Ecuador: The Center of the World (and a Little Beyond)

May 16, 2016

During the 17th and 18th centuries, several geodesic missions came to Ecuador, most of them from France. Their objective: to measure the center of the world. To trace it with precision.[1] A number of those involved in the French missions settled in Cuenca, which is the reason some of the city’s architecture is modeled after the French Republic.

Ecuador seems to be marked by a sort of obsession with geodesic measurements, which are also the result of subjective calculations and viewpoints, and therefore politically problematic. I recall that when visiting the monument to the “Middle of the World”, all of us—tourists and not-so-tourists alike—were told through informal conversations that the middle of the world was not at that exact site, but “a bit further on.” This seemed remarkable to me, considering the relativity of measurement and its systems—and when all is said and done, does it really matter? What would be more important in such a case: the monument itself, or the middle of the world truly being located at that site? It seems that being the center, or being in the middle, is always a complicated endeavor.[2]

Perhaps this obsession with measuring the center has to do with the rise of Cartesian rationalism, which impacted the writing of history in that era. It is interesting, for example, to consider the way in which the democratic and modern construction of Nation-States had to be justified through a certain act of drawing. Maps were fundamental in the conception of the foundations of imagined frontiers. Measuring, calculating, and outlining were above all a re-writing of history narrated from the West, and drawing was a writing exercise. Geopolitics is an aesthetic concern as well.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_1.jpg

Fig 1. Postcard from the series “I Got Up” by On Kawara, 1968–1979, Quito, Ecuador © 2016 On Kawara. Courtesy of Adrián Balseca
Fig 1. Postcard from the series “I Got Up” by On Kawara, 1968–1979, Quito, Ecuador © 2016 On Kawara. Courtesy of Adrián Balseca

In consideration of the historical-aesthetic-political relationship, I will attempt in this text to sketch, to draw, to take on viewpoints that follow distinct conceptual itineraries through pre-Columbian and colonial history in order to get closer to modern and contemporary Ecuador. I will do this by surveying the responses that have been forged in the fields of visual arts and certain contemporary aesthetics.

Artist José Hidalgo Anastacio’s approach to measurement as an aesthetic concern is one clear example of this. A significant portion of his work functions as a critique of Cartesian logic which, through reason as well as the so-called “exact sciences,” develops discourses of truth and protocols that attempt to give shape to the world.

The work of José Hidalgo functions as a kind of allegory for the relativity of measurements, using rigorous research to explore other forms of calculation beyond the decimal metric system. It is no exaggeration to say that the discipline of Western systems of measurement, notwithstanding the formal aspect of that which is measurable, are also forms of visual epistemology that have taken account of the world, its size, and its visual forms, symmetry, and contrast.

José Hidalgo’s work is thus a way of developing aesthetic counter-discourses based on the exploration and visual juxtaposition of alternate mathematics, exploring forms of measurement from pre-Columbian and Asian cultures, resulting in the formal solutions of geometric abstraction.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_2.jpg

Fig 2. L and R: José Hidalgo Anastacio, Ecumene plana-Reticula-Convivencia, 2014. Images courtesy of Rio Revuelto and Ricardo Bohórquez. Bottom: José Hidalgo Anastacio, Palmo convivium, 2015. Image courtesy of Galería Lucia de la Puente
Fig 2. L and R: José Hidalgo Anastacio, Ecumene plana-Reticula-Convivencia, 2014. Images courtesy of Rio Revuelto and Ricardo Bohórquez. Bottom: José Hidalgo Anastacio, Palmo convivium, 2015. Image courtesy of Galería Lucia de la Puente

Alexander Von Humboldt was a German polymath: an explorer, naturalist and geographer, he is officially regarded as “the father of modern geography.” His voyages of exploration brought him to central Asia, Europe, South America, and North America. Humboldt was passionate about exploration and observation. Influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution and coming from a well-to-do background, his voyages throughout South America were frequently tied to contact with local aristocracies, such as José Celestino Mutis in Bogotá or Carlos Montufar in Quito.

Humboldt’s viewpoint and experience on these voyages was of transcendental significance to the exportation of narratives regarding the territory, which were tied to European and North American colonial practices.[3] His voyages consisted of illustrations, notes in notebooks, mathematical, geographical and climatic calculations, which he used to “explicate” the territory. Thus exploration was a way of justifying the colonial era’s explanatory orientation.

Humboldt arrived in Quito from Bogotá, traversing the high plain of the Andes, where he was received in 1802 by the local aristocracy. The explorer climbed several volcanoes, among them Chimborazo, the highest snowy peak in Ecuador, and others including Pichincha and Cotopaxi, and he showed interest in studying Incan ruins as well.

Ecuador’s territory was initially populated by distinct pre-Hispanic civilizations, each with its own form of social organization, governance, and culture. The Incan period was relatively brief, occuring just thirty years prior to the Spanish invasion. At that time Ecuador’s territory was inhabited by more than forty-six nationalities, some of the most important being the Pastos, Caranquis, Imbayas, Paltas, Puruháes, Cañaris and Humbatus. The Spanish not only took advantage of indigenous urban settlements as the bases for new mestizo cities, they also used several elements of the autochthonous social structure to colonize the occupied territories.[4]

Fabiano Cueva is a digital artist who, for the past several years, has been developing a project titled “Humboldt.” In it, the artist seeks to construct an aesthetic experience through actions that function as a sort of historical mimesis that, in an attempt to achieve the implausible, aims to “resurrect” the figure of Alexander von Humboldt during his travels across the Andean region.

The project consists of a reconstruction of the experience of Humboldt’s voyages; however this reconstruction is laid out as a kind of historical representation of the experience and its image. Therefore, Fabiano relives the experience by traveling through the same locations, reconstructing objects used by the anthropologist, creating fictionalized reproductions of letters based on archival materials, seeking to wear the clothes rather than to just dress up; to seek out rather than to represent. This is based on the somewhat mysterious experience of critically confronting a sort of “spirit of history.”

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_3.jpg

Fig 3. Top: Fabiano Cueva, Monument Peruvien du Cañar, recorded by Bouguet, 1810/Image: Juan Pablo Ordóñez, Ingapirca, 2014. Bottom: Fabiano Cueva, Autoretrato, A.V. Humboldt, 1815/Image: Gonzalo Vargas, Quito, 2012
Fig 3. Top: Fabiano Cueva, Monument Peruvien du Cañar, recorded by Bouguet, 1810/Image: Juan Pablo Ordóñez, Ingapirca, 2014. Bottom: Fabiano Cueva, Autoretrato, A.V. Humboldt, 1815/Image: Gonzalo Vargas, Quito, 2012

This contemporary Ecuador is crisscrossed with the same volcanoes, themselves the very symbols of an ontology of mestizaje, or miscegenation. The cosmogonic orientation of Ecuador’s indigenous cultures was still largely regulated by volcanoes—like Pichincha, which on a clear day shows off its snow-covered peak—while many within the mestizo urban culture can contemplate them from the windows of their offices in the north of Quito. The volcanoes are a clear example of a unifying factor in Ecuadorian national identity.[5]

Oswaldo Terreros is a Guayaquil-based artist who for some time has been developing a project referred to as the GPSB (Popular Graphic Movement for Bourgeois Sympathizers). This project, which incorporates graphic design practices as a resource, establishes diverse links with history and the archive, using some slips of irony to develop a biting critique of the rhetoric of the Ecuadorian left and its ties to the bourgeois development of society.

In one of the GPSB’s projects, an artisan from Otavalo was hired to make a weaving using the graphic design developed by the movement. The result was an uncomfortable aestheticized representation of the artisanal practices of Otavalo, bringing about concerns regarding art and artisanship, miscegenation, and exoticism for indigenous aesthetics.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_4.jpg

Fig 4. Oswaldo Terreros, Revolución, 2010. Otavaleñan weaving. 400 x 200 cm. Image courtesy of the artist
Fig 4. Oswaldo Terreros, Revolución, 2010. Otavaleñan weaving. 400 x 200 cm. Image courtesy of the artist

The experience of mestizo Ecuador is a living testimony to the colonial processes exercised through systematic violence, planned and carried out not only on the level of bodies but also upon the epistemologies of the first inhabitants. However, multiple technologies related to cannibalism testify to forms of re-existence among the indigenous people of Ecuador, but also to forms of critical miscegenation that do not subscribe to the nationalist discourse on identity or the folklorification of indigenous culture.[6]

The Dance of the Devils in Pillaro is an annual occurrence in which the (traditionally mestizo and creole) inhabitants of different communities surrounding Pillaro dress up like characters—devils, clowns, and prostitutes—descending from the mountain and dancing to the San Juanito rhythm until they arrive in the central square. The event is presented as an act of resistance and corporeal poetics, a kind of carnivalesque celebration of difference.

The inhabitants of some communities claim that the tradition of the Dance of the Devils reaches back to the region’s colonial history, when landowners controlled the feudal territories where the workers lived on farms with their families. This political control over life and the administration of workers’ bodies and time was interrupted once a year, when they would dress up and dance. It is a way of using body and space that evokes celebration and resistance to colonialism, the performance-based transmission of memory. The case of Tunguigampa’s departure is unique because, in the words of cultural critic Paola de la Vega, “it aims precisely to keep community-building practices in place, focusing on techniques, designs and uses of materials….These actions are political exercises that reflect forgotten elements of social memory and bring this cultural practice up to date in the context of contemporary disputes and conflicts over national heritage.”[7] 

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_5.jpg

Fig 5. Top: Interior kitchen of a house in the community of Tunguigampa in Pillaro, 2016. Bottom: Interior of a house in Tunguigampa, 2016. Both images taken by Pablo José Ramírez
Fig 5. Top: Interior kitchen of a house in the community of Tunguigampa in Pillaro, 2016. Bottom: Interior of a house in Tunguigampa, 2016. Both images taken by Pablo José Ramírez

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_6.jpg

Fig 6. Left: Devils descending from Tunguigampa, 2016. Right: Devils dancing in the streets in the center of Pillaro, 2016. Both images taken by Pablo José Ramírez
Fig 6. Left: Devils descending from Tunguigampa, 2016. Right: Devils dancing in the streets in the center of Pillaro, 2016. Both images taken by Pablo José Ramírez

In the field of contemporary art, there are many and varied approaches to the struggle to maintain critical aesthetics that disrupt the forms of institutional establishment and the forms of racialized, standardized, and compulsory identity. The history of modern (and contemporary) art in Ecuador is marked by the tension between establishment takeovers, which purported to build modern narratives overtop of the nationalist constructions in Latin America and the modernist movements among artists and independent collectives, while the left and right continued to debate the possibility of capitalizing on identity.

To quote Manuel Kingman regarding Vorbeck, “in the era of the search for national identity, visual projects like indigenism provided the ideological basis for the unifying aspirations of the Nation-State.” The problem is that this ended up functioning as a kind of funeral pyre in that it implied a kind of “writing overtop of writing.” Therefore, it implied the standardization of modern artistic production within the Latin American modernist canon, which responded on many occasions to the necessities of the great projects of political liberalism or of Latin America’s Leninist left.

This representation of the indigenous implies a spectacularized reproduction which, through paradox, is presented as an altogether abstract construction, distanced from any critical attitude or the possibility of unveiling the conditions of the symbolic and material exclusion of the indigenous people.

In the field of art there were different bonds and tensions between the discourses associated with modern nationalism, from the boom in the indigenism of Camilo Egas (1899–1962), Eduardo Kingman Riofrío (1913–1997) and of course Oswaldo Guayasamin (1919-1999), and groups in the 1960s that openly questioned the rhetoric on art coming from officially institutionalized entities such as Grupo VAN and the Cuatro Mosqueteros.[8]

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_7.jpg

Fig 7. The image utilized in the manifesto of Grupo VAN, created by Hugo Cifuentes
Fig 7. The image utilized in the manifesto of Grupo VAN, created by Hugo Cifuentes

It must be said that this situation did not exist only in Ecuador. Though with their own nuances, countries such as Guatemala and Mexico were overcome with the tendency to exoticize certain production in two manners: either through intellectualization and representation of indigenous people in art, or the fetishization of an art presumed to be naïve, as in the enigmatic case of Guatemalan painter Francisco Tum.

Several contemporary artists in Ecuador have offered living testimony to the tensions between pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern history, leading to heated debates regarding miscegenation, indigenous culture, and the official discourses that authorize and regulate identity. María José Argenzio is a Guayaquil-based[9] artist who uses the production of fantasies, or perhaps the inverse forms of objects’ ideologies, to re-examine those absurd colonialists associated with the looting of riches, the standards of nobility, and the enclaves of the modern Ecuadorian economy.

One of María José’s most recent projects was the exhibition “The Most Castillian in America,” presented in No Lugar.[10] This project is a clear reference to the colonial gaze of history, from the standpoint of one of its most palpable vestiges: architecture. In this exhibition, María José uses gold leaf to cover the interior of a number of molds made up of different architectural elements of the city of Quito, using fictionalized vestiges or the fantasy of contemporary architecture to reveal the pillaging and contradictions of the colony. The monumental architectural of Quito, a civilizing brand on Latin America, conceals the history of the exploitation of indigenous and African workers.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_8.jpg

Fig 8. María José Argenzio, La más castellana de América, 2015. Cement mold partially covered in gold leaf. Variable dimensions. Image taken by Gonzalo Vargas, courtesy of No Lugar
Fig 8. María José Argenzio, La más castellana de América, 2015. Cement mold partially covered in gold leaf. Variable dimensions. Image taken by Gonzalo Vargas, courtesy of No Lugar

Artist José Eduardo Falconi (Falco) is one of Ecuador’s most representative performance artists. Concerned with dynamics related to the presence of the colonial logics that underlie contemporary society, his work usually involves the facilitation of social situations (relationships) that allow for the exploration of collective experiences and sensibilities, which are usually synthesized in the audiovisual register.

Black Lagoon is a performance that took place in 2010 in the installations of INCINEROX, an industrial plant located on the outskirts of the Shushufindi neighborhood. This plant’s function is “cleansing,” via incineration, the waste of the petroleum companies located in this Amazonian region. The performance consists of the water-crossing of one of the deposits in a quilla (a Napo-Runa canoe). Falco’s work is situated on the frontier of referential poetics and the denunciation of urgency, without neglecting a certain aesthetic discourse.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_9.jpg

Fig 9. José Falconí, Laguna Negra, 2010. Still from a video-performance
Fig 9. José Falconí, Laguna Negra, 2010. Still from a video-performance

José Luis Macas is a Quito-based visual artist with a marked interest in the relationship between art, public life, and the forms of production of collective and community-based knowledge. Above all, Macas’ work has been developed from the standpoint of the generation of social and cultural links that enable experiences of emancipation, or simply experiences that aim to interrupt—at least on the level of immediate cognition—discourses regarding scientific truth or Western metaphysics.

Katekilla is the name of the mountain crisscrossed by the equatorial zero of the equinoctial line (0° 0’ 0”), a site that was also an important pre-Incan astronomical observation point due to its unique position with a 360° view, which allowed for the observation of solstices and equinoxes each year. The mountain is located a few kilometers from the official Monument to the Middle of the World—yes, that very monument where they tell you that the middle is not actually there. In Katekilla 0° 0’ 0”, José Luis attempts to trace an imaginary line separating north from south, in order to set up a net and play a game of Ecuavoley (a local version of volleyball). The exact point was located using a GPS. The work is set up as a playful metaphor for the connection and the relationship—imagined as well as real—between north and south. This mountain was of vital pre-Hispanic importance and has been ignored and used as a source from which to pillage stone to supply the city of Quito’s expanding real estate market.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_10.jpg

Fig 10. José Luis Macas, Katekilla, 2014. Video art stills. Images courtesy of the artist
Fig 10. José Luis Macas, Katekilla, 2014. Video art stills. Images courtesy of the artist

For Giorgio Agamben, the contemporary is only possible when perceived in the dark, rendering it visible. For this analogy, Agamben turns to neuro-physiology. Off-cells are those cells at the periphery of the retina that, when activated, generate a particular form of vision called obscurity. Modernity as its inverse, as its dark and contradictory face, is this obscurity which is only possible by way of a kind of inverse gaze.

Several artists in Ecuador offer testimony to an unfinished modernity, a modernity that bears hidden within it colonial logics that configure the present. In this case, art is a site for questioning the present, exposing the underlying discourses of the logics of public life organized by the Ecuadorian State and its devices for the legitimation of truth.

But in this case, this critical approach toward contemporary art in Ecuador is not necessarily registered in the logics of “socially committed” art, much less in art that functions as political discourse. Rather, in a broader sense, they are proposals that interfere with different sites of power: collections, archives, nationalist symbols, standardized identities. These are sites, to mention but a few, that are interpolated by proposals that extend beyond the bounds of art per se, connecting in different ways to their context and the world.

Pamela Cevallos is a visual artist from Quito whose work inhabits the margins between art, academic research and the archive. Her work aims to reveal the strategies, concepts, ideologies, and layers of discourse underlying archives and collections, many of which have not been fully explored. A clear example of this is her book “The Intransigence of Objects,” in which she critically examines the politics of art collecting in the 60s and 70s in Ecuador by analyzing the figure of artists’ agents and their role in capitalizing on the social value of art. This work was developed through the research of two galleries that are fundamental in the history of modern art in the country: Galería Siglo XX and the Hallo Foundation.[11]

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_11.jpg

Fig 11. Left: Catalog of the Anti-Salon. Right: Cover for the catalog “75 años de pintura en el Ecuador” (1977). Images and description taken from the book “La intransigencia de los objetos”, courtesy of the author
Fig 11. Left: Catalog of the Anti-Salon. Right: Cover for the catalog “75 años de pintura en el Ecuador” (1977). Images and description taken from the book “La intransigencia de los objetos”, courtesy of the author

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_12.jpg

Fig 12. Salon from July 1967. Wilson Hallo, then director of Galería Siglo XX, in the center partaking in the achievements of Grupo VAN (El Comercio, July 28, 1967)
Fig 12. Salon from July 1967. Wilson Hallo, then director of Galería Siglo XX, in the center partaking in the achievements of Grupo VAN (El Comercio, July 28, 1967)

In the exhibition 1975, presented at Container in Quito and at Galería Proceso in Guayaquil, Pamela set to interpreting, questioning and “playing” with the photographic archive of the restoration and acquisitions department of what were once the museums of the Central Bank. This project sought to bring to light the different layers of historical content in the document and the object, in order to conceive of forms of critical activation.

As curator and art critic Rodolfo Kronfle playfully mentions: “…Undertaking penetrating exercises of juxtaposition, which conceal a subtle deconstructive zeal, the artist reactivates the nerves hidden among dull-looking files of information and makes them “speak” out loud… “The work Restoration, for example, shows photographic records of the repair process for the ‘Golden Sun,’ an object of unknown origin which would arise to become one of the most recognizable symbols of Ecuador. The piece communicates—through its massive circulation as a logotype of the Central Bank itself—a supposedly millenary national past full of splendor and wealth. But the very dispute over the cultural origin of this relic within the country’s interior (Is it a Tolita or Cañari artifact? Andean or coastal?) is a clear indication of the overall shakiness of unitary discourses of identity, or, worse still, the idea of a lone origin or source for all of humanity.”

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_13.jpg

Fig 13. Top: Pamela Cevallos, Bureau, 2014. Part of the exposition “1975” in Galería Proceso, Guayaquil. Bottom: Pamela Cevallos, Espíritu de Calculo, 2015. Part of the exhibition of the same name, shown at El Container, Quito
Fig 13. Top: Pamela Cevallos, Bureau, 2014. Part of the exposition “1975” in Galería Proceso, Guayaquil. Bottom: Pamela Cevallos, Espíritu de Calculo, 2015. Part of the exhibition of the same name, shown at El Container, Quito

Paul Rosero’s work attempts to disconnect—clearly—from literal or specific historico-cultural references in order to approach cognitive experiences traversed by the tension between human language (semiotics) and the language of life (nature). However, this does not mean that the artist ignores the problem of culture and modernity, but he does so through a broadened conceptualization in which technology and the non-human play a fundamental role in the juxtaposition of forms of language and communication.

In Hábitat/Stornato, Paul questions the nature-human connection via the relationship between the Tungurahua and Cotopaxi volcanoes and their surrounding environment, marked by the traces of humankind. The project aims to reveal certain vestiges of a modernity invisible to the official stories, invisible to loyalists: Why are they not interested, or why do they fail to understand? Thus, through video and software-modeled sculpture, Paul seeks to interpret the activation of these volcanoes. In Hábitat, for example, he registers the relationship between a 16-year-old adolescent and the Tungarahua volcano, which has been active for the same amount of time, while the boy lives on the slope of the volcano in a life conditioned by the natural activity of his surroundings as well as his economic vulnerability.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_14.jpg

Fig 14. Paul Rosero, Habitat, 2016. Video still. Images taken by Tomás Astudillo, courtesy of the artist
Fig 14. Paul Rosero, Habitat, 2016. Video still. Images taken by Tomás Astudillo, courtesy of the artist

But the relationship between aesthetics and history also appears in unsuspected and often deductive ways. The work of artist Oscar Santillán is a clear reflection of the search grounded in the universal questioning of reason and modern/post-modern ontology. Cutting off a chunk of the highest peak of a mountain in England, or taking a tiny bit of the paper from one of the final, abandoned pages in Nietzsche’s typewriter, are signs of Oscar’s zeal for unveiling the absurdity of power or simply for pointing out the death of things, contrasting visual and performative aesthetics that are powerful, both in their trickery and in their readings of the truth.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_15.jpg

Fig 15. Oscar Santillan, Afterword (el espíritu de Nietzche recuerda como bailar), 2015. Installation: Slide projection, stolen piece of paper, two prints, video. Image by Rodolfo Kronfle, courtesy of Pilar Estrada/No Mínimo
Fig 15. Oscar Santillan, Afterword (el espíritu de Nietzche recuerda como bailar), 2015. Installation: Slide projection, stolen piece of paper, two prints, video. Image by Rodolfo Kronfle, courtesy of Pilar Estrada/No Mínimo

Al Borde is a somewhat unusual collective both due to their work as well as the difficulty of categorizing it. Al Borde is made up of architects Esteban Buenavida, Davin Barragán and Pascual Gangotena, who work in a house under restoration in downtown Quito. The house has been undergoing a restorative process using the material resources of the locale, without covering up any of the exposed cracks and using a practically nonexistent budget. The location houses a residence and studio.

The project attempts to connect to the human dimension of the space using minimal resources, not as a justification for precariousness but rather as an aesthetic and political resource, situated on the frontier between artistic practice and architecture, developing a series of kind of “intimate discourses of place.”

As the ethics behind their work, Al Borde proposes a design rooted in the “intelligence of the commonplace,”[12] and they have dedicated several projects to the generation of dynamics of community exchange in which people create design using collective conscience itself. Ultimately, the idea is that each group of individuals will be capable of conceiving, designing, and constructing without the help of a “specialist.” It is a project that incisively questions the founding ideas of an architecture regimented by discipline and driven by capital.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_16.jpg

Fig 16. Al Borde. From left to right: Kitchen of the project house under construction, photo by Raed Gindeya; Cartas de Mujeres Project; Greenhouse Project. All images courtesy of Al Borde
Fig 16. Al Borde. From left to right: Kitchen of the project house under construction, photo by Raed Gindeya; Cartas de Mujeres Project; Greenhouse Project. All images courtesy of Al Borde

Adrián Balseca is an artist who incorporates a kind of “symbolic anarchy” to interrogate the architecture of Ecuadorian power and modernity. He constructs irony by using telling locations that politicize the aesthetic experience. Adrián’s work is displayed as an act of sabotage, the exercise of a good neighbor and a bad citizen, in the words of Henry David Thoreau. His work incorporates practices that fluctuate between the visual construction of symbols, a narrative that enters into conversation with cinematography and a certain performativity of sabotage, reflecting the pathos of an upside-down modernity.

In Closed Sea, his most recent work, Adrián offers a posthumous ritual to the recent history of petroleum pillaging in the Pacific Ocean. The project aims to interweave the Caduceus—the symbol that tops the flagstaff of the emblematic steamship Guayas[13]—with a marine buoy. This device was transferred as a warning sign to the site where the first-ever oil spill in Ecuadorian State jurisdiction took place. The project seeks to question the complexity of the edifice of the political economy in Ecuador, which is erected upon the mercantile value of petroleum as one of the founding elements of the national economy.

CSS_PJRAMIREZ_17.jpg

Fig 17. Adrián Balseca, Mar cerrado (2016). Video stills. Images courtesy of Adrián Balseca
Fig 17. Adrián Balseca, Mar cerrado (2016). Video stills. Images courtesy of Adrián Balseca

This text is doubtlessly insufficient for outlining elements related to history and contemporary society in Ecuador, although it certainly offers some glimpses of practices that, in my opinion, disturb and dislocate the state of things in the region (the questioning of borders, nation-states, authorized identities, memory, and indigenous and mestizo issues). Thus it is urgent—and indeed inevitable—to continue thinking in terms of a critical, diverse, reflexive, and active writing about contemporary art in Latin America.

Therefore, in conclusion, I return to Agamben, and I realize that I cannot conclude this text in any other way than how I started it: by thinking about the places and measurements of the contemporary and about the middle of the world. In the end, it doesn’t much matter if the middle is a bit further on, or a bit further back. What is important, rather, is where we say it is. Contemporaneity is thus, undoubtedly, a territory in dispute that is anything but complacent, much less clear and defined. It is perhaps a bit more the place of opacity than that of lucidity. It is this interstitial space that Agamben refers to as obscurity (seen only through the light produced by off-cells). Contemporaneity, then, is a location on the border that allows us to measure the achievements and limits of modernity, to find ourselves in the other, to find ourselves in the middle.


[2] I would like to acknowledge that many of the trajectories and objectives undertaken in this text have been bolstered by conversations with Ecuadorian colleagues, among them Maria Ozcoidi Moreno, Katya Cazar, Guadalupe Alvarez, Paola de la Vega, Ana Rosa Valdez, Edu Carrera, Rodolfo Kronfle, Pamela Cevallos, Jaime Sanchez, Manuel Kingman, Daniela Moreno Wray, Alex Shlenker and all of the artists mentioned in this text, as well as others whom I may have overlooked.

[3] Upon his arrival in the United States, Humboldt was received by president Thomas Jefferson. It is said that this was one of the occurrences that triggered the U.S. invasion of New Mexico.

[4] Found in: www.educar.ec

[5] For a critical view of the Ecuadorian artistic canon, see: various authors, “Desenganche (visualidades y sonoridades otras)” [Uncoupling (Alternate Sonorities and Visualities)], Quito, La Tronkal, 2010

[6] For an analysis of the tendencies in contemporary art that I refer to as radical miscegenation, see the essay: Ramírez, Pablo. (2015). Pensar lo imposible (Arte Contemporáneo, Indigeneidad y Mestizajes radicales) [Thinking the Impossible (Contemporary Art, Indigeneity and Radical Miscegenation)]. Gimnasia – Ejercicios Contemporáneos. Retrieved from http://revistagimnasia.com/2015/11/27/639/

[7] This politico-aesthetic manifestation is one among several others in the country, such as the takeovers of Las Octavas de Mocha in Ambato and those led by Noé Mayorga and other community leaders.

[8] In order to comprehend the construction of nationalist discourse and its relationship to Ecuadorian modern art, the following is highly recommended: Manuel Klingman, Arte Contemporáneo y Cultura Popular: el caso de Quito [Contemporary Art and Popular Culture: The Case of Quito], Flacso, 2012

[9] Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest and most populous city, as well as an important center of commerce, finance and cultural production. In the field of art, the ITAE has been a fundamental place for understanding contemporary production, generating a whole school for the critical training of artists who for several generations now have stirred up the national and international art scene. The ITAE was developed by critic, researcher and curator Guadalupe Alvarez, visual artist and critic Saidel Brito and artist Marco Alvarado. Another one of the fundamental components of the turbulent Guayaquil scene owes itself to the active work of the galleries No Mínimo and Galería Proceso, which have dynamically established rhizomatic international networks that bring about circulation and distinct forms of international exchange without ignoring the formative processes of exchange on the local level with the community.

[10] No Lugar is a gallery and art space in historical downtown Quito, founded and developed by Edu Carrera and Pancho Suarez. The project was conceived as a dynamic and chameleon-like space for contemporary art, developing an agenda of exhibitions, residencies, raucous parties and the exchange of ideas.

[11] Pamela Cevallos: La Intransigencia de los Objetos: La Galería Siglo XX y la Fundación Hallo en el campo del arte moderno ecuatoriano (1964-1979) [The Intransigency of Objects: Galería Siglo XX and the Hallo Foundation in the Field of Ecuadorian Modern Art], Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, 2013

[12] Regarding the “intelligence of the commonplace,” see Ranciere: 2009.

[13] Caduceus, (from the Latin, Caducĕum). Greek sign attributed to Hermes (Mercury), the Roman god of commerce and the messenger of the gods, considered in antiquity to be a symbol of peace and today commonly used as a symbol of commerce. The steamship “Guayas,” originally dubbed San Vicente, was the first steamship constructed in Spanish America and the first on the Pacific Ocean. Guayaquil, 1841.


Extended Captions

Fig 1. Postcard from the series “I Got Up” by On Kawara, 1968–1979, Quito, Ecuador © 2016 On Kawara. Courtesy of Adrián Balseca

Fig 2. L and R: José Hidalgo Anastacio, Ecumene plana-Reticula-Convivencia, 2014. 300 x 325 cm. Tempera and ink on paper. Images courtesy of Rio Revuelto and Ricardo Bohórquez. Bottom: José Hidalgo Anastacio, Palmo convivium, 2015. Painting-acrylic installation on wood panels arranged with units of specific length and weight. Variable dimensions. Image courtesy of Galería Lucia de la Puente

Fig 3. Top: Fabiano Cueva, Monument Peruvien du Cañar, recorded by Bouguet, 1810/Image: Juan Pablo Ordóñez, Ingapirca, 2014. Bottom: Fabiano Cueva, Autoretrato, A.V. Humboldt, 1815/Image: Gonzalo Vargas, Quito, 2012. Both images ©Archivo Alexander von Humboldt. Images courtesy of artist

Fig 4. Oswaldo Terreros, Revolución, 2010. Otavaleñan weaving. 400 x 200 cm. Image courtesy of the artist

Fig 5. Top: Interior kitchen of a house in the community of Tunguigampa in Pillaro where the closing of the first day of the Dance of the Devils is celebrated, 2016. Bottom: Interior of a house in Tunguigampa where final adjustments to the details of the costumes are done before descending from the community down to town, 2016. Both images taken by Pablo José Ramírez

Fig 6. Left: Devils descending from Tunguigampa, 2016. Right: Devils dancing from the streets to the center of Pillaro, 2016. Both images taken by Pablo José Ramírez

Fig 7. The image utilized in Grupo VAN’s manifesto, created by Hugo Cifuentes. The artists walk forward in a rejected way. A critic said: “All of them [are] in pursuit of new paths, turning their back on the fake, the commercial, the old” (El Tiempo, April 4, 1968). Image and description taken from the book “La intransigencia de los objetos”, courtesy of the author

Fig 8. María José Argenzio, La más castellana de América, 2015. Cement mold partially covered in gold leaf. Variable dimensions. Image taken by Gonzalo Vargas, courtesy of No Lugar

Fig 9. José Falconí, Laguna Negra, 2010. Still from a video-performance. Image courtesy of www.artecontemporaneoecuador.com

Fig 10. José Luis Macas, Katekilla, 2014. Video art stills. Images courtesy of the artist

Fig 11. Left: Catalog of the Anti-Salon with phrases written on walls in Guayaquil, inspired by the May 1968 events in France. Once again, the group’s position was argued from an institutional critique as was shown in the written slogans of the walls. Due to this action, Unda and Román were imprisoned and released thanks to the efforts of Wilson Hallo with the mayor of Guayaquil. Right: Cover for the catalog “75 años de pintura en el Ecuador” (1977). Images and description taken from the book “La intransigencia de los objetos”, courtesy of the author

Fig 12. Salon from July 1967. Wilson Hallo, then director of Galería Siglo XX, in the center partaking in the achievements of Grupo VAN (El Comercio, July 28, 1967). Image and description taken from the book “La intransigencia de los objetos”, courtesy of the author

Fig 13. Top: Pamela Cevallos, Bureau, 2014. Installation of 198 drawings, watercolors, and collage. Part of the exhibition 1975 in Galería Proceso, Guayaquil. Image taken by Patricio Palomeque, courtesy of the artist. Bottom: Pamela Cevallos, Espíritu de Calculo, 2015. Installation, replicas of ceramics, and vitrines. Part of the exhibition of the same name, shown at El Container, Quito. Image taken by Francisco Suarez, courtesy of the artist

Fig 14. Paul Rosero, Habitat, 2016. Video still. Images taken by Tomás Astudillo, courtesy of the artist. Top: In the image, Mateo is seen in front of the Tungurahua volcano. Bottom: In the image, the principal space of the project is shown: a poultry plant destroyed by the volcanic ash

Fig 15. Oscar Santillan, Afterword (el espíritu de Nietzche recuerda como bailar), 2015. Installation: Slide projection, stolen piece of paper, two prints, video. Image by Rodolfo Kronfle, courtesy of Pilar Estrada/No Mínimo

Fig 16. Al Borde. From left to right: Kitchen of the project house under construction, photo by Raed Gindeya; Cartas de Mujeres Project; Greenhouse Project. All images courtesy of Al Borde

Fig 17. Adrián Balseca, Mar cerrado (2016). Video stills. Images courtesy of Adrián Balseca


Translated by Phillip Penix-Tadsen