Diffractions of the Local “Latinizes” the Vancouver Eastside

Written by: Susan Lizeth Bernal Clavijo

Edited by: Megan Hunter

Diffractions of the Local, November 6th – 18th, 2013.

Directed by: Mónica Reyes  @ Back Gallery Project 

Back Gallery Project, 2013. Courtesy of the gallery.

Back Gallery Project, 2013. Courtesy of the gallery.

Vancouver Eastside’s very own Back Gallery Project has brought to life Diffractions of the Local; a group show comprising the multidisciplinary work of seven Visual and Performance artists that have two things in common: they have been born and raised in Latin American countries, and currently reside in the city of Vancouver.

Diffractions of the Local proposes to “latinize” Vancouver’s highly cultural Strathcona from November 6th to the 18th, 2013 through durational live performances, 2D text art and videos, sculpture and an architectural intervention to the gallery space.

I conducted an interview with Cuban artist Manuel Piña in his studio at the University of British Columbia in October 2013 in which we discussed the exercise of addressing Latin American identities in art making, amongst other existentialist topics. As a Colombian Visual Artist in Vancouver, I had yet to discover a network with which to associate myself, since only 1.36% of the Vancouver demographics belongs to the Latin American population[1]. I stepped into the Back Gallery Project on the night that Diffractions of the Local opened, hopeful of making such discovery; and thankfully, I succeeded.

Three artworks in particular fulfilled every need and desire I had towards the success of this exhibition. They have a magnificent correlation between one another, not so much physically but conceptually, politically and socially.

Guadalupe Martínez’s architectural intervention consisting of a vibrant gold fabric stretched and twisted in, around and over concrete block structures greets me as soon as I step in the gallery. The site-specific installation begins at the middle of the gallery’s floor and ends at the back entrance door attracting the viewer’s gaze towards the architecture detailing of the location. The fabric travels from point A to point B by being wrapped around the piping system of the ceiling like it goes through the journey of gently caressing the space. The grey cinderblocks are reminiscent of the Vancouver scenery, and juxtapose the soft, colourful and organic flow of the fabric which allows us to understand Martínez’s visual proposal to inject her female, colourful and soft Argentinian spirit into the city she currently resides in. Martínez’s art production has a strong performative character through which she is able to reanimate under-utilized materials. This is precisely what can be perceived from Segundo Escape / Second Escape as the cemented blocks seem to lose their heavy physical weight to the light fabric.  The latter then positions itself as the pulling force out of the two materials and gives the installation a bodily flowing movement.

Guadalupe Martinez. Segundo Escape / Second Escape. 2013. Assembled cinderblocks and fabric. Back Gallery Project.

Guadalupe Martínez. Segundo Escape / Second Escape. 2013. Assembled cinderblocks and fabric. Back Gallery Project.

Gabriela Aceves-Sepúlveda presents Escribiéndome; a 16-min video showing the hand of the artist repetitively writing down words that are often used to define herself as a person, female and artist. Split into two screens, the video deals with issues of translation as a form of text art as the words on the left are written in Spanish and in English on the right. The translation exercise has a layer of complexity that only bilingual viewers can access because the words in Spanish are not necessarily being written in the same order or at the same time as the ones in English. However, more importantly is the fact that the Spanish categories have a more human and nostalgic sensibility as she writes: Amiga, hija, ciudadana, mujer, (Spanish for Friend, daughter, citizen, woman); opposed to those in English: Alien, landed-immigrant, minority. Wisely, Aceves-Sepúlveda also provides great attention to the powerful realization that what defines a person are the characteristics that one is associated with depending on life experiences, place of residency, and language spoken. At the beginning, the piece seems to take the shape of a straightforward self-definitive statement, but as she continues to write on top of where she has done so previously, the legibility and readability become compromised. This suggests that at one point we lose qualities of the identity that once defined us, or that at the time of migration to Vancouver, the meaning of words like Mexicana, (Spanish for Mexican female), has somehow shifted, disappeared or enriched.

Gabriela Aceves-Sepulveda. EscribiendomeEscribiéndome (o el rectángulo negro en homenaje a Malevich). 2011-2013. Two channel video installation. 16 Min. Back Gallery Project

Gabriela Aceves-Sepúlveda. Escribiéndome (o el rectángulo negro en homenaje a Malevich). 2011-2013. Two channel video installation. 16 Min. Back Gallery Project

Manuel Piña’s exercise of photographing freely the city of Vancouver, not of its iconic scenery or landscape, but of the banalities which occur within it is his latest attempt to shift from traditional photography to the narrative power of image making. Return is a photographic slideshow projected onto one of the Back Gallery Project’s walls with a slight tilt to the right which Piña assured me in the opening ceremony had been on purpose. The photos are predominantly shot from awkward angles with visual obstructions both present at the time of shooting and fabricated by the artist in ADOBE Photoshop. Challenging the traditional objective of photography to preserve memories, Piña’s endless loop exposes snapshots that one would normally delete because of their lack of aesthetic appeal or skill. Return fits appropriately in Diffractions of the Local because the Cuban artist’s way of connecting with the city of Vancouver as his current place of residency is through the interaction between his camera and the Vancouver architecture and lifestyle. Closely analysing these photos led me to draw comparisons between Colombia’s vigorous streets, nightlife and society and Vancouver’s dull ones; an exercise that I am sure Piña found himself doing too while thinking of Havana. 

Manuel Piña. Return. 2013. Slideshow of photographs. Duration variable.  Back Gallery Project

Manuel Piña. Return. 2013. Slideshow of photographs. Duration variable. Back Gallery Project

The show “attempts to interrogate how artistic sensibilities, world visions, political stances and modes of social engagement formed in Latin America morph, adapt and contribute to Vancouver’s artistic landscape”[2] and it does what it sets out to do just fine. The Latin American cultural essence is inherently flavourful, folkloric and colourful thanks to the variety of countries’ ideas, histories and traditions guarded under the same umbrella of South/Central American geography and the Spanish language. Just as diverse yet similar Latin America is, Diffractions of the Local brings a brilliant sample of its spirited being to the Vancouver Eastside hoping to help Latin Americans find ways to adapt to the city and make the city adapt to us through the practice of art.

Map of Latin America. (Spanish speaking countries in North/Central/South America)

Map of Latin America. (Spanish speaking countries in North/Central/South America)

Written on: November 15th, 2013

[1] As seen in Wikipedia’s “Demographics of Vancouver”, 2013.

[2] Exhibition statement as seen in the Back Project Gallery’s website.

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