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Cantos/Cuentos Colombianos
dal 27/10/2004 al 17/4/2005
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Cantos/Cuentos Colombianos

Daros Latinamerica, Zurich

The most extensive selection of contemporary art from Colombia ever to be presented in Europe. The oeuvre of ten renowned artists reveals a hitherto unknown world of images and experiences, which begs comparison with any other international art. The exhibition shows installations, videos, photographs, objects, performances and sound pieces from the holdings of the daros-latinamerica collection.

comunicato stampa

A Collection of Ruth Schmidheiny
and Stephan Schmidheiny

Cantos/Cuentos Colombianos - Contemporary Colombian Art
Daros Exhibitions [Zurich]
28.10.2004 - 17.4.2005

Cantos/Cuentos Colombianos is the most extensive selection of contemporary art from Colombia ever to be presented in Europe. The oeuvre of ten renowned artists reveals a hitherto unknown world of images and experiences, which begs comparison with any other international art. Showing a compelling rigor in both form and content, these mature artists approach their own country and its turbulent history and present from a surprising diversity of angles. The richness of their artistic signatures is mirrored in the broad range of chosen media. The exhibition shows installations, videos, photographs, objects, performances and sound pieces from the holdings of the daros-latinamerica collection.

Part I: October 30, 2004 - January 9, 2005
Fernando Arias, Juan Manuel Echavarría, Oswaldo Macià, Nadín Ospina, José Alejandro Restrepo, Miguel Ángel Rojas, Rosemberg Sandoval

Part II: January 29, 2005 - April 17, 2005
María Fernanda Cardoso, Juan Manuel Echavarría, Oswaldo Macià, Oscar Muñoz, Doris Salcedo, Rosemberg Sandoval

Fernando Arias (b. 1963) usually works performatively, making use of a wide variety of media and forms of expression to do justice to the theme in question. All of his works emerge from his personal experiences, and often he employs his own body as well. Arias enables us to experience the game of death by building a coffin out of Lego pieces in the national colors of Colombia: the child's dream of Lego is transformed into a coffin whose top bears not a cross but a white line symbolizing cocaine. The artist expresses his suffering, mourning, and rage over the situation in his native country in his multiple Paz aporte (roughly, ''contribution to peace,'' a pun on the word pasaporte): the sovereign national seal decorates a Colombian passport as usual (which internationally marks its bearer as a pariah), but the seal is transformed by the addition of an enormous projectile, making it a symbol for the Colombian civil war. ¿Quién da más? (Do We Have Another Bidder?): Arias tattoos his own signature on his loin; the artist literally puts his skin on the market, and the high bidder can purchase it. Sir Ernst Gombrich's Story of Art is ambiguously bolted shut: having locked up this bible of art, Arias has laid it to rest. As a small glimmer of hope, he juxtaposes it with his own thinner, but similarly designed book, La historia de Arias (The Story of Arias), thus ironically elevating himself to the pantheon of the arts.

María Fernanda Cardoso (b. 1963) knows no fear of dead animals. She has devoted herself to fauna, to animals like those found in pre-Columbian myths, or those both ordinary and fascinating, which have stayed with her since childhood: butterflies, lizards, snakes, grasshoppers, fleas, flies, frogs, and piranhas. Polished cattle bones, frequently used as a substitute for marble to pave the paths of Colombian manorial houses during the colonial period, are transformed in her hands into small bizarre, outstretched fists. She arranges animal cadavers into minimalist ornamental tableaux whose striking effect derives from their evident authenticity. Absurd and surreal, sometimes repulsive and alienating, these curious works are also fascinating and engaging. The fact that Cardoso's animal objects are completely removed from their conventional context gives them their strength. They are ''natural artifacts'': this implicit contradiction exerts an unsettling impact on the viewer.

The effects of violence can be depicted more strikingly than violence itself as demonstrated by the video Bocas de ceniza (Mouths of Ash): Colombians who have been witness to terrible massacres sing simple songs of their experiences. This cathartic, self-therapeutic act takes place with such intense concentration and such startling frankness that the psyches of the performers are laid entirely bare. The almost unbearable presence of their eyes and voices permits us to become intimately involved, even though we never learn any of the details. Juan Manuel Echavarría (b. 1947) achieves presence (of Colombia's precarious situation) through absence (of explicit pictorial material). He often makes use of metaphor as well to make his Colombian subject matter universally applicable. The precise, condensed stylistic means allow the penny to drop for the viewer only on closer inspection. The social relation of two parrots in the video Guerra y pa' (War and Peace) becomes a persuasive symbol of human coexistence. In Bandeja de Bolívar (Bolívar's Platter), a hymn to his homeland is transformed step by step into a small pile of cocaine. Exotic plants that appear to have been taken from nineteenth-century botanical encyclopedias suddenly turn out to be human bones...

Purely visual art no longer possesses sufficient power for Oswaldo Macià (b. 1960), so he has made a pioneering turn to scents and sounds, to which he attributes greater authenticity. He has entered a field that has been completely neglected by world culture, and hence we lack even the most essential basic vocabulary. He is represented in the exhibition by two audio compositions: Something Going On Above my Head, a symphony for four times five hundred bird songs from four continents, and Vesper, a sound piece based on the structural principles of Gregorian chant and consisting of countless voices of Caribbean women speaking in joyful excitement. The women's voices and the bird songs are Macià's source material that he reworks symphonically. Harmonies collide with cacophony, the concrete transforms into the abstract and back again, the specific competes with the general, order becomes chaos and vice versa. The artist raises the question whether and to what extent ''natural'' differs from ''cultural''; to him the sounds and noises of language are universal. Our worlds of sensory experience and perception are put to the test here; we rethink our listening habits and ask the fundamental question of the meaning of sounds and noises when listening to his symphonic sound pieces.
The power and ephemerality of memory are the focus of Oscar Muñoz's (b. 1951) work. He expresses the fact that memory (memoria) - and time, which is tied up with it - is relative, can never be grasped entirely, remains constantly in flux, and ultimately escapes us no matter what efforts we might make. Muñoz's raw material consists of photographs that he estranges and transforms by subjecting them to a variety of technical processes. Aliento (Breath) clarifies in exemplary fashion the interplay of becoming and vanishing that is inherent in memory: first we see our likeness in the mirror; then, by exhaling, we give shape for a moment to images of other people on this same mirror. But these fade immediately so that our own mirror image emerges again. The metaphor of becoming and vanishing, the eternal circulation of life and death, also defines Biografías (Biographies): it is impossible to capture the images statically, because human faces - each of which stands for a completed life - deform and swirl into an Orcus that immediately resurrects them, only change possesses continuity.

Nadín Ospina's (b. 1960) playful, ironic, and witty work subverts the usual expectations of Latin American art. He presents modified versions of pre-Columbian stone, ceramic, or metal sculptures by placing the heads of Walt Disney's fabled world of animals on figures of pre-Columbian myth. Thus Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, or Pluto decorate ''ancient'' ceramic or stone sculptures; a statue from San Agustín in Colombia is crowned with Bart Simpson's head. All these objects are authentic forgeries, produced by local specialists after the original models. Not only does the artist elicit the viewer's amused surprise; his objects also broach the merging of different cultures. Ospina traces the infiltration of Latin American cultures by the culture of the United States and also refers more generally to the hybridization of his own culture and that of others in recent centuries. The question of identity, so often posed in Latin America, is answered here in a friendly, cheerful way but with a slightly bitter tone: the true original lives on only as an object of study or status in precious collections. In our daily routine today nothing is authentic any longer; everything is permeated by countless influences that have lastingly contaminated the noble idea of the original. True identity is now found only in fusion.

Ojo por diente (An Eye for a Tooth) presents two old display cases that look as if they had come from an ethnological museum. Above the left-hand one is a photograph of a bespectacled anthropologist; in the case itself, somewhat lost, lie his spectacles. Above the right-hand case is a photograph of a ''savage'' baring his teeth, and as a counterpart to the glasses, neatly and delicately arranged and numbered: his teeth. Who cannibalized whom? Who is devouring whom, even today? With an impish wink, José Alejandro Restrepo (b. 1959) explores Colombia's cultural history, its myths, its exploration and discovery, the driving forces and powers involved, as well as an exploitation that continues today. Uncertainties, fears, and prejudices as well as their possible causes and constructions emerge ironically in Hegel's and Humboldt's commentaries on the size of the American crocodile. The New World meets the Old World here; the empirical world grapples with theory; the relativity of our perception is laid bare; finally, imagination triumphs, and the crocodile itself resigns from the debate, with the wink of a (video) eye? In Musa paradisiaca (the botanical name for banana), nature (in the form of a banana plant) undergoes a grotesque synthesis with technology (gutted television monitors). As seen from a Western perspective, Colombia in all its natural splendor and variety is a Garden of Eden, a paradise, which here collides abruptly with social reality: the endless history of oppression and violence that is exemplified in the banana plantations and demonstrated in television images of the massacres that have taken place in recent decades.

Miguel Ángel Rojas (b. 1946) is at home in all media. Here he is represented by ''drawings'' whose ''lines'' consist of coca leaves cut into circles, miniature prints of photographs, and U.S. dollar bills. In his extensive oeuvre, which repeatedly features the dark sides of life and the struggle for survival, Rojas fuses the everyday life of Colombia, alien cultural influences, and the natural and cultural history of his nation. Art and life represent an inseparable unity for the artist. For example, in seven images in comic-book style Rojas narrates the story of a small girl, Paquita, who goes out onto the streets of the dangerous city to buy an ice cream. This brief tale is dark and sarcastic, filled with all the menacing dangers to which Paquita - who symbolizes not just the artist but all Colombians - is subjected: purity and innocence meet violence and the threat of death. The small black-and-white dots that make up Paquita's story are revealed only to an attentive viewer: they are photographs from the 1970s that Rojas took in movie theaters in his native city, Bogotá, gloomy and oppressive documents of a desperate search for possible sexual partners, forbidden and mysterious rituals on the edges of social and individual existence, abysses of life, gazes into a lost darkness.
The works of Doris Salcedo (b. 1958) are not easy matter for the superficial viewer. She has set herself the goal of revealing the violencia universal in her works and of creating memorials intended to provoke soul-searching contemplation and encourage diverse memories (both individual and universal) as possible premises for thinking in new and deeper ways. Salcedo's work is thorough and well thought-out; nothing is left to chance; every detail counts. Often she works with pieces of furniture that refer specifically to human beings but that acquire an abstract character in her hands. With great subtlety she creates symbolism and obtains the necessary transcendence. Noviembre 6 refers to the bloody confrontations during the violent storming of Bogotá's Palace of Justice in 1985. The work consists of chairs and stools of various metals wedged into one another. Antagonistic elements dominate the treacherously calm scene; hard is pitted against soft; vulnerability and fragility go hand in hand with brutality. The dysfunctional treatment of her material, through disorientation and complete negation, becomes strikingly evident. It is hopeless to want to occupy one of the chairs: the effect of the installation is at once leaden and profoundly disturbing, and it becomes a metaphor for imprisonment, torture, and abduction, a memorial to all those who are not allowed to be and live in peace.

Rosemberg Sandoval (b. 1959) takes an artistic walk on the wild side. Since the early 1980s, this performance pioneer has never pandered to his audiences. In his many actions, several of which are documented, he collides with the hard reality of Colombia's condition humaine. He confronts the viewer unsparingly with taboos and points out social injustices. In his performances he combines the art history of the twentieth century with Christian symbolism and body substances, which he gets from hospitals and morgues, to create affecting scenarios that are psychologically and physically challenging. The protagonist's undramatic, almost clinical form of expression contrasts with his materials and subject matter. Sandoval sees his oeuvre as a morally driven artistic interpretation of the reality that surrounds him. He cannot and does not wish to sublimate stylistically the violence that prevails but instead prods our senses a little by exposing us to the stench that it exudes.

Artists of our collection in the exhibition:
Fernando Arias, Juan Manuel Echavarría, Oswaldo Macià, María Fernanda Cardoso, Miguel Ángel Rojas, Nadín Ospina, Oscar Muñoz, José Alejandro Restrepo, Doris Salcedo, Rosemberg Sandoval

Oscar Muñoz
Aliento, 1996-2002

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