Mantengo la urgencia de reconciliar (Holding the urge to reconcile)
Curated by Juan Felipe Paredes
Juniin, Guayaquil
1 September – 12 November 2022

The sense of orientation is the cruelest lie of language. The search for the East is impossible with this obstruction of sight, with these buildings, this dust and this sun. The same cruel language conditions the human being to feel all this information that surrounds her, to let herself be bodily transported to sway on the thin line of curiosity.

The condition is austerity, caution, not to err on the side of audacity.

My body defeated me, but I keep the urgency to reconcile.

I. How’s the weather?

In the city, a matrix and hierarchies

Guayaquil is the space for Sofia Salazar’s first solo exhibition in the country, the tropic with the most contradictions I could think of.

According to Sofia’s own research, Guayaquil is the scene of the introduction and popularization of cement in the city. Florencio Compte Guerrero writes about the contradictions of this time in his work Moderno sin modernidad (1930-1948) and highlights the human relationships and the desire behind the popularization of cement in Guayaquil.

It is impossible to put a single explanation to the rise of this material; it could be the industrializing impulse, the fear of nature, the nervous sanitation of the authorities, the rejection of rural housing or the fixation with rationalism/internationalism and its political implications. Less coldly, cement in Guayaquil is also the trauma of the fires and the topic of conversation behind the nonconformity of its inhabitants. It is hot, there is no shade, there is too much dust.

Living in a city, especially in Guayaquil, is a fundamentally violent experience, mainly because of the space itself. The confrontation of bodies also has its origin in the premise of force as a variable that makes a fair confrontation possible or impossible. To confront the city, which wins by age, strength, physical capacity and robustness, is to constantly fail, and it is through this failure that we invent methods of survival that give us a false idea of control, as a placebo. On the sly, the sensitive thought returns the materials to their origins and combusts all organized. To think sensibly would then be to oppose functional thinking because it is revealed that the objective of that functionality is to keep alive and stable the matrix of the market: a structure that is not human at all.

It is through nervous questions and comments on the climate that people begin to relate to each other, we look for something we have in common, we talk about how we feel. I think of Guayaquil, as a port, as a place that carries the emotional weight of arrivals and departures, migrations, the journey and the gestures with which one leaves. How does the city receive you?

When I want to establish a relationship with the space (a need that increases rapidly and even worse in the uncertainty of contemporaneity), I collide with the parsimony of building materials that are limited to their functional use: that of the matrix. It is impossible, at first glance, to think of history through its materiality because it is eclipsed by its manufacture: serial, industrial, pristine and devoid of aesthetic errors. So, buildings do not exist according to the people who occupy them, there is an error of representation.

II. The corporal work in the transformation of the material

This installation is composed of a series of sculptures made during the month of August. In conversations with Sofia about the modes of production of the pieces, the conversation revolves around body work and the physical exhaustion it involves. We have to take pauses or make efforts to reach a state of clarity and be able to talk about the pieces. In my eagerness to get closer to the artist’s process, I worked as an assistant on a couple of occasions, I learned to resin in order to be able to talk with a rested Sofía and with the intention of building.

Having discussions about outsourcing when making a work is very 20th century. For me, this outsourcing is even the way in which the democratization of art is possible. From the creation itself, the image of art as this magnificent spiritual object that only belongs to the artist and his technique collapses because it needs other people and their respective techniques to make it happen. It is socializing the process. However, the role that making each piece from scratch and in solitude plays is part of the artist’s empathetic understanding of the material. The production conditions she had in France changed when she arrived in Guayaquil, a city where, statistically, it is more likely to be employed (running the risk of job insecurity, no doubt). Playing the role of supervision and letting go of the pieces is difficult for this type of artist.

The pieces are mostly worked in resin, concrete, glass, metal and contact cement, all industrial construction materials that require artificial protection in every sense. The discomfort with the paraphernalia of industrial protection shows that these materials are not meant to be handled every day, nor to be surrounded by them. Although we may be committed to production safety, accidents such as cuts, splinters and burns are almost inevitable. Something speaks here, this is not right, the materials ask you to stay away yet demand at the same time to approach your own body.

This is the second time that the curatorship highlights the sentimental relationship that Sofía has with her pieces (the first time in Ai Miz Yu, cur. Giselle Girón). I am interested that the relationship with the shape of the objects is crossed by the metaphor, the comparative exercise with the nature of the human being. In each of the pieces, exhaustion is present. Her objects not only carry the weight of gravity. The walls of the gallery are not enough to hold the pieces, it is not possible for them to rest against the wall because it does not have the capacity to respond to them, and even worse, it is not possible for them to rest against the wall because it does not have the capacity to respond to them. To respond to them, and to take care of them (one of the walls has physically collapsed). Sofia manufactures supports that adapt to the needs of the pieces, which are tired, that ask to stay, that seek to take root. The mats, meeting spaces that abound here, are urgently needed, and Sofia resorted to cement so they are resistant to time.

III. Against the approach

Advocating the indiscipline of the observer

Another element that makes me gravitate towards Sofia’s work is the premise “we are contextual and sentimental”, the starting point for creating a series of images that respond to needs beyond utility and embark in search of a relationship. The pieces she works with appeal to cosmopolitan logic, which operates as a sedative and hinders critical observation. Using these two poles, context and feeling, Sofia finds balances that are only possible in the realm of poetry and that sometimes the materiality of art does not support. In this exercise she also rescues the spiritual presence of objects in time as amulets, objects that carry the weight of their materiality, their history and those who live, lived and will live in their presence. This methodology brings feeling as a key to movement and to the system of relationships we have with objects.

The commitment to this way of looking reminds me of that of Alain Robbe-Grillet and the other filmmakers and writers of the School of the Gaze, collected in For a New Novel (1963). In these essays he refers to the mechanization of the eye by the appearance of the photographic camera. He proposes to restructure the novel, to question the way in which it had been written since romanticism (exposing the moral pretensions of the rhetorical tools used by writers) and to advocate the very existence of objects as the only certainty of reality. It seems to me that Sofia’s gesture is similar. In an effort to tension the hierarchies that anthropocentrism establishes, sensitive thought is key to being able to dialogue with the matter that surrounds us. Through metaphor, Sofia works impossible images in alarmingly empathetic gestures that condition the nature of these objects: non-slip iron plates that betray their rigidity, that allow themselves to be defeated.

Sofia’s works also call into question other formal aspects of the experience of seeing and making art, such as the farce of mimesis and the conflicts of sensory attraction. It is ironic that the rust that soils and damages the beams smells like cocoa, but if you think carefully, they are natural actions that emphasize the inoperability of human beings and their desire for absolute control and domination over nature. Maintaining the same relationship between corporeality, nature and the organic, a sentimental stance towards work, invasive materials and the history that objects carry with them challenge vision and judgment. How much can we train our eye to feel beyond physical sensoriality and towards social sentimentality?

IV. Data vs. intuition

Contemporary discussion, within and outside the arts, seems to be gravitating further and further away from rational discourse. Disenchantment plays a fundamental role, considering that we have just returned to physically inhabiting real space, impossible to disguise through virtuality. Nor do I believe that disguising intentions is something that is currently sought, on the contrary, the frontality with which it is approached is something that I welcome but that disorients me. In this discussion in which we are reelecting the voices to whom we decide to listen and the paths we decide to follow, the valuation of unwritten knowledge appears. It is possible to penetrate science, manipulate data and, with the support of institutions, create truths. In that case, it is urgent to return to an untouchable place, which gives us the security of its lack of human influence.

What interests me about Sofia’s work is that it contributes, subtly and wittily, to a political discussion that has aged terribly. In discussing the relationship between colonialism and capital in the urban core, theoretical approaches abound without elucidation, they dilate the subject and add layers that impede social articulation. What is the point of talking about making change if we fail to summon the force of the mass? I think this is what visuality can bring to the political discussion, which seems to have loaded only words with meaning and forgotten about aesthetics and materiality, and the politics that runs through them. We end up deceived by reproducing the matrix, perhaps not in our words, but in the images.

Martin Herbert refers to a recent moral current in contemporary art at the last Venice Biennale and at Documenta. He mumbled about the lack of challenging aesthetics. I feel that this is where art comes in, with the main weapon of languages and meanings in producing images that are difficult to ignore: that is where the challenge lies. On the other hand, there are those who wonder about a definitive shift in art institutions, such as Karen Archey, who observes how the ephemeral nature of works like Zoe Leonard’s “Stange Fruit” (1992 – 1997) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s acquisition of them could signify a shift in art institutions, looking for works that feel rather than works that think.

I am excited to see how Sofia’s works age. The work allows us to have conversations about how the body has the capacity to work through memory, what is learned through desire or intuition. I am not very interested in delving into intuition for the simple fact that they would all be lucubrations that would only serve to illuminate, with my own focus, my own physical direction and capacity, my materiality and my discourse, my sacredness. However, I am confident that the plurality of art and artists will give, with time, alternative ways of thinking, will make possible imaginary.

Curatorial essay If you look carefully by Juan Felipe Paredes (2022).

Photos by Libbi Ponce