Issue 4: Wild Researchers

TRansHisTorIA

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12.10.2015

A Museum, a School

Two versions of the 15th salones regionales de artistas in Colombia, zona centro.

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TWO CASE STUDIES FROM THE FIFTEENTH REGIONAL SALON FOR ARTISTS IN COLOMBIA (CENTRAL REGION)

It is likely Colombia’s Salón Nacional de Artistas (“National Artists’ Salon,” acronym in Spanish: SNA) is among the most long-standing and storied of all Latin American art events. To date there have been forty-three editions that have been carried out on a more-or-less regular basis (annual, bi-annual, occasional…) since 1940; and at that, the salon’s origins can be traced back as far as the nineteenth century; over the years it has been alternately known by Spanish-language equivalents to the “National Artists’ Salon,” the “Colombian Artists’ Salon,” the “National Visual Arts Salon,” the “National Salon of Artists,” etc., and its last edition, held in Medellín in the second half of 2013, was designated the Salón (Inter)Nacional de Artistas (i.e., “(Inter)National Artists’ Salon”).

Not unrelated to these name variants, iterations have developed according to varying models and management/participation strategies, such as the application and inclusion of works by specific medium, or language, as practiced by artists, as was frequent until the beginning of the 1970s; or the realization of artistic competitions, complete with various awards and sponsorships, a typical element -except in 1972 and following their suspension in 2004. Since 1976, the institution of so-called Salones Regionales de Artistas (“Regional Artists’ Salons;” acronym in Spanish: SRA) has functioned as a platform for the articulation of regional artistic practice in relation to the national arena.

As with the Salón Nacional de Artistas, management of the Salones Regionales de Artistas has given rise to different functional models over the course of the program’s 39-year history.(1) Early on, each SRA was conceived of as a regional node that would allow for participation on the part of artists within territorially based categories; the area surrounding Bogotá, for instance, has been commonly linked to the departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca and has often been denominated the “Central Region,” while on other occasions it has been linked to the departments of Huila, Tolima, Meta and others of the “eastern plains” regions; on a small handful of occasions, the Bogotá region has been treated as a stand-alone area.

With regard to their makeup, the first SRA, in 1976, called for a model that would welcome any artist who responded to an open, unrestricted call; that same stipulation remained in place in 1978, 1980 and 1984 iterations, as an “antechamber” event to each corresponding SNA. At that point, the SRA program was suspended indefinitely, only to reappear in 1992, brought on by the multi-cultural focus Colombia’s 1991 constitution stipulated, as well as by global circumstances implicit in quincentennial observances of Europeans’ first arrival to the New World; this and following editions (1993, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2003) took up a call-for-entries and selection-by-jury protocol among whose prizes and mentions was a right to SNA participation.

Starting with its eleventh edition, each SRA has operated based on curatorial research activities that have been assigned to task forces or art professionals through public calls for participation the Ministry of Culture conducts. One of the initial motivations for implementing this model was justified by the need to posit each SRA as a platform for exploring and identifying each region’s actual cultural and artistic practices and visualizing them on a shared and level platform, an outcome of the “Curation Laboratories” that were developed as a part of the 39thSalón Nacional de Artistas in 2004.

The focus posited by the Curatorial Research Grants model had typically called for a need to take on a region through a proposition or concept that was linked to the same; nevertheless, the Ministry of Culture’s 2014 call for public participation, despite still requiring a statement of “regional concept” as part of its research project requirements, did anticipate the possibility that the regional artists’ salons would go beyond the predetermined zones’ territorial specificity:

Additionally, while projects are traditionally formulated within the regional demarcation specified below, it will be possible to present proposals that respond to other notions of territory, and regions, in consideration of specific socio-political and cultural characteristics (Colombia’s Ministry of Culture, 2014).

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As well, it was on that occasion that the call for entries announced the possibility that other artistic practices beyond the production of “art objects” for the curatorial research’s conceptual formulation was possible:

The identification of artworks can include processes, productions and experiences of a wide-ranging nature that because of their inherent condition require new forms of public exhibition. Such is the case with practices whose realization does not necessarily translate into an object’s production. This expanded notion of curation seeks to respond to contemporary art’s complexity and diversity (Colombia’s Ministry of Culture, 2014).

Therefore, when it came to their verdict, the selection jury made up of Carolina Chacón, Giovanni Vargas and Javier Mejía necessarily accepted the notions implicit in the above-cited call for entries. Two projects selected to embody the Fifteenth Regional Artists’ Salon in terms of their conceptual proposals are worth particular consideration, but as well with regard to to the regional character their proposals were to evince, and, ultimately, in accordance with the breadth-of-scope they were able to provide when it came to the conventional notion of putting together an exhibition by means of object recollection.

In one sense, Museo efímero del olvido (The Ephemeral Museum of Oblivion), by Cristina Lleras and María Soledad García, postulated a notion of “oblivion” (in the sense of forgetting) as a “mechanism that affords being aware of time” and that took on the character of a museum that used an ephemeral inscription, the consequence of staging a temporary event like the SRA, to assemble artworks that would function as a device both for mediating past experiences as well as for their construction or reconstruction, in the knowledge that it is not possible to “recuperate” the past exactly as it was. The investigation centered on an embodiment of that curatorial notion and in activating artist databases that were elaborated as an outcome of the two most recent editions of SRA-ZC (“La oreja Roja” y “La cooperativa,” respectively) as distribution platforms for the current project.

The Museo efímero del olvido sought to put together an exhibition following the administration of an open call for entries. With respect to the notion of region, the project declared that its development did not depend on specific territorial circumscription beyond proximity that would facilitate platforms for encounter and shared experience among participants. That said, the exhibition venue in Bogotá necessarily implies considering a “region” in a specific fashion; its location on the National University of Colombia campus, at a time when the university faced a severe institutional and infrastructure-related crisis, posits a creative signaling gesture through the sum total of the curation; is inserted before a preexisting audience; and invites a consideration of the context, as laid out by the campus and its population, based on the presented curatorial proposal: oblivion.

Thus it is that the layout of the Museo Efímero del Olvido emerges as a consequence of several preoccupations Cristina Lleras has taken on in recent years as curator of Art and History Collections at Colombia’s National Museum as well as from her time as visual arts leader of the IDARTES District Arts Institute, specifically a need to strengthen the mediation processes exhibition practices inscribed within a collection of public holdings. For that reason, assimilation of the word museum as the declared antithesis of oblivion is of some consequence.

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Escuela de Garaje (Garage School), developed by the Bogotá collective La Agencia (formed by artists Santiago Pinyol, Mónica Zamudio, Diego García, Mariana Murcia and Sebastián Cruz) presented itself as an investigation of different artistic training platforms that make up the art world in Colombia. This intent led the group to undertake a nationwide “exploration” with which they tacitly took on the two abovementioned possibilities: going beyond the posited “region” parameter and taking on the creation of a salon from an alternate perspective to that of the production of artworks as objects. As they declare on their website:

Besides researching and working with the political concept of a region that is comprised and limited by the present call for entries—the central region­—we also seek to deploy a notion of education in art, or from art, as an expanded territory that goes beyond such political boundaries.
We start off with a re-signification of region outside the purely geo-political conception and more as a discrete region of artistic education. By working with a notion of the center that is interdependent with other regions, and the re-territorialization of that concept, we seek to act from a place of socio-political conscience in the arts community, based on a format that takes on the art school per se. (Colombia’s Ministry of Culture, 2014).

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Consequently, the group’s research tasks aimed to identify and include a series of practices focused on arts education at different levels (formal, non-formal and informal) with an immediate consequence that implied its decentralization for the exercise of observation and radial deployment from Bogotá to different regional scenarios, which in turn implied confronting the centralism that has always mediated Colombia’s political history.
The outcome was a recognition exercise for a set of practices related to arts education spread throughout different regions and integrated into a program centered on Bogotá and Duitama (Boyacá). They were deployed during a season of studio activities, study groups and one-day workshops; thus, different players in the arts realm who have undergone formation practices offered activities to audiences that gathered for the Escuela de Garaje; or as La Agencia’s Santiago Pinyol put, “there was never a formal call; projects were supported and gained visibility along the way.”
One of this functional scheme’s achievements was going beyond the immediate horizon curricular programs that operate in Bogotá impose, to identify other platforms for research, management and training. The exploration La Agencia carried out in other Colombian cities identified arts training institutional scenarios (universities and schools) and, as Pinyol adds, that institutional matrix “allowed us to get an idea of context as well as of other institutions and agents that were operating in the region.” In sum, they identified artistic scenarios and practices in formation that each region laid out and originated in line with its needs. Thus programming was an exceptional opportunity to connect initiatives spread across the country which, paradoxically, meant a gesture of centralization.

Museo de Arquitectura Leopoldo Rother

Museo de Arquitectura Leopoldo Rother

If there is something in which these curatorial projects tend to coincide it is in a confrontation with institutional spaces, specifically museums and schools, that for some time have brokered or at least participated in the construction of art-world power relations. In each case—and maybe through contradiction—the projects serve to expand the discursive and creative practices that such institutions’ traditions propose. The notion of the museum as an institution that has traditionally been called upon to safeguard the collective memory is assumed to be a temporary, ephemeral entity where particular subjects’ creative processes are capable of signaling different definitions of the past that have eluded the rigor of what is officially categorized as national heritage. As well, the idea of school gets detached from its traditional authority, giving rise to the convergence of a varied program of investigative and educational experiences deployed as a free, open socialization/participation program, an alternative to the pedagogic hierarchy where we can intuit descriptions the way that—in a particular context (ours)—education practices are taken up as artistic practices. Given both projects’ characteristics and their projection toward mediation and audience development in relation to different objects of art-practice, estimating the reaction and participation that each managed to mobilize must now be undertaken.

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References:
BARÓN, María Sol and ORDÓÑEZ, Camilo (2013). Mirar en el altiplano; desde Bogotá” in La Cooperativa. 14 Salón Regional de Artistas Zona Centro. Colombia’s Ministry of Culture.
ESCUELA DE GARAJE. “Respuestas al salón”. Accessible at http://escueladegaraje.com/respuestas/
LLERAS, Cristina and GARCÍA, María Soledad. Texto curatorial Museo Efímero del Olvido. Accessible at: http://efimero.org/texto-curatorial/
COLOMBIA’S MINISTRY OF CULTURE (2014). Convocatoria de estímulos 2014. Bogotá: Imprenta Nacional.

 

Notes:
(1) A detailed review regarding each edition’s development and the Zona Centro regional salons’ functional structure can be referenced in the document entitled Mirar en el altiplano; desde Bogotá, realized within the framework of “La Cooperativa. 14 Salón Regional de Artistas Zona Centro,” commissioned by that iteration of the salon’s curators in light of a need to establish a contextualization on the event’s historical development.

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