Art historian, curator and coordinator of the Visual Arts Documentation Center (CEDOC) of Cerrillos National Center for Contemporary Art, Ignacio Szmulewicz is a member of Ch.ACO’18 editorial committee. We asked him about visual arts, the current Chilean and Latin American cultural scene and what we can expect for the tenth edition of Ch.ACO Art Fair, which will take place starting November 22nd through the 26th in Santiago, Chile.
What fascinates you about contemporary art?
The fact that many of the art works that are carried out within the contemporary art field have to do with altering, modifying and generating an experience that’s totally out of the ordinary, either through technology or through the senses. This implies having a greater and better awareness of the body, of its reach, its limits and also its relationship with the city, with technology and with nature. It has to do with all those things that have been lost lately, because we are living in a digitalized world; we are too focused on a single relationship, a two-dimensional one, and I think it is precisely contemporary art’s mission to change that and lead us to a more integral and immersive relationship. The other thing that fascinates me about contemporary art has to do with the creative processes, which are very complex nowadays. It’s extremely interesting to study how one comes to think of and create a work, or how someone comes up with an idea. Before, artists managed one or two techniques or crafts at the most, like drawing and painting, now they focus on a huge range of concepts, techniques, languages and interrelations, which makes the creative process much richer and complex.
What work of art has had the greatest impact on you and why?
In the contemporary art field, there are two that have impressed me the most: Dinámicas del vacío, by Ariel Bustamante, which he showed at the 2013 version of the Medial Arts Biennial in Santiago, and Ocean, by Enrique Ramírez, which is a film project shot in a three week span in a cargo ship that crosses the Atlantic, starting in Valparaíso, Chile, and finishing in Dunkirk, France. If I had to name a non-contemporary work it would be the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a Venetian building from the 1400’s filled with Tintoretto paintings, it’s spectacular.
How would you define the current contemporary art scene in Latin America?
The current scene is extremely diverse, though transversal in many concerns and topics. Latin American artists are questioning the big problematic that afflict the region today, which are mainly of a historical, political and urban nature. The conflicts that are true to Latin America have always been related to how this region relates to its political history, its cultural history -thus to colonialism- and to the urban tradition. This last topic meaning; what Latin America has done with its cities and how it has transformed its natural environments. All this, makes the scene totally radical and extremely interesting.
What cultural news and interest do you think Chile offers?
Chile offers, as Gerardo Mosquera already said, a scenario that brings along a very strong critical conceptual tradition, which is reflected in the works of highly intellectual and complex artists such as Alfredo Jaar, and also in younger artists such as Pilar Quinteros, Javier Toro Blum and Benjamín Ossa, who also work with really interesting topics. Furthermore, I believe that the best things that the Chilean scenario has to offer today are related to these two factors: the historical memory and recollection that has been done and continues to be done in Chile –Chile and Argentina are the two Latin American countries that have intensely worked on the memory of undergoing this, the memory of the dictatorship that Chile underwent is seen in almost all the work from the 90s onwards–; and the natural environment, which is not shared with many other Latin American countries. When you talk about the jungle in Brazil, you are talking about the jungle in relation to its native people, likewise for Colombia. In the case of Chile, however, you find yourself with a totally virgin landscape, such as glaciers and deserts. All this entails a mythology and a very strong national context.
Why do you think people should come to the tenth edition of Ch.ACO?
Ch.ACO Fair is the Chilean event that brings together intellectuals, galleries, institutions related to contemporary art and cultural agents year after year. Although its focus is the art trade, that hasn’t stopped it from becoming, in these last few years, the best platform to boost young careers, speeches and the local cultural scene. Therefore, if someone wants to know what’s going on in Chile, in cultural terms, the fair is the best time to do it.