This is Not Archaeology

Notes on the Peruvian desert

May 14, 2014

LIMA — Lima sprawls over an arid landscape—between the ocean and the mountains—full of pre-hispanic remnants forgotten by modernity, that are now reappearing like palimpsests in the fog of a capital city that is characterized by its historic fusion. The city’s and its culture’s complexity, the successive layers established within a territory, determine the concerns about territory, identity and the value of objects in our culture.

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Huaca Pucllana, distrito de Miraflores, Lima. Photo: Elena Damiani

Lima’s intricate and singular urban agglomeration is conformed by huacas (archeological sites such as temples and other sacred spaces) that are found among residential areas—concrete buildings that announce the economic prosperity of the last decade, and improvised or partially completed structures, crystallizing multiple identities in a difficult-to-define panorama. How is our understanding of the urban fabric constructed in a city where historical sites emerge or disintegrate within a multiplicity of buildings?

There are various artists whose practices share similarities with spatial-temporal research about understanding the landscape as a territory full of the past’s reverberations. In their work, retrospection is not an exercise for reconstruction, but rather to represent, save for the stereotypical forms or idealizations that museumize the past—modern dangers that are very popular in countries such as ours, where the past is frequently used to nurture an identity based on ancestral roots.

The exhibitions Ruins in Reverse (organized by the Tate Modern and MALI) and Todo lo sólido (Everything Solid) by Iosu Aramburu describe a territory where ruins—archeological or contemporary—are the starting point to create fictions or images that fluctuate between an ancestral past and an uncertain future.

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Ruins in Reverse at MALI (Museo de Arte de Lima), 2013. Estructuras conjugadas by José Carlos Martinat. Gold aluminum structure. Image: Musuk Nolte. Courtesy of the artist and MALI

In the exhibition Doble Horizonte (Double Horizon), Alejandro Jaime proposes to recognize the city of Lima as a living memory, stripped of the solemnity and historical distance with which we have been taught. Using formal and conceptual relationships, Jaime considers the huaca as an intermediary state between two places that he identifies as landmarks of power: the Cerro San Cristóbal and the Government Palace.

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Alejandro Jaime, Horizonte Intermedio I, 2013. Ink, pencil and oil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

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Alejandro Jaime, Doble Horizonte II, 2013. Dirt, clay. Courtesy of the artist.

Armando Andrade Tudela’s work transcribes landscapes to 16mm film to transport the spectator to places with collective significance to reflect on the role of objects and the processes of constructing meaning within our culture. In the film Marcahuasi, the camera meanders through a forest of rocks located to the east of Lima, where the natural geological formations act like sculptures. In this way, he formulates questions regarding how objects are classified and how they acquire significance in the history of art.

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Armando Andrade Tudela, Marcahuasi, 2010. 16mm transfered to digital, 10.37 mins. Courtesy of the artist

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Armando Andrade Tudela, Marcahuasi, 2010. 16mm transfered to digital, 10.37 mins. Courtesy of the artist

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Armando Andrade Tudela, Sin Título (MX) 2. Concrete, plexiglass, ratan, aluminum. Courtesy of the artist

Ishmael Randall Weeks constructs a model of bricks and wooden stretchers—similar in form to the pre-Columbian dwellings in the coasts of Peru—which are later eroded with sand. Huaca appears to be a maquette where the dialogue between construction and deconstruction, permanence and dissipation, converge to create a view of what could be a dystopian city full of niches, or a lonely building in ruins that rests on the ground.

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Ishmael Randall Weeks, Huaca, 2010. Eroded bricks, wooden stretchers. Courtesy of the artist

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Ishmael Randall Weeks, Quoin, 2013. Newspaper, photo transfers on intervened paper, wood table. Courtesy of the artist

The contemporary ruin also serves as a tool to articulate questions about permanence and the ephemeral character of man-made structures and the value of historic monuments. This is the case with the series Monuments by Pablo Hare, who documents the wave of new, ludicrous monuments erected over the past two decades in Peru. The series includes a dinosaur in the desert, and a statue of Miguel Grau that looks out to the Pacific from the Ancash beaches—all part of a symbolic vocabulary that becomes a social and popular narrative in public spaces.

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Pablo Hare, Monumentos. Giganotosaurus, Valle de Majes, Arequipa, 2006. Courtesy of the artist

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Pablo Hare, Monumentos. Abancay #2, Apurímac, 2010. Courtesy of the artist

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Pablo Hare, Monumentos. Miguel Grau, Bahía Tortugas, Ancash, 2008. Courtesy of the artist

The installation El Pueblo Libre by Raura Oblitas gathers a series of sculptures that, as structural elements of incomplete buildings, announce the failings of architectural projects that were paralyzed before completion.

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Raura Oblitas, El Pueblo Libre, 2013. Dyed wax on aluminum, concrete, corrugated steel, soldered metal. Courtesy of the artist and Galería 80m2 Livia Benavides

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Raura Oblitas, Autoridad y protección, 2014. Soldered metal, concrete, dyed wax on aluminum. Courtesy of the artista and Galería 80m2 Livia Benavides

In recent years, Iosu Aramburu has been researching various ideas about constructed space, time, and modernity by looking at architecture and how it’s conceived, built, transformed, and destroyed. In the series Fantasmagorías, the promise of the country’s modern project crumbles in front of us in ink drawings that illustrate the icons of contemporary Peruvian architecture, disappearing on paper.

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Iosu Aramburu, Fantasmagoría XLIII, 2014. Ink on paper. Courtesy of the artist

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Iosu Aramburu, Fantasmagoría XLVI, 2014. Ink on paper. Courtesy of the artist

Whether by taking archeological sites or urban ruins as a starting point, these practices look at the past to examine and rewrite concerns that are embedded in deep layers of our culture. Their representations are far from nostalgic searches that attempt to rescue time past. On the contrary, they are proposals that allow space for new questions about the territory’s surface.