Sergio Vega

Curator: Rosa Martínez
Miami Art Central. December 2, 2003 - March 28, 2004
Organized by
Manuel E. González

José Bedia / Víctor Zamudio-Taylor.
Robert Chambers / Paula Harper.
Dara Friedman / Clarissa Dalrymple.
Luis Gispert / Rina Carvajal.
Adler Guerrier / Thelma Golden.
Mark Handforth / Frédéric Bonnet.
Gean Moreno / Ivo Mesquita.
Glexis Novoa / Marcelo E. Pacheco.
Sergio Vega / Rosa Martínez.

Laughter demolishes fear and piety before an object, before a world, making it an object of familiar contact and thus clearing the ground for an absolutely free investigation of it. (*)

Rosa Martinez: For the last eight years you have been working on the interdisciplinary art project El Paraiso en el Nuevo Mundo (Paradise in the New World), inspired by
the homonymous book written by Antonio de Leon Pinelo in 1650. Using the newly developing discipline of natural history, Pinelo tried to prove scientifically that the Garden of Eden was located in South America. Adopting his thesis, you have made several research trips to the state ofMato Grosso, Brazil, keeping a travel diary describing your adventures. Through a series of photographs, videos, dioramas, and installations derived from the diary entries, you explore how colonial discourses were constructed in relation to the specific mythology of Paradise. How does the installation you have created for the exhibition 10 Floridians update your aesthetic and conceptual reflections in this regard?

Sergio Vega: The current installation presents works derived from the first three days I spent in and around the city of Cuiaba. A central element is the diorama/video
installation entitled Photographing (p. 97), a re-creation of the site of my initial encounter with "Paradise." Photographing reconstructs a segment of a shanty's backyard, with garbage, and chickens wandering around.

The video component is a collage comprised ofSaraguina's dance from Fellini's 8 1/S and footage of dogs barking at the camera. These images were projected over the space and objects of the diorama itself, to be re-recorded and then edited for the final version of the video. The projection over the shanty activates the space as a metaphorical revision of my traumatic confrontation with the "maternal body" (a symbolic attribute of Eden).

Here's how the story goes: I was photographing this shanty, the chaos of discarded objects amongst chickens, rabbits, and dogs reminding me of Alice in Wonderland,
when a massive woman wearing a tight dress—her abundant hair disarranged in a diabolic nest—emerged from inside the hut. Cursing at me for intruding, she started
throwing stones. The dogs joined the attack, barking ferociously, and I was bitten, stones raining down on me all the while. I fled the shantytown, limping off into the urban realm of the upper classes.

This ridiculous experience made it possible for me to reflect on the dynamics of the photographic act. It allowed me to live the parody of the heroic artist portraying otherness. In addition, it prompted me to question not only the power relations between who portrays and who is being portrayed pertinent to documentary photography's claims to transparent realism, but also the very nature of photography as a colonizing practice. These days, issues linked to the traumas of marginality, such as poverty and other forms of radical otherness, are charged with the raw, threatening attributes of objective reality. Thus, when those issues become representations shown to the not-all-that-marginal audiences of art, they are perceived as familiarly unfamiliar, viscerally abject, and fashionably exotic.

RM: In contrast with the "purity" of Anglo-Saxon modernism, your work celebrates the exuberance and the organic character of the baroque as a liberating aesthet ic model. How would you define the notions behind what you have come to term "Modernismo Tropical"?

SV: My reflection on aesthetic styles—baroque, romantic, modern—for this project focuses on how those styles were employed to produce fantasies of Paradise. Modernismo Tropical (pp. 98-99) has to do with what I encountered on the other side of the hill, after my escape from the dogs. I found myself on a wide avenue with extravagant modern buildings somehow influenced by Oscar Niemeyer. Some of those buildings, strident in color and voluptuous in form, impressed me as bizarre adaptations of Roberto Burle Marx's paradigmatic search for biomorphic archetypes. A painter and botanist, Marx wanted his work to rupture the romantic concept of landscape in architecture, and he proposed a close examination of nature from a scientific perspective. Maybe I was suffering from heat stroke as I ran up the hill, but those buildings seemed like a carnival parade that was dancing to the smooth sound of bossa nova and heralding the triumph of modernity over the jungle. I concluded that at some point modernism in the tropics had abandoned Cartesian logic to take a nap and woke up later in the middle of a shamanistic ritual, cross-dressed as an animal—or plant. This dionysian, sensualistic line of modernity, emblematic of the upper classes in Latin America, is the one I explore in Modernismo Tropical—architecture designed for cocktail parties. I am curious about how this work will be perceived in Miami, a city that suffers from a similar syndrome, although in this case influenced by the stylistic foundations of Art Deco (another sort of modernist Paradise).

RM: Today the notion of Paradise is constructed by cultural institutions and tourist industries. Using icons and symbols that condense meanings, they provoke desires that contribute to economic development. Your installation invites viewers to reconsider the concept of Paradise and to experience its dark side. The comfort of the bourgeois Tropicalounge (-2002-03) project contrasts with the piece Waiting Room (3003), where political prisoners languish before being hurled into the void. Beneath the baroque surface of pleasure and exoticism you always analyze power structures and ideological implications.

SV: Waiting Room is based on a place known as "the gate of Hell," where previously captured prisoners were brought to a strategically located road-patrol station and thrown off a precipice during the military dictatorship in Brazil. I re-created the sitting area of the post and made a "replica" of a prisoner wearing a bag over his head. I provide "masks-hoods/objects" to be worn by the public and a Polaroid camera for participants to photograph themselves.

Traditionally, outsider art has been pondered through the cult of the art object, which has been interpreted literally—as the "representative" incarnation of the other culture. Nowadays, the art exhibition as a playground for the pleasure of the viewer has become a double-edged sword. When "other" people are put on display as art, it triggers a kind of sadomasochistic dynamic in which the audience is made to feel uncomfortable and left to explore its unresolved feelings. I am proposing that viewers participate with the art object-other (through the wearing of masks-hoods/objects) as well as with themselves (through photographic self-portraiture). My wish is that, masked and resembling the hooded prisoner, they will enter the same field as the art
object and reconfigure themselves.

The work is an invitation to experiment with sensorial perception, in a twisted version of what Lygia dark and Helio Oiticica have proposed. A kind of revisionist performance of what was happening in Brazil during the late sixties and seventies, in the fields of both art and politics. My hope is that participants will consider—and experience—the notion that, confronted by the void, we can play at dissolving the dichotomy between subject and object, self and other.

(*). Mikhail M. Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981, 23.