“I believe we live in an era of transdisciplinarity in which one discipline cross-pollinates its surrounding disciplines“
Every single object that we interact with on daily basis, from the clothes we wear, the chair you’re sitting on, to all the beautiful things that we surround ourselves with to make our world a little more unique, does not exist within a vacuum. However unique and creative these items might be, the reason that they here in front of us today, is because of an ever-growing process of learning build upon a millennia of man’s trial and error. The creative minds who brought these objects into existence draw upon lifetimes of knowledge of creative minds before them, as well as the influences of the millions of ideas we stumble upon on a daily basis. This is not to say that these creations are any less inventive or authentic, but living in such a modern society as we do, these connections and influences are simply unavoidable.
Frida Cano is a curator and creator of the project Arttextum, where Cano has taken upon the role of a societal cartographer, in tackling the inconsiderable challenge of creating a spatial map of the internal creative landscape of artists and designers in particular cultural scenes in Latin America, complete mountains, valleys, lakes, and rivers. These resulting maps show us how individual contemporary creators work in the scope of a larger network and creatives who may seem to share nothing in common are in fact dynamically interlinked. The connections don’t stop just within one city, one country, one culture, or even one discipline, across the worlds of art and design and around the globe, connections can be found even in the most unlikely places. To demonstrate this, Cano has guest curated a selection of contemporary design works taken from a mix of Adorno’s international design communities paired together with contemporary artworks taken from the diverse cultural landscape of Latin America.
4 Works of Design with Reflections in Contemporary Latin American Art
Elisa Strozyk, Wooden Wall Piece
Wooden Wall Piece is a work from the series, Wooden Textiles by Elisa Strozyk that challenges our perception of materiality by turning the hardness of wood into a weaved and flexible textile. An alchemistic process in the way we see things is really what matters in these series of works. However, the preciousness of the elaborated result surpasses its focus on the process and materiality: the work can also relate to the intertwined cultures that connect when they clash and form new and more interesting ones. (I think for example in the collision of cultures during the Colonialism of the Americas or in the need of breaking barriers and limits in order to weave realities that had been separated due to political or economic restrictions such as the fall of the Berlin wall or the constant resistance along the US/Mexico frontier.) When the impossible becomes possible is when belief and faith arise, whether in form of changing the perspective of materiality -when wood can be weaved and becomes soft- or in the shifting of paradigms in a larger scale that affects how human history is written.
Clarissa Tossin, Encontro das águas
Encontro das águas [Meeting of Waters] by Clarissa Tossin takes its name from the confluence of the Negro and Upper Amazon Rivers at the port of the Brazilian city of Manaus in the Atlantic Ocean. For nearly four miles after they meet the black and beige waters run parallel to each other but do not intermix. The Port of Manaus serves as another type of confluence point: that of foreign capital and local traditions. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, British investment transformed Manaus into the center of the rubber boom and the most industrialized city in Brazil. After 1912, when the British turned to alternative rubber sources within their colonies, the city became impoverished. Today, the port again facilitates the movement of capital. Following a decade of deregulation that began in 1957, the city became a Free Trade Zone and now hosts the manufacturing plants of such companies as Apple, Sony, LG, Coca-Cola, Dell, Harley Davidson, and Honda Motorcycles. The commodities made at these factories enter the global market on cargo ships that exit the Port of Manaus. By conflating the materials and uses of traditional and modern objects, Tossin asks us to consider the impact of globalization.
Stine Linnemann, Re-woven Tapestry
Re-woven Tapestry is an interesting series of tapestries by Stine Linnemann Studio that makes us revisit and rethink the history of human labor through materiality, in this case, through denim. Being one of the most popular fabrics, denim carries out a great load of post-industrialization suffering, exploitation, and yet hope for better living conditions through work. By tearing the denim into thin layers, and reconstructing the fabric by weaving them into tapestries, the viewer may be questioning the harsh chemical and historical processes that allowed it to become into a one-of-a-kind tapestry. Perhaps one way to revisit human history in order to avoid making the same mistakes is by tearing down such a reality and transform it into something else that allows us to see it through a different scope with hopes on weaving and creating a better one.
Edith Medina, Biology Studio
Can the history of human and ecological exploitation be re-purposed and re-interweaved through the introduction and implementation of other types of materials? Biology Studio by Mexican artist Edith Medina believes so. Biology Studio is the first studio in Mexico that links design, tradition, science, and naturalism. Its philosophy is based on Innovation, Technology, and Tradition. Through workshops, consultancies, products and a store that integrates a diversity of objects that combine biology, art, design, and nature, Biology Studio proposes to revisit wearable materials, from head (hats, clothes) to toe (shoes). Bacteria-based fabric is the key element for re-thinking the history of fashion/labor and the exploitation of ecological resources.
Troels Flensted, Perception – Wall 2
Perception – Wall 2 is a series of unique stainless steel tempered mirrors that perfectly reflect one’s image and distorts reality when seen from a distance. The title even says a lot about the work itself, since it reflects back the way in which reality is perceived and accepted. The experimental approach of Troels Flensted gives this piece an interesting patina of individual awareness: an ancient belief from the Americas regarding mirrors was one of the “black mirror” made out of polished obsidian, which had the property of showing the person’s soul when looking at it; however, the black mirror fell into disuse when Spaniards fooled Indigenous people to trade their gold for (Western) mirrors in order to see themselves as their material bodies looked like. A great history of perception is the one that carries out the mirror as the element that steadily helps us see ourselves. I wonder if “Perception – Wall 2” is an in-between mirror that allows us to look at our individual image within a distorted reality.
Alejandra Prieto, Espejo Carbón
Coal refers historically to mining, to the industrial revolution, to worker’s movements. It is thus a sign of the (in)visible status of a subject and an activity. Coal is also, from this perspective, a signifier of production. And the objects constructed with or sculpted in, coal becomes dialectic images that bring together the two poles of the spectrum of productive possibilities: both the pole of industrial production and that of artistic production.[…] Coal’s reflective properties, enhanced by its polishing, enable the reflection of light. It is important to notice also that in Espejo Carbón, Alejandra Prieto has rescued a lost functionality of coal: thousands of years before becoming one of the most important modern energy sources, coal was used by pre-Columbian cultures as a reflective material.
Tinna Gunnarsdóttir, “Catch” hook
“Catch” hook is an interesting piece by Tinna Gunnarsdóttir that brings together two important elements of her childhood in Iceland: whale teeth and aluminum. By combining these two precious yet problematic components of Iceland’s history, the work speaks about both whale hunting and aluminum smelters, activities banned by ecologists and activists. What is interesting about this work is that not only touches on a country’s sensitive fibers but also on how these two controversial enterprises merge to literally hold one’s precious possessions, such as coats, jackets, and hats that help us survive a harsh environment -winter for example. “Catch” seems to grab realities of disparity, yet helps us understand nature’s abundance of beauty.
Ximena Díaz, Después del tiempo
Después del tiempo (After Time), by Ximena Díazis a set of reliefs and depressions dug from stacked CDs and DVDs, which evoke material transformations of time such as seashells, fossils, erosion processes and fungal colonies. An ode to time through the evocation of natural formations from the ocean. Data is now captured in oceanic forms, silent, yet holding our present reality: the infestation of plastic in every aspect of life. Is it possible to shift the resulting consequences into a more eco-friendly world? A heavy weight to be carried out by these objects, however, “Después del Tiempo (After Time),” give us some clues of what the commitment may be for the time being.
Arttextum Q & A
Where did you grow up?
Do you have any early memories of craft or traditional craft techniques from Mexico City?
Weaving was one of the most mesmerizing crafts I remember seeing when I was a little girl. Women from small towns in the outskirts of the city were always weaving baskets, toys, and clothes.
What was your family’s attitude or approach towards art when you were growing up?
My dad is a painter and sculptor so he was a great inspiration from the very beginning. My mom also gave my sister and me the freedom to “express ourselves” -as she would say- doodling on the walls.
Can you share some highlights from your previous working and curatorial experiences that have helped to shape your outlook today?
Since the early stages of my careers, I have focused on bringing attention to the voices of Latinx artists through exhibitions like “Liminal Takes” and “Liminal Takes: Mujeres Latinoamericanas en el Arte” in various venues in the Bay Area, and “Numina Femenina: Latin Women in the Arts” at the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco, sponsored by Wells Fargo. “Numina Femenina” for example encompassed 35 Latina and Chicana artists from various artistic disciplines –visual arts, literature, film, music, and dance– in a total of sixteen events and eleven partnerships (with the San Francisco Symphony, the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Museo de Arte Popular, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, the University of San Francisco, and many more). “Numina Femenina” as a project that aimed to encourage women’s development by generating spaces for artistic creation and its exposure in the Bay Area, received a special award from the City of San Francisco and Mayor Edwin M. Lee. To me, achieving big goals has to do with not just leading a team but working collaboratively through networks with like-minded people and institutions who implement creative solutions to daily problems. As a curator and cultural producer, my goal is to help show how today Mexicans and Mexican-Americans employ these inherited strategies of creative resilience in artworks that have relevance for a world dealing with crisis.
Can you try and summarize the difference between art and design in one sentence?
Art sparks questions (sometimes without answers) and has varied meanings that can be different based on a person’s experiences and emotions; design projects aim to solve problems and will engage a person to do something.
Are these differences becoming smaller and smaller?
Absolutely! I believe we live in an era of transdisciplinarity in which one discipline cross-pollinates its surrounding disciplines Art and Design, in fact, are now collaborating with each other because both come from the creative aspect of the human brain/soul.
Do you think contemporary art is becoming more open to accepting craft techniques and design traditions into the definition of “Fine Art”?
I think that more than ever contemporary art is getting inspired by traditional craft techniques and design traditions to talk about specific issues of the zeitgeist. By utilizing these techniques, “Fine Art” opens up different possibilities to interact with other types of audiences and therefore new interpretations and dialogues that may help erase frontiers between high and low brow art.
Do you have one artist in mind who is an example of this?
Ana Paula Benítez, a young Mexican artist, and her partner had the vision to mix Fine Arts with traditional crafts, focusing on the long tradition of silver jewelry that we have had in Mexico since Pre-Hispanic times. While studying at one of the most prestigious art schools in Mexico City (ENPEG La Esmeralda), Benítez was curious to implement her idea of merging the creative ideas of jewelers and visual artists into one space that years later she entitled “Ismos -Joyería Mexicana Contemporánea.” Today, “Ismos” specializes in the sale and dissemination of the work of more than 100 designers who use traditional and alternative materials, at the same time, the space has a gallery space that displays temporary exhibitions by visual artists who create an interesting dialog with the designs of silver and gold jewelry, fostering waves of new collectors of young Mexican talent.
Is it more common in Latin America to incorporate craft or folk art traditions into the practice of “fine artists”?
Craft and folk art are part of the everyday life of Latin American people. History is always present in the way people live, eat, laugh and behave. One great example is the maize-based products, that not only feed people (through tortillas, tamales, and much more corn-based food) but also embellish their lives through the decorative things made with corn leaves (such as dolls, placemats, tortilleros, to mention just a few). Since visual art is a reflection of life, it will then permeate what’s happening in the multiple layers of the Latin American contexts, in which crafts and folk art traditions are some of the main pillars of these amazing cultures.
You have spent part of your career working in Europe, what observations did you have about the attitude towards Latin American art and design here?
I’ve experienced a great interest from the European cultural sector towards Latin America, more specifically from places that have had a direct connection whether through religion, language or due to a historical connection with the “new continent.” Countries such as Spain, Italy, or even France share strong and ancient connections with Latin America that are even visible in the way people enjoy life (the habit of taking a nap after lunch or the common practice of enjoying slow food alongside family and friends). During an art residency in Germany, I wanted to share these practices with an audience that had never tasted traditional Mexican food. I then created a catering event and invited local people to try out what in Mexico we call “Vitamina T” (maize-based food such as tacos or tostadas) because it is like a medicine that triggers a sense of happiness through ingestion. I loved to see how participants, particularly children were engaged with the exercise of trading happy memories for food as if these stories were a new type of currency.
Can you briefly describe your current project with Artextum?
Arttextum (from the Latin word -textum, meaning weaving, interlacing) explores the cultural landscape through the perspective of the Latin American artists who understand what institutions and cultural producers speak most poignantly about the Zeitgeist. This unique database utilizes the methodology of ego networks to translate content into metaphors, seeing artists as the creative rivers that flow over the cultural terrain, venues as the mountains and lakes through which these rivers circulate, and art theorists as the ones in charge of defining the cultural climate of such regions. Since 2012, Arttextum collaborates with the Ministry of Culture and Sports in Madrid, Spain.
Do you have any initiatives related specifically to design or with incorporating designers?
Through workshops and public talks, Arttextum tries to engage with new audiences beyond the ones from the small art world. During our most recent participation in an international symposium in Mexico City, we collaborated with aspiring designers and scientists in the creation of a collective work. The way we engaged with them was through the creative aspect of each individual, and suddenly a rich dialogue was fostered among them. We hope we can continue this effort and open new opportunities through creativity.
Frida Cano is a Mexican visual artist and art curator. Cano is the creator of the transdisciplinary research-based art project entitled “Arttextum, Tejido de agentes culturales inspirados en Latinoamérica” that maps the intangible territory of our time through the metaphorical algorithms among cultural producers, viewing the artists as creative rivers, the art venues as mountains, and the art theory as the cultural climate; Arttextum has collaborated with the Ministry of Culture in Madrid since its beginning in 2012. Cano holds a BFA from the National School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving La Esmeralda, National Center for the Arts in Mexico City, and an MFA in Exhibition and Museum Studies from the San Francisco Art Institute, California, USA. As an artist and curator, Cano has had exhibitions and public talks in Mexico, the USA, Germany, Japan, Korea, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Spain, among other places. Frida has worked in various art venues such as SPACE Collection, California, USA; Centro de la Imagen and Kurimanzutto Gallery, Mexico, Walter and McBean Galleries and Marciano Art Foundation, California, USA. She has been awarded with the Endesa Scholarship for Ibero- American Cultural Heritage by Fundación Duques de Soria, Spain, National Fund for Culture, Mexico, Jumex Foundation, Mexico, Fulbright-Comexus, among others. She is the co-author of the book Geografía artística de Arttextum –El mundo que también habitamos (Promoción del Arte / Xociartek, 2019). Currently, she is the Artist Residency Coordinator at 18th Street Arts Center, in Los Angeles, CA.