Workspaces for Latin American Artists. Editora Cobogó, 2019, 364 p. BRL 150,00
Workspaces for Latin American Artists. Photo: disclosure Editora Cobogó

The Mapocho River, which runs through the city of Santiago, Chile, was the place chosen by the artist Cecília Vicuña to represent her studio in the book Workspaces for Latin American Artists, launched in early 2020, under the editorial coordination of Fernando Ticoulat and João Paulo Siqueira Lopes.

“Domesticated and transformed into sewage and chemical waste disposal”, according to the Chilean artist, she says, in the publication, that “I work on the river to recover the sense that this is a majestic place”. In seven pages, an average dedicated to each artist, the river is seen in a truly catastrophic situation, almost disappearing, which becomes a kind of manifesto, a work in itself.

Of the 27 selected for the publication, Vicuña, who has lived in New York for 38 years, but always returns to her homeland, was the most daring to present her creative space. All the others opened their conventional studios, even if such places, as Pablo Leon de la Barra indicates in the essay that opens the book, are “the place that allows the artist to dream new works, new worlds”. Photographer Fran Parente is responsible for all the images in the book.

 

Vicuña, in her 70s, is from a generation of pioneers in Latin American artistic production, which only recently gained space on the international circuit, as is the case of the Colombian Beatriz Gonzalez, the Argentinean Liliana Porter and Marta Minujín, and the Mexican Graciela Iturbide , all participants of the book, a merit in the selection. Representativeness, in fact, was an issue seriously observed in the publication: there are black artists, such as the Brazilians Lucia Laguna and Arjan Martins, and indigenous people, as Vicuña herself declares. It is a positive sign that, at least in the field of art, the concern to avoid male and white narratives is already an inevitable quest. For a book funded by the Culture Incentive Law, that is, public funds, it should be a mandatory standard.

La Barra's essay, poetic in form and content, is a good introduction to the subject, after all the artist's studio is a highly stereotyped place and the Mexican curator based in Rio de Janeiro addresses many of the possibilities he represents today, being both “a place of revolution and activism”, as well as responsible for “gentrifying the area”.

Another significant definition of La Barra is that “entering the studio is like being on the other side of the looking glass”, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll's Alice. But this is a little of what the book achieves, since in addition to the images of the “creative spaces”, concise but in-depth interviews, conducted by journalist Beta Germano, give an account of what the studio represents for each artist, as well as some poetic lines. of his work, thus revealing this other side of what is generally seen in artistic production.

Another metaphor of the studio is recalled in Germano's introductory text, taking up an idea by Ronaldo Brito: “The artist in the studio is like the lion in the jungle and the artist in the museum is like the lion in the zoo”.

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Brazilian artists would be enough for a publication of this size. Names abound, such as Claudia Andujar, Regina Silveira, Anna Maria Maiolino, Rosângela Rennó or Nelson Leirner, among many others. But the Latin American approach proves to be highly necessary,  by building a character of identity that we Brazilians are not always used to. And it is in the testimonies of the brothers and sisters, such as Cecilia Vicuña and alfredo jaar, both from Chile, or Beatriz Gonzalez and Miguel Angel Rojas, from Colombia, that the publication reinforces the current situation in the political debate that the continent is going through.

Lately, curators have pointed out Cildo Meireles, also present in the book, as the best Brazilian artist, in a name more appropriate to the field of sport, which after all has clear formulas for such a definition, than art. What the book presents, in fact, is precisely the place of the artist's error, of attempt, of risk and not of his best-known work. And Meireles' studio, in this case, is one of the simplest, which doesn't even look like a creative space. But as La Barra defends, it is a space that “can resist the capitalist logic of production/consumption”.

Despite having the “coffee table book” format, Workspaces for Latin American Artists is a publication that talks about the place of creation in difficult times, while presenting a generation that has been going through setbacks for more than 50 years, long before the tree, already fleeting, of Latin American art. And, most importantly, the book makes real contributions to what it means to create in Latin America a much-needed debate.

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