About

Incidents (of Travel) explores the chartered day-long travel itinerary as a format of artistic encounter and an extended conversation between curator/s and artist/s.

An expanded phase of a project conceived by Latitudes (Barcelona) in 2012, this new series of tours is conceived as fieldwork and an expanded studio visit. It is presented as reportage and dispatches from invited curators and artists working around the world.

Destinations

Hobart, Tasmania

Curator: Camila Marambio
Studio College: Lucy Bleach

Yerevan, Armenia

Curator: Marianna Hovhannisyan
Studio College: National Center of Aesthetics

Terengganu, Malaysia

Curator: Simon Soon
Artist: chi too

Lisbon, Portugal

Curator: Pedro de Llano
Artist: Luisa Cunha

Suzhou, China

Curator: Yu Ji
Artist: Xiao Kaiyu

Jinja, Uganda

Curator: Moses Serubi
Artist: Moshen Taha

Chicago, USA

Curator: Yesomi Umolu
Artist: Harold Mendez
Photos by: Nabiha Khan

Incidents (of Travel)

Curator

Artist

Alejandra Aguado

Diego Bianchi

Introduction

Itinerary

Buenos Aires, Argentina

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It is a surprisingly hot day in Buenos Aires—ten degrees hotter than the average mid-April day. Summer seems to be pushing its way into the year as if it had been prevented from doing its job when it was supposed to and is now determined to ignore habits and frustrate any precise forecast. The feeling of emancipation expressed by the weather hinted at experiences throughout the day to come as Diego Bianchi and I followed an itinerary he had planned to give recognition to unchained forces and flows—whether driven by people, or nature. Flows that make their way through disregarded, ‘narrow’, unregulated or apparently invisible areas of town. They emerge from niches in concrete and impermeable surfaces, through faults in organized behavior and imposed order, protrude over bits of uncontrolled land, occupy what’s left of empty space, or force themselves through thin cracks in the law or communication. While these flows proliferate as a series of informal movements, they offer vital opportunities for growth, exchange, expression, acknowledgement, accommodation; they create different connections to our environment, fulfill urgent needs as well as simple pleasures. As we move around Buenos Aires by car, underground, and foot trying to follow these evolving energies, it becomes clear how they open up new, organic paths around the metropolis. These human and non-human impulses draw an unofficial system of circulation on top of the city’s gridded map. They multiply the cities traffic lines: jumping over barriers, stretching straight lines into curves, infiltrating pathways and improvising ways to link the previously disconnected.

As this city blood flow started revealing itself to me, Diego’s work appeared more committed than ever to presenting and making room for what is pushed down by norms—whether of social behavior, urban planning, garbage administration, formal citizenship, or even legal trading. In his practice, just as with Buenos Aires itself—a wider metropolitan area that encompasses 15 million human inhabitants—these excesses are adopted and adapted in numerous ways. We may have all learnt that nothing really disappears, that what appears lost or thrown away inevitably comes back, somehow, somewhere, camouflaging its way back into our territory. Yet Diego’s practice confronts us with these apparitions, which accumulate in his work and make their way violently through matter. He is a careful observer of ecosystems, alert to movements of organic reorganization, control, and expressions of survival.

In his sculptures and installations, mostly made of found objects, bodies and objects seem to bind together, impregnate each other, or grow like viruses. Figures comprised of bits and pieces seem dismembered or exhibit new, multiple limbs—whether natural or technological. They negotiate their own right of way. His works are made of what we consume or desire on the one hand, and avoid or reject on the other, be that information, style or materiality. They synthesize an offer with a demand, lack with excess. On April 18, we navigated Buenos Aires as if an ever-evolving festival of sorts featuring damp heat, sudden disparities, hidden oasis, and the anxiety that sprouts from the threat of instability or overload.

The shoreline of Buenos Aires bordering the River Plate is generally inaccessible almost throughout its whole length—except for nature reserves, it’s either comprised of private residences, the port, industrial complexes, or concrete walls. Nevertheless at the northern part of the estuary, Diego Bianchi has found a short strip of land close to the city limits that opens to the river like a slash between clearly delimited territories. He regularly goes there to collect debris cast up by the river which he then might use in his artwork. He also likes to think that he is unconsciously driven to this site to experience an encounter between water and land that reminds him of the beach town where he lived as a child.

This was the first stop on our day out and it inaugurated a series of experiences involving the crossing of borders between controlled and planned environments on the one hand, to those that are lawless, free reigning, and have been left to regulate themselves on the other. There was no official pathway to this part of the shoreline, no formal invitation to access this chaotic, unattended place. This no man’s land is not inaccessible if you are simply willing to enter it.

This was also our first encounter with a scene of accumulation. There was estuarine air, wind, humidity and sand—enough to turn the visit into a summery outing—but the area left for walking was filled with wire, iron, concrete, fallen trees, and a kind of confetti made up of crushed rubbish. All sorts of things had been brought together by the river tide, recognizable bits and pieces that might easily go out of sight yet never entirely disappear.

My car keys eventually fell, unnoticed, onto this permanently-reconfiguring floor. When we suddenly realized I didn’t have them we feared they might have been absorbed by it in a quicksand effect. Somehow, fate had it that half an hour later Diego found them. They seemed to have been generously returned from the thickness of this border-world, where there is always room for what we believe has been expelled or lost.

As we looked out at the river the pavilions of the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism of the University of Buenos Aires, where Diego studied, seemed to emerge just behind us. Inspired by the work of architect Le Corbusier, the campus was built in the 1960s and is adjacent to the Parque de la Memoria, from where we accessed the shoreline.

Velatropa is a communal settlement that dates back to 2007 that is organized as an eco-village and was initiated by professors and students from the department of Natural Science and Architecture to prevent the zone from deforestation and the land being used for parking. Since then it has grown into an experimental center for permaculture, sustainable development and environmental education. Residents usually stay here temporarily and it is open to visitors interested in learning or collaborating in tasks such as the construction of adobe houses, maintaining a variety of structures built with recycled materials, or working in the vegetable garden.

We went in through the lush vegetation that separates it from one of the main city transit arteries and encountered a form of living based on self-regulation. Housing had been built by different members of the community who have taken over the construction process as they come and go. The structures have not followed an original plan, but grow organically. They have resulted from a balance between needs, means and self-initiative. The land is planted and harvested according to the principles of permaculture, it is low on intervention and for the most part has been left to be modeled by the natural ecosystem. Exchange here is regulated by the principle of reciprocity, which means each individual gives and takes according to what they can and feels is appropriate. Hand-painted legends appear over a variety of surfaces—from pieces of wood to the pneumatic tires used as pots—to inspire armonía y amistad (harmony and friendship), invite people to pide y recibe (ask and receive), or simply saying si ves una tarea es tuya (if you spot a task, it's yours).

Like the shoreline, access to Velatropa was not self evident. And although it is closely linked to some of the university programs, a degree of secrecy is still necessary to protect it.

One of the tree houses at Velatropa built by its self-regulated community.

Our next stop was Once—a commercial area known for its affordable prices and for concentrating what is possibly the highest immigrant population in the city, making it one of the most diverse neighborhoods. Its population increases dramatically during the day, as it is visited by people coming from all over and beyond Buenos Aires, primarily for trading. Multiple transport lines converge here, “generating a very rich exchange situation that takes place in the middle of town, something that usually happens in the frontiers,” mentions Diego. “This area is exuberant. I find its abundance very attractive and am fascinated by how such a huge amount of people manage to live together, to organize themselves and navigate through the area to do all sort of different things—buying, selling or walking around, moving huge loads of goods or simply window shopping.”

Walking around Once, we somehow lost our sense of being either inside or outside. Goods take over the streets, expanding the shops’ limits, and people wander inside and across linked internal galleries with a sense of ownership and independence more usually found in a wholly public space. Façades are covered with signs and objects; every bit of empty space has been temporarily conquered for exhibiting merchandise or to position someone to promote a service. “If you stay still for a second you feel someone’s going to stick a sign on your body,” says Diego.

We had lunch at La Rica Vicky, a Peruvian restaurant that has been in Once for a long while now, even before Peruvian gastronomy became fashionable. We were able to enjoy affordable comfort food. Due to the increase of Peruvian immigrants, Once has gained the nickname of Perusalem, as they have become as present as the Jewish community which originally settled in this area in the 19th century.

Street vendors have recently been banned from the city. However, they have devised strategies that allow them to still operate by being alert, relying on mutual complicity, and techniques that can easily go unnoticed. One can sense preoccupation and anxiety. While we ate we were offered bracelets, which Diego bought, but we were unable to photograph our salesman.

Street vendors line the sidewalks and offer glimpses of the goods they have on offer in large black bin bags. These bags are easy to wrap sling over the shoulder at the first sign of police presence. The vendors’ own bodies have also become their new mobile display units.

Diego observes the window display of a typical hardware store in Once.

When space suddenly opens up and is free from all the awnings, the signs, and the sheer amount of stuff that covers the walls and the facades, we saw glimpses of the historical architecture that this effervescent community leans on. Many shops have taken over buildings that have been long abandoned, some of them originally conceived as commercial centers. Yet they have been reoccupied with urgent, temporary structures that neglect the more enduring drive of modernism.

As we stroll among the street vendors (addressed by the sign which declares Prohibida la venta ambulante – Street vendors prohibited), we remember Stephen, a Nigerian trader who arrived in Buenos Aires in 2010. In 2013 Diego invited him to take part in his exhibition Estado de SPAM at Alberto Sendrós Galería de Arte. He would sell jewelry and watches at the gallery one day each week. Diego had met him during a visit to Once and after the show he would usually stop by to have a chat with him whenever he was in the neighborhood. He hasn’t spotted him in the area for a while now though.

As we reach what we call the city centre, the traditional financial and state administration area, we stop for coffee at La Unión, a small and carefully decorated café at Calle Esmeralda 266, and a usual haunt for Diego if he is in the area. In stark contrast to the commerce in Once, La Unión offers a single product within a clear context. Visual pause as opposed to permanent stimuli. Slow consumption rather than agile bargaining. These are both sides of a system that Diego is interested in understanding: how, as a part of a large community of consumers, we adapt and adopt all kinds of offerings, and negotiate between excess and moderation.

Diego and I take the chance to talk about fashion as we are still charged-up with memories of dozens-and-dozens of items of clothing, footwear and accessories from the streets and shops of Once. Voices enchanting us into buying backpacks or handbags – mochila-mochila-mochila-cartera-cartera-cartera – still ring in our heads.

“I am very much interested in how something that is at first strange suddenly becomes massive”, Diego comments. “And how people quickly adopt items that are signs of their zeitgeist as a way of affirming their identity. This is what I am looking for when I choose people for my performances, people attentive to these situations, be it in terms of how they use technology or how they cut their hair or what shoes they wear. Not very long ago, people weren’t proud of belonging to the popular sector, but now there seems to be a pride in it, and the appropriation of fashion has had a big role in changing this perception.”

Either side of the narrow Calle Esmeralda, facades form a patchwork of surfaces that not only tell an abrupt history of architecture in Buenos Aires—essentially a history of its economy—but also a testimony of its conflicted identity. This view seemed like a metaphor for our eclectic, mutant city, a place of contrasts often due to power battles, or neglect.

Streets are constantly obstructed in Buenos Aires—it is usual to see scenes of barriers limiting construction zones, sidewalks being taken over by dump trucks, or rubbish spreading over pedestrianized areas. The desire to drive along predictable traffic routes is constantly frustrated, and other organic pathways are spontaneously created by pedestrians on the move. Walking often involves a quick zigzagging from road to sidewalk, crossing streets far from the usual junctions, and other chaotic responses to the obstacles that populate public space.

There is a strong police presence on the streets of Buenos Aires. We saw them in Once and we see them again in the centre. It is no coincidence that the area is also characterized by the presence of informal workers; not only street vendors, but also very specialized populations of the city, whether the trapitos (who suggest taking care of your car while its parked), limpiavidrios (who clean your car’s windscreen when stopped by traffic lights), arbolitos (offering currency exchange) or those distributing flyers by hand or sticking them onto facades and lampposts, just like croupiers dealing cards. All these activities spring up as quickly as they disappear, and transactions are sometimes completed at the speed of light.

In Diego’s installations, which reconfigure our urban landscape and confront us with an accumulation of its neglected inhabitants and excesses—as well as with the tension that results from the way presence and movement are negotiated—these subsistence strategies are often quoted.

Looking at books at Poema 20, antiquarian and second-hand bookshop on Esmeralda Street.

On our way to Fundación Federico Jorge Klemm we stopped at the entrance of one of the most important—and few—venues that was dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art in Buenos Aires in the late 1990s and early 2000s: the Instituto de Cooperación Internacional (ICI), run by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. The space is now closed but from the outside you can still see the peculiarity of its now-faded interior designed by local architect and artist Clorindo Testa. This is where Diego had his first exhibition in 2002.

The ICI—now renamed CCEBA, Centro Cultural de España en Buenos Aires—is located on Calle Florida, the pedestrian street where the paradigmatic Centro de Artes Visuales of the Instituto Di Tella thrived between 1963 and 1969. One could say the ICI belongs to a more recent generation of emerging art venues that closed due to political and economic crises, generating moments of detachment between institutions and artists, leaving their roles still vacant. Although ICI relocated to another space, it has not kept up with the sense of the avant-garde and the relevance it used to incarnate. Most of the contemporary art galleries from the area have now either closed or moved to different neighborhoods, closer to where the local art crowd is based or has been encouraged to move by offering tax benefits to property owners who could potentially use their spaces—although temporarily—for cultural purposes.

Diego is a frequent gallery goer, an activity he devotes plenty of time when allowed by the demands of his own practice and his teaching duties. On our final part of our day we visited the Fundación Federico Jorge Klemm, one of the last art venues still open in the area, founded by the eccentric artist and patron who gives it its name in 1997 and dedicated to exhibiting his own art collection—which includes works by Joseph Beuys and Yves Klein. It also organizes group shows by local contemporary artists and a prestigious art prize. The site feels like an oasis in this part of town, a resisting bastion of a bygone art scene. Yet surprisingly, Fundación Klemm has doubled its bet on the area with a recent collection rehang led by young local curators Guadalupe Chirotarrab and Federico Baeza.

Although a minor example of Arman’s work, this split shoe seemed to wink at us in a gesture of cosmic order at the end of our day. Its discreet materiality not only spoke to the distances we had trodden. Comprising a shiny box preserving a glamorous yet disposable object, it also commented on the transformation of use value where the short-lived becomes a fetish, trash turns into art, and we found ourselves talking again about consumerism and materialism. Arman was a member of the Nouveau Réalisme group founded in Paris in 1960—Pop Art’s European counterpart. Diego’s pop-povera installations, although very much rooted in our local art history, suddenly seemed closer than ever to these traditions.

View of Arman’s Untitled (Chaussure Découpée), 1965, at the Fundación Federico Jorge Klemm.

The latter part of our tour demanded speed and determination. We were risking not being able to take my car out of the parking lot where I had left it at Once. It would close at 6pm, and we were nowhere near. The crowds filling the underground station hardly left any gaps that would allow us to make our way to reach our platform. So we had to politely push our way to the right train before jumping on the carriage. We flowed with and against the crowd, widening gaps between people whenever possible and redirecting our course when bumping onto hard unmovable surfaces within this labyrinth. We managed to make our way through, and fortunately the car park had opened an unannounced 5-minute-fissure in time.

Underground carriage, Line C, 5.30pm.

Incidents (of Travel) explores the chartered day-long travel itinerary as a format of artistic encounter and an extended conversation between curator/s and artist/s.

An expanded phase of a project conceived by Latitudes (Barcelona) in 2012, this new series of tours is conceived as fieldwork and an expanded studio visit. It is presented as reportage and dispatches from invited curators and artists working around the world.

Diego Bianchi is an artist based in Buenos Aires. Born in 1969, he studied Graphic Design at the University of Buenos Aires and later trained as an artist at a number of independent programmes, including the Programme for Visual Artists CCRojas-UBA-Kuitca (2003-5), and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine, USA (2006). He began exhibiting drawings in 2002 yet his practice has evolved into sculpture, performance and installation. In 2017 his solo exhibition El presente está encantador was presented at the Museum of Modern Art, Buenos Aires. Bianchi has taken part in group shows including What Matters? ¿Qué cuenta? Was zählt?, HFBK, Dresden, Germany (2016); Experiencia infinita, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), Buenos Aires, Argentina (2015); and A Terrible Beauty is Born, 11th Biennale de Lyon (2011). He teaches at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, Buenos Aires.

Alejandra Aguado is a curator based in Buenos Aires. She co-runs Móvil, a non-profit organization that since 2014 has been dedicated to exhibiting local emerging artists, and supporting what is often their first solo show—or their most ambitious production to date. Between 2016 and 2017 she conceived and curated the programme Relieves. Experiencias artísticas en territorio, an initiative of the Ministry of Culture in Argentina and arteBA Foundation, for which she developed artistic projects in dialogue with a variety of communities. Prior to founding Móvil, she was Curator at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, and Assistant Curator at Tate, London. She has a degree in Communication Studies and an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London.
Incidents (of Travel)
Episode No. 8

Edited by Latitudes
Produced by Kadist
Photographs by Ramiro Iturrioz and Alejandra Aguado
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