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This edition of the Paiz Biennial will not have a theme; or rather, its theme will be its own methodology. The Biennial’s purport will not be built by discussing a single issue, but through a model of action. Although thematic events and exhibitions are adequate and fruitful, an inflation has taken place that proliferates certain “thematism”, which too often remains in mere discursive juggling, with little relation with the shows’ and their programs’ contents. As a reaction to this tendency, this project explores another route and at the same time – and more importantly – proposes a biennial model that seems appropriate to the situation in Guatemala and the evolution of the Paiz Biennial as a living event.
The idea is to create a more contextual and inclusive biennial, rhyzomatic, decentralized in space and time, and more communicative with the public. The Biennial will thus consist of a constellation of different activities that will overflow Guatemala City and will take place throughout the country, and even beyond its borders, in collaboration with different artist-run spaces, institutions, events and other agents. This will also go beyond the art circuits. The notion of beyond will be precisely the axis of action for the Biennial.
The Biennial will maintain its usual exhibition spaces in downtown Guatemala City. In these spaces, works will be exhibited and events will take place that, in one way or another, will go beyond circuits, traditions, poetics, and established schemes, or will address issues of transgressions, transfers and overflows.
Some examples are: the exhibition Vida/Life, by the Spanish war photographer Gervasio Sánchez; the 18 days video, by Chinese artist Xu Zhen, which shows his ironic action of illegally crossing the Chinese border with remote-controlled toys; a large installation of Third World Spaceships by Salvadoran Simón Vega, in which technology is represented by bricolage typical of favelas; and the monumental intervention with drawings on the walls and interactive light artifacts by Uruguayan Ricardo Lanzarini. Along with this centripetal art, pieces and documentation resulting from the urban and community projects listed below will be shown.
The Cultural Center of Spain will also offer a “personal show” by Guatemalan filmmaker Julio Hernández Cordón, that is, a program where his film production will be screened and discussed.
Beyond the white cube
Guatemala has an extraordinary tradition of art outdoors, in the public space, socially oriented, in communities, etc., which goes from sculptural reliefs to murals, to performances, to “artivist” actions. In tenor with this line so relevant for the country’s art, the 21st Biennial will be more “from the streets”, understanding by this its presence outside auratic spaces. Among the artists who have been invited to contribute in this direction are Gervasio Sánchez (Spain), Tania Bruguera (Cuba) and Bernabé Arévalo (Guatemala) in Guatemala City, and Humberto Vélez (Panama), who will organize a festival in Sumpango lead by the community and based on Mayan traditions and the impressive Día de Muertos’ local celebration involving giant kites.
As part of these efforts, the Biennial will contribute to the commendable education programs focused on young people in vulnerable situations that the Paiz Foundation maintains under Ana Castillo’s direction. In connection with them, Puerto Rican artist Jesús “Bubu” Negrón will work with young people of the Manuel Colom Argueta settlement, where the community makes a living of recycling material from the adjacent landfill site. Continuing with these “crossed” connections beyond the Biennial’s strict curatorial sector, the Cuban artist and pedagogue René Francisco Rodríguez will develop, within the educational sector of the Biennial curated by Esperanza de León, a project at a hospital that will embrace terminally ill patients and young art students.
Along with works displayed outside the white cube, others will invade it from the street. The Biennial will present in Casa Celeste’s space – entering from its facade – posters of the H.I.J.O.S. movement that cover the walls of downtown Guatemala streets to denounce the forced disappearance of thousands of people during the armed conflict.
Beyond Guatemala City
In the recent past, self-managed spaces have flourished in different locations in Guatemala, as initiatives by artists and other intellectuals in conjunction with their communities. Now, their programs are on hold or in precarious situations, mainly due to lack of funding. The Biennial will stimulate these efforts by supporting proposals that benefit the contextual agendas of these projects, which were discussed in dialogue with the curators, and approved by them. In this way, it is not a matter of extending the Biennial beyond the capital through ideas landed from the center out, but vice versa, in joint ventures.
To this end, community organizations in San Juan Comalapa, and Canal Cultural (Cultural Channel) in San Pedro La Laguna will undertake collective projects, while Salvadorian artist Alexia Miranda will give an art workshop to children at Beluba Luba Furendei, in Livingston. A seminar by the Spanish professor, scholar and cultural activist Alberto López Cuenca, and an art workshop by Ricardo Lanzarini will be organized with Ciudad de la Imaginación, in Quetzaltenango.
Additionally, a solo show by Diana de Solares will take place at the Spanish Cooperation Training Center in La Antigua.
Beyond the Republic of Guatemala
The Biennial will include exhibitions by Guatemalan artists and activists in venues outside the country, in collaboration with them: The University Museum of Contemporary Art (H.I.J.O.S.) and the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros (Naufus Ramírez Figueroa), both in Mexico City, and NG Gallery (Sandra Monterroso) in Panama.
Beyond the analogical world
The Biennial’s website should function as its main means of communication, and as an open and dynamic space for exchange. Beyond, Guatemalan artist Bryan Castro’s work will consist in – not without humor – hacking the website.
Esperanza de Leon, education curator, will develop an independent program, which will not be limited to pedagogically communicating the Biennial, but will go beyond and generate its own activities within the event’s framework. She is mapping schools and existing pedagogical efforts with which to work, and will organize an important program of workshops, talks, meetings, and educational activities in general, which will not be considered secondary or derivative but that will have their own weight. All participating non-Guatemalan artists who travel to the country will offer public talks about their work, and in some cases will impart workshops, as Ricardo Lanzarini will in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango, and Magdalena Atria (Chile) in Rabinal.
Educational efforts will be sought that, more than explaining the artworks, will seek an active and open-to-dialogue reception with the public.
Maya Juracán and Laura A. L. Wellen are co-curators of the Biennial. Although fully international, the event will focus on its closest geographic-cultural environment: Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. A good part of participating Guatemalan artists was chosen through an open call. In addition to them, national participation will include those – professional or incidental – who will take part in community projects.
A catalogue will be published after the Biennial’s official opening, since it will document the specific projects that will be taking place. The publication will be launched in a closure event in mid-September.
© Text: Gerardo Mosquera