The 5th Luis Caballero Prize

All of them presented works that are coherent with the times we live in. Some concentrated on the natural landscape (López and Vergara), on the urban landscape (Ramírez), on the relationship between art and politics (Opazo and Pertuz), and on an aestheticist vision of art (Mejía). The Luis Caballero Prize is given by the Secretaría de Cultura, Recreación y Deporte of the Bogotá city government and constitutes an important award in Colombia not only for the financial recognition to the winner, but for the fact that it has become the ideal space to take measure of the local contemporary arts. In this fifth edition of the Luis Caballero Prize, the Bogotá public was able to see, at Galería Santa Fe, the work of six artists selected for their professional trajectory: Luis Fernando Ramírez, Catalina Mejía, Mario Opazo, Fernando Pertuz, Rosario López, and Nelson Vergara. All of them presented works that are coherent with the times we live in. Some concentrated on the natural landscape (López and Vergara), on the urban landscape (Ramírez), on the relationship between art and politics (Opazo and Pertuz), and on an aestheticist vision of art (Mejía). The six artists were able to explore in a masterful way transcendental creative issues. The winner¿selected by the jury comprised of Juan Fernando Herrán, Víctor Laignelet, and José Ignacio Roca¿was Expulsión del paraíso, and I wholeheartedly share their verdict. Let¿s take a critical tour of each one of the works on exhibit and analyze the particulars of each proposal presented. Luis Fernando Ramírez: 35 °C. 1 His work reflected on the relationship between urban landscape and ecology. The artist created models alluding to modern urbanism, which wasn¿t able to solve the problem of housing. It uses video, a ¿construction¿ in wood and plastic as a greenhouse where some plants are in bloom. These models of modern buildings, resembling of LeCorbusier¿s, are in reality beehives containing hundreds of bees. The parallel between a housing complex and a beehive is evident. The relationship between human, artificial construction, nature isolated and encircled, and the beehive are essential elements in Ramírez¿s work. This work seems to allude to the failure of modern urbanism from an ecological standpoint. However, the artist could have thought through a different kind of visual solution, a much more forceful one, where space could be contemplated and the viewer could leave behind his or her contemplative passivity in order to truly inhabit the problem posed. Ramírez¿s work wasn¿t able to arrive at a convincing formal solution. Catalina Mejía: Palabra imagen/ Imagen palabra Mejía alludes to a mirror relationship, to an unfolding of words and images in a mirror. Her work, evidently pictorial, explores in a masterful way the relationship between the gaze and the words materialized in her ¿paintings.¿ Twenty four stainless-steel sheets function as support for a painting that intermittently lets us see the surface as is, where viewers will find their own reflection. The image of the viewer thus combines with brushstrokes of black and gray, and the photograph of book spines fuses with the color. Mejía alludes to that old relationship highlighted by Horace, the Roman poet and philosopher, where Ut pictora poiesis denoted this idea: that images are like a poem (word) and poetry like a painting (image). Unfortunately, this work, by not going further or deeper, leaves us at the threshold of what could have been a less aestheticist proposal, bolder and riskier at the conceptual and formal levels. Mario Opazo: Expulsión del paraíso 2 The subject of his work has been explored widely throughout history by many artists such as Fra Angelico, Masaccio, Michelangelo, Chagall, among others, who have been able to represent the Genesis story narrated in the Bible, which tells of the expulsion from Paradise. In this entirely performative work we see, in a reflective manner, the relationship that exists between history (individual and collective) and the present, from a political point of view. Opazo¿s work is traversed by the idea of the journey; not the journey of the adventure-seeker but that of the exile, the displaced person. This erratic journey is masterfully materialized in several fragments-records of actions that emphasize the idea of the non-territory: an image (video projection) of the artist himself immersed in the desert, uttering through a megaphone the following sentence: When I was a child my mother swaddled me in the Chilean flag to protect me against the dictatorship¿s blows. After this, we hear throughout the entire gallery the sound of a bell. The artist covers himself with the Chilean flag and sits on the floor across from a character from the Saharaui nomadic ethnic group, who warps a turban around Opazo¿s head. In another fragment we see a machine projecting an image against a large metallic dish filled to the brim with water. At the bottom of the dish there is a white handkerchief, and on it the image of a fallen Palestinian man who extends his hand towards a robot, who is trying to disarm him. The artist connects this image with Michelangelo¿s Sistine Chapel fresco representing the creation of Man through a divine touch, while a record player of 1980s vintage reproduces Guiseppe Verdi¿s Aida opera, composed on commission for the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1871. This musical referent makes visible a fragment of history and a territory (the Near East) that has been the victim of colonialist conflicts between European and American powers. A small wooden sailboat rests on the floor, seemingly sailing towards an uncertain fate on a turbulent, horizon-less sea projected on a wall. Behind the wall we see how the end connects with the beginning: the artist himself is present, dressed entirely in black, sitting behind the wall with his eyes covered by a white cloth. His right hand strikes the bell we heard at the beginning, after pronouncing a sentence in allusion to the ¿Expulsion from Paradise¿ that, I the artist¿s own words, is ¿an expelled body that resists to the limi.t¿ His personal history as a Chilean exile in Colombia after the coup against the Allende government becomes a point of reference for all those exiled by violence. Fernando Pertuz: Somos Estrellas 3 This is a frontally political work of art, among the most interesting here, as it generates more questions than answers. Viewers enter the a dimly lit gallery and encounter a series of video projections where a group of characters is seen, always on the march, clamoring for something, protesting; characters that seem to have no voice, but constitute a true scream; characters that are stars, luminous, fleeting yet persisting in their brightness despite the cloudy social skies: a man-orchestra has composed with great irony a song to the ¿Humanitarian Barter¿ that directly concerns Colombia¿s internal war. Another character shouts ¿Without sexual freedom there is no political freedom;¿ behind him, a cross-gendered person, impeccably clad in a wedding gown, carries an enormous cross insisting on the inquisitorial role of those that believe that the cross is the only path to passion. A family group, displaced by violence, improvises a vallenato group: accordion, guaracha, bell. These among other urban characters that become speaking, shining stars now visible in a society that forgets them all too easily. There are eight stars in the gallery who, upon finalizing their discourses, produce a veritable cacophony in which we hear only a single scream; they start to blink while we hear the artist for the first time, panting. Pertuz reminds us, echoing Foucault, that the body is an organic thing, flesh and bone, and a topos or common site that speaks of the present. The stars form constellations, like those written daily by visitors to the exhibition in front of each image-star in the opposite wall, around questions such as ¿Have you been the victim of racist acts?,¿ ¿Do you know of violations of human rights?,¿ among others connected to the images. Rosario López: 359°. 4 Her proposal emerges from an experience that attempts to grasp the landscape in a single turn on its own axis, but through an action on a specific location: a walk in Bolivia¿s Salar del Uyuni. The landscape, the horizon in particular, has been a constant in a good portion of Rosario López¿s work since Trampas de viento (2000). But the landscape in López is not handled with nostalgia. On the contrary, it is assumed in a radical and intelligent fashion: there is at bottom a certain ecological vision, albeit a somewhat shy one. The gallery space is handled well and, upon entering, viewers encounter a simulacrum of what it would be to be at the Salar de Uyuni. López literally transfers a piece of that landscape. Such a transfer is simulated and tamed. What she wants to share with her public is the experience itself. A faraway sensation, the last vestige of a place that is perhaps doomed to disappear soon. The photography of the site¿s ground, arranged in fragments on the wall, helps configure that new experience of the gaze and the body walking. The viewer is immersed in the work. Finally we are confronted with what the artist calls a ¿three-dimensional drawing,¿ an aluminum structure once again alluding to the Salar¿s geometric shape, a kind of fragment of the globe. Would it be too far off to think of a large portion of the world as a great salt mine? Perhaps not, if we take into account the accelerated pace of the planet¿s warming; however, as the artist says, this work ¿is the reconstruction of an inner experience¿ of a site and as such any ecological point of view is unfortunately discarded. Nelson Vergara: Paisaje Desmembrado 5 Vergara is able to reflect visually about the fragile relationship established between human beings and nature. The artist speaks of two important points of reference in his work: the painting of Caspar David Friedrich, a Romantic artist who in his quest for a certain spirituality shows human beings in a kind of solitude and intimacy within nature. In this work we find traces of Wanderer Above the Sea Fog, Friedrich¿s famous painting from 1818, where a figure atop a mountain, his back turned towards us, contemplates the horizon. ¿Caspar Friedrich¿s work takes us inside the gaze of the seer.¿ Thus, this work ¿is not about the image [of the landscape] but about the body and with the body [of the landscape],¿ the artist says. The second important reference is Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Werner Herzog¿s 1972 film about the adventure of Spanish Conquistador Lope de Aguirre in his quest to find El Dorado. This armored character, an avatar of human hubris who dreams of dominating nature, interests the artist as a way of reflecting about the instrumentalization of the natural world. There is, in opposite directions, a large-size image of a black-clad woman, on a one-to-one scale, standing on water. The wind shakes her dress and the water. Then in the opposite wall we see a moor-like landscape. In close up we see the frailejón shrubs that mix with our shadow. This looks like a painting and that feeling is enhanced when we touch the image, or rather, its support: a densely-textured canvas that brings to mind those frailejón shrubs. And, to our surprise, the shrubs move: it is not a painting, despite the image¿s apparent immobility; some leaves move every once in a while when the shadow of the artist crosses the landscape. In this work the artist is able to put the viewer in touch with nature, in a deep, almost meditative immersion where we can hear, as we look and follow the movement, the sounds of the Magdalena river, of the wind, and of some insects and birds, thanks to a media mechanism handled with excellence by the artist: cables on the floor set like drawings, light bulbs, monitors facing downward towards a mirror, large screens, and technologies that underscore the strangeness of the landscape. NOTES 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. ?