There are two elements to the Unsaid/Spoken exhibition at the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, or CIFO. Some of the artworks remain mute in a sense, with what they have to say hidden. In others, words and concepts are audible or readable, yet subject to manipulation.
It’s actually not too important to follow this loose categorization, however. What’s important is how creatively and profoundly these installations, sculptures and videos express our constant struggle with communication, the key to a functioning society. It’s a particularly appropriate exhibit to celebrate CIFO’s 10th anniversary — heavy as it is on Latin American artists and new media, both CIFO specialties.
The introductory installation from Brazilian Tatiana Blass could not have been better chosen, in that it says so much in its silenced state. At least a dozen snare drums and cymbals have been drenched in white wax, muting the sounds they may have once made, in some cases splitting the drums in half. Their sounds might even be entombed in the wax that has dripped to the floor. Drums are not only used to make music, but also in many societies to impart information over long distances. Blass named her 2010 piece Half of the Speech is on the Ground — Drums.
A much smaller work in this first room is a video from Cuban artist Felipe Dulzaides. His head bobbing up and down in closeup, the artist is murmuring “on the ball,” but what really is he saying? In his oppressive homeland, rumors and phrases carry their own meanings.
While taking in the rows of C-prints from Mexico’s Damien Ortega, who has photographed piles of cement blocks waiting to become proper buildings (they have been left in an unexpressed state), you’ll be disturbed by the sounds of a cackling laugh or a yelp. It comes from the most surprising piece in an exhibit that pulls few punches. Alone on a dividing wall between two rooms, a small video features a moving mouth, surrounded by blackness. It is talking rapidly, although what it is saying is hard to decipher. The mouth then laughs, yells and makes increasingly loud noises as the video progresses. It is a 1973 piece from the 20th century avant-garde Irish wordsmith, Samuel Beckett.
The inclusion of Beckett points to why Unsaid/Spoken is a successful and challenging endeavor for CIFO. For a decade it has focused on a mission to highlight hyper-contemporary art from Latin America through exhibitions, grants, awards and commissions, and Unsaid is no exception. But there are also some firsts involved in this show.
The two inaugural CIFO curatorial award winners of 2012 put the exhibit together, culling work from not just the Foundation, but also from Ella Fontanals-Cisneros’ private collection, which includes art from the world over. Curators José Roca of Colombia and Moacir dos Anjos of Brazil had never worked together, nor were they familiar with the Cisneros collection, which means the whole process was an act of discovery. They came up with the loose theme, but the works were not specifically made for such a show. Each one stands on its own, avoiding the pitfalls some group shows face when the thread seems strained. And the two were not tied to dates or regions, so they could pick the works they thought best. It has made for a stronger compilation.
That means there is room, for instance, for the seminal post-Berlin Wall film documenting nonverbal life from East Germany to Moscow in 1993, From the East, by great Belgian filmmaker Chantal Ackerman. Covering one whole wall are multicolored notes, written on post-its, napkins, scraps of paper, from American-born Joseph Grigely. The artist has been deaf since age 10, so written language has been his major means of communication, examples of which form 223 Conversations.