Reports - Venecia - Italy

Israel Tolentino

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Herbert Rodríguez: From Quilca to Venice

Peru Pavilion in the 59th Venice Biennale

In 1995 I started my studies at the Escuela Superior Autónoma de Bellas Artes de Lima, after a year of acclimatization to the school’s space, Quilca Street became the complementary educational route, an extension of the workshops, without a doubt, the vital route. A mural was rising at El averno, an anti-academic shock. Then I had to see sculptures that were not just that and iconoclastic paintings, with visual punches I learned a name: Herbert Rodriguez. 

Venice is the strangest place in the world, since April 20th the 59th International Exhibition of World Art entitled: THE MILK OF DREAMS began with its pre-opening. Thousands of people queued for hours and hours to appreciate directly the representations of each country and the works of the artists specially invited by the curator Cecilia Alemani. 

Herbert Rodriguez (1959) is the artist chosen to represent Peru in this Biennial, along with curators Viola Varotto and Jorge Villacorta, youth and experience, a trio surrounded by people and private and state institutions sponsoring this representation. On Friday 22, the Peruvian pavilion was inaugurated with the exhibition entitled: PEACE IS A CORROSIVE PROMISE, a profound name chosen by Jorge Villacorta to embrace the proposal: Art/Life carried so far by Herbert Rodriguez. With the presence of many compatriots as well as a persistent rain that from early morning gave a nostalgic touch to the day, the cards were set on the table and it is time, until six months from now, to be attentive to everything that will happen around the Pavilion of Peru. 

The first thing one learns in this experience is that only looking at the facts from photographs or texts or other personal lucubrations is the worst way to approach an accurate appreciation of the proposal, its realization and the context in which it is exhibited; there is so much to observe and read that one would have to stay the whole half year between the galleries of the Giardino and the Arsenale. So many heads, works from 10 X 20 cm to 5 X 10 m. From a white wall with a certain change of tone to one woven from end to end; from the longest video to a phosphorescent light, from the full and empty cube to the performance in a garden with pebbles directing the passage, the constant aromas and sounds, the light and the darkness, the earth made ceramic from Tucumán and the sea, the body, the flora and the fauna… the Venice Biennale, a quantity of information capable of exhausting the most athletic of visitors.

Herbert Rodriguez, represents us and is by far the best image of this Peru that is stabbed in every stratum, before building, before jumping into the pool full of sharks, a cultural crab, a running in circles that tries to break its cycle. From the comfort of the country, especially from an armchair, your beer and facebook, it is easy to exercise what in politics is wisely called “opinologist” and it seems that as long as there is a majority on that side, nothing can be expected in favor of those who in the future will represent this cracked homeland. It is as if we were living in a constant trauma of not encouraging a representative for fear of losing, of being defeated. Truth be told, in Peru art is like soccer, we’re always stuck in the playoffs and it is not for lack of human talent, but for lack of international exposure. The artists do what they can, the critics, curators, gallery owners, etc. all with their own effort and money, and with the risk of returning to the country where a dark alley awaits them from Jorge Chavez airport, until who knows how long, because after the battle we are all generals.

Herbert Rodriguez, as in 2019 Christián Bendayán represents us well, that it is your turn to taste this cake after you have tasted the pavilions head of series and the “guests” strategically placed, is another matter. Latin America and the spectators have names where visitors go running, as well as the snaking 25 Euro queue to see Anselm Kiefer ( I would pay them again) others like Barbara Kruger, Anish Kapoor, Cecilia Vicuña, Francis Alys, etc. Herbert’s show has the neatness that can only be achieved from the Peruvian precariousness, as an artist friend of another nationality told me “they have managed to make a virtue with what is lacking” and to hear him praise Herbert’s work, again, before a Latin American curator in another moment of the tour. The reading in the tour of each Herbertian panel is Peru, a homeland that is hard to recognize, full of complexes, which from my region I considered that they were only from there and looking, from this artistic center, I realize that it is the complex that unites us as a nation and could easily turn in our favor, like soccer, if we wanted to. To keep going round and round with the repeated questions of the choice of artist, budgets and other usual bureaucracy is to fall into the demagogy of every so often, where artists and many “opinion makers” throw out their sacrosanct dogmas and do nothing to present alternatives, an exhausting, tiresome and useless attitude. What Herbert does in this Biennial adds a lot in favor of the neglected Pavilion of Peru, while not invalidating other proposals or other artists.  

It is necessary to play the role of supporter and when it is necessary to criticize it should be at the right time. After the Biennial is over, the national representation must make a report of its participation and leave a memory for the next one, it must transmit all that experience in a significant number of presentations in the Art Schools, Cultural Centers and all the possible artistic spaces. Let’s not forget that we are in a learning process, at least when I hear the noise of the “vaporetto” I feel that. Congratulations dear Herbert Rodriguez and all those who have represented us, as a friend from Cusco says, playing in this inhospitable land is difficult. (Venice, April 2022).


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