05.03.2018

Las buenas intenciones: Praise for the Experience of Everyday Life

Diego del Valle Ríos, editor of Terremoto, reflects on the curation of Carlos Ashida in the exhibition ‘Las buenas intenciones’ (The Good Intentions) as an example of the possibility of slowing the pace of contemporary society.

The capitalist society in which we find ourselves has deteriorated the human being’s capacity for empathy. Recognizing ourselves as vulnerable—as the earthquake taught us last September—is the beginning of the possibility of creating affective bonds to begin building community. However, the society of the spectacle—a pillar of neoliberal capitalism—emerges, as Guy Debord explains, in the loss of the unity of the world.
When the world is transformed into images, it is revealed through seeing. The gaze framed by the dynamics of consumption and waste of capitalism, only addresses what is spectacular and what materially reconstructs “the religious illusion (…) [where] men had deposited their own powers by detaching themselves”:[1] a mythological dream that as mortals we looked towards from the base of the hierarchy. Paraphrasing Debord, the “spectacular” is then what the human being has been deprived of doing in contrast to the cosmic and ontological; the Gods we idolize are a reflection of what we might be, but what we do not allow ourselves to recognize as something humanly possible. Thus, this polarization accommodates the proletarianization of the world, where the human being separates itself from its subordination to the spectacular, resulting in an alienation that isolates us and dispossesses us of the world by transforming it into commodities. The fetishized merchandise, spectacularized, is the positive ideal for which we motivate ourselves.
In his book The Burnout Society, the philosopher Byung-Chul Han explains that each period of time has a pathological status. During the last century, specifically in the Cold War era, society was organized under an infectious viral pathology whose consequence was an immunological reaction based on the differences identified between the self and the Other, the inside and the outside. The social dynamic was one of attack and defense against the strange (the negative) resulting in an organization that annulled the Other and reaffirmed the self. At the end of the Cold War era, globalization inaugurated an era of communications and exchanges controlled by hegemonic centers that transform otherness into exoticism through fetishization as a tool for consumption. The negativity of the strange as a possibility of dialectic disappears in the path of an intercultural reconciliation.

This way, differences are transformed into the freedom to do what one wants, what Han identifies as positivity.[2] The excess of positivity becomes an absolute cancellation of the negative, which builds a service-oriented society, where the human being exploits itself —Yes, we can! Just do it—at an accelerated rhythm that isolates us from our environment in order to achieve the self-demands that we impose on ourselves in order to achieve the idealization of the spectacular, our ultimate goal.
In this way, the South Korean philosopher characterizes the twenty-first century by the increase of people with depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), [3] neuronal pathologies which are not the consequence of a defense that reacts towards the exterior, but of the interior of the individual itself. From an autistic egocentrism we adopt the rhythm of consumption, production, and waste, becoming our own oppressors, always hyperactive and hyper-neurotic.
In contrast to this accelerated rhythm of self-exploitation, Han proposes the pedagogy of looking,[4] which is a decelerated contemplation (not totally stopped) that reintegrates negativity—the Other, the stranger beyond our positive individual being—into our reflection. The mind stops contemplating itself from the schizophrenia of modernity and takes a cadence that allows it to draw limits that polarize and arouse the necessary resistance for reflection beyond the personal: dialectic as a tool of thought. The burst of acceleration that abstracts the world, contracts to redraw the form of the Other, who accompanies us and who we accompany in this existence.

*

One of the last exhibitions curated by Carlos Ashida (Guadalajara, 1955-2015) was Las buenas intenciones (The Good Intentions). From what was previously written, this exhibition could be understood as an exercise of the pedagogy of looking to decelerate the contemporary art system that, due to its rhythm, has become gradually isolated from its surroundings.

Carlos gathered together the work of 12 people in the halls of the Cabañas Cultural Institute (ICC). Far from any theoretical or contextual notion of high culture, they created works that were “product of innate skills that, having the limited resources that the circumstances placed at their disposal, found the ways to manifest themselves.”[5] In the rooms of the Cabañas, World Heritage Site located in the city of Guadalajara, Carlos Ashida, an architect, brought together the work of Julián Sánchez Sauceda, watchman; Marithé de Alvarado, pastry chef; Francisco López “Don Panchito”, mendicant; Jesús “Chucho” Reyes Ferreira, storekeeper; Vicente Rea Valadéz, professor and bird cage maker; Alberto Rodríguez “Kalimán”, quirky drifter; Manuel Sumano, scavenger; Andrés Arroyo Cassio, ex-convict artisan; Enrique Metínides, red note photographer; Alfredo Briones, guard; Antonio Caballero, fotonovelas photographer; and Miguel Ángel Estévez Nieves, misfit teenager. The works assembled mostly included drawings, but also three-dimensional pieces of paper, wicker birdcages, writings with visual aspects, mobile variants of popular votive offerings, wood-carved sculptures, and photographic archives of pastry and cake decorations.

With this set of creations, Carlos Ashida reminds us that the importance of re-examining art from its unfounded root lies in the possibility of bringing together the ordinary with the symbolic.

Thus, which can only be achieved by slowing down our gaze hijacked by the schizophrenia of our autistic egocentrism. Over the course of eight years, Ashida’s pedagogical perspective allowed him to observe his surroundings with attention to find his reflection of the world in the small creative and artistic gestures of the everyday life of people far from high culture.
It is worth mentioning that since 2013 the ICC has been under the direction of Olga Ramírez Campuzano, former director of the Jalisco Institute of Social Assistance (IJAS), who has little to no experience in the field of art and culture. Under her direction, she has been restructuring the institute according to this constant: art as a neoliberal spectacle. Seeking to depart from the rhythm the ICC’s management had imposed on the curatorial department headed by Ashida, the exhibition Las buenas intenciones made it clear that art is a form of deceleration that invites reflection beyond the autistic ego to which we have all submitted.
Exhibiting in a precinct that preserves the most representative murals of José Clemente Orozco, the works of Mathias Goeritz, and the volcanic landscapes of Dr. Atl, the work of people who did not identify as artists and who had no academic training, but who found the opportunity to take a break from their routines to reflect through the creative gesture took a powerful force by the human characteristic that evoked that set of works. Through the idea of everyday existence—which Duchamp had already elevated to the rank of art—Las buenas intenciones questions the very idea of art as an artistic object that subscribes to the rhythm of the accelerated system. Such was the power of this curatorial gesture that the museum management closed the exhibition much earlier than it should have because it considered it disrespectful. In a world of neuronal pathologies, recognizing ourselves through the Other means the possible destabilization of an individualistic system based on rivalries. Likewise, as Baudelio Lara explains, “the format [of this exhibition] could be seen as a social experiment, as an unprecedented possibility of sharing and proposing unconventional political forms of participation in a space considered unique and exclusive.”[6]
With this exhibition, Ashida reminds us that artistic creation needs to depart from the service-oriented society to rediscover the creative and disinterested impulse that motivates it, responding firstly to the circumstances surrounding curiosity, reflection, and sensitivity, characteristics that describe the basis of what was his curatorial practice. Carlos Ashida trained as an architect at the Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESO), a career that gave him the necessary aesthetic sensitivity that would lead him to venture into the visual arts as a collector, gallery owner, art agent, and, later, as a curator. A voracious reader of philosophy, poetry, history, and literature, as well as a cinephile, Ashida created his own understanding of how to investigate, exhibit, circulate, and endow art with narrative and discourse—practices that we now identify as those usually performed by a “curator,” a role which did not exist in this capacity in the eighties as it does today.
His fascination with studying, promoting, and supporting human creation was symmetrical to the gentle warmth that allowed him to create deep friendships with those who would become his collaborators. This pairing was a clear reflection of his Japanese ancestry from his father’s side of the family, a personal circumstance that translated into a series of experiences that always had art as an essential part of them.

He began his career in art in 1984 at Clave, a contemporary art gallery, however he quickly parted ways with his troublesome partner there and continued for a brief period, in 1987, with his own gallery, Galería Carlos Ashida. A year later, the limited opportunities in the market and his discomfort with the commercial aspect of the art world lead him to shift the gallery’s model for the production and exhibition of artwork. Carlos Ashida Arte Contemporáneo—which would become Arena México Arte Contemporáneo when Patrick Charpenel joined Ashida in 1993—was the first independent platform in Mexico to produce and exhibit bodies of work in close dialogue with the artists, a process that today we would call curatorial. Patrick left the partnership shortly after, and the management was left in charge of the Ashidas, alternating between Jaime and Mónica Ashida. Under the direction of the Ashida brothers, Arena México stood out for encouraging the production of works from conceptual languages in collaboration and exchange with artisanal and industrial processes. This focus was undoubtedly due to Ashida’s relationship with the Taller Mexicano de Gobelinos (TMG)—a workshop founded in Guadalajara in 1967 by the Austrian textile artist Fritz Riedl under the commission of the architect Eric Coufal—which Carlos Ashida would begin to direct in 1983, and which has been in the charge of his brother since 1994.
In 1992, Ashida helped to found Expoarte Guadalajara, the first international fair of contemporary art in Mexico that over the course of seven editions (1992-1998) would manage to bring together more than 40 galleries from France, Mexico, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Spain, Costa Rica, United States, Switzerland, and Venezuela.
Realizing that without reflection and dialogue a plural and stable market could not be possible, Carlos Ashida together with Guillermo Santamarina created the International Forum of Contemporary Art Theory (FITAC) for which, as María Virginia Di Martino recounts, “he brought together renowned researchers, analysts and international art critics… who addressed topics on criticism, broadcasting, specialized magazines in art, collecting, galleries, auctions, the artist and art in contemporary society and the global vision on Latin American contemporary art.”[7] This forum included leading figures such as Gerardo Mosquera, Jean Fisher, Teresa del Conde, Felipe Ehrenberg, Liliana Porter, Frederico Morais, Catherine David, Cuauhtémoc Medina, and Ulf Rollof, among others.
The visibility Ashida achieved through these projects gave him the opportunity to direct the Museum of Fine Arts of the University of Guadalajara in 1998, a mythical administration known for its exhibitions that integrated different styles and generations of the art from Jalisco, from the craft tradition and the conservative plastic arts to the new aesthetic and conceptual languages, something that was considered scandalous in Guadalajara at the time. He subsequently had the opportunity to direct several museums including the Carrillo Gil Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca, as well as the Exhibition Coordination Department at Centro Cultural Tijuana.

At the end of his period at Centro Cultural Tijuana and before becoming the chief curator of the ICC, Ashida produced many exhibitions as an independent curator in Tijuana, Guadalajara, León, Mexico City, and Oaxaca in venues such as the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Museum of Modern Art (MX City), Rufino Tamayo Museum, Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, Contemporary Art Museum of Monterrey, Contemporary Art Museum of Oaxaca Centro Cultural Tijuana, Art Museum of Zapopan, and Instituto Cultural Cabañas.
All these projects allowed him to articulate a great network of cultural agents, colleagues, and friends such as Rufino Tamayo, Juan Soriano, Germán Venegas, Juan Kraeppellin, Sylvia Navarrete, Patricia Martín, Roberto Turnbull, Silvia Gruner, Francis Alÿs, Thomas Glassford, Guillermo Santamarina, Doña Carmen Marín de Barreda, Teresa del Conde, among others.
Keti Chukhrov observes that although “the art system believes in its democratic micro-revolutionary social commitment (…) [its] social infrastructure [is] private instead of common.”[8] Contemporary curatorial practice has integrated Otherness into its critical and analytical vision, which has allowed articulating an important dialectical apparatus of visibility. However, the practice still subscribes to an abundant positivity: acceleration inevitably integrates the exhibition to its rhythm of consumption, production and disposal. What should be a space to exercise reflection from the pedagogy of gaze, is a vehicle of entertainment linked to the idea of leisure: the commodification of free time available to the wage earner under the logic of capital.
However, the work of Carlos Ashida is a reminder that there is still the possibility of stopping and changing course, pace or not to do according to the personal desire of pursuit or fulfillment. Ashida created his own model of curatorship and management from his very particular way of connecting life and art. His holistic sensitivity allowed him to understand the importance and value of all the parts of the set of possibilities that make up the artistic system.
From the outside, without fear of not fitting in or belonging, Ashida recognized that the eternity of the human spirit cannot be conditioned by technocratic time. In this way, the curatorial work of Carlos Ashida resorts to the ordinary as something that we inherently share because of our human condition: the awareness of our existence based on reflection and openness to the world. His work is a reminder that curating, far from ideas of performance, speculation, or productivity, can work as a counterweight to the fragmented and brief perception, characteristics of this cognitive era, delimited by the speed of a megabyte to the flow of consumption.

Notes

  1. Guy Debord, The Society of Spectacle. (Santiago, Chile: Edición Naufragio, 1995), pg. 14.

  2. Byung-Chul Han. The Burnout Society. ESPA-PDF, ePub, 2010, p. 5.

  3. Ibid. p. 5.

  4. Ibid. p. 72.

  5. Carlos Ashida, Curatorial text of Las buenas intenciones. Cabañas Cultural Institute, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, August, 2014.

  6. Baudelio Lara, (n.d.), “Plástica / Rotación cósmica o El último viaje de Carlos Ashida,” Luvina, Revista literaria de la Universidad de Guadalajara, January 10, 2018: https://luvina.com.mx/foros/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2412&Itemid=71

  7. María Virginia Di Martino Calvo, Centro de Arte Moderno, Expoarte Guadalajara y Sector Reforma: Espacios decisivos en el desarrollo y difusión del arte contemporáneo en Guadalajara. Master Thesis in Management and Cultural Development at the University of Guadalajara.

  8. Keti Chukhrov, Sobre la falsa democracia del arte contemporáneo. Arozamena, Alejandro (Ed.) El Arte no es la Política / La Política no es el Arte. (Madrid: Brumaria A.C., 2016).

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