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Questions on place and space in Latin American Art
by Maria Clara Bernal Bermudez

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Johanna Calles

Brigida Baltar

Nelson Leirner

Maria Elvira Escallon

Sebastian Diaz Morales

Francis Alÿs

Art Historians, theoreticians and curators that work with Latin American Art are always faced with this question. Our jobs are not straightforward; it is not about taking a work of art here and putting it there. We must perform a double translation: we are not only translating a work into words we are also often translating one culture into another. This act of translation however must be done in full awareness that it is not a systematic and transparent operation it is instead an act of interpretation; we are creating the place at our own will. But is it necessary to refer to place to be able to speak about art? or can we just delineate a possibly more flexible space of relations?

The issue of redefining place in Latin American art presents a double challenge. On the one hand there is the constant effort artists make to escape the categories that come with the specificity of this place called Latin America. On the other hand there is the need for historians to talk about this effort (not only by mentioning it but also by changing the way they think about art) and recognise that the artist cannot be determined by the "Latin American Art" term. This investigation in the issues of space and place comes from a specific concern with desperate attempts to talk about art from Latin America within a context when this space does not exist as it did before. Many proposals have been made, for instance Gerardo Mosqueraí­s attempt to change from "Latin American art" to "Art from Latin America" or Mari Carmen Ramirezí­ proposal of studying Latin American art from the no-place. In fact so many proposals have been made that we are tired of hearing about the same problem pervasively for the last twenty years at least. However this insistence on the subject over and over again signals an issue that is still unresolved: How do we refer for instance to a Colombian artist like Fernando Arias that works in London but insists on his connection to his native country? or How do we refer to the art of Francis Alys a Belgian that works in Mexico? Are they "Latin American Artists"? Are they creating "Latin American Art"? Can we refer to their work as Art from Latin America?

As long as human kind can remember there has been a desperate attempt to explore, map, chart, contest, colonise and decolonize space or rather to translate space into place; a desperate attempt to give it a total stability, unmoveable characteristics and to build ones identity according to this. Surprisingly little attempt has been made to liberate space from its constraints and see it only as a temporary arrangement. Little effort has been put into thinking about the importance of ‘unbelongingí­ of not being at home, of creating from being on the edge. Regarding the latter it seems pertinent to mention the work of the Swiss philosopher Vilem Flusser who lived his exile in Brazil during the Second World War. In his text entitled "Exile and Creativity" he proposed that "The expelled has been torn out of his customary surroundings (or else he has done it himself.) Habit is a blanket that covers up the facts of the case. In familiar surroundings, change is recognized but not permanence. Whoever lives in a home, he finds change informative but considers permanence redundant. In exile, everything is unusual. Exile is an ocean of chaotic information. In it, the lack of redundancy does not allow the flood of information to be received as meaningful messages. Since it is unusual, exile is unliveable. One must transform the information whizzing around into meaningful messages, to make it liveable. One must "process" the data. Ití­s a question of survival: if one fails to transform the data, then one is engulfed by the waves of exile. Data transformation is the synonym of creation. The expelled must be creative if he does not want to go to the dogs."(2) Art itself is teaching us about this mobility as constructive. As the Martiniquan poet Eduard Glissant puts it art is the only sphere where it is possible to admit that change through exchange is a positive thing.

In the history of Latin American art however there has been a constant return to the subject of "place" not only as a geographical location on the map but also as a cultural predicament. Understandably at the beginning there was the urge to give Latin America a place in the cultural map, to give it a territory.

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