Thursday, July 21, 2011

Art Underground

There is no subway system in Montevideo, but in the center of the city, hidden below Plaza Fabini, there's an underground art gallery. Salon Municipal de Exposiciones known as SUBTE is a public venue with three exhibition spaces labelled according to size - XL, M and SX.  This place is one of the cultural hot spots in Montevideo, with an ongoing program of free art exhibitions, musical concerts,  lectures, drama and experimental performances.

 Descending the stairs that lead from the busy, sunlit plaza to a subterranean, cavernous space is like entering Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole, a transition from reality to fantasy that's heightened by the make-believe world presented by artist Claudio Roncoli  in the exhibition "Black Life."  

Roncoli uses digital images printed on blackout fabric as the foundation for his works.  The photos are appropriated from corporate and institutional documents, advertising and vintage magazine covers.   The artist paints over the enlarged black and white photos, dripping vertical lines of bright colour which alter and screen the original.  Roncoli's intent is akin to a graffiti artist's; by applying a layer of paint he can disrupt an established order, while poking fun at it.  It's a naughty and daring approach.  See how a red dot turns a sensible schoolgirl into a silly clown? Look at the kid with the goofy crocodile mask!  Roncoli clearly enjoys mark-making as much as a youth with a spray can aimed at a blank wall.

"Sistemas" 2011, digital print, acrylic on blackout fabric, 200 x 400 cm

Detail, "Sistemas"

"No somos todos iguales", 2010, digital print, acrylic on blackout fabric, 200 x 300 cm

Detail, "No somos todos iguales"

"Algo Todo Nada" 2011, digital print, acrylic on blackout fabric, 200 x 300 cm

Detail "Algo Todo Nada"

Installation view at SUBTE

Education, consumerism, corporations, government and the media - all are subject to Roncoli's scrutiny and his wry, cutting sense of humour.  There are visual puns in the paintings that hint at an underlying clever irony: a pie in the face, (pie graphs replace portraits in "No somos todos iguales") eating your words (text fills the refrigerator in "Algo, Todo, Nada") seeing double (mirror images in "Sistemas".)

The fact that Claudio Roncoli grew up in a toy store seems perfectly fitting once you've become familiar with his aesthetic sensibility.  His parents owned a shop in Buenos Aires and took to the road with their children in a converted school bus to sell party souvenirs.  Play is an activity that the adult Roncoli hasn't outgrown, but that doesn't mean that his work is not taken seriously.    He is represented in Buenos Aires by Galeria Praxis , in San Francisco by Gallery 415 , in Miami by Zadok Gallery, and so on, around the globe. You can read more about the artist and his work here.

We leave SUBTE in a buoyant mood, join the crowd on Avenida 18 de Julio and walk down to Teatro Solis.  The Allegro Cafe is full of young children, parents and grandparents who have just emerged from a special winter holiday performance of the Comedie Nacional.  When our espresso and carrot cake arrive at the table, we are treated to some impromptu live entertainment.

Our conversation goes like this:
Clown 1: "You speak English!  Where are you from?"
Me: "I'm from Canada."
Clown 1: "We learned English at school."
Clown 2:  "The pencil is red."
Clown 1:  "The weather is cold."
Clown 2  "I like hamburgers!"
Me: "You'll do just fine when you visit my country.  That's all you need to know."

Sometimes art imitates life, sometimes life imitates art.  It's amazing when both combinations happen in the same day.

"Black Life" by Claudio Roncoli continues at SUBTE until the end of July.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thick fog, fine ash

Satellite photo from NASA, June 13, 2011 showing the ash plume
The eruption of Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano in southern Chile on June 4th was not an isolated regional disaster, but a six mile high explosion of fire, magma and fumes that has disrupted weather eastward across South America and westward as far as Australia and New Zealand.   During the week following the volcanic activity, Uruguay experienced dense fog, violent winds, torrential rain and dramatic thunderstorms.  Clouds of ash reduced the horizon of the Rio de la Plata to a grey smudge, and my afternoon session on the beach taking  moody, Turneresque photos resulted in red eyes and irritated lungs.  ( It wasn't until the next day that a notice in the newspaper warned people not to wear contact lenses, a precaution that hadn't crossed my foggy mind.)    Drifting volcanic ash plumes continue to affect air quality and paralyze air travel;  last Friday 66 flights in and out of Carrasco Airport were cancelled.  We are grounded - another irritant!

Fog shrouds the Playa Ramirez in Montevideo

Parque Rodo - ashes to ashes

  The most noticeable immediate impact of volcanic activity is a widespread cold snap, as hot air from the blast rises, cools and wets.  The Antofagasta area  in northern Chile had a severe, unprecedented snowfall on July 5th.  Although we haven't had any snow here, the past month of near-freezing temperatures in Uruguay has been a brutal episode for homeless people living on the streets.  Following five deaths amongst "sin techo" victims of exposure,  the government ordered mandatory pick-up and sheltering of anyone found sleeping on the sidewalk in Montevideo.  

A cardboard box is home for this poor person
 Friends living in Mendoza province may be boasting about the free fertilizer that will enrich their vineyard soil and improve the flavour of their wines, but they should also be aware that volcanoes have huge carbon footprints and spew chemicals that deplete the ozone layer, contaminate soil and disturb the ecosystem.  Sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and hydrogen fluoride are toxins that are potentially hazardous for plants and animals. Ash-covered fields are not conducive to crop-growing or livestock-grazing until the ash has washed away and filtered down through multiple layers of soil.  The possible chemical fallout from volcanic activity is described in this detailed article published by the U.S government.

As we wait for the sky to clear, I am staying home to dust the woodwork, wearing my old-fashioned glasses and a thick, wool sweater.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Diomedes Libros

The fun starts with the bargain tables on the sidewalk
The bookstore in our neighbourhood bears the name of Diomedes, the Greek warrior/hero whose discipline, bravery, cunning and resourcefulness are described by Homer in the Iliad.  Diomedes Libros is a literary labyrinth, a jumble of used books that invites readers to spend time browsing, hunting and gathering.  When you take a book from the shelf at Diomedes you discover that there's another layer, a row of fascinating titles hidden behind the first.  Your only option is to remove the line of books from the front row and pile those volumes on the floor in order to get a look at the full selection. Books line the aisles in chaotic disarray, a librarian's nightmare that demands rummaging through volumes of politics, psychology, religion, history and poetry in order to find an English novel. The store has a distinct odour of mildew, old leather and damp paper.   This shopping experience is a far cry from the quick, clean, easy transactions completed at Chapters Indigo in Canada.  
A mountain of inventory

Seek and ye shall find.  
For those brave enough to face the challenge, book-lovers who don't mind getting their hands dirty, there is treasure buried in the stacks at Diomedes.  This children's book entitled "Canada" written by David Scott Daniell in the 1950s and published by Ediciones Albon in Barcelona, was my reward for digging deep.

Written in Spanish, the story charts the journey of Alison and John as they make a trip from London England to Canada.  They tour all the regions of the nation, and just like the Royal couple the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate), the fictional characters encounter a host of Canuck stereotypes along the way.  I love the retro-style illustrations by Jack Matthew.
Fishermen in Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

View from the Citadel,  Quebec City

A log cabin in the Laurentians, Quebec with busy beaver 

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa, Ontario

Farmers harvesting wheat in Saskatchewan
Indians ( aboriginals)  in Calgary, Alberta

Cowboys at the Calgary Stampede
Trapper in the great white Northwest Territories

Bears in the Rocky Mountains

Vancouver, British Columbia

Boarding the return flight
As Alison and John reflect on their visit to Canada, they come to the conclusion that "Canada is very big, very rich and all its people work hard and are happy."

 What a find -  especially during a week when Canada's national newspaper The Globe and Mail is presenting daily highlights of the Royal Visit   complete with images that are remarkably similar to the illustrations in this book, drawn over 50 years ago.  From Mounties to aboriginal drummers in traditional dress, not much has changed in our home and native land.

The Royal couple visit Yellowknife, NWT