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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

For more than a decade now the question about territory has become a constant in the work of Colombian artists. The issue of "place" became a subject of art within the "diasporic" society of Colombia not as an exercise in self-pity but as a way to deal with a complicated political situation, a way to give temporal stability to a very unstable situation. In this case, place does not make reference to a location, in fact it would have little to do with a spatial location as this concept disappears. The place that this art refers to is that of a "diasporic person", a place that can be located in the family, the community, in those symbolic features which constitute a shared culture or a shared ethnicity. The situation is evident in works like Johanna Calles' drawings where there is no sense of place, there is only infinite space, characters are immersed in these waters that have no shores. Although Colombia is in a very particular situation it seems a good place to start to talk about the issue of place and space in Latin American art today and how art history and theory has dealt with it. This complex situation between trying to capture space and giving it a temporary name and place and the need to construct new spaces of existence through habitation rather than through theory seems to be pervasive not only in Colombia but in Latin America in general.

It seems appropriate to start with the work of Brazilian artist Brigida Baltar "Collecting mist" (a project she developed between 1996-2001) where she performs the inevitably frustrating gesture of trying to capture something that is immaterial. Mist, as "See breeze" (another of her projects), is part of her context but it is impossible to capture and "represent".

The work is symbolic of the issues that I want to raise here. How to capture something that has change in its nature? How to approach the work of art that falls under the classification of "Latin American art" when the geographical place is only a temporary arrangement always in the process of evaporation? However the subject must be treated with caution. A visit to the 26th Sao Paulo Biennial revealed to me a series of issues that emerge with taking to the extreme the dissolution of territory. Revising the curatorial statement it is possible to see what the problem is when talking about this dissolution. According to Alfons Hug "Artists create a power-free zone, a world that runs contrary to the existing one: a land of emptiness, of silence and respite, where the frenzy that surrounds us is brought to a standstill for a moment. By breaking through the barriers of the material world, the artist becomes a smuggler of images between cultures."(1) In theory this sounds ideal however it does not work like this. Although the intentions are good this "no-mans land" is no less confusing and arbitrary than classifying art by countries. Therefore it is not my intention to argue that Latin American art today must be seen as orphan, global or, to quote Sao Paulo Biennial's curator "no mans land" but to rethink the issue about territory, how is it understood? Where, what, which is Latin American art territory today?

It seems obvious but it is sometimes overlooked that art history and theory are not autonomous. They exist in relation to art, and these disciplines must be ready to react to any change in the routes that art proposes. There is then a growing need for art history and theory to change at the same rhythm as its subject. If art from Latin America is indeed in the process of challenging the concept of territory how can art history and theory comply with the same demand to loose the usual territory i.e. Latin America?

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