Juan Covelli / Los Caídos, 2023. Installation View at View at Espacio Odeón. Written by Felipe Rocha.
Fifteen minutes past six in Bogotá on a Friday, you may find yourself surrounded by a brisk breeze, heading towards the opening of a show at a blue-chip gallery in the hip area of Chicó, or to some artist-run mixture between a dance club and an exhibition space in the neighborhood of San Felipe, where libraries, cultural houses and auto repair shops adjoin each other like a patchwork quilt. You may also take a cab (or a motorbike) to go to a former warehouse, theater, or school to attend a rave somewhere until the police break it up.
You might choose to see and be seen at any of the high-profile spaces that showcase the city’s most exciting artists, or you may pick anonymity among queers and anarchists in sweaty night-clubs and after-parties, where so much of the aesthetics, sensations, questions and problematics of forthcoming shows is gestated. I wouldn’t know whether to go for eclectic, punk, frantic, or convulsed if I had to describe this city’s cultural landscape in one word. By 26th street, under a bridge, a posthumous homage to Juan Pablo Echeverri, an admired and rising local contemporary artist, widely known as Miss Fotojapón before his untimely death, stares undisturbed, painted on a wall, adorning the pavement where the homeless seek refuge at night. With the art fair season approaching, and key market events as ARTBO and Feria del Millón right around the corner, here are five exhibitions displaying the diversity and richness Bogotá’s art scene has to offer.
Between 2019 and 2021 Colombia endured a period of social unrest unlike any in recent memory. Inequality, police brutality, uneven political participation, and frustration over a peace deal that hadn’t yet materialized, led to widespread protest movements. These joined the global iconoclast tendency that saw monuments to General Robert E. Lee, Leopold II of Belgium, and slave trader Edward Colston uprooted, defaced, and ultimately removed from the public space. On Wednesday, September 16th 2020, the Southwestern Indigenous Authority -AISO, in Spanish-, carried out a historical trial against spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar, which concluded in the demolition of his statue on Morro del Tulcán, a sacred hill for the indigenous communities of the zone. Juan Covelli’s solo exhibition titled Los Caídos (The Fallen) takes place at Espacio Odeón, an exhibition space hosted in a former movie theater from the 1940’s. The new media artist reflects on themes of memory, contingency, deconstruction, resignification, and the materialities that frame these concepts. This can include marble, cement, or the bronze of public monuments, but also silicates, copper, and rare earth elements that support AI used for predictive surveillance and algorithmic content optimization.
In the entrance of the semi-ruined republican building that houses the exhibition, one is confronted with a barricade built with bricks, tires, road barriers, tin roof tiles and a store sign of Olímpica - a convenience store chain owned by a powerful political family from the north coast of the country. In the center of this barricade, a TV screen plays a video piece, which resembles a low-res online shooter game that late-nineties kids will remember. In it, hundreds of animated protesters dance in a dionysian delirium fueled by resistance and community. “Artificial Intelligence is an ideology, not a technology […] We dance restlessly at the rhythm of Guaracha, this deviled music that leads us to frenzy […] Sirens wail, we come back with this schizophrenic movement of our asses, to eat everything for dinner,” a robotic feminine voice recites. On the second floor, another monumental video installation dominates the space, this time dimly lit with purple LEDs. Two large TV screens display photogrammetric renderings of Los Héroes monument: a complex built in 1963 which recalled several battles of independence. In 2021 it was torn down to construct a new metro line, after it had become a popular gathering spot for protesters. On the ground, dilapidated clay heads of saints, chieftains and liberators lead the way to another massive installation, where ceramic replicas of improvised shields confront a fallen statue of conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada hanging from the ceiling, and a ruined empty pedestal set with studio lighting against a greenscreen backdrop. In an adjacent room, a multi-channel video installation integrates AI vision, generative imaging, and language modeling to unfold a complex meta-narrative questioning the black box paradox, data-flows, micro-politics, decentralized resistances, and the melting of all that is solid into air, referring to Marshall Berman.
Los Caídos is a project nominated to the XII Luis Caballero award, and it is on show at Espacio Odeón1 until November 4th, 2023.
Installation View. Juan Covelli / Los Caídos, 2023. Odeón, Bogotá, October - November 2023. Photography by Andrés Brand.
The woody roots of a tropical tree almost cover an arched train overpass somewhere in Cuba. Thick drops of sweat roll down the dark skin of a jornalero while he momentaneously takes cover from the sun in the cabin of a truck parked in a cane field. The nostalgic gazes of workers and syndicalists stare, painted with black molasses on red rags “[…] with which they covered their faces to harvest their sweat, when they could secretly escape to take a break from the foreman.” Photographs, audio-visual installations, and an imposing center piece, consisting of a fully-loaded sugar cane freight car mounted on rails on a gravel surface, piece together Sandra Rengifo’s Mayoral de Acero: Destajo (A Foreman Made of Steel: Piecework), her solo project at Galería Santa Fe, a large, public exhibition space with an open market upstairs, coordinated by Bogotá’s District Institute for the Arts. In collaboration with visual artist and photographer Kostas Tsanakas, Rengifo sets up a suggestive stage that places the viewer in situations of endurance, resistance and resilience undergone by cane growing communities in geographies dominated through industry, steel, machines, railways and infrastructure.
In a single exhibition space, Rengifo makes use of multiple resources to weave together a story of domination and production, and of the bodies that carry the weight of revolutions that have ended halfway, of the forgotten blood of the many, and the silent work of the few that have remained. In dialogue with the freight car installation, two large multi-screen multimedia pieces show workers restlessly and quietly pouring thick, unrefined cane juice into molds to make panela, an inexpensive form of sugar, popular in the Caribbean and some regions of South America. Archival pieces show the faces of those who died in search for better conditions, and a line of empty chairs confronts a group of silhouettes, painted in black on red, undone rags: a bearded man gives a lively silent speech, two figures are seen in the distance working on a field, a woman sits decorously for a portrait - they all seem to have something to say to an audience of empty chairs that every so often seats the occasional pensive visitor. “[…] This song isn’t for you […] it speaks of my childhood friends […] who were left for ash aside the railways […] as memories lost in wild times” reads a printed verse on the wall by Pantelis Rodostoglou.
Mayoral de Acero: Destajo is a project nominated to the XII Luis Caballero Award, and was on show at Galería Santa Fe2 until October 22nd, 2023.
Installation View. Sandra Rengifo / Mayoral de Acero. Galería Santa Fe, Bogotá, September - October 2023. Photography by Andrés Brand.
Ana María Rueda’s solo exhibition Jardín Propio (Own Garden) is characterized by a profound sensitivity that encompasses each one of the objects, installations, textiles, video pieces and photographs on display. Multiple pieces emanate a desire for home with materialities that arise from tact, perception, and acute awareness of the feelings and affections that accompany being uprooted from one’s land. Displacement, forced migration, abandonment of the known, and the imperative course of time, turns the familiar into what was once known. Rueda’s gentle approach to the intricate and challenging subjects that are remembrance and trauma, dialogues easily with the stark outlines of the concrete-slab space. At the entrance, a polyptych of subtly blended acrylics oscillates between cold grays and fine blues on draped white cloths that confront two textile installations where materiality is key. In Bajo La Piel #2 (Under The Skin #2, 2019), cadmium-coloured spectrums expand over deep black fields painted in acrylic on long cloth strips suspended by cáñamo rope, and in De Tu Corazón (Of Your Heart, 2022) the inscription PERO QUÉ HOMBRO Y QUÉ ARTE PUDO TEJER LA NERVADURA DE TU CORAZÓN (BUT WHAT SHOULDER AND WHAT ART COULD’VE WOVEN THE VENTURE OF YOUR HEART) is sewn on a delicate, gauze-like red cloth suspended from blunt, tangled black wires.
The designs of colonial tiles, familiar to so many people who originate from the rural zones of Colombia (hit worst by internal conflict) are lightly marked on blocks of clay piled against a wall, mildly coloured in pastel tones, heavy as a yearning, frisk like the elusiveness of recollection. Upstairs, a photographic series shows five instances of a deformed grid wire fence casting its shadow on a white background, while wire, gauze, plaster and dry branch assemblages construct an oneiric space, where the tangible becomes a phenomenological manifestation of the vestige left inside. Rueda searches for a personal space in which to take refuge and grow - a garden from which to re-emerge. This search for lost space is materialized in several sculptural installations: a 12.4 foot-tall work made of a patchwork of gauze pieces coated in white plaster that dominates the second storey of the project; an installation of dry tree branches suspended weightless about a foot from the ground; a long red gauze strip stretched through the length of a wall, only to drop, rolled-up on the floor; a multitude of dead wildflowers and twigs covering a wall, intertwined with pieces of black, harsh wire; and someone’s veil waving in the light in black and white, forgotten on a tree branch, under colossal white clouds.
Un Jardín Propio was on show at Galería Espacio Continuo3 until October 26th, 2023.
Installation View, Ana María Rueda, Un Jardín Propio. Espacio Continúo, Bogotá, September - October 2023. Photography by Andrés Brand.
At NADA, an independent bookstore with a plant shop in the basement, the walls are filled with graphics and prints of emerging artists, along with tote-bags and photo books. Visual artist Juan Mejía has devised a cabinet of curiosities for this space, complete with an egg-carton crocodile hanging from the ceiling - a playful nod to Renaissance engravings like the Museum of Ferrante Imperato (Anonymous, ca. 1599). On the third floor, within the walls of this tiny exhibition space, is a fantastic display of the world of an artist who is fascinated by satire, irony and an evident predilection for storytelling. It encompasses works that date back to the eighties, including collages, drawings, ceramics, paintings, engravings, assemblages, interventions, appropriations, installations, word-pieces, ready-mades, docu-fictions, visual essays, auto-biographies, and more. The title of this show is accurate: De Todo Como en Botica (A Little of Everything as an Apothecary). A fine humor, at times discrete, at times blatant, imbues the whole show, manifesting the logics of an artist who understands his practice as a way of living, as a “[…] way to establish a little parcel from where to look, and act […]” as he stated, talking about a recent exhibition at Galería Jenny Vilá, in the city of Cali; “[…] without a space where to do it from, it’s difficult to look, and do.”
Small, quasi quotidian works speak to everyday life preoccupations - at the entrance a toy dog sits on an artificial grass rug in front of a water bowl, a tiny oil painting shows two lonely trash bags forgotten on the curb, a medium-sized painting announces some old family car is up for sale, nine cheerful suns scribbled in yellow tempera on a page torn from a notebook are contemplatively described in pencil: SOLES SOLOS (LONELY SUNS). All of these pieces address deeper existential questions - in front of the toy dog at the entry, an acrylic painting of an operating room hangs, somebody’s torso cut wide open, surgeons restless around the gaping red wound; tiny portraits of Arthur Schopenhauer and Franz Kafka quietly watch over the exhibition space, a small collage with photos of nuclear mushroom clouds includes the ominous inscription SEÑALES DE HUMO (SMOKE SIGNALS), a cartoonish drawing in ball-pen ink and coloured marker shows an Earth surrounded by mosquitoes, while a top-hatted frog smokes a cigarette, or a joint, painted in acrylic on a medium-sized canvas, suggesting that maybe all of this is just a big joke or big trip. What’s certain is that the small format of this exhibition is deceptive. One could spend days inquiring every single object contained in this fabulous apothecary.
De Todo Como en Botica is on show at the exhibition space of NADA4 until November 11th, 2023.
Installation View. Juan Mejía / De todo como en botica, Nada. Bogotá, October - November 2023. Photography by Andrés Brand.
Behind the red door of a garage turned independent gallery, a metaphysical temple is to be found. Conjured by the emerging mixed-media artist María Morales, it is a place that contains rituals, observances, and communions with living forces encountered through multiple field and research trips to the Ocetá and El Tablazo Páramos - rich, though subtle ecosystems, affectively inspecting the mystery of life. It exudes a feeling of how “[…] everything is animated, everything grows, mixes, mutates, evolves, and dies.” In Ánima Híbrida (Hybrid Soul), her first solo exhibition at SKETCH Gallery, Morales finds origin in water, through an animistic world-building that comprises a sample of her expansive vocabularies. At the center of the gallery, traced on the floor with black tape, a three-branched path leads to a circular altar with a ceramic egg laid on top of a mound of dirt. At the edges, four other dirt mounds surround the main altar, holding a scapula, a jaw, a hip, and a fang, each delicately crafted in ceramic.
This installation was the centerpiece at the opening, as Morales embodied El Chacal (The Jackal) - a being conceived in collaboration with videogame concept artist Arturo Gutiérrez and costume artist Fabián Hernández aka. Pelitoz Locos- to carry out a performance, or rather ceremony, pointing towards the shared origins of art and ritual. During the performance, Morales becomes a witch, inhabiting an “[…] ephemeral temple, which only exists when a ritualistic action is carried out in it.” Surrounding the central installation, large-scale prints of microphotographs, some digitally intervened, some untouched, materialize rich color fields, dramatic contrasts, and a plasticity to color that wouldn’t be better described than for its organic effortlessness, and vibrant vitality. Morales’ search for the secrets kept at the most intricate scales of life is also manifested through video - a screen seems to show one of her digital paintings, this time in action -as a droplet taken from a pond under the lens of a microscope- set on the floor upon a layer of dirt. At the back of the gallery, a large projection plays a video-performance, where Morales embodies, once more, a shamanic, witch-like persona, carrying out rituals surrounded by water, punctuated by animated digital paintings. Ánima Híbrida coherently presents the parameters that Morales has defined to address the bonds that tie her experiences of spirituality and femininity, the continuing need for magic in the contemporary, of witchcraft and enchantment, and a profound, mystic connection to the natural world.
Ánima Híbrida is on show at SKETCH Gallery5 until November 9th, 2023.
Installation View. María Morales / Ánima Híbrida. SKETCH Gallery, Bogotá, October - November 2023. Photography by Niko Jacob.