Thursday, August 29 was marked by a fateful coincidence between the Colombian peace process and art world. As news broke that four ex-FARC commanders turned dissents had issued a call to arms, the National Museum’s installation art venue Fragmentos – Espacio de Arte y Memoria was readying the launch of an exhibition by Clemencia Echeverri and Felipe Arturo.
Inaugurated in 2018 as a multi-functional arts space, Fragmentos is layered with collective memory, given its glass frame encloses the “counter-monument” by renowned Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo. Having taken a hammer and chisel to the floor of the Tate Modern in 2007, Salcedo’s Shibboleth left an indelible 150-meter long scar on the contemporary art scene. When asked by President Juan Manuel Santos to create a work in honor of the victims of the internal conflict, Salcedo once again looked at the floor, this time, however inside a derelict colonial home in Las Cruces.
The product of thirty-seven tons of decommissioned FARC weapons melted and hammered into tiles by Salcedo and female conflict victims, the floor is both literally and conceptually the foundation of Fragmentos. Set to host three exhibitions every year, Fragments (as its name translates in Engish) also acts as a bare canvas for future artists; and, far from a blank one, as the unique crinkles scarring each tile hint at the complexities of Salcedo’s relationship with violence and reconciliation.
With these themes in mind, Echeverri and Arturo won an open call to exhibit in Fragmentos and expand the dialogue of how art can be an agent for peace.
Felipe Arturo – Antibalas
In his exhibition, Antibalas (Bulletproof) Felipe Arturo presents a visionary interactive body of work as a response to the embedding of bullet-proof armor in Colombian culture. Conscious of its increasingly invisible societal presence, Arturo’s objective is to personalize the conflict’s history. Describing how Salcedo’s work elicits both the voices of victims and perpetrators, Arturo intends to unite with those of the general public, whom he believes feel removed from the peace process.
In his desire to show that the conflict’s history is not outside the public’s everyday reality, Arturo presents twenty-one outfits of ‘armour’. Beautifully assembled, the pieces employ a variety of techniques to externalize materials concealed in bullet-proof technology.
Coining them “sculptures for the body,” the garments combine materials that are bullet-proof. Among the collection, sandbags, commonly used for military fortification, are distributed into Hispanic designs as an ode to remnants of the architecture of war. Where as Kevlar, the synthetic fibre sewn into bullet-proof vests and cars, is combined with ceramic detail and shaped into familiar ESMAD uniform designs to pay tribute to the clothing used by landmine detectors.
Critical to the garments is their role as “experiences for the body.” In continuation of Salcedo’s contra-monument, Arturo intends for visitors to wear the items to enable a dialogue with “the multiplicity of identification.” Visitors will become the monuments and experience a highly personal and unique interaction, as was the case with the inaugural walk for the exhibition on August 31. Starting from the National Museum, a group of performers, students and victims each wore a piece from Arturo’s collection before walking to Fragmentos to conduct a ceremonial handing over of the items.
Reflecting on Iván Márquez’s video declaration, Arturo believes that in our interaction with art, we are all “political visitors.” Though art may not be able to enact political change, “by personalizing experiences, we can engage the public in powerful narratives,” he said. “The role of Fragmentos now, is even more important,” Arturo adds, “as it could be used to change the history of our country.”
Clemencia Echeverri – Duelos
In her audio-visual installation, Duelos (Mourning), Echeverri takes her audience to Medellín and envelopes them in a dialogue with grief. Drawing on extensive research into the 2002 military operation known as Orión in the city’s Comuna 13, Echeverri presents a work centered on the consequences of forced disappearances and mass graves in La Escombrera, an abandoned mountain of debris from the city’s demolitions.
For the families of the disappeared, the event initiated a mental and physical loop in time. Forced to watch as the debris grew daily, each fresh addition brought steady demolition to their hopes of excavating the bodies, and created a never-ending cycle of frustrated unknowing. It is this endless process of mourning that consumes Echeverri’s work.
In a video installation of nine synced images with three levels of sounds, the visitor is greeted with a running loop, starting with the heavy-filled trucks ascending the mountain and moving to a never-ending tumbling of debris as it is poured onto the heap. With this endless churning without result, Echeverri intends to transmit to the audience the feeling of movement, loss and a lifetime of unknowing. Exploring this ritual of grief, she joins Arturo in the aim to personalize and nationalize the process of memory.
With her work, Echeverri makes a connection between her material and Salcedo’s space. Between the two, she believes memory can be constructed. Art, she contends, can have a political agenda. “We have to carry on,” she says.
Fragmentos. Cra 7 No.6B-30