An institutional collaboration between London and Lima blurs the boundaries between archaeology and fiction, presenting a range of contemporary artefacts and obsolete technologies as contemporary urban ruins.
In Amalia Pica’s 2008 video piece On Education the artist, straddling a cherry picker crane, stands face to face with a horse that seats an unidentified national figure. From the sinewy hind legs to the breast bone, the artist whitewashes the stone beast. Appropriating a popular phrase for stating the obvious, ‘¿de que color era el caballo blanco de San Martín?’ (‘What colour was San Martin’s white horse?’), Pica’s gesture is both an act of inscription and an act of erasure. Equestrian statues have often aimed to serve the purpose of educational tools – to tell the public what it’s country thinks of itself and its heroes. Yet, as these ubiquitous monuments age they serve as testaments to the changing ideologies of public life and the instability of these sandblasted identities.
Featuring in a curatorial collaboration between Tate Modern in London and the Museo de Arte de Lima in Peru, Pica’s work is placed alongside that of Rä di Martino, Pablo Hare, Haroon Mirza, Eliana Otta, as well as a new commission from Jose Carlos Martinat. Titled ‘Ruins in Reverse’ the group show will begin in Tate Modern’s Project Space, and will then move to Museo de arte Lima in Peru later in the year. Curated by Flavia Frigeri and Sharon Lerner the show is not another public art exhibition, but rather a study of the archaeology of urban reality, and considering the interplay between historical artefacts and discarded ruins.
On Education 2008
© Courtesy Herald St, London and Diana Stigter, Amsterdam
Like Pica, Pablo Hare’s Monuments series (2005-2011) comments upon the proliferation of public statues in Peru and explores a government at work to manufacture a public reality through public monuments that have long since lost their original meaning. From anachronistic sculptures of political figures to dinosaurs, a tigers and an effigy of Christ, Hare documents just a few of the vast range of diverse monuments that have emerged over the last two decades in public spaces across the country. Often not just unrelated but wildly juxtaposed to their surroundings, and offering little or no hint to that which they represent, these public narratives suggest a decorative attempt at forging a national identity in which reality and fiction have become blurred.
Crossing both elapsed and fictional time and space, Rä di Martino’s No More Stars (2011) photographs the abandoned sets of the first Star Wars films, now eroded by sand and aging in the deserts of North Africa. Reminiscent of the much-publicised discovery in the 1980s of the set of Cecille B. DeMille’s 1923 silent film ‘The 10 Commandments’ in the Guadalupe desert, the series of images addresses the issue of ownership of cultural texts when they are inscribed and preserved in this way upon landscapes far away from the supposed country of production. However, for co-curator Flavia Frigeri, there are deeper issues at hand: ‘The sets are physically located in the Tunisian landscape and the production costs are undertaken by a foreign company, but the sets themselves represent a completely fictional universe. No More Stars thus portrays these country-less phantasmagorias which have become involuntary landmarks in the Tunisian landscape in spite of time.’
Eliana Otta and Haroon Mirza move further from the idea of the romantic ruin to that of the ruin as cultural debris of a technocratic recent history. Otta’s Archaeology as Fiction (2010) charts the urban transformation forged through the frequency with which music media becomes obsolete. Told through vinyl, cassettes, and CDs, Otta’s personal anthropology charts the great leap from the analogue to the digital age. In an analogous but contrasting standpoint is Mirza’s Cross Section of a Revolution (2011) whose redeployment of cultural apparatus is presented as a coagulation of sounds, material and virtual, all channelled through obsolete technologies.
Miguel Grau, Bahía Tortugas, Ancash, 2008
© Pablo Hare
The architect Louis Khan, whose work is the subject of a vast retrospective at the Vitra Design Museum and coinciding with the Basel Art Fair, also described his own building sites as ‘ruins in reverse’. Khan’s observation is in stark contrast to that of Frigeri and Lerner, whose vision builds on the comments of American artist Robert Smithson that bear the title of the exhibition. Smithson’s ‘ literal reversal of the notion of ruin… emblematizes the changing landscape and thus in a way takes on a positivistic edge‘ notes Frigeri. In a playful take on the act of archaeological excavations are, the exhibition is as opposed to the romantic ruin as they are to the idealisation of monumental forms that foreground their own megalomaniacal gravity.
‘Ruins in Reverse’ shows the viewer that while the past may be a foreign country, the debris of recent cultural memory litters the physical landscape of national and municipal sites, serving as incidental monuments to the pace of technological change and to the implicit ideological motivations that drove their creation. Whereas the designs of Louis Khan references ancient ruins through sheer monumentality, monolithic scale, and having seemed to have out-lived its occupants, the artists on show in London and Lima seem rather to address both the presence and absence of a public. Frigeri explains that their curatorial approach was informed by a ‘more fluid notion of ruins, which encapsulates their evolution over time’. What appears to be another public art exhibition emerges instead as a more succinct exploration of the delineation of the public domain as a physical and disputed territory.
Flavia Frigeri is Assistant Curator at Tate Modern. Prior to this appointment she was the 2010-2011 Hilla Rebay International Fellow at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, Bilbao; and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. She is currently pursuing her PhD in History of Art at University College London.
Sharon Lerner is Contemporary Art Curator at Museo de Arte de Lima – MALI. Prior to her appointment in January 2012, she was the 2010-2011 Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts 101 Curatorial Fellow supported by Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco. Lerner holds an MA in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
Project Space Series
The collaboration between Tate Modern and the Museo de Arte de Lima is part of an ongoing series of collaborative international exhibitions organized in partnership with institutions worldwide. The Tate Modern’s Project Space Series provides a platform for curatorial exchange and dialogue between international venues to showcase emerging and recently established artists, ensuring that the work is exhibition is both collaborating institutions. Ruins in Reverse will be celebrated by a special commission from featured artist José Carlos Martinat which will highlight the different urban experiences of London and Lima through found materials from his time in the respective cities.