Nómade I, 2007
IX Bienal de Cuenca, Ecuador
1. In the last fifteen years, the heterogeneity of the visual arts in Peru has only reproduced itself, despite an accelerated process of institutional bankruptcy, in which the progressive disappearance of private and state support and interest has been the fuel for the continuous effervescence of a scene forced to reinvent itself and relocate. It is a process that begins in the anti-Fujimori anti-dictatorial fight against the dismantling of the state and its services, and that continues in the organization of young artists in independent work and exhibition spaces. Thus self-management, independent organization, diversification, extended international diaspora, but also the maturation of a language and a keen visual perspective on the unresolved issues of national life, have given rise to a peculiar contemporary scene.
In the midst of this perspective and from various registers, the works of Philippe Gruenberg and Ishmael Randall Weeks separately summarize certain views on the young contemporary Peruvian scene. The first in the reuse of the extended local tradition of the photographic medium and the condition of its image as a catalyst for a perception. The second through a return to the most elementary materials of the volume and recycling, as a way to recreate and comment on the new tensions in the local culture.
In a way, both artists process here in their own way, the metaphors and allegories of the truncated processes of citizenship and modernity in Peru, of the contours of their yearnings for growth in the case of Randall Weeks, of the profile of their already defeated idols. as in the case of Gruenberg. In both there is a marked interest in the coordinates that cross history, the evolution of the popular and its contrasts. And in both, a skid in the middle, methodically elaborated.
2. Gruenberg comes from an already established Peruvian tradition of the photographic image, an image that is no less changing and confrontational, which here operates in the peculiar display of its various supports. Photo, frame, video, or their ironic narrative synthesis in the printed format of the photonovela, function here as operative strategies of a photographic discourse in permanent unfolding. Perhaps it is a precise unfolding that always reactivates a critical view of perception, that constantly reuses the medium and in a certain way makes a permanent conceptual detour, which here reorders the gaze. In this way, in his images, the structures of the institutions linked to Peruvian professional football, the stadiums delicately photographed on plates, are gathered here in a frame that starts from the ambivalent search for the real look of a fan (as is the own Gruenberg) and the vision of sports buildings symbolically charged with other senses. Hence, perhaps, the precise precariousness of the monster seen from within are nothing but, in this vision, elaborate forms of understanding the broader phenomenon of other national precariousness.
For his part, Randall Weeks has been refining certain minimal rhetoric inclined towards abstraction that it had in its origins, until it has become a tool with the most open senses, in which uncertainty is not exempt. In part of his previous work, more linked to the academic installation touch, he had already appreciated a need to get out of the mold. But mold and model are precisely part of the constant speculation of this sculptor, for whom his approach to the world of the popular is part of a look of critical questioning of the environment. His fascination with the world of recycling, almost as a subculture and a way of life of constant unemployment in the Latin American city, has brought him, with a certain irony as well, to alternative discourses of housing, transportation and commerce. In his gaze the utopian perspective of change, a certain precarious profile of a peripheral science fiction and an awareness of the planetary waste of resources are mixed. His wheelbarrow, made of recycled oil brass recovered from grilled chicken restaurants in Lima, hints not only at the saturation process in popular food, but also highlights a contrary consciousness. Randall Weeks, whose reflection revolves around major global issues on the waste of energy and concentration of resources, exerts in this piece a playful gesture of synthesis and savings, by turning the average street vendor's wheelbarrow into a furnished room with a shower and kitchen included.
3. In the work of both artists, these symbolic movements bring together critical reflections on the high points of Peruvian culture, its ramshackle character, its center of exclusion and discrimination. In the midst of them, for example, the reissue of the feature film Cholo in a video version adjusted to 40 minutes, My Cholo, by Philippe Gruenberg establishes and crosses the coordinates of the popular, with those of a certain pop aura, the same as recovers in the physical appointment of the popular genre of the fotonovela. Cholo, a kind of failed super production of Peruvian cinema from the early 70s (filmed in various European locations, with a soundtrack by a pop group of the moment, El Polen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic) puts the experience on the table. of ethnic discrimination and identity conflicts. Starring a Peruvian soccer idol, Hugo Sotil, who plays the role of an abstract painter and soccer player at the same time, both Cholo and Mi cholo (note the redoubled irony of the possessive, the author's prankster obsession) puts on stage those conflicts and the he moves from the ethnic world to that of artistic and sports parameters in a powerful and careful mix. From there, as a drama of those identities in conflict and as identities displaced on the issue of discrimination, Mi Cholo reissues and relocates one of the truncated processes of emancipation and national rebellion. And in a similar way, Ishmael Randall Weeks recovers speech, volume and space in the same movement, making the material a syntactic, expressive and somewhat minimal starting point, to make a projected comment almost in the hallucination of design, about the deficiencies , vices and undoubtedly virtues of the Peruvian popular resource and recycling. A comment with an abstract approach, about the concrete way of life of millions of displaced and marginalized from national growth.
In both artists, the gaze on the heterogeneities and cultural tensions on which they reflect, activates the allegorical device, the prism through which all these images of the popular emerge that do not admit prior consensus. Gruenberg observes the mass sport and its idols, icons of an unfinished process of citizenship and massification. And in his own way, Randall prefers the reconstruction of the discursive spaces of the informal habitat and the urban and popular horizon, inevitably defined by precariousness.
Between the two, the tension of the debate on the contours of the national and its crisis is established, which other local languages in Peru seem to neglect and which only the visual arts seem to look at today with lucidity and detail.