Reports - Spain

Àngels Miralda

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XI Lanzarote Art Biennial: Like a Hare on the Mountain

On view through March 30, 2023

The Art Biennial of Lanzarote opened its eleventh edition on the first of September 2022, and continues through March 30, 2023. Directed by the Lanzarote-based curator Adonay Bermúdez, the exhibition is spread over seven months and designed to gradually unfold over the course of several chapters. At any point in time, different constellations of solo-exhibitions can be seen in relation to each other. These utilize historic sites on the island, such as the cultural center El Almacén and the Castillo de San José looking over the Atlantic Ocean. The castle marks a crucial moment in the islands’ history—it was built in the 18th century by the displaced people arriving in the city of Arrecife after a devastating eruption in the National Park of Timanfaya destroyed the old capital of Yaiza.

Imagen courtesy of the Lanzarote Art Biennial

This edition is marked by its international outlook and ambitious scale that departs from the local character of past editions. Bermúdez’ curatorial proposal follows the historical trail of ships leaving the island bound for Latin America along colonial Atlantic routes by inviting Mexican and Caribbean artistic voices and perspectives. As the title suggests Como la liebre en el páramo [Like a Hare on the Mountain], the biennial jumps between geographically distinct regions using culture as a methodology for investigating intercontinental connectivity. Although Lanzarote pertains politically to Spain, its position on the African continental plate complexifies its identity, which is also mired in a history of conquest, imperial expansion, the repression of its indigenous Guanche population, and the subsequent strategic base for the export of enslaved people to the Caribbean and South America. The biennial not only acknowledges, but strives to comment on the heritage of these brutal colonial practices by connecting the islands’ key role in the extractive history of the Atlantic.

The Castillo de San José houses several simultaneous solo-exhibitions that interact with the permanent collection as well as among themselves. A new commission by Venezuelan artist Marco Montiel-Soto greets visitors on the first floor. His research and work have long been defined by combining anthropological display-methods with the rich cultural history of his country. Montiel-Soto’s new work Tratado de maracas negras [Black maracas treaty] (2022) features objects of African origin found in Lanzarote in the village of Teseguite, which was founded by enslaved people who were prohibited from inhabiting the city of Teguise. In the video, a pair of maracas inhabit the arid landscape of the island, the forcibly buried and erased history of Africans on the island is unearthed from this surreal landscape. In front of the video—a museological case displaying a mummified figure is surrounded by African sculptures, decorative maracas, feathered quills, black saints, and an array of seashell necklaces. Kept inside of a glass vitrine, the objects take on an arrangement of an offer or sacrament to those that have passed through this arid island from tropic to tropic.

Tania Candiani, Los Ojos Bajo La Sombra (2022). Imagen courtesy of the Lanzarote Art Biennial

One floor below, a new commission by Tania Candiani is premiered. In Los ojos bajo la sombra [The Eyes Under the Shadow] (2022), Candiani traces movement in the opposite direction. A cloth installation and video investigate the export of the insect grana cochinilla which originates in the desert climates of Oaxaca, Mexico, and is used to extract an expensive dye used for cloth fabrication. The traditional methods of textile production are going out of use, and with it a centuries-old knowledge of how to breed, raise, and process the insect. This knowledge is retained today by a diminishing number of women in Mexico and—because of a similar climate favorable to the growth of the grana cochinilla’s environment, the nopal—in Lanzarote. This method was brought to Europe along the colonial trade routes and arrived at this island where local production proved valuable. At the end of the installation, a red cross blanket shows the new forms of artificial chemical dyes that are much cheaper to produce and achieve even coloration.

Tania Candiani, Los Ojos Bajo La Sombra (2022). Imagen courtesy of the Lanzarote Art Biennial

This red cross blanket moves us directly into the back of the Castillo San José where a recorded performance by the Cuban artist Carlos Martiel can be found next to the castle’s panoramic ocean view. The piece Mediterráneo (2017) was originally performed in Venice and features Martiel himself within an hourglass full of water. Cold seawater drains into the compartment that he crouches in, unable to stand or sit, he is confined to a single position, balanced on bent toes. The contrast between the white, bored, dry audience which films the performance without intervening, and Martiel’s bare black body is part of the work which inhabits an art world that speaks of inclusivity without the ability to look itself in the mirror. Performed in Italy, the reaction of the audience as water nearly reaches Martiel’s nose and his body quivers from the cold reflects the inaction of European governments at the atrocities happening in their watery vicinity. To bring this work to Lanzarote in 2023 is a new provocation––one that necessarily points to the resounding absence of media coverage on the arrival of refugees and migrants to the Canary Islands by Oceanic routes.

Carlos Martiel Mediterráneo (2017). Imagen courtesy of the Lanzarote Art Biennial

As a border country of the European Union tasked with Europe’s “protection”, Spain’s record with migrants is anything but innocent as the ocean becomes a more accessible route to entry than the towering Trumpesque walls that separate the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco—a dark and criminal history of the Atlantic and wounds that have never been healed are reopened. While European governments crack down on migration and the Mediterranean routes become more perilous, people fleeing from war, colonial impoverishment, and genocide now turn to the more dangerous option of open ocean and arrive regularly on the shores of Lanzarote.

Exhibited in the heart of Arrecife, in a central cultural hub called El Almacén, Ximena Labra’s Tlatelolco Public Space Odyssey (2008) is a project about the absurdity of monuments in some instances to commemorate historical events. During the 1968 protests in Mexico, the Plaza de la Tres Culturas in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco neighborhood was the scene of a massacre when the military opened fire on protestors who had gathered to denounce the upcoming Olympic games. Witnesses reported seeing hundreds of bodies although the official death count is still only admitted to be 30 or 40 dead. In the place of this tragic event a monument was erected to commemorate those who passed away during this US-backed political intervention. The video is a testament to the failure of monuments to convey atrocities and a provocation in which public space itself is transformed into a carrier of meaning.

Ximena Labra, Tlatelolco Public Space Odyssey (2008). Imagen courtesy of the Lanzarote Art Biennial

This proposal brings us back to the site-specific magic of the Biennial in Lanzarote. The peripheral position of this island not only within Spain, but within Europe, makes this a territory ripe for discussion and challenges to European identity. It offers a solution to a dire problem for Spain’s cultural community—that the only international art event of note is restricted to the commercial art fair ARCOmadrid. For a country to invest in the expansion of artistic offers such as this one would be a valuable way to provoke a diversity of perspectives about Spanish identity. This island crossroads between three continents is an important point of reflection about a country’s cultural legacy that remains extremely centralized to Madrid and is still embarrassingly reluctant to admit its colonial crimes. Conquest and colonialism are intricately inscribed into the history of these volcanic lands that connect Africa and Latin America via Spanish vessels as well as the near-absence of its own Guanche indigenous culture. Lanzarote’s rocky soil reminds us that lands created through the violence of volcanic eruptions later become the most fertile soil for new hybrid life-forms to emerge.


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