Universes in Universe

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Interview with Mariángela Méndez

Artistic Director of the 43SNA in Medellín, Colombia

By Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt

Haupt & Binder: How was the artist selection process for this 43rd edition of the National Salon of Artists (43SNA)? Were some of the Colombian participants chosen through the regional salons as in previous editions? If so, what percentage of the Colombian participants is selected directly by the curators?

Mariángela Méndez: The artists for this 43SNA were all selected by the curatorial team, comprised by Florencia Malbrán, Javier Mejía, Rodrigo Moura, Oscar Roldán and me.

Certainly, the two previous versions of the Salon included regional curators’ choices in their selection, but for this version, the Ministry of Culture, after reviewing the results of previous experiences and comparing regional and national curatorship, suggested that we worked with the artists themselves and not with the choices made by regional curators. So we took into account the work done by the Regional Salons on the artists and the works that are part of the national scene, but agreed that the regional curatorial projects –because they are autonomous, interesting and high quality projects– should not be subjected to the National Salon or simply be considered as a necessary step to participating in the National Salon, among other things because the regional curators should not be themselves curated by the curators of the National Salon.

After this decision was made, the starting point for the artist selection for the 43SNA were in fact the artists chosen by our colleagues from the Regional Salons, but they were not the only ones. The curatorial team worked based on the individual experience and knowledge that each of us brought to the group, both for the national and the international selection, and we also reviewed the databases looking for the winners of editions, awards and individual and collective exhibitions publicly or privately sponsored in Colombia. In this way, the emphasis was on choosing artists who were active in the Colombian art scene. In a race against the clock, we made that list and then we made our selection based on the works and artists whose practices could inform, complete and enrich the proposed themes, namely To Know Not To Know.

H&B: What is the methodology of the curatorial team? Do the curators have special areas or responsibilities or do you look for consensus among the five members based on the proposals made by each?

MM: Yes, we have individual responsibilities within the curatorial team but instead of areas, we have divided the work in groups of artists. In this way, each curator is in charge of everything related to the participation of those particular artists in the Salon, from sending a formal invitation and initiating and carrying on a conversation throughout the production process, to making a compilation of the material for the catalogue and whatever is necessary for the production of the works.

Of course, each curator’s list of artists is related to the particular interests of that curator, and those interests were discussed, analyzed and approved collectively by the team. Moreover, the theme To Know Not To Know, and the implicit contradiction of the title has to do with and was partly the result of the contradiction of interests we had as a group. At first, I thought we should reach some middle ground, but soon the very process was revealed to me as the precise structure of this salon, a salon that throughout its history has been trying to reconcile insurmountable differences. This is why in this occasion, the curators of the salon seek to explore the possibility of showing how differences can coexist and, at the same time, it is almost impossible to continue talking about them. So, part of the team worked based on the idea of knowing and the other based on the idea of not knowing, and I sought, in the selection I proposed, to address the possibility of a "separate but joint" existence (side by side), as suggested by the oxymoron of the title To Know Not To Know.

H&B: Will the works be directly assigned according to the respective themes, for instance through the positioning of the works in the different venues, or will the exhibition be openly articulated?

MM: The structure of the exhibition will be based on the architecture of the physical spaces. For instance, the space in the Medellin Museum of Modern Art offers the architecture to express those two opposing ideas and therefore it will be the starting point of the exhibition: twin spaces showing two collective exhibits with opposing ideas, one entitled "Destiempo," [Ex tempore] in relation to the unknown, and the other "Estado Oculto," [Hidden State] in relation to traditional knowledge, and in the middle, in the great hall, a singular work by Ernesto Neto which metaphorically and visually connects this dichotomy.

With the same logic of connecting the ideas that shape this Salon with the architecture of spaces, the Antioquia Building and the House of Encounter allow for individual projects, and the halls of the Museum of Antioquia replicate, albeit less symmetrically, ways of visualizing the coexistence of knowing and not knowing, generating those intermediate spaces that link the seeming contradiction. So, in trying to generate rhythms, throughout the exhibition, some works will operate under the concept of knowing, others under not knowing, others will have the singular task of "reconciling" the dichotomy through vectors, trajectories, tensors and metaphors of similar mediation that show that the canon, what we know, what we think we know and not know is something arbitrary, sometimes highly uncertain and frequently incomplete.

H&B: Could you name and briefly describe examples of works in which the different aspects of the concept can be recognized with special clarity?

MM: I would say that several works have to do with indigenous knowledge, their knowledge of nature, the earth materials and their traditions in the making of things. This is the case of the work by Marcos Ávila Forero, who recreates the legend that relates man to the manatee in a sacred lagoon of the Colombian Amazon; the contrast between conventional medicine and medicinal herbs in the work of Libia Posada; the textile patterns of Vicente Vulsma; and the botanical knowledge in Abel Rodríguez’s drawings. There are works that clearly have to do with those spaces that throw us to the unknown, both through our relationship with our notion or ignorance of the future and with what the future has in store for us, as Kevin Mancera’s crosswords to kill time, and Angélica Teuta’s useless clocks that don’t tell the time humorously suggest. Or the possibility to live an eight-day week, as Fiete Stolte’s series of eight instant camera shots of dawns lived in a single week suggests; or the duration of the present time documented by Francois Bucher in several exercises and scientific experiments. There are other works, such as those by María Isabel Rueda, Jean-François Boclé, and Glenda León that lead us to the unknown, to some kind of sea imagined by each of them, always leaving us adrift. Other works suggest, however, that the coexistence of contradictions is possible, as Joar Nango’s archive of hip hop songs in different indigenous languages, or the taste for heavy metal of a group of youngsters from the Kuna people, or the photographic work of José Manuel Castrellón, or that popular and characetsristic footwear of the Caribbean, the flip-flop, but made from stone for the work entitled "Suave Chapina," by Benvenuto Chavajay, where, as in many other works, a knowledge preserved by tradition converges with a present that reinvents itself and is continually moving forward.

H&B: In the press kit says that nearly half of the exhibits will be specially commissioned. What are the guidelines for these commissions? Are they works for specific sites? Could you give us examples?

MM: Certainly, there are several works that are new commissions, some of them site-specific, but others are due to the interest of the artists to respond to the invitation with a new work. In these cases, there are no guidelines but a dialog, a conversation between the artist and the curator, to reach a conclusion regarding which work would be more appropriate for the exhibition. But there are also some specific needs of the Salon, for instance, the need to solve a complex physical space, and then, the physical features of the place suggest the artist. This was the case with Alejandro Mancera, who was invited to do an intervention in The Ice Cream Parlor, a space of encounter of this Salon that needs a very particular and attractive but familiar interior architecture, so as not to intimidate the public but to make people want to visit and hang out for a while. As the function of these sites change from time to time or they get remodeled, either to show progress or to adopt new airs, and the first floor of the Antioquia Building has been no exception, we looked for an artist whose work had the same interests. Superficial remodeling has been Mancera’s focus throughout his career as an artist: the color of the walls, the new sign, plasterwork, Venetian mosaic, granitplast on the façade, the green marble of the bank counter, or any other device that allows you to disguise the outside surface of a building without making a big investment. Alejandro Mancera is an artist whose work has been oriented to revising the finishes of vernacular architecture so he will offer an intervention which will allow us to live the space, to recognize it, even to find it strange, and to realize we like that ostentatious, exaggerated, disproportionate architecture, full of symbols that look for status and legitimacy through sheer ornamentation.

Mariángela Méndez
Artistic Director of the 43SNA in Medellín.
Please see the  >> biography


Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt

Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art. Based in Berlin, Germany.

(Translation from Spanish: Marina Torres)

43 Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas
6 September - 3 November 2013
Medellín, Colombia

>> Extensive Visual Tour

Saber Desconocer

Mariángela Méndez (Artistic Director)
Florencia Malbrán
Javier Mejía
Rodrigo Moura
Óscar Roldán Alzate

List including biographical data

See also:

Jaime Cerón - Interview
The Visual Arts Adviser of the Ministry of Culture about the Salons of Artists in Colombia.


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