared a conversation about the origins and influences on her precise, taxing practice and her ambiguous status in Spain that continues to be fodder for her projects.