Gustavo Artigas

Kanal 20

Expo: 3 – 24/05, Wednesday to Saturday > 14:00 – 18:00
Vernissage: 2/05 > 19:30
City Event: somewhere, some day in May

Use the broken glass from windows of crashed cars, setting them like diamonds into the map of Africa. Organise a match with American and Mexican teams in the border village of Tijuana, basketball versus football, each following their own rules, with the Wall as scenery…

Visual artist Gustavo Artigas was born in Mexico City in 1970. He is called a ‘situation-events artist’ for his works, often ‘happenings’, are constructed (randomly) at the heart of conflicting human, social, political and economic realities, following the familiar rules of sporting duels or games in our society which he has modified quite bizarrely.

Off to Kanal 20, a documentary space (photos and video) to immerse yourself in his existing work, and then into the city which serves as a public arena where interventions take place that have nothing funny about them except how they appear…

Concept:

Gustavo Artigas

Supported by:

Nina Menocal Gallery, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Coordinación de Asuntos Intenacionales CONACULTA/INBA, Embajada de México en Bélgica

Special thanks to:

Looking Glass (Bruxelles/Brussel)

Production:

KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

Presentation:

Kanal 20, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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Are we here to play or to be serious?

Are we here to play or to be serious? And in all seriousness what is playing or games for that matter? It could be said that the aforementioned questions (the first a title in fact), extracted from Georges Batailles’ Happiness, Eroticism, and Literature (Essays: 1944-1961), are key to the game and disaster investigations of contemporary visual artist Gustavo Artigas (Mexico City, Mexico, 1970). For the past four years, the artist who is based in Mexico City, but coordinates the majority of his projects in other international cities, has developed a stunning, complex language surrounding the social tensions of group organization and the consequences and risks involved in game and disaster situations. More specifically, Artigas’ work engages a universe of limits. As for the game, the limit between what is and what is not [a game] is more difficult to specify that what it seems at first glance. On behalf of common reactions, the game would be a free activity without consequences. The disaster on the other hand – in Artigas’ experience – is a limit confined by fear and/or inevitability. Acting as Master of Ceremonies he has developed a three-ring circus scheme juxtaposing games, performative gestures, and political critiques into episodical chapters.

Games

His most revered work The Rules of the Game (2000-2001), which was presented at the InSite 2000 edition on the Tijuana/San Diego border, baffled many by turning the notion of the game on its head, questioning some hybrid form of a limit; tackling competitive action via cohabitation. There, many spectators witnessed, although subtly, two strikingly innocuous, yet sublimely political acts of social compatibility/incompatibility. Firstly, he built a handball court next to the border in the local neighborhood of la Libertad-a common crossing point for illegal immigrants entering into the United States-issuing forth a commentary on the bouncing like migratory tendencies of the region. For the second part of his project, Artigas welcomed two high school soccer and basketball teams from Tijuana and San Diego to stage a simultaneous match on the same court, introducing a game/situation model that would later come to be closely associated with the artist.

Interestingly, unlike what the normal public would expect from the atypical competitive sports game – a head butting battle in the fight for court domination-the four teams’ cohesive organization produced an interesting policy: difference without interference. Combining chance with jeopardy and a great deal of unpredictability, Artigas created a work that resounded in the political arena of its vicinity. Although only one minor accident occurred in the event, it could be said that raising the temperature is what the artist is seeking. Like The Rules of the Game, two similar works, Geeta vs. Sage (2001) and The Domino Effect (2000) target the parameters of social convention and cohesiveness amongst group organization. Geeta vs. Sage was produced at the Roxy Rhythm Bar in Melville, Johannesburg, South Africa alongside the other works created on residency, Jewelry (2001) and Big Engagement, Big Hole (2001). All are defined under the project name Locals Hate Us. Unlike other projects that investigate extreme or unusual situations, this piece examines the social anxiety of the immigrant condition. “In one of the Johannesburg projects for example”, Artigas explains, “I used a particular tension in one social aspect of South Africa. Some red zone bars were closed by the government because of the growing illegal population coming from other African countries (the same is happening in Mexico too). In this work called Geeta vs. Sage I developed a ceramic piece firing the mud used in a mud-wrestling fight.” This formally elegant work operates on other levels besides the spectator side of sports action. It questions, “the place where art happens, the tense situation of illegal aliens in some countries, and
the problems of tolerance and competition among others.” The same could be said for The Domino Effect, a piece created for the 7th Havana Biennial in Cuba. Prostitutes instead of illegal aliens, i.e., woman mud wrestlers, for this case, are the protagonists in this work. For the action recorded on video, the artist coordinated a domino competition amongst four prostitutes and four male Cuban visual artists. Questioning tolerance on a different level, each participant, for each game lost, as the video records, was asked to drink a glass of rum. When the player could no longer compete or drink more, he/she was eliminated from the game. Funnily, the champion, a woman, was awarded a bottle of rum as the winning prize.

Performative Risk

Other investigations differ by plunging into the repercussions of risk while appropriating a social discourse pertinent to contemporary art discussion. The in-situ production, Emergency Exit (2001) presented at the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil (The Carrillo Gil Art Museum) in Mexico City is one of various examples. Rarely does Artigas develop works in the context of museums, but for this particular project the artist organized a spectacle-like dynamic involving a motorcycle stuntman who enters, crashes through, and exits the museum’s lobby in a fraction of a second. Curators have alluded to the artist’s relative disapproval of coordinating projects especially for museums as well as never having witnessed such an event in the museum’s history. They also reflect on Artigas’ yearning to occupy the museum space in a short time, penetrating a portion of the architectural edifice without directly entering it. Yet, they fail to speak of his attraction to the public spectacle. The artist once mentioned in an interview “works can go wrong and that is the possibility that the work holds as well.” But what is inside of that possibility? The guarantee of a spectacle? Although we know that the motorcyclist will crash through the foyer, we cannot help the stomach-churning thought of if the stuntman will land safely on the other side. Perhaps this is also due to the MC nature of the artist’s work, how he moves the crowd by taunting the visiting public with the stuntman circling the periphery of the museum. Here precisely is Artigas’ game at work. This one may not be interactive, yet it does flirt with the viewer’s reaction when confronted with danger.

Political Distractions

Another disaster investigation is the work Insomnia (2002). Artigas produced a public postcard work, distributed freely, targeting the notions of security/insecurity via the sleeping disorder complex. On the postcard it is written, “People often complain of insomnia after experiencing catastrophic events or situations. If you suffer from insomnia or any other sleeping disorder please consult the following website: www.planb.tv/insomnia” (both in English and Arabic). Once consulting the site, by clicking on a pill graphic, individuals can access pages addressing sleeping disorder issues and solutions. Ironically, Artigas relates his project to the relief advertising campaign, New York Needs Us Strong, supported by The New York City Department of Public Health and Project Liberty. Fascinated by the spectacle, Artigas refers to the postcard campaign’s impact on the psychology of a larger social atmosphere.

Comparable to the New York Needs Us Strong campaign is the more spectacle-profit based Attack on Americapostcard operation. On the left hand corner next to one of many disaster images the postcard reads, “Disaster Cards, Proceeds to benefit Victims of September 11th Attack on America.” In analysing these postcards together with the artist’s social-psychological study, it is important to look to Debord’s, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. In particular, I am referring to his discussion of images and the price of the spectacle as well as Artigas’ interpretation of the loss of logic in the postcard campaigns. He states: the primary cause of the decadence of contemporary thought evidently lies in the fact that spectacular discourse leaves no room for any reply; while logic was only socially constructed through dialogue. […] At the technological level, when images chosen and constructed by someone else have everywhere become the individual’s principal connection to the world he formerly observed for himself, it has certainly not been forgotten that these images can tolerate anything and everything; because within the same image all things can be juxtaposed without contradiction. The flow of images carries everything before it, and it is similarly someone else who controls at will this simplified summary of the sensible world; who decides where the flow will lead as well as the rhythm of what should be shown, like some perpetual, arbitrary surprise, leaving no time for reflection, and entirely independent of what the spectator might understand or think of it.

Combining the conventions of high art with the voyeurism and titillation of mass spectacle is Artigas’ social specialty. Artigas work embodies something broader than the creation of situations, actions, and art objects. It employs a language addressing social-psychological group organization and public spectacle as well as the culture of the game, the game as life in itself. Although we cannot assume death consequences with a simple simultaneous basketball/soccer match or the crashing of a motorcycle through a museum foyer, we understand Artigas’ impulse in the comedy of the combat.

Jennifer Teets, independent curator. 2003

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