“Being and Time”, the title of this exhibition, is also the name of Martin Heidegger´s main work. Heidegger (1889-1976), a German philosopher, is one of the most influential figures in contemporary philosophy. Published in 1927, his work enables us to move along and elucidate our working hypothesis. In it, open roads have inspired this project –somehow an homage to it- trying to find bridges, affinities and motivations in the work of two great Peruvian artists: Martín Chambi and Fernando de Szyszlo.
Heidegger apprehended art as a staging or embodiment of truth, this last term understood as Aletheia. This word, used by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C., comes from the Greek term ἀλήθεια which is usually translated as truth. If we analyze this word, we have, on the one side, the prefix “ἀ”, a”, that means “no” or “without” and, on the other, the root “λήθεια” “letheia”, which means “to hide”. Together, we have that which is not hidden, the un-covering, or to remove the veil, to unveil or that without a veil; that is, the unveiling or the removal of the veil, the full appearance of essences, of meanings.
Art´s mission, then, would be to make truth appear. A mission that is made possible by the artists that would be officiating as guardians or caretakers of Being.
In the work of art, one gets down to work on, or sets oneself up to work with, truth. That is, in art we are dealing with the essence of things and, therefore, poets or original creators in general are “essential thinkers” -and we might risk saying- of the indispensable and even of the unnameable, of that which is beyond words.
In the work of art, it is not a matter of the copy or reproduction of the singular entity which is, in each case, in front of us or of the artist, but, on the contrary, of the representation of the general essence of things. The work of art, in its own way, opens up the being of the entity. This opening, that is, this uncovering of the entity’s truth, occurs in the work of art.
Art makes this happen. The origin of the work of art, we believe we understand, is also the origin of the creators and/or guardians of Being, yes, “Guardians of Being”. The creators would be those who speak or say from the Ereignis, a fundamental technical term, which is that “original co-appropriating advent”, in which man, being and world become or turn into what they are, they co-appropriate each other, they co-belong to each other. It is a relationship of co-appropriation and co-belonging. As man is the “there” of being, the place of being (place in the sense of sphere of action, more than locus or physical place), being is there beforehand, this means that we always move within a previous understanding of being, that results in, or because of, our structure, and the same goes for the world. Man is not one more entity placed in a world. The world belongs to the structure man. There is no world without man. Only men have world, things do not have world, stones, for example, do not have it.
The work of art, in this way, becomes a way to unveil meanings of reality, in which the artist has the function of operating as an “unveiler” of that mystery. Art is like a link for perceiving the world differently. The being-work, the thing of the work of art is thus one of the few essential ways in which truth takes place. It makes communication or the link between our essence and the surrounding world possible, enabling truth to have its presence and validity in the world. It is beauty understood, not in the traditional sense, but in the sense of truth being present as un-covering, of making itself present. One thing is to observe any given thing and a different thing to observe it from a work of art. Nietzsche had already said “that art is the highest task and the only activity in life that is essentially metaphysical”.
It is peculiar that when we contemplate a tool or a utensil through a work of art, it shows us –or it even bursts in- its essence, which was hidden, and by way of the work of art the un-covering takes place. This is precisely the Aletheia, in which there is a relation between truth and the un-veiling.
As we pointed out before, Heidegger concentrates his reflection on art as a way or means of putting oneself at the service of truth, being the work of art an unveiling or un-covering of the entity. Art takes place in Being and it is its meaning; it is not only an elaboration of culture or an expression of the psyche or spirit, but a sort of communication o link between our essence and the surrounding world.
The work of art enables truth the possibility of settling in and be shown to the world.
Art, in the sense of unveiling that contributes and produces, is poetry in its first and original acceptation; it belongs to Póiesis, to creation. Etymologically, the word Póiesis derives from the ancient Greek ποιέω which means “to create”. It is this verb, this word, which lies in the root of our word “poetry”. We see, in this way, that originally this word, “poetry”, was a verb that means to create and give, that is, it is an action that transforms and confers continuity to the world; the poetic task reconciles thought with matter and time, and man with his milieu.
Art is “poetry” in an essential way, in that original and profound sense of creation of a work, in the original and primeval way of thinking of the Greeks, in which truth appears with the resplendence of beauty. All arts, in general, are poetic or poietical, since in them that constitution takes place, that establishment of truth that is the very essence of art. Poetry, as poiesis, as creation, is not limited to reflecting what is given, or to creating exact languages at the service of scientific-technical precision.
As a project that realizes that structure in an “extraordinary” and not habitual manner, art is a present, overabundance and gift; moreover, as a project that cannot be carried out in a vacuum, it refers to a historical human group, it is founding, un-covering, unveiling of what constitutes the historical substrate of a people, of that in which the being of man is already projected as historical.
The work of art is truth that appears with the radiance of beauty, since “beauty is a way of being present, truth as un-covering”. And, in Heidegger´s words, “That is why what matters in art is not the glorification of the artist by means of the work, but the humble and obedient service to truth. The worship for the creative, arbitrary and brilliant personality is a feature of modern times. The modern cult of genius has its roots in the metaphysics of subjectivity and it was unthinkable in the middle ages and at the time of the Greeks. It is not the brilliant artist, insofar as he is nature´s favorite, who gives its value to the work of art: artistic creation is only valued to the extent that it is a work of art. The artist is not the owner of his work; he/she is at its service, the work of art being an occurrence of truth”. Here, the “creative” aspect of art is understood in a very different sense from modern subjectivism. The latter understands it in the sense of the brilliant task of the artist as a sovereign individual. Here, instead, “every creation is an extraction (like getting water from a fountain)”. In the relationship between the creative artist and the fountain is the key to understand the freedom of art. There is nothing freer than art. The essential artist is an essential poet (in the original sense of poiesis), and in the sense that he/she speaks of what is relevant.
It is because of this fact that his labor and his works are carried out with a very high flight and a subtle, sharp and lucid exquisiteness that in this sphere there is no contention. There is no one to compete against. The artist competes with himself; on the other side, maybe, he also competes with his personality (or his false personality) based on ideas, beliefs and assumptions. The artist´s disposition to work is based in a simple and unconditioned method of contact with life itself and a great “trust” in the task undertaken; he surrenders and let´s himself be guided and, thus, in that being being guided, he has a presentiment, he feels it, knows he is on the way, corresponds to it and follows it.
The origin of the work of art is at the same time the origin of the creators, that is, of the historical existence of a people, this is art. It is like this because art is in essence “origin”, “foundation”, an extraordinary way of getting to be the truth and becoming historical. The origin of every culture is based and acquires cohesion in a work of art, an epic poem, a monument or group of monuments. For example, at the dawn of the Greek civilization the temple by itself makes manifest the characteristic and the horizon typical of the Greek man. The temple as supreme manifestation and expression of what is Greek. Let´s think of the Parthenon or of the Temple of Neptune, even their remains denote that unity and supreme correlation essential to this historical people.
Chambi and Szyszlo have much in common in their work: a particular ability to transmit and impregnate the spectator with a special force that is territorial, vital, telluric, of ancestral origin and continuous existence, of life and death drive; they pursue an essential authentic identity, that real and ungraspable mystery.
The search, the determined intention to uncover, show their culture, reflect or cause to appear or build the soul, the essence of it, from the traces present in the works that live on, is the motive of their heartfelt register. To a large extent, both of them make use of the land, the remains, the atmospheres, the clear evidences of civilization and culture, the structure of the territory and the spaces, the light and the shadows.
Martin Chambi tried to grasp the essence of Peru. He worked in the search and exhibition of that quintessence or fundamental, characteristic, typical and unique, most important element. We can see it in his choices, delimitations and framings, with the dimly lit spaces, the shadows and the focuses he exhibits; with them, he makes evident that fundamental constitutive principle of the place. Numerous examples bear witness to that, the archeological sites of Machu Picchu, Qoricancha, Ayaviri-Puno, Curahuasi-Apurimac, among others. The bias of his “landscapes” capture and display that unique mystery that cannot be expressed in words. Chambi´s work exceeded the interpretation and sense the indigenismo had of the rescue of what was ancestral and pre-Columbian. Just as Heidegger claimed, art is Gift, Present and Overabundance.
Fernando de Szyszlo is one of the originators in Peru of that great adventure of modern art, embodied at that moment in abstraction. But his work cannot be rigorously cataloged as abstract. His work oscillates between abstractionism and the dialogue with the figurative reference. Undoubtedly of ancestral, telluric inspiration, he enquires into the roots, the symbolized, abstracted, essentialized old cultures. He builds with some elements his own symbolic creations.
He is inspired by the landscape and does not vacillate to wrap himself up in it. His work, his painting is charged with density, contrasts and light-shadow, shadow-light dialogues. Luminosity arises from a profound, abysmal darkness.
He is interested in unity and, in pursuit of it, he has been searching for a painting that would broach mystery, vitality, striving for the profound meaning. He has been inspired by the desert, the ocean, the coast, the immense landscape. And also, the circumscribed, limited spaces, the essential room one accesses through only one opening, taking us along steps of precise edges, almost proud stairways that evoke ancient temples. Spaces for rite, ceremony and sensed battles. They point or discern that which is sacred and occult. Sacrifice, altar, marriage beds, and a subtle and solemn atmosphere, silent and impressive, where eroticism stands out.
The work of both, accomplished with diverse instruments, in different spheres and under personal canons, exhibits not only a particular talent for involving the spectator with a special energy, intruding and kind at the same time, life and death drive, but also a sensibility decanted into the work that reveals an essential identity.
“I think the presence of the pre-Columbian tradition is an important reality for a Latin American painter. It is a completely unprecedented language of forms that accomplish the purpose of mediating between the reality of the human group that developed them and the hidden forces that promise to defeat the human condition…
Before the concept of art existed, these forms carried out (in some obscure way) the same function that art fulfills today: to keep alive the symbolic connection, Jung´s “unconscious identity”. This is the testimony and the deposit of the most serious and permanent elements in human experience”.
Fernando de Szyszlo
“I have read that in Chile people think Indians have no culture, that they are uncivilized, intellectually and artistically inferior in comparison with the white and European people.
More eloquent than my opinion, in any case, are graphic testimonies. It is my hope that an impartial and objective report will examine this evidence.
I feel I am a representative of my race; my people speak through my photographs…”
Martin Chambi´s statement at the time he visited Chile on the occasion of an exhibit of his works.
The selection of the works presented has been guided by these directions, seeking and trying to reveal the common denominators in the works of these masters, which have served to confirm and ratify the premises supported. Coming from different origins, contexts and experiences, they feel and have, find and share, a common vision, whether in the perception and representation of space, or in the suggested rituality and the visual solutions.
Roberto Ascóniga, Curator
A NEW VISION OF STONE
“I walked in front of the wall stone after stone. I took some steps away, contemplated it and came closer again. I touched the stones with my hands; I followed the undulating line, unpredictable as the line of rivers, where the blocks of stone come together. In the dark street, in the silence, the wall seemed to be alive…”
The Deep Rivers, José María Arguedas (1958)
Light falls on the stone and covers it with a skin that breathes in the silence of images. Five thousand years of Andean culture captured by an invention that is a technique, the fruit of five hundred years of accelerated cultural change in the West. As a device of European modernity, the photographic camera pretends to be the tool to make the inventory of the world; but the Inca stone does not yield in its mystery. The enigma of the mark of man on the stone walls of Cusco seems to be simple and legible on sight and, nevertheless, its secrecy deeply disturbs logic and reason. The photographer runs his stunned eyes over the stones, again and again; he contemplates them, carved and fit together, respected by the centuries. He stops at their number and regularity, ever amazed by their physical and direct proximity with the past which awakens in him an admiration for distant ancestors; and by a beauty that is grandiose and terrible, coarse and hard. The sun sets and the stone beats.
Martín Chambi (Coaza, Puno, 1891-Cusco, 1973) photographed the pre-Hispanic monuments of the Cusco region within a process of evolution not only of his own life as an image maker in Andean Peru, but as a sign of the times that demanded a new dynamic in the world of visual creation using photography as a means. In the process, he gradually left behind the practice of topographic photography, which, since the first decade of use of the invention, demanded the description of a place in precise terms and with attention given to its physical characteristics with the intention of making an inventory of the material world, and he penetrated in a field in which the personal imagination, based on the sensitive perception of the ruins of the Inca past, built an unprecedented vision of a cultural legacy that for him seems to have had an inevitable spiritual imprint.
The stages of his life expanded his capacity for contemplation and directed his inner world toward horizons full of deep questions. His quechua family, his childhood in the mountains of Carabaya and material deprivation forced him to leave his homeland thirsty for learning and in search of prosperity. The years spent in Arequipa with his teacher Max T. Vargas, who opened his eyes to photography and aesthetics; his time in the Art Studio of the Vargas Brothers and his assimilation of western and criollo cultural ways; his marriage to his wife Manuela and the birth of his first children, enabled him to develop the ability to look at the world around him. In 1917 in Arequipa, Chambi was already a broadminded man. His intuition was sharp, and his decisions even stronger, like the one he took when he left Arequipa saying he would go “to the discovery of Cusco”.
In 1924, he had registered “everything”, in his own words, included the Inca ruins. Along this line are the beginnings of documentary photography with an artistic sense in our country, which demands intelligence of a situation, concentration set on trying to define a theme worked from a singular and personal angle or angles, and assuming an aesthetic and ethic commitment in the cultural work of making images. It could be said that Chambi is among the great photographers that contributed to shape that new continent of photography that appeared with surprising brilliance globally in the third decade of the XX century. Possibly, for him, it was all about thinking visually –with the use of the photographic medium- about an Inca past that gained sudden importance in the light of the indigenista discourses that became strong and persuasive in the intellectual circles in Cusco and Lima. These are the years of the Patria Nueva of Augusto B. Leguía, the era of an incredible visual greed in our country, in which the graphic publications in Lima constantly published remote images of Peru.
When in 1924 he photographed Machu Picchu for the first time –later, he would do it on many occasions- he was one of the first to go over the citadel with a camera after Hiram Bingham, who photographed it in 1913 for the National Geographic magazine. Bingham´s photographic register was essentially an ascetic exploration of the place, achieved by means of novel photography devices that were especially provided by George Eastman in a clear declaration that a discovery of such importance required photography to be at the height of the historic magnitude of the encounter of the New World with Antiquity, a confrontation rarely experienced by Western man. Exoticism became woven with the myth of a lost citadel full of treasures of the kind of unprecedented material wealth.
Chambi worked as a graphic correspondent for magazines in Lima and knew the job well; he accomplished his work with a clear idea of what was expected from him. From the moment he experiences photographing Machu Picchu, he enters into another phase, a different dimension because of his use of light and form, space and texture, in which he can dare to build a discourse without words, lending his photography the mark of absolute bedazzlement and humbleness in front of the greatness of the old, and becoming conscious of his own space as creator: he turns images into the possible emblems of a new contemporary Peruvian look.
There is a public dimension to Chambi´s photography that has great significance for the time. Already in 1921, year of the Centenary of the Independence of Peru, the North American scientist Albert Giesecke, who had been living in Cusco since 1910 and was dean of San Antonio de Abad University in the same city, published in the University´s magazine an article titled “Cuzco: Mecca of tourism in South America”. It is evident that the personalities of Cusco´s cultural world were already conscious of what was being announced as a promising future for their city and the Valley of Urubamba with its sacred landscape in which the Inca ruins were in communion with natural beauty: they would become a first-class tourist pole.
Chambi early considered the opportunity he had of contributing to stimulate and promote tourism in Cusco with his photographic work. He did it through the promotion of his images in personal exhibitions inside and outside the country, their circulation in graphic publications, as well as through the use of the relatively novel format that was the postcard. In the range of use of the images he produced, the views -which he copied by contact in 18 x 24 cm format- became an alternative for the postcard aimed at the traveler with specialized interests. The photographer completely assumed his ability for making public the archeological attractions to a modern world that had succumbed captivated by the story of the lost citadel of the Incas.
What is fantastic of the adventure lived by Chambi as an Andean photographer is he confronted and learned to converse with stone, mute witness and, at the same time, incredibly eloquent of an Andean matrix in which another cosmogony is inscribed. Characterized by a geographic command of the wild and adverse heights, the Inca world was also marked by a harmonious relationship with the environment that is decidedly not western in its basic projection of a sacredness and respect for surrounding nature. Chambi envisaged it in traces inspired by the monumental vestiges of a reverential fear.
The spirituality the Inca stones exude has remained in the XX th century world imaginary like a paradox. Grave, naked, smooth or rough, and cold only in appearance. In the look of Martín Chambi the millenary culture of the Southern Andes becomes the experience of an inaugural visuality. Antiquity stands majestic and totally new. We witness in privileged instants the invention of a world by a great artist.
Andrés Garay Albújar
Jorge Villacorta Chávez
I would have never imagined that one of the exhibits of the photographic work of my grandfather Martín Chambi would be shared with the work of Don Fernando de Szyszlo, a great artist within contemporary Peruvian painting. This is a singular and fantastic case, in which Chambi and De Szyszlo come together, photography and painting.
Even though the two works are of a different nature, in this case they are linked through a transcendent motif that is shared, in different times and spaces, and this that they share is the Incan, a matter in front of which both artists had an attitude of constant reflection, approximation and creation. Both were sensitive before the vast pre-Hispanic dimension and directed their gazes deep into our historical roots.
Somebody said that painting and photography, although independent and defined by their own natures, can sometimes intertwine to generate new forms of expression. This exhibition proposes this interweaving, in which each discipline maintains its independence in language, but that, at the same time, moves along common lines. Both creations coincide here in the approach to the mystery of light and shadow, in the interest for the mute voice of history, apart from coinciding in the intention to discover the lightness of form in the solidity of stone.
My appreciation to Roberto Ascóniga, the agent of this audacious encounter, in which the silver nitrate gelatin and the pigment of the canvas have been brought together with the purpose of creating a road from two visual expressions that, maybe, share the same intuition for our past and its beauty.
Finally, there is only left for us to admire these creations that, as it is, transcend the technique, and be ready to appreciate the work of art with all the strength, synthesis and dynamism that both, the photographer Martin Chambi and the painter Fernando de Szyszlo, have been able to define.
Teo Allain Chambi