Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Bajo el mismo sol

It's probably a rare day when the temperature in London is 10 degrees higher than it is in Rio De Janeiro. A pleasant day too. A pleasant day to make the relatively short hop to the South London Gallery on the road between Peckham and Camberwell. Something of a local treasue.

Their current show is Under the Same Sun:Art from Latin America Today. Consisting of recent acquisitions (paintings, pictures, videos, sculpture, and more) by New York City's Guggenheim Museum of young (ish, mostly younger than me anyway) Latin American artists.

It demonstrates that Latin American art cannot be understood as a a single, homogenous entity and aims, instead, to celebrate the diversity of a vast geographical region. It seems right it's in South East London with its large Latin American community.

The art responds to, in places, colonialism, repressive governments, social inequality, and economic crises whilst at the same time rejoicing in periods of development and progress.

Not that you'd get that from looking at a lot of it. Sao Paulo's Erika Verzutti's Painted Lady and Gabriel Sierra's Hang It All (which alludes to a Charles & Ray Eames coat rack), both below, are aesthetically very pleasing if offering little in the way of political or social comment.

Costa Rican Federico Herrero's Pan de Azucar (above), a representation of Rio's Sugaloaf Mountain reduced to fields of pure colour, is equally fun. Raimond Chaves & Gilda Mantilla have done some (less fun) drawings. Of trees, candles, boats, churches, musical notation, and, er...cannibalism. The stuff of Latin American life, legend, and hopefully in the latter case, folklore. Hailing from Cali, Colombia Wilson Diaz's Movement of the Liberation of the Cocoa Plant speaks of an aspect of South American culture we're only too aware of. He's employed the trope, bordering on cliche, of illuminated lettering but the beauty of the work, the almost Amazonian greenness, means he gets away with it.

Cuban Wilfredo Prieto's Walk, a wheelbarrow full of earth with a plant in it (and a photo of much the same thing in use), possibly, tackles similar concerns whilst also paying homage to the walking art of Richard Long and Francis Alys.

Mexico's Carlos Amorales' We'll See How Everything Reverberates, above, takes inspiration from Alexander Calder's spellbinding mobiles. He's appropriated Calder using cymbals and has invited visitors to play them. After the local school kids were finished I had a go. It was very satisfying. Damian Ortega (also from Mexico) had made a model out of tortillas. I liked that too.

There are films and slide shows to watch and Carlos Motta has provided us with free posters covering a brief history of US interventions in Latin America since 1946. From Panama to Bolivia via Haiti, Cuba, Guatemala (several times), El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras, Grenada, Venezuela, and Peru. It's not pretty reading and there's a blog, a book even, in its own right to be written about the disastrous effects of aggressive and self-serving US foreign policy and how that's not been beneficial to the world whilst also recognising that doesn't make American people stupid any more than the failures of any other government does its citizens. It's probably for someone brighter than me to write it (and right it).

I'll stick, for now, with comestible based art whimsies. Marta Minujin (from Buenos Aires) wrote to McDonalds asking if they'd sponsor her plan to recreate a model of the Statue of Liberty made entirely of sweet breads and lying horizontally in New York's Battery Park. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they politely declined. But we can see her plans which, realistically, must've been the best she'd hoped for.

Upstairs there's some fairly dull, slightly self-satisfied, conceptual pieces. If you read my rant about the Tate's recent retrospective you'll know my feelings on that. Eduardo Costa's A Piece That Is both skewers the inherent pomposity and pretentiousness of that movement and even gave me a brief lol. Lol!

The second part of the show is in the SLG's new space. A converted, still in the process of being converted in fact, Victorian fire station opposite the Oliver Goldsmith Primary School. He wrote She Stoops to Conquer, you know. The 100 metre walk between the two buildings in the afternoon heatwave elated me more than the art it must be said.

Not that the art was bad. Most of it was pretty damned good. It may've been silly in places but it was so much more colourful, more interactive, more joyful than a lot of the uber serious canonical fodder served up via the hegemony of European/North American art domination.

The films you can watch in the fire station are a mixed bag. Venezuelan Javier Tellez's One Flew Over The Void has psychiatric patients in Tijuana removing animal masks to the sound of circus music. You'll have to make your own mind up what that's all about. Chilean Ivan Navarro's film features a shopping trolley made of fluorescent lights (a nod to Dan Flavin?) and Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker's Drinking Song showcases an 'orchestra' of Panamanian beer bottles. Hear them chinked, blown into, whatever it is you can do to make a noise with them.

Alas, there was no visitor interaction with the cold tropical beers. But Belo Horizonte's Rivane Neuenschwender was kindly offering us a free postcard. There were 65 to choose from, all with names of other non-Latin places though set in Latin America, but this was the one that caught my eye and came home with me.

Luis Camnitzer's Art History Lesson is, quite frankly, confusing. A room full of projectors piled up on tyres, chairs, buckets, etc; reeling off a slide show of blank slides to the bemused guest. You didn't need to watch it long to get the idea.

Camnitzer's confusion and Neueschwander's largesse came together in Jonathas de Andrade's Posters for the Museum of the Man of the North East (a real place in Recife, Brazil) where visitors are encouraged to rearrange the posters to their own satisfaction.

So, in the end, I didn't learn that much about the socio-political history of the region but I'd wager that an art gallery is probably not the best place to do that anyway. Read a book. Watch a documentary. Go there.

What I got from it was how people from different cultures put their own spin on modern art movements and how some of those spins take those movements into different, more interesting, places than they may have gone without being open to global influences. Much like the surrounding area, and the gallery itself, it was a testament to multiculturalism at a time when a lot of Britain, at a rough guess I'd say about 52%, seem to be retreating in fear from it.

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