Autopsy of the Invisible

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Today, I want to take you in a short tour of a great exposition taking place in Buenos Aires' Museum of Latin American Art.

The Malba, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, is a project headed by the Eduardo F. Costantini Foundation. Established in 1995, the foundation runs cultural, educational and development projects.

The expo I wanted to share with you is called "Autopsia de lo Invisible," or "Autopsy of the Invisible."

Curated by Mexican national and NYC-resident Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, the exhibit gathers the work of five Latin American artists, who do a "artistic investigation metaphor," looking to reconstruct historical or contemporary events. Their work digs into kidnappings, forced disappearences or killings, that most of the times passed by without being noticed.

Works exhibited include work by Teresa Margolles (México, 1963); Regina José Galindo (Guatemala, 1974); Ignacio Lang (Puerto Rico, 1973); Mario García Torres (México, 1975), and Juan Manuel Echavarría (Colombia, 1947), all of them artists from different ages, who have stood out in the last years in exhibits for taking on socio-political subjects form a poetical point of view.

Here is some of the works the exhibit depicts:

If you want to know more, I got you an abstract of Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy's exploration on the artists' work, and the exhibit itself:

This exhibition explores the notion of autopsy as a metaphor for artistic research that implies dissecting a topic or social body by way of profound research, in order to reconstruct historical deeds or contemporary events. Beyond the aseptic, clinical format of a scientific laboratory or the white cube of modern and contemporary galleries, Autopsy of the Invisible contemplates exhibition models that invite the public to probe behind the scenic backdrop.

The "scenic backdrop" in this case refers as much to a clinic as it does to theater, and it proposes to play with the expectations and prejudices that the public has with respect to them, such as analysis in relation to the clinic and spectacle in relation to theater. Backdrops have also been used in Freak Shows and in the circus. Here the backdrop is incorporated into the gallery itself, functioning both as a wall that hides the museum space and as a suggestive element introducing the museographic stage, both fiction and reality, comedy and tragedy.

In addition, there are two other strong influences in this show. One comes from the history of Conceptual Art, from the movement's beginnings during the '60s in particular, when the articulation of ideas came before objects' materialization, where the assumption was that viewers would put into practice a sort of faith in something unseen, something without a physical presence. The second influence comes from contemporary cultural and socio-political events based on some kind of ambiguous presence—events that seem not to exist at times, events presented as phantom deeds, whose concrete definition is hard to discern and as such, any determined impact on the community's memory is similarly elusive. This situation is clearly associated to terrorism's significance in the world today.

Autopsy of the Invisible presents a group of artists who work with pseudo-scientific methodology—physical or social autopsies—in creating their work, in addition to collecting and presenting fragments of objects in re-configurations or frameworks that rely on a technical data sheet or accompanying text to explain the work's context or materials. In this sense, you could say that these works depend on a diagnosis in order to be understood as works of art, and to be completed somehow within a social and artistic context. These artists delve into disappearances, kidnappings, deaths gone unnoticed and deformations and interruptions in reality.

Taking the political violence in his native Colombia as his point of departure, and employing the Royal Botanical Expedition of New Granada that was carried out in the very same place as a formal model, writer and artist Juan Manuel Echavarría creates a series of photographs that are analogous to 19th Century botanical illustrations. However, the images that Echavarría creates are not prints, but compositions that he arranges using human bones. Although each photograph includes a written name that corresponds to botanical language and refers to a flower, the artist titles the series—a total of 36 black and white photographs, of which only three are presented in this exhibition—Corte de florero (Flower Vase Cut).

Just as minimal in form, with a similarly surprising history, although in a completely different manner, Mexican artist Teresa Margolles has focused on working with cadavers and materials she collects from public morgues—institutions that take care of the unidentified dead or those who come from low-income families—and more recently, in police repositories as well. For her series titled Ajuste de cuentas [Settling of Accounts], Margolles takes the violent deaths related to illegal drug trafficking as her point of departure—murders carried out on account of vengeance, unpaid debts, informants or spite. The artist collects shattered glass from the cars or homes of the victims or aggressors. She then commissions a jeweler from Culiacán to design jewelry using these pieces of glass as if they were precious stones.

The resulting work is a collection of gold earrings, rings, bracelets, cufflinks and necklaces, designed according to the style of the exaggerated accessories frequently associated with the fashion popular among the drug trafficking community. In addition, Margolles recovered a different sort of material to include in the work: each piece of jewelry is accompanied by the story of the victims in the so-called "settling of accounts". These stories are presented with the work as "prior inquiries", police reports that reconstruct the scene and particular occurrences of each murder.

The trilogy of videos by Regina José Galindo included in the exhibition document a series of burials in the cemetery in La Verbena de Guatemala, Galindo's native city. One of these burials, XX (párvulos) [XX (infants)], is of two infants, while the others appear to be of adults. The videos portray burials in which Galindo has intervened. Upon each grave a small brick and cement base is built, upon which a marble tombstone is placed, having been commissioned by the artist at a popular stonecutter's shop in front of the cemetery. They are simple tombstones, each with an identical inscription: "XX, Guatemala, 2007". In Guatemala, cadavers that have never been identified are referred to using the double ex.

Galindo's XX work exists in various forms; one of these is the trilogy of videos that is included in this show, another is a (permanent) installation of 52 of these tombstones in La Verbena de Guatemala. Although the tombstones do not adequately name the cadavers, nor do the interventions change the nature of the burials, Galindo's action aims to give visibility to deaths that go unnoticed. The trilogy of XX videos does not fulfill the function of documenting the complete process of the action, whether as a performance or an installation including all of the tombstones in the cemetery. The video version of the work exists, above all, in order to tell viewers about the process that inspires the artist and about the context in which the action is created and continues to exist.

With an interest in the lives, ideas, methodology and especially the works that have never achieved great visibility of conceptual artists from the '60s and '70s, Mexican artist Mario GarcĂ­a Torres has unearthed a series of projects from archives and history books which, although not completely forgotten, have been left in the shadows over the years by Art History's grand narrative. By creating a new version of these works, or by scrutinizing them once again, GarcĂ­a Torres generates dialogues between his work and that of his predecessors, but at the same time, he articulates a crucial relationship between these new works and the current political context. His work titled Share-e-Nau Wonderings (A Film Treatment) is a purported epistolary exchange between GarcĂ­a Torres and Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti. The piece consists of GarcĂ­a Torres' correspondence, a series of 19 letters addressed to Boetti that have apparently been sent via fax.

GarcĂ­a Torres writes about his stay in Kabul, Afghanistan, during which he researches locations for a film, looking for the Hotel One, founded by Boetti and his friends during the early '70s (Boetti lived in Afghanistan for almost a decade, where he made his earliest and best-known woven pieces). The work is clearly fiction: Boetti passed away in 1994 and GarcĂ­a Torres created the work in 2006; the letters that form part of the work are dated between the months of November and December of 2001. Only a few months after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the search for Osama Bin Laden and the new war were already underway in Afghanistan, led by the U.S. GarcĂ­a Torres' faxes refer to this context: the tell of GarcĂ­a Torres' difficulty in finding locations and in particular, locating the disappeared Hotel One. The disappearance of Hotel One is less an indication of a gradual urban renewal process than it is of destruction as a result of war.

For over the past two years, Ignacio Lang has been working on a daily basis on a project titled WBT—the initials of the "Weird But True" news column published every day in the New York Post. Every day, the editors of this newspaper column select and publish roughly five news items or short features on odd, absurd or strange events that are, nevertheless, true. Each one of these items is edited as though it were a comic, written in less than ten short sentences without any accompanying image to illustrate or corroborate its veracity. In the print version of the paper, the "Weird But True" column occupies the margin of one of its pages. This column has a precedent in the well-known television program "Ripley's Believe it or Not" by Robert Ripley, which began in 1918 as a caricature and later became a column in the New York Globe. With these columns as a point of departure, the kind of research that Lang carries out in order to "complete" the stories is very similar to that of Ripley's investigators, who spent years in the New York Public Library investigating strange events and stories.

Lang begins with research in libraries, image banks and stock agencies, in order to identify an image that corresponds to each news item described. In formal terms, Lang's WBT exists as an archive in process that contains over 3000 cards or collages that include an image and a news clipping inside a plastic cover. Twenty-eight cards from WBT are presented in Autopsy of the Invisible, whose stories involve different aspects of invisibility—in social, political and spiritual terms. While this quantity of cards hardly constitutes a representation of the WBT general archive, the selection process used to approach the archive is similar to the manner in which Lang approaches the stories from WBT: as a search for images to illustrate a story, in this case, an exhibition.

Hasta pronto !

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