The Heart of the Andes, Landscape and Art in Bogotá Before and After Alexander von Humboldt

Posted by Natalia Aguilar Vasquez – PhD Student at NYU Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literature

Aguilar Vasquez_Colombia_WorkshopFLORA
Art gallery and cultural space FLORA ars+natura in Bogota, Colombia. First day of the curatorial workshop by Miguel A. Lopez, July 30th 2018.

My research interests were, initially, the intersections between contemporary art and recent literature in Colombia, specially focused on ways of representing violence, memory, and trauma in the Colombian society and the bodies. That research shifted, and instead of dealing only with bodies and Biopolitics as critical lenses to understand such aesthetics, I noticed a “return” or, as many would say, an always latent concern with “the land”, the politics of creating landscapes and, most importantly, the spatial dimension of the Colombian internal war and conflict.

I started a journey visiting art galleries in Bogotá, new spaces for art and culture in the city. The “return” and reincorporation of landscape was visible in several exhibitions coming from young artists, but also in the creation of new spaces for culture in the city. Hybrid locations, a mix of gallery, research centers, and incubators for artistic projects. The question of physical boundaries, personal and public/political space, as well as the ambivalent relation between the urban and the rural, are crucial to imagine and live, in the so-called “post-conflict” Colombia.

That is the case of the FLORA ars+natura and Espacio El Dorado, two galleries I visited during my first days in Bogotá. Both spaces relate to landscape and to the history of landscape representation in Colombia, and host projects dealing with “nature matters,” the limits of nature, the ecological crisis, and the Anthropocene. While FLORA specializes in the relationship between art and nature, El Dorado has a wider scope of themes but has hosted four exhibitions dealing with the landscape like “Jardín de malezas” or “El corazón de los Andes”. I was fortunate to visit both galleries together, I saw the resonance, and audible movements of a volcano on the verge of eruption and the project of a young and bright gallery director whose dream project is curating and studying “the Andes” as a geographic unity, not anymore as locations delimited by the political restrictions of borders.

The exhibition “Temblores armónicos, a menudo una advertencia” by Ecuadorian artist Manuela Ribadeneira visually documents the seismic vibrations (and sound) of the natural process of eruption of a volcano. The exhibition is currently on display and it’s the result of a residency in Honda, Tolima sponsored by the LARA (Latin American Roaming Project) and FLORA.  The artist studied the presence of active volcanos in the area and the consequences and changes in nature and the community. The area was the epicenter of a volcanic eruption known as the tragedy of Armero, that town nearly disappeared in 1985. Interestingly, her work explores the multisensory dimension of natural phenomena, she creates “topographic drawings” of the vibrations and the sound that the volcano produces. The artist covers the walls of the gallery with a visual representation of such movements and sounds, most of them are imperceptible and only traceable with advance measuring devices.

Her work wants to reflect on the inevitability of chaos and “disaster”, on the constant threat that a volcano represents, and the relation between the human and the ferocity of nature. To me, the artwork is subtle and powerful; in the distance it looks like a reproduction of the lines in the graphs of volcano activity detectors, but once closer you see different colors and layers, the microscopic richness of the soil creating together the vastness of a mountain. After that exhibition, the director of El Dorado guided me to the private collection of Jose Dario Gutierrez, he has been collecting since the 80’s and he displays most of the artworks in his house in the north of Bogotá. One of the walls made perfect sense and illuminated my earlier experience at FLORA, he had arranged an “American” wall; it was a temporal and historical collage of different representations of America, Colombia and its landscapes.

Like Aby Warburg’s Atlas this wall challenges canonical ideas of the “landscape” by placing together botanical drawings from Humboldt’s explorations of the XVI century and contemporary photographs of a destroyed land, as well as a basket of potatoes (native from Colombia) and a drawing of Simon Bolivar made by Hugo Chavez during his time in jail. Multisensory experiences and medium explorations that made evident the limitations of traditional and imperial representations of the land; that was the beginning of my journey. Already pointing at a conscious artistic gesture to rethink “Colombian space” as one that recognizes different discourses, that plays with tradition,  and that wants to build a more inclusive sense of memory.

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