Tuomo Manninen. Pashupati School Scouts, 1995
Curator: Rosa Martínez
Borusan Art Center. Istanbul. Turkey. 2003
Vasco Araújo (Portugal)
Daniel Guzmán (Mexico)
Tuomo Manninen (Finland)
Priscilla Monge (Costa Rica)
Aydan Murtezaoglu (Turkey)
Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba (Japan)

«I occasionally experience myself as a cluster of flowing currents. I prefer this to the idea of a solid self, the identity to which so many attach so much significance. These currents (...) are always in motion (...). A form of freedom, I'd like to think, even if I am far from being totally convinced that it is.»
Edward W. Said.
Out of Place: A Memoir, New York, 1999

The exhibition Universal Strangers presents the works of six artists who come from different parts of the world: Vasco Araújo, from Portugal; Daniel Guzmán, from Mexico; Tuomo Manninen, from Finland; Priscilla Monge, from Costa Rica; Aydan Murtezaoglu from Turkey and Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, from Japan. All of them were born in the 60s (except Araújo who was born in 1975) and, despite their young age, they have already exhibited their works at international biennials such as the ones in Venice, Istanbul, La Havana, Sydney, Lima and Yokohama. They live in a globalised world where ideas, people and products circulate at an accelerated rate.

The new forms of global movement (human migration, the flow of capital and the technologies for the transmission of data) have created a new virtual community throughout the planet, facilitating contacts thanks to the speed of communication but also bringing new forms of exploitation and submission. Post-modern identities are constantly in a state of flux and continually torn between the excitement of change and the melancholy of lose. Displacement and extraterritorial status are common characteristics of many people, nomads not based in a single place, nor in a single culture nor even in a single language. These «universal strangers» are a «living contradiction», in the words of Slavoj Zizek, bringing with them many belongings and symbolising the new hybrid paradigms, finding common values and problems beyond the differences.

According to Pierre Bordieu, a work of art, like material goods and mythical figures, only receives value from collective beliefs, collectively produced and reproduced, and the physical production of the piece is nothing without the production of its symbolic value. The relativism of post-modernity allows contemporary artists to use a variety of resources, objects and languages to analyse the transformations of the world in which they live. It is true to say that there are many revisions, copies and references, but it is also the case that extraordinary pieces appear which bring together patterns of perception and thought from different cultural contexts, broadening the pleasure that the aesthetic experience provides.

The work of Priscilla Monge (San José of Costa Rica, 1968) uses the purist formalism of the artistic languages of modernity and connects it with the critical thought which explores the violence of power relations, whether it be in sport, education or between men and women. In the video Make-up Lesson (Lección de maquillaje, 1998) a man verbalises the instructions for the perfect make-up while he applies various products to a woman's face. The ambivalence between seduction and aggression visualise the poles of the central symbolic idea of the submission of women and exemplifies what Virginia Woolf referred to as the «hypnotic power of domination». Wall (Pared, 2001) is a site specific installation produced on one of the spacious exhibition walls, which is covered with sanitary towels in the form of bricks. The masculine character of the architecture becomes subverted, and the industrial serialisation of minimalism is ironically criticised at the same time as the feminine is offered as valid material for a new way to construct discourses.

Aydan Murtezaoglu (Istanbul, 1961) reflects on the forms of learning and socialisation based around the family and school, as well as the lose of security outside these worlds. In Untitled (1999) a girl appears seated on a bench facing the Bosphorus. The urban landscape which she contemplates is inclined following the gesture of inclination of her head. In Untitled (2000) the girl is standing on the rooftops of Istanbul. Her skirt is fluttered by the wind and her hands are gripping a TV aerial as if she would like to capture the waves of the times in which she lives. The relativism and the uncertainty of the public world is converted into tranquillity when she appears in the protected environment of the home, whether it be looking out of the window towards the city while she smokes a cigarette, or while she is in the dining room of the house, where her own suit and the crocheted tablecloth which covers the table are signs of a lifestyle which appear natural but which are not without banishment. All these works are produced with photographic support and have been manipulated by computer to give them a picture-like finish and to achieve the desired semantic effects. Aydan Murtezaoglu expresses through them the insecurities of a restless subjectivity.

Sleeping on the roof is the generic title of the installation which Daniel Guzmán (Mexico D.F., 1964) produced in November 2002 in his own house after leaving for good the small dwelling where he had lived for eight years. The generic title of the installation alludes to the future of life in the open air, while the titles of some pieces such as «Quiero al mundo por casa» (I want the world for a home), «Lonely» o «Viaje al fin de mi noche» (Journey to the end of my night) talk about departure and loneliness. Among the works presented there was an especially moving piece, «Infinite Sadness» («Tristeza Infinita», 2002), a sculpture comprised of sixteen gold chains usually worn around the neck. They all hang vertically from the ceiling and on their lower end they have imitation diamond letters, which together form the words «tristeza infinita» (infinite sadness). The serial abstraction combined with texts and, on occasions, with precarious but very expressive ready-mades, characterise the work of Daniel Guzmán who explores the melancholy produced by having to pack and unpack our affections and our worlds with a romanticism not without irony.

The Finnish photographer Tuomo Manninen (Helsinki, Finland, 1962) has left his home on several occasions to produce reports in different parts of the world. The images captured with his camera are a cross between documentary photography and dramatisation, he has his subjects pose in perfectly structured compositions to share the awareness that they are perpetuating a moment. In the series Kantipur-Katmandu, taken in Nepal in 1995, he takes apart the most common tourist clichés and shows aspects of westernisation which trans-national capitalism imposes on different social groups. The employees of Pepsi-Cola, the girl boy scouts of Pashupati School or the young people who do body building in the Lazimpat Fitness Center, demonstrate the contrast between tradition and globalisation. Curiously, the group which best conserves the traditional ways of dress is one of the lowest social groups: the municipal street sweepers of Katmandu who, coincidentally, are all women.

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba (Tokyo, Japan, 1968) also alludes to the transformations that globalisation and modernisation have inflicted on the place where he lives: Vietnam. His critical approach is combined with an enormous poetic force in the fascinating video Towards the Complex - For the Courageous, the Curious and the Cowards (2001). The sequences of images present Vietnamese cycle-taxi drivers dragging their means of work under the water. The slow rhythm communicates anxiety for the disappearance of the traditional ways of subsistence and transmits the efforts made by those workers to survive in a hostile environment. Drowned in a system of economic exploitation that they do not understand, they fight for their subsistence while faraway they distinguish the fragile hope of places of rest. The work of Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba combines visual beauty and a calm approach to study the social problems that have specifically affected the part of the world where he has decided to live.

The baroque narratives of the world of opera and court dance are for Vasco Araújo (Lisbon, Portugal, 1975) metaphors of existential dramas and power games. In the series of seven glass cases that he has recently produced, different groups of plasticine figures carry out a series of choreographed dances around the Sun King, Luis XIV of France. The majority of them, such as The Ballet of Alcidiane (Le ballet d'Alcidiane, 2002) or The Birth of Venus (Alexandre) (La Naissance de Venus (Alexandre), 2002) are circular compositions that express the central role of absolute monarchy. A material as fragile and ephemeral as plasticine is an ironic reminder of the pretensions of glory, the desire for control and the proud vanity of this historic moment. For the nobles of the court dancing skills were a reflection of a gentleman considered to be a total work of art, from which women were excluded. With the fall of the Old Regime, the ethics and aesthetic ideals changed, and the fallen aristocrats had no other option than to become, in the words of Karl Marx, «the dance teachers» of Europe.

Through their works, these artists signal some of the trends of thought in the global visual arts scene. The illusion of progress that Modernity promised, has disappeared definitively, and the absolutist intention of western aesthetic languages has been filed down from the margins. Maintaining a critical spirit is essential in order not to merely skim over the surface of post-modernity and its derivatives. Therefore nothing that affects others will seem strange to us and we will see that the differences that separate the local unconscious and/or histories of the different parts of the planet can (and should) support themselves in a new ambition of the universal as an ethical approach.

Rosa Martínez