Under the Same Sun: An Introduction

10:20 | Published on July 15, 2014 | 5,495 Views

Pablo León de la Barra, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Latin America, introduces Under the Same Sun and details how many of the exhibition’s artists use the region’s history to characterize its present. Amalia Pica reveals how she was inspired by an official ban on “subversive” Venn diagrams, Carlos Amorales talks about his participatory installation featuring hanging cymbals, and Jonathas de Andrade describes his artistic response to anthropologist Gilberto Freyre’s Museum of the Man of the Northeast.

For more information, visit the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative.

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Pablo León de la Barra: Under the Same Sun is a zone of activation of tension, where different ideas are put in confrontation with each other.  And the basic idea for the title comes from thinking about this common ground that could be shared between all these countries, which are very different—we cannot talk about only one Latin America; what we can do is talk about a shared common ground, and shared intersections that exist between the artists, the works, to a common history that comes from three hundred years of colonial occupation by either Spain or Portugal, but also a shared history of modernity, an idea of progress that was very present in the whole of the continent, but also followed by periods of repressive governments, military occupation, as well as economic crisis. So, in a way, recognizing how the artists deal with the present but also use the past as a tool to understand what’s happening today.

Amalia Pica: My name is Amalia Pica. I am from Argentina.

When I was in high school, a teacher told me that Venn diagrams and set theory, which is this branch of mathematics that studies the relationships and operations between groups of mathematical objects, was banned during the period of dictatorship in Argentina, and this was a thought that always stayed with me as a sort of bizarre, maybe, anecdote or fact.

And one of the things that I have been interested in as an artist is, can a thought occur outside a system that expresses that thought? So, is it possible that maybe the dictators in the nineteen-seventies would have thought if we cannot express it in mathematical language, maybe it will not happen—these sorts of relationships between people?

So I just thought, “I want to make a work that allows for that branch of mathematics, for that mathematical expression to really be a metaphor, or an excuse even, for social interaction, or for social coming together, in a positive way, and I want to do that through the presence of the human body rather than the absence of the human body.” So that’s why, sort of, the presence of the bodies of the performers as the ones who make this sort of intersection happen is so important.

So basically what the piece is, it’s called A ∩ B ∩ C, and it’s expressed in mathematical language, and the performers have these sets of rules which are very simple: they come and hold a sort of a shape up, and then they have to intersect with the one that is next to them, and one of them can be outside of that intersection, which is like the one that doesn’t belong. They hold that for thirty seconds and then they put the shape away, but they put it in a different position than it was found before, and they always choose a different shape, and therefore the compositions always happen in a very different way. So in a sense, these sort of very formal, abstract compositions are sort of odes to a way of coming together that will never happen again.

Carlos Amorales: So, I’m Carlos Amorales. I’m a Mexican artist.

The piece is basically this sculpture with hanging or floating cymbals. There are no instructions about how it should be played or how it should be used. But what happens is that people start to use it in a very simple way, just by hitting them. But then you start to notice how some people are very stressed, or some people are very calm, or some people are very aggressive, or some are really subtle. And sometimes you have people that can play for an hour, and almost become like Zen. And sometimes you have people that come and play it like if they were playing in a rock band, and really smash it. And this, at the same time, has consequences, because it’s something you start to hear through the exhibition. And also what I noticed is, then, the guards, or the museum itself, starts to, you know, to put little rules—like put some limitations, or to encourage people, you know, like, not to use it too strong. And to me, this is a process that becomes very interesting with the piece, because then you start to really notice how we behave publically; what we do when we’re in a museum; what we do when we’re in front of an art piece, but also with a musical instrument.

It’s really a piece that is about participation—how the audience behaves in front of an instrument. And then, I guess, it also has a certain political aspect. Because the moment you start to put rules in relation to an art piece, for good or for bad, like it or not, it becomes a political problem. Like, who puts the rules? Is it the artist? Is it the museum?  Is it the guard? It is public? Is it nobody? It’s everybody? Or, how does it work? And I find very interesting how this question is open.

Jonathas de Andrade: Well, I’m Jonathas de Andrade. I’m from Brazil.

And I’m presenting here the piece, Cartazes para o Museu do Homem do Nordeste (Posters for the Museum of the Man of the Northeast), which is this installation of 77 posters, related to this museum that was created in ’79, in Recife, by the sociologist Gilberto Freyre, who is responsible for one of the main theories about how Brazilian culture was born, being a mix between cultures of the colonizer, the African slaves, and the Indians—the Native Indians. And today, the museum is a classical anthropological museum with thousands of artifacts. But also, a bit apart, I feel, a bit apart from today’s life.

I decided to put classified ads in the newspaper, looking for workers that wanted to pose for the posters of the museum.  And I started having responses from everywhere. And, a lot of men started calling me and asking for information, “What was that about?” And I would ask back, “How do you imagine yourself in the poster of the museum? How do you imagine yourself as the ‘Man of the Northeast’?” And we would have very intense conversations about their backgrounds, and how he imagines himself photographed, in the poster. And the conversation was the most powerful part of that relation.

When I ended up meeting the people, the photograph was not as strong as the talk we’ve had. But parallel to that, I started going with my camera, into the city, and photographing situations of labor, or men that I would meet. I would propose, “I’m doing the posters up for the Museum of the Man of the Northeast, would you pose for me?” And then we would have a sort of negotiation, how that picture would be taken, what situation, usually connected to what was already going on—the work, or in the street, where the man was.

It was so much about these sort of proud men of the Northeast, but also, a very, like, intimate relation that we engaged in, in that moment. So I think the piece emphasizes a lot the role of desire, and personal relations.

Pablo León de la Barra: The exhibition showcases artists from different generations, starting from artists working in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, of which there was an absence in the collection, and which we put in dialogue with artists working today. In a way, because many of these artists have been influenced by the generations of before, and also recognizing the work that those generations did in opening the doors for what’s happening today.

Carlos Amorales: I think it’s like a very important question, how to work, or how to relate to a younger generation. Because I don’t think it’s about influencing them, but more about stimulating them.

Amalia Pica: There’s artists from my generation who I have been in exhibitions with, so there’s a really friendly, familiar, personal relationship there with several of the artists, and then there are artists who are more like heroes, because the exhibition runs across so many different generations.

I feel extremely lucky. I’m in a sort of beautiful corner with Gabrielle Sierra’s piece, and the Juan Downey’s mandala, and then you can see Gabrielle’s piece, and then you can see my piece, and then you walk through Gabrielle’s and then you see this beautiful Alexander Apóstol film, and I feel that the formal relationship between the works is wonderful.

Jonathas de Andrade: I’ve seen the exhibition. I like a lot of works—of Amalia Pica, Gabriel Sierra, the tortillas of Damián Ortega—and also other interesting pieces that engage with mine, maybe, in creating this feeling of Latin America.

Pablo León de la Barra: The exhibition attempts to deconstruct notions of Latin America, where many different conceptions of it can exist—not only expanding our notions of what Latin America could be, but also creating this much wider open field of dialogue. So, I think this is a really important thing that the works bring into the collection, and into the museum—not only that they’re produced elsewhere, or that they come from Latin America, but they also come with a very specific optic and way of seeing the world, a kind of change of lens of seeing things, taking art as a learning tool to create a wider dialogue not only within New York, but elsewhere within the continent, and beyond.