Thursday, 8 September 2016

Artist Residencies in the Local Community: Federico Herrero on Peckham's Pelican Estate

Pelican Estate. Photo by Dan Weill 

By Jack James, Children and Families' Co-ordinator at the South London Gallery

“avoiding the idea of a mural that is connected to decoration… [I’m] much more interested in the idea of a mural that is connected to an experience”  - Federico Herrero

When looking at opportunities for the touring exhibition Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today to connect with the South London Gallery (SLG), curator Pablo León de la Barra proposed that Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero contribute towards the SLG’s ongoing work on local housing estates in the largely residential areas of Camberwell and Peckham.

This instigated a residency co-hosted by Pelican Estate in Peckham and the SLG, in which Federico situated a social aspect of his practice. The residency existed alongside his studio practice of painting on canvases, which is represented in the SLG’s main gallery space as part of the same exhibition.

Installation view. Federico Herrero, Pan de Azucar, 2014.  Photo: Andy Stagg.

In discussing potential locations to create a mural for the estate with the Pelican Plus Tenants and Residents Association, Federico expressed his intention to create a work that was part of an experience within the locality, rather than being a decoration on top of it. After considering several potential locations by viewing images sent ahead of his arrival, Federico asked to situate his contribution to the estate by painting onto the surface of the playground and then actively encouraged people to walk, run and play on his work. This playground at the centre of Pelican housing estate is slightly larger than many, but is fairly typical of fixed play provision on housing estates up and down the country. Pelican Estate is a post-war housing development combining low and high rise blocks of flats and maisonettes with shared facilities including a community hall and another smaller playground.

Playgrounds invite and initiate activity through a collection of objects explicitly purposed for children’s gross motor play. Children can and will play anywhere but within the UK particularly, we have become accustomed to setting aside spaces for children to play and even legislate for the provision of outdoor recreational spaces in residential developments. Municipal playgrounds have a history dating back to the Victorian philanthropy, which gave us many of London’s public parks and civic facilities including the South London Gallery itself.

Pelican Estate. Photos by Mark Blower.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Bright Designs for MAP’s Latin American Exhibition in London

By Caitlin Dover, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

As the curators prepared to bring the Guggenheim UBS MAP exhibition Under theSame Sun: Art from Latin America Today to the South London Gallery, they considered how the powerfully eclectic exhibition, presented in its third venue, might best be framed for a new audience. Enter designers Oliver Knight and Rory McGrath of London-based studio OK-RM, who worked with the MAP team and the South London Gallery to devise an identity system that would convey the ideas and aesthetics of Under the Same Sun within and beyond the gallery.

As MAP curator Pablo León de la Barra notes, “Part of what is exciting about the UBS MAP initiative is that we have been able to connect with local talent in the places where the exhibition has toured: for Under the Same Sun’s presentation in Mexico, we worked with Maricris Herrera, who did the graphic design, and Frida Escobedo, who created the interior architecture; in London, we collaborated with OK-RM.

Their approach took into account the history of concrete poetry and geometric abstraction in Latin America, which has deep resonances with the artists in the exhibition. The urban presence of their graphic identity (on the hoarding outside the new South London Gallery space, and on billboards and bus ads) contributed to extending the energy of the show into the fabric of the city, and ultimately brought some sun to London!”

We spoke with Knight and Dewi Pinatih (OK-RM’s project manager) about how they developed the concept for this unusual project.

What were some of your first impressions of Under the Same Sun when you received the brief to create an identity for the exhibition? What about it informed your work from the start? 
We were interested in the Latin American focus of the exhibition having worked closely on previous occasions with several of the featured artists, and as we became more familiar with the curatorial selection we were impressed by the diversity of works [on view]. Rather than taking cues from any specific works, we responded to what we understood to be the spirit of the collection of works and Latin American culture on a broader level.

Spread from gallery guide to the exhibition. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

Can you tell us about some of the specific inspirations for your concept? 
A key aspect of the visual identity is a typographic articulation of the title within the lineage of concrete poetry, a postwar artistic movement with roots in São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. As well as [incorporating] this direct link to Latin American art and poetry, this approach was inspired by the visual nature of the title itself. This typographic treatment is flanked by a vibrant color palette of geometric blocks and shapes, which at once references the language of national flags and also the colorful street culture present throughout Latin American cities. The result is not so direct as to evoke a clear association with nationality, but more of an abstract reflection of Latin America’s unique relationship to the modernist canon.

Printed materials for Under the Same Sun. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

What were the primary challenges you faced in this project? 
One of the biggest challenges was working on the identity for an exhibition that was in its third iteration, having already been installed and communicated on two separate occasions in New York and Mexico City. We felt it was appropriate to create an identity which would add a fresh perspective in the new London context and also offer an opportunity for collaboration between us, curator Pablo León de la Barra, and the teams at the Guggenheim and the South London Gallery.

Can you talk a bit more about the collaboration with León de la Barra? How did your conversations with him shape the identity you created? 
Pablo was very supportive throughout and encouraged us to challenge the way that the design had been approached in the previous iterations of the exhibition. Having lived and worked in London, he had strong opinions about what he thought would and wouldn’t work in the London context, whilst also helping us to navigate any potential South American clichés.

What has been the response to the new identity?
The response has been good. It’s been circulated a lot on social networks, which is usually a good sign that people are reacting and connecting to it positively. Color and geometry as abstract entities have a universal appeal . . . People tend to react well to the things that they understand. It of course also helps that the content is excellent and that the exhibition it is being hosted by two very popular art institutions.

Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today is on view at the South London Gallery until 11 September.

An ad for Under the Same Sun in the London Underground. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

Friday, 5 August 2016

Workshops, Artist Projects, and Outreach Help Build Community Engagement

By Rachel Moss, Head of Education (Maternity) at the South London Gallery

“I learnt about the correlation between art and freedom of expression.”
(parent at a family workshop)

As part of the opening weekend of Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today at the South London Gallery (SLG) in early June 2016, Argentinean artist Amalia Pica’s performance Asamble (2015) took place in Peckham Square, featuring participants invited from the local area. The performers brought their own chairs along, processed with them from the gallery to the square, and then congregated in a choreographed circle that never closed. This formation of circles was repeated several times. Ahead of the event we worked closely with Amalia to connect with a wide range of participants from different cultures, interests, backgrounds and ages, and that are representative of the community local to the South London Gallery. Some of them were already regular visitors and others were new audience members, having heard about the opportunity to work with Amalia by word of mouth. Amalia’s practice is about communication and collaboration, and for me Asamble epitomises the way the education team at the SLG works with its local residents.

Amalia Pica, Asamble, Peckham Square. Photo Mark Blower

Hosting the exhibition Under the Same Sun, the second exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative, has enabled us to open up the former Peckham Road Fire Station for the first time giving a taste of what will be possible when we expand into the renovated fire station in 2018. This building is the earliest surviving example of a purpose-built fire station in London, dating from 1867, and was gifted to the SLG by an anonymous donor. During January to March this year we carried out a community consultation for the building which generated lots of local interest from existing and potential audiences, some of who took part in the performance of Asamble.
Under the Same Sun has also enabled us to create an expanded education programme. The exhibition was initiated at the Guggenheim in New York, travelling then to the Museo Jumex in Mexico, and then finally here to the South London Gallery. Members of the SLG education team have been in regular dialogue with education staff at the Guggenheim and a travel exchange was also set up between staff here and in Mexico. This has enabled us to learn from their experiences of hosting the exhibition and their community engagement, leading to us focusing on the Latin American community located in the nearby Elephant and Castle area.
In particular we have been supported by Latin Elephant in our community outreach. They are a charity that promotes alternative and innovative ways of engaging and incorporating migrant and ethnic groups in urban regeneration processes in London, particularly relevant at present with the redevelopment of the shopping centre at Elephant and Castle. One example of working with the local Latin American community was at Plaza Latina, a Latin American festival based in Nursery Row Park near Elephant and Castle. Here we worked with Argentinean artist Laura X Carle and over 100 participants, to create a wooden structure covered in brightly coloured tissue paper and culminating in a grand finale where the families burst through the paper, representing the breaking down of borders.

 Plaza Latina 2016, Zoe Tynan-Campbell

Other highlights of our education work taking place during the exhibition include Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero’s residency on Pelican housing estate, Peruvian artist Andrea Frank working with the Art Assassins (a group of young people aged 14-20), Spanish language tours of the exhibition, projects with Comber Grove and Oliver Goldsmith’s Primary Schools, weekly Sunday Spot workshops for families featuring artists such as Jose Campos from El Salvador, and Play Day on Sceaux Gardens estate, as a national celebration of children’s right to play and the importance of play in children’s lives.

The exhibition has been an interesting way to engage with people within the local Latin American community, including new families who now attend our Shop of Possibilities (the SLG’s social space for play for residents on nearby Sceaux Gardens estate) and an elderly person who has lived in a street nearby who has visited the SLG for the first time in 53 years! Under the Same Sun has been a fantastic opportunity to build on relationships with existing and new audiences at the SLG, which we plan to develop further moving forward towards opening our Fire Station Annexe in 2018 when partnership working will be at the heart of our approach to programming, underpinned by a commitment to working with local residents.

 Sunday Spot. Photo Jose Campos

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

On the MAP: Latin America in London and Amalia Pica’s Moving Performance

By Caitlin Dover, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

A New Space for the South London Gallery

The MAP exhibition Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today opens Friday, June 10 at the South London Gallery (SLG), a contemporary art institution known for its innovative artist projects, exhibitions and community engagement. The SLG has recently been donated a former fire station by an anonymous benefactor, and thanks to the support of UBS, the ground floor of the building, which dates from 1867, will open for the first time as part of Under the Same Sun. The gallery is working with conservation and heritage experts to renovate the former fire station, transforming it into a new, multipurpose contemporary art center that will open fully to the public in 2018. Under the Same Sun will be the first exhibition to have a dual presentation in SLG’s main building and in the fire station’s ground-floor space. It’s a rare chance to see groundbreaking artworks while also getting a first look this beautiful and historically important building.

Circle in the Square

MAP artist Amalia Pica, whose work A ∩ B ∩ C (2013) is included in Under the Same Sun, will be staging a version of her performance Asamble (2015) on Saturday, June 11 in London’s Peckham Square. The artist, who grew up in a chaotic, post-totalitarian period in Argentina’s history references the challenges of self-organization by enacting the universal emblem of gathering—the circle. This performance—first presented in the Plaza de los Dos Congresos in Buenos Aires—takes place in a public space and involves multiple untrained participants who form a single-file procession that takes the form of a circle which never closes. This meditative, repetitive choreography explores the universal challenge of bringing people together and the circle as a charged symbol found in social organization but also in visual art and architecture.

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Peculiar Challenge of Conserving an Artwork Made of Tortillas

Preserving and protecting artworks made with unusual materials is something that comes with the job for Esther Chao in her position as Conservator, Objects, at the Guggenheim Museum. But the MAP exhibition Under the Same Sun: Art for Latin America Today—now on view at Mexico City’s Museo Jumex—has presented her with some particularly off-the-wall media. “A lot of these works are a little challenging, a little different,” she explains in the video above. “It’s because they have a lot of live elements—things that are not traditionally used as art materials.” Indeed, visitors who stroll through the exhibition at Jumex will encounter such nontraditional materials as fruit, in Gabriel Sierra’s work Hang It All (from Stepmothernature) (2006); a live plant, in Wilfredo Prieto’s Walk (2000); and towels, in Adriano Costa’s Straight from the House of Trophies—Ouro Velho (2013).
Among the knottiest conservation problems posed by Under the Same Sun is that of Mexican artist Damián Ortega’s piece Tortillas Construction Module (1998). As the title might suggest, the work is constructed entirely of corn tortillas—made by the artist’s mother. Delicately slotted together in a geometric structure, the sculpture’s edible components have a limited shelf life, of course, and as Chao points out, “All of a sudden we have to think about keeping these preserved for years.”
There’s one way that Chao can ensure that Ortega’s work will live on: keep a stock of tortillas in reserve. “We wanted to make sure we had extra sets so that if anything should happen in the future, that we were able to have extra tortillas to be able to keep creating this artwork as needed,” says the conservator. This is especially important as the parameters of the work allow it to be reconfigured using larger numbers of the cornmeal snacks. So, when the Guggenheim acquired Ortega’s piece, it was accompanied by 157 extra tortillas, ensuring that the work—and the culinary creations of the artist’s mother—will be preserved in the Guggenheim Collection for many years to come.
Under the Same Sun: Art for Latin America Today (Bajo un mismo sol: arte de América Latina hoy) was on view at Museo Jumex until 7 February 2016 and at the South London Gallery from 10 June - 11 September.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Interview with Pablo León de la Barra


Pablo León de la Barra recently began a two-year residency as the Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Latin America. Currently he is organizing the second exhibition in the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, opening at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in June 2014.

What was the origin of your interest in what you term “Latin American art in dialogue”?

It comes from my having lived in London for the past fifteen years; it was there that I got in contact with the Latin American “Other.” This gave me the opportunity to be in dialogue with other artists and curators—many from my own generation—who had similar backgrounds, or who had grown up in similar contexts of economic or social crisis, but who were not otherwise connected.
As an artist or curator, one always used to look to “the center”—which in this case means New York, London, or now Berlin—and sometimes forgot to create relationships with closer neighbors. What I have realized is that there is a lot of common ground, and I want to find ways to connect people with each other, and put them in touch with other contexts in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and elsewhere. New York is no longer the only center; there are other centers that are as potent, and as interesting, and have as much to contribute to global culture.

One of the great interests of the initiative is in recognizing that maybe now the peripheries are the centers, or are bigger than the centers, and that we can create networks of knowledge that recognize existing differences and particularities.

How might this initiative facilitate cross-pollination between Latin American countries?

During the past ten years or so, numerous art initiatives have arisen in Latin America. I think what’s interesting with many of them is that they are “bottom-up”—they come from artists and curators getting organized together in response to various factors. One of these factors is economic crisis and the lack of funding; another is a lack of response from institutions. Many institutions, because they lack money or have other interests, have not been responding to their immediate realities, or to what a new generation of artists has been doing. Many of these newer initiatives have focused on creating exhibition spaces, but others have gone further, creating models for art education or experimenting with new ways of thinking. We want to engage with these projects and learn from them. Many have already provided models of how to create networks through which they might collaborate—networks of residencies and exchange—which work with smaller budgets but still create effective ways of transmitting information, of starting a “pollination” of culture, knowledge, and learning. These small-scale initiatives are creating “molecular” revolutions and are changing the way one relates to the Other—which is maybe not so other anymore.

In terms of the exhibition beginning in New York, there’s a double responsibility involved, which is about making an American public aware of what’s happening elsewhere. I think this is a great way for the Guggenheim to do it—by bringing what’s happening in other geographies to theirs, while also recognizing that there’s a huge Latino population in United States, and in New York. That’s another of the questions we’ll be dealing with—how to connect with our American public and our Latino public.

How do you plan to connect with Latin American artists and the Latino public in the U.S., given that the exhibition will open in New York before traveling to a venue in Latin America, and then to one other major international city?

In the same way that we’re trying to create connections within Latin America, a great part of our responsibility as an institution is also to create connections with the world beyond Latin America. And we need to connect not only with national and international publics, but also with our immediate, New York-based public—which, in many cases, is made up of many populations originally from Latin America—and try to involve them in the exhibition. A major stage in the project will come when all three regions have been presented and we can try to connect the Middle East and North Africa with Southeast Asia and Latin America, thereby establishing a new and more transversal link. When we put everything on the table together, I think we’ll see many similarities. If we can forge these connections by using the Guggenheim as a center, that’ll be fantastic.

What themes and issues do you see as important to Latin American artists?

In Latin America, there are, in the generation following my own, artists that grew up in the economic crisis of the 1990s and 2000s, the “Lost Decade.” These artists came of age in a period when Latin America either veered toward neoliberal capitalism, or toward socialism following the Cuban and Venezuelan models. This generation, caught between two points of reference, also grew up amidst the trauma of their parents, many of whom grew up under dictatorial regimes. Now many of those people are seeing a new Latin America with a booming economy.
Again, artists stand in the middle of these tensions, flourishings, and contradictions, trying to make what is happening visible in its proper context. If there’s anything that differentiates Latin American artists from, let’s say, North American or Western European artists, it might be that many of them are very aware of their social and political realities. Art cannot escape these conditions; aesthetic research is totally influenced and contaminated by them. For a long period, there was no substantial market, so artists were not commercially motivated. The Latin American market is a very new phenomenon, occurring within maybe the past ten years. So, “aesthetic investigation” in many of these countries exists within these conditions, and I think this will be evident in the work of artists that we choose to show, which becomes part of the collection (and which of course will be in dialogue with the rest of that collection in very interesting ways).

How are hybrid identities distinguished within Latin American art?

I think that term was coined in the 1980s or ’90s, to frame a multicultural, postcolonial understanding of art on the so-called peripheries, but also as a way to incorporate the politics of identity, queerness, and race. In Latin America, hybridity refers not only to the mix of African cultures in Cuba and Puerto Rico, but also to the regional mix of European and indigenous cultures. This constitutes part of Latin America’s essence, an important topic that is nevertheless sometimes forgotten. The miscegenation between European, American indigenous, and Afro-American cultures has often led to their exclusion from these discourses, a situation that has changed only very slowly since the postcolonialist debates of the 1980s and ’90s. They remain current topics.

Could you say more about the representation of Latin American art and the research that you’ve done on the Guggenheim collection?

We cannot talk about one Latin America; there are many Latin Americas. Citizens of the United States call themselves Americans, but we’re all Americans. America is a continent, and I think there’s a cultural misunderstanding between the two Americas. There’s a history of Latin American art exhibitions that created a precedent for the work we are starting. MoMA has done some exhibitions; in 1993, Dawn Adès did the exhibition and essay collection Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820–1980, and Gerardo Mosquera has been active in trying to define the region; he recently did an exhibition called Crisisss that traveled in Mexico and Bogotá, and which focused on the idea of crisis and its relationship to art throughout 200 years of Latin American independence.

What role do your blog Centre for the Aesthetic Revolution and your Instagram gallery play in your curatorial practice, and in your efforts to reveal artists’ working environments?

Blogging has been a very important instrument to me in creating the kind of relationships that I’ve been talking about. It has helped me to connect artists whose work shares certain similarities, or who should be in dialogue, to connect art scenes and cities that have similarities and particularities that might benefit each other, and to show the United States and Europe what’s happening in Latin America. Many strategies found in blogging will be useful too in the work that we’ll be doing while traveling to research the region, and in presenting a wider vision of these different exciting things.

Again, I don’t think we can talk about there being only one center of art production in Latin America. Each region has its own center, and each region is its own center. If we can manage to expand the influence that these centers have over each other, and over us in New York, the United States, and elsewhere, we will have succeeded. We hope to learn from what’s happening in Bogota, Lima, and Santiago—and also in Valparaíso, Rosario, Rio, São Paulo, Recife and Belém. There are exciting scenes too in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, as well as in San Juan, and Santo Domingo. I could go on and on. Again, there are many different hubs where exciting initiatives are happening, and where artists are dealing with their own particular contexts.

How would you characterize your research and exhibition-making processes?

In a way, I see making an exhibition as similar to writing an essay—it’s a way of collaborating with artists and doing research. Many of my exhibitions have explored the idea of Latin America, including one I did in 2003 at Apexart here in New York. I guess that’s another reason I’m excited to be back in New York, ten years later, with the opportunity to rethink Latin America again after so many things have changed. The Apexart exhibition explored responses to the failures of the economic policies of the time, and the capacity of artists to survive through art. I think it will be interesting to see how things have changed, and how artists are responding to current conditions.
The exhibition will happen not only in New York but also another venue in South America, in Latin America, and another venue in Europe. This will create a much-expanded network, a bigger configuration, joining these different points together. That’s really exciting, as is the fact that the whole museum team will be part of this exchange. I think the education team will be surprised about how much they learn from other institutions and contexts; this may also help to change the way museums think about themselves. It’s a rethinking too of the traveling exhibition as merely the transportation of artworks from one place to another.
What’s interesting too is that the Guggenheim already has a Latin American collection—though not one that is identified as such, which I think is good; it’s not ghettoized into a sub-department. There are many important works from different periods and different countries in this collection, works that have already been in dialogue within the collection as a whole. Through this initiative, we will contribute to the museum’s permanent collection, and I think that’s one of the great contributions of this project, understanding that these works have an ongoing life, and that a hundred years from now, they will still exist.

What do you find most exciting about the MAP initiative?

The initiative gives us the opportunity to redraw cultural and artistic maps, to demolish boundaries, and to create new relationships between different art centers. The term peripheries no longer applies; we’ve learned to recognize that what’s happening elsewhere is as important as what’s happening in what used to be the global centers. We can decide to ignore what’s happening elsewhere, but that won’t stop all these other discourses from taking place. The more aware we are, and the more in dialogue we are with what’s happening, the more we will learn as artists, as people, and as communities, and the more we will be able to create new ways of thinking. It’s not about relationships with the Other anymore, but how we relate as equals. The MAP initiative is, I think, aimed in part at doing this, using art as a tool to understand other contexts—and ourselves.