Sofía Salazar Rosales
The desire to dance with someone who is not here
ChertLüdde, Berlin
26 April – 24 August 2024

Text written by Dayneris Brito in Paris, April 2024

I
In the dance she hid the hug of an island miles away.

II
The afternoons were always hot. There was little or almost nothing to entertain us, especially in summer. Money didn’t stretch enough to go to the beach more than twice a month, and the “mataperreo” didn’t interest me much. I was always more into books and school.

In one corner of the tiny living room of my parent’s house, there was the radio that later became a recorder and later a stereo system, as we called the CD player in Cuba. Every Saturday, my father “punished” me with those songs that I couldn’t understand on loop. We listened to it at full volume because, in a country like Cuba, life happens in the streets. The whole neighborhood had to hear the same songs; we shared the enjoyment. Anyway, what could an 8-year-old girl understand about the lyrics of Oscar de León, El Benny, or Los Van Van?

Twenty years after those unforgettable Saturdays and my father’s smile when Pedrito sang, “que no me toquen la puerta que el negro está cocinando” (don’t knock on my door because the black man is cooking)1, Cuban salsa still follows my steps, and I follow hers. With me and my body, the language of the music of my homeland has migrated. Even living more than 8,000 km away, I need to express myself by dancing salsa.

III
The Cuban-Ecuadorian young artist Sofía Salazar Rosales (1999, Quito, Ecuador) presents her exhibition at ChertLüdde under the title: The desire to dance with someone who is not here. The statement is clear: What to do with the desire to dance with someone who is not here? Can we substitute the absence for a physical body, the shadow for the idea, the object for its representation?

Sofía Salazar Rosales assumes dance as a poetic gesture, a sign of creative contingency that finds its origin in the innate need to express herself through sculpture. The desire to dance with someone who is not here poses the intention of dancing with a stranger, with no other guarantee than to let oneself go. The complicity of two bodies that rub against each other in the freedom of movement inhabits the prose of this exhibition. It is a combination of referential and autobiographical stories, an authentic visual and conceptual popurrí. Her sculptures become bodies and the gallery a dance floor. Sofía invites us to “learn to dance on foreign terrain”, alluding to another of the recurring concerns of her practice: the importance of context and the ability to step out of it.

In her own creative routine – whether in Lyon, Paris or Amsterdam, where she currently resides – Sofía sculpts to the background music bequeathed by her parents, one of Ecuadorian origin and the other Cuban. Comparing dancing with sculpting, the artist creates the magic of two bodies that move to the rhythm of a song – cómo fue, no sé decirte cómo fue, no sé explicarte qué pasó, pero de ti me enamoré.2

Two unknown bodies, ignorant of each other’s limits and capabilities. She herself is the first to dance with the materials. She stalks them and hesitates towards them until she reaches the desired sculptural organicity. Only from this gesture of intimacy and sensuality, recognition of the other and empathy is born. The sculptures are her dancing bodies, liquid bodies, penetrable bodies, bodies that hold space waiting for a partner to dance with. In short, the body knows more about the world than consciousness.

From this thesis, the exhibition points to the different moments and protocols to which a sculpture is subjected. The idea is to unveil, using codes from her personal and collective memory. The life process of her installations are also conceived as biological entities. The birth of the idea, the staging and the outcome are understood here as the deliberate interaction with the public. The entire exhibition is decided between these binomials reiterated in her work, the relationship between the artisanal and the industrial, the intimate and the public, the global and the local.

Interested in writing as a highly poetic component, she once again places language at the center of her attention. Perhaps here, without intending, she made language text and pretext. Creation and dance are two practices within the same semiotic, a semiotic that is not verbal but corporal, gestural, dependent on emotions and non-visible sensitivities, the same ones that are hidden behind every process of germination. This is how Sofía is the architect and translator of her own gestures, verbalizing her feelings in sculptural gestures. Holes that breathe, broken glass that whispers, crimped metal plates and a curtain of paraffin that languishes.

This second exhibition presented by the artist at ChertLüdde is a continuation of Hay cuerpos cansados por elviaje que buscan enraizarse (There are bodies tired from the journey seeking to root), made in 2022 for the gallery’s Bungalow space. While the works presented in Bungalow collected the artist’s life experiences during her stay in Lyon and Quito, for this occasion, the influences of three destinations lived and visited since then are incorporated and collected: Paris, Amsterdam and Havana.

While the wounds are open is the first work that welcomes us to the exhibition space, corresponding to her close relationship with Paris. Made of industrial materials such as rusted metal, it is indebted to previous works that already revealed the teardrop patterned steel sheet or tôle larmée, as they are known in France, used in urban repairs to cover the holes in the road and allow passage. While the wounds are open constitutes the prelude to this sonnet, welcoming the visitor to a public, architectural dance floor.

The work was born as a response to the observation of a frequent phenomenon in many European cities. It is that Paris – in the artist’s eyes – is neither a city under construction nor under destruction, but one that constantly advocates repair, contrary to what happens in Latin American cities such as Quito, where the prevailing symbol is that of demolition and construction. But unlike the contexts in which these metal sheets are usually used, efficient for their rigidity, Sofía shows us a plaque lying down, bent, tired, hanging from a thin steel rod that presumes to support it.

Between her open metal legs, laying on the floor, rests a sack – a sack made of paraffin with an anthropomorphic appearance – like an outstretched and tired tongue, emerging from the silhouette of a female reproductive organ. Curiously, the sack used for this piece is not a commercial agricultural sack as it has previously appeared in her works, but rather a sack commonly used for the storage of debris and cement waste. A sack stripped of its context, with no writing or stamped markings. A timeless sack.

While the wounds are open not only delimits the beginning of the exhibition and the insinuation to dance but also alludes to an origin, a primary origin from which Sofía approaches her birth, questioning her own existence and her function as an artist in society. Where do the creative forces of an artist attach themselves and where do they dwell? What happens when there is no (force) left? Will there always be a place from which to attach oneself?

Her answer seems to be simple: to turn to the elemental sources of life, that which forms our essence and makes us unique. In Sofía’s case, such authenticity finds a place in the Afro-Cuban faith practices passed down from her parents, which explains the presence of an Oshun3 necklace guarding the paraffin sack and a bull’s eye seed.4 So, while the wounds are open, the artist’s path seems to be one of reconciliation, healing within the context that we leave behind and that is close to us.

Once in Amsterdam, Sofía did not ignore her transit through other sensibilities. Her first encounter with the semiotics of the city happened precisely in a supermarket. From this vital experience two other works in the exhibition are born: Can’t you hear them breathing? and Full of sweetness (y el mapeo del destierro).

Full of sweetness (y el mapeo del destierro) is a curtain in fiberglass, epoxy resin covered with paraffin and medical adhesive tape, almost four meters high, inspired by those used in supermarkets for the protection of products. The title refers to the advertising slogan of the brand La Favorita – one of the main banana exporters in Ecuador – as a box full of sweetness. Although the gesture of reproducing from a model is not something new in her practice, Full of sweetness (y el mapeo del destierro) refers more to the interpretation of an idea than to the mere intention of reproducing it.

The drawing that appears on the banana boxes themselves can be read on the curtain, whose lines have been drawn on white surgical tape with a certain degree of realism while yielding to its ghostly, reflective aspect, visible on both sides of the curtain. At the same time that it seems upright, a certain fragility hides behind this work. Some of its sheets crackle and suffer from being so long, while others are yellowish, like victims to the passage of time.

Full of sweetness (y el mapeo del destierro), as well as other works in the exhibition, incorporate the line, that line that allows us to enter a little more into the soul of the artist. The volume so present in Sofía Salazar Rosales’ works gives way to the lightness of a silhouette, marked or diffuse lines, as in the case of this piece. This decision – not at all random – responds to another interest: the need to stick to the wall in search of sustenance. Perhaps a metaphor for the need to settle her own emotions. An experimental gesture that also allows her to optimize time and resources.

Scattered throughout the exhibition hall rests Can’t you hear them breathing?, made up of four copper structures that watch over their surroundings from the floor, lurking. To make them, Sofía recovered banana wrappers from the supermarket in Amsterdam and resorted to a technique called electroplating. The same flattened wrappers, modified by transport, were covered with copper, existing in relation to the canvas curtains from which Full of sweetness was born. One piece is attached to the other and both are the result of the same questioning, a transversal line in the conceptual concerns of the artist: the industrial object as a product of exchange and surplus value in the field of transnational trade. Or more specifically, the history of objects related to the colonial power system.

Sofía fixed the wrappers in resin and, with the help of the Nolana foundry in Naples, manufactured them in copper, without using a mold, to leave the real structure underneath. With an almost unnatural realism, she preserves their folds, curves and holes. This apparently fragile and insignificant composition becomes a solid armor. But once again, the idea of materials that weep, breathe and embrace each other is present, as if the artist wanted to remind us that no one escapes the vulnerability of feeling.

It is not about creating a sculpture of contemplation, but she wants to raise information, to raise the counterpoint: where do these objects come from and how did they get to the place where they are? With her languishing objects, Sofía personifies and humanizes the history of a process that goes through the commercialization, exportation and exoticization of a product and therefore of an idea, a region or an entire culture.

Here she uses bananas to translate their journey into gestures, winks and sensualities that she manages to recreate with the corroded material. Bananas that were taken out of their context to begin a journey of non-return, arriving at a context that only possesses a brief – and distorted – version of their true origin. Hence, her sculptures cannot remain inert in the face of the passage of time, the memory of the journey, the suffering or the fatigue of the journey. Some of them have not yet been able to shake off the dust of the road.

They ask to stay (so they can hug dancing guangancó) is the latest work of this sculptural ensemble. From a glass and resin beam of remarkable dimensions hangs a woven mesh. This beam is inspired by an IPN beam used in the internal structures of buildings, a symbol of modern construction and at the same time coincides in exact proportions with the beams that support the ceiling of the gallery.

Inside the hanging mesh, two tiny bananas – in contrast to the proportions of the beam – embrace, kiss, or maybe not. Maybe they just dance guaguancó. But they do it together, without letting go, and from the complicity of their intertwined bodies they stealthily contemplate the monumentality of the rest. The lovers are perhaps the centerpiece, the subtle gesture, the touch that ensures the opening of the path, the eternal reconciliation.

The desire to dance with someone who is not here, more than an exhibition, is also a map. A mental and physical map that makes a cartography of the feeling, of hers, of ours, contained in the boleros and salsas that my father listened to so much.  But Sofía’s is an absent map, absent like that love that is no longer there, like those desires that remain when there is nowhere to take root, and we levitate in the nebula of a memory.

IV
“It’s getting late, it’s dinner time and the neighbors are tired. Dad, please turn down the music.”

“Wait girl, let Bola finish…”

(…) Pero ay amor, si me dejas la vida,
Déjame también el alma sentir;
Si sólo queda en mi
Dolor y vida,
Ay amor, no me dejes vivir (…)

 

Notes:

  1. Emblematic song of the Cuban salsa group Los Van Van.
  2. Verse of the song “Cómo fue”, by Cuban composer and musician Benny Moré (known as “El Bárbaro del Ritmo”).
  3. She is one of the main deities of the Yoruba religion, also known as the Caridad del Cobre.
  4. The Bull’s Eye Seed is used in the Yoruba religion as an amulet against envy, evil eye and negativity.

Photos by Marjorie Brunet Plaza

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