The influential Latin American contemporary art web magazine Artishock features and in-depth review of our latest virtual exhibition, CUIR, Curated by Chiachio & Giannone, and an interview with the curators, by artist and academic Leonardo Casas.
Find the complete publication here (in Spanish).
English translation available below.
CONSTRUCTING POLY-IDENTITIES. CHIACHIO & GIANNONE ON (THE) "CUIR"
In times of change, of confinement and readjustment, of tragic calculations in which public traffic has been restricted on a global level due to the outbreaks of Covid-19, all public spaces have had to rethink themselves. What has happened to exhibition spaces nowadays is paradigmatic. All those principles and formalities that by force of habit we thought would never be altered have merged with digital technology to survive. The results have been varied, but what is certain is that the internet, as well as making us question ourselves about the value of the real over the virtual, has maintained us in a relative centre and, at the same time, has been reborn as a territory for interaction and the circulation of new ideas.
On the local scene, Isabel Croxatto Galería has put itself at the forefront of these inexorable changes. For a few months now, through its digital platform ICG+, it has launched a series of virtual exhibitions of high visual impact. It presents CUIR, until the end of March, exhibition curated by the Argentinean collective Chiachio & Giannone that gathers the work of twenty artists from different latitudes, generations and aesthetic and political stances.
CUIR is Spanglish for the term "queer", which can be traced back as far as the 16th century when everything that was "strange" or "peculiar" was designated as "queer". In the late 19th century, the word was used to describe those men who were "feminine" or suspected of living in a relationship with a person of the same gender. Until the late 20th century, and in the context of a greater radicalisation and visualisation of gayness, "queer" was a pejorative way of referring to those who adopted a passive role in a sexual relationship or who exhibited a notorious non-conformity with the standard idea of gender. The moment in which queer is installed as a radical break with the behavioural expectations of patriarchy is situated in the 1990s, when authors such as Michelangelo Signorile (Queer in America), Kate Bornstein (Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us) or the actions of Queer Nation, claim and facilitate the ideological recovery of the word as the affirmative expression of the LGTB community. Today queer is synonymous with dissent from the patriarchal norm, it is the expression of the radical reformulation of notions of gender, sexuality or race.
"Being queer is not about a right to privacy; it is about the freedom to be public, to be who we are. It means fighting every day against oppression, homophobia, racism, misogyny, the bigotry of religious hypocrites and our own self-hatred".
Queer Nation Manifesto, 1990
Chiachio & Giannone's curatorship explores the different perspectives that, from the queer, are manifested through the visual arts to put into context the social, cultural and political reality of our times. Combining embroidery, photography, drawing, painting, video and performance, the collective's axes of interest can be traced in the expression of love and sexuality, reflections on identity, intergenerational encounters and family.
In Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homos So Different, So Appealing?, Joey Terrill interprets the seminal 1956 collage by the English artist Richard Hamilton. Terrill's work appropriates the same criterion of accumulation of everyday images that guided Hamilton's operation, taking it to a biographical extreme and in accordance with contemporary reality: the explosion of homosexual desire takes place among consumer products, objects of desire, but also among antiretroviral drugs and in spaces signified by a political conscience. On the other hand, Aaron McIntosh presents a group of watercolours where the fetish garments surpass the prominence of the body. From another perspective, the gaze and desire displace their object of pleasure. Perhaps the next forms of sexualisation and contact will take place with objects of desire rather than with possible bodies.
Identity as a dynamic category, always in the process of redefinition, is a theme that runs through most of the works in CUIR. For the series Queer Icons (2014), Gabriel García Román used Renaissance, Flemish and Christian portraits as compositional and conceptual models. The portrayed figures represent the wide human diversity that on a daily basis and from different everyday contexts, position themselves in front of a hostile world and/or not fully prepared for their corporealities, racial traits or lifestyles. Following the making of this series, García Román invited his models to write about their portraits. "From the queer Latina fighting for immigration rights to the trans Filipina with a non-binary disability, the artist perceived these figures as heroes in their own right", reads a text published by the author on the gallery's website.
In a more disturbing line of exploration, but not without irony, artist Juvenal Barría presents the video Martuca is Alive. Juvenal is Martuca, Martuca is Juvenal, she takes her Bach drops, takes off her dress (the most aggressive indicator of her social condition?), puts on rubber gloves to clean and begins the transformation of the volume of her breasts, with sponges of three for the price of two. The mirror is us. The music heard in the distance sets the mood for this moment of intimacy. Barría suggests how between the desire and curiosity of a gaze, and between the intimacy of the construction of the identity of the other, the crudest and most sincere dynamics take place not only within our society but also within our morality.
Cristina Coll began to work in performance in 1996, but her career as a painter goes back a long way. In CUIR she presents two works in which she adopts and plays with the notion of cultural dominance that has historically been attributed to the masculine: Cristina travels to universal military history, transforming herself into Napoleon (Napoleón, photography, 2009) and to the dark pop history of Argentina (Un muchacho como yo, video, 2015). The artist plays with the paradox of the delirium of being another. She transforms herself into Napoleon, the little man who broke Josephine's heart and went on to conquer Egypt. The famous man who inspires dictators and political whippersnappers. In popular culture, this role of man, of hero, has allowed those who possess a man's body to be the general of their destiny, to exercise oppression and violence and to be popularly acclaimed. At the same time, being Napoleon is a symptom of the loss of reason, of emotional simulacra. In the video Un muchacho como yo, dressed in white and attuned to the frenzy of the pop past, Cristina dances to a piece by Palito Ortega himself. Although it is not apparent, the artist plays with the ambiguity of secrecy and the dynamics of appearances. Palito Ortega was a youth idol in the 1960s and 70s, governor of Tucumán, known for supporting the military during the Proceso (1976-1983) and father of a large family (at the age of 20, his eldest son confessed his homosexuality to his parents, and his father declared that he "couldn't talk about it"). In the clip, the irony between the fiction of the ideal and the anxiety of reality is deceptive and moves (like all identity) from one side to the other, perhaps in step with Cristina's dance. The ambiguity of the song's message and the connotation that the character carries in popular culture turns the artist into the mirror of a perverse socio-cultural context.
As a sort of corollary to the exhibition, two works made in 2021 are included: Cuir I and Cuir II. In each of these textile mosaics on canvas, two heads can be seen emerging from the waters to intertwine by their respective beards: Chiachio & Giannone are present in each of their works as protagonists of a collective future. Together they build in community a possible world of affective bonds and spaces of humanity that are habitable for the great diversity of people that converge in the queer universe. Their interest in manual and popular craftsmanship leads them to develop a work where embroidery is the basis and the communicational bridge with other techniques, such as hand-painted ceramics, collage or drawing. Their large-scale embroidered tableaux contain numerous symbols and aesthetic meanings from various times and cultures and recreate domestic references, scenes from history, mythology or the amalgamated fantasy that characterises our times.
On the occasion of the exhibition CUIR, I talked with Leo Chiachio (Buenos Aires, 1969) and Daniel Giannone (Córdoba, 1964) about their project as curators and as artists who exist within a dimension of hyper-production.
In CUIR, works by artists from different decades and experiences coexist. For example, on one side is the series Queer Icons by Gabriel García Román, and on the other the work Lxs padres y lxs hijxs o los Javieres y quienes ya no están by Federico Casalinuovo. What points of tension on a generational/thematic level did you seek to produce at the moment of intertwining and articulating the selection of works and the route of the exhibition?
Daniel: What interested us in this dialogue, in which we included the work of different artists and with whom we share poetics, was precise that there should be a representation of all the generations. Generations that flowed in a very different way in terms of today's LGTBQ community. And we also understood that the reality of the Northern Hemisphere is not the same as that of the South in terms of how rights were won for the collective. This factor also gave rise to the appearance of different poetics, born at different times and in different realities and situations, where the artists decide to work and put their voices.
Leo: Besides, we tried to contribute or help each one of the works to strengthen each other, in that coexistence, so that they could meet at the same time. For example, you talk about Gabriel García Román and Federico Casalinuovo... these works were never seen live and neither had they been seen virtually, so it was interesting to see what happened in that dialogue, or with the work of Cristina Coll alongside Juvenal... those distances or proximities that were being created and that allowed each one of the works to take on a different and new potential.
Daniel: The bridges that are established are interesting, how the interpretation expands when these works that belong to artists of different generations and that are produced from different scenes are put into dialogue because the local scenes at a certain point also establish guidelines. The realities of society, of the LGTBQ community in the Northern Hemisphere as much as in the South, or for example in Chile/Buenos Aires, were constructed in a very different way and this has a direct impact on the way of production or the interests of these artists at the moment of deciding to put an image to their respective voices. So, what is being established is extremely interesting for us. Besides, it was the first time we could see all these artists simultaneously, in an exhibition, here in the local scene. When we talk about the local scene - Argentina or what could be Chile - it's clear that we're not used to exhibitions where all these voices are put into conversation.
Amid this nocturnal vibe that runs through the exhibition, we are shown works that elaborate on male eroticism in various forms: the toy-boy (John Thomas Paradiso or Balbuena), the object fetish (McIntosh) or images of sex alone, in couples and/or in groups. What "role" do you assign to the expression of (male) sexuality within the project?
Leo: Sexuality and eroticism were themes to be dealt with and talked about in this exhibition; what we see is that it is not only masculine, but there is also something feminine and there is also something queer. At one point it was like talking a little about that, and also, as we know in any curatorship, any cut is always little, isn't it? Or something is always missing, but we also see, for example, in the work of Curtis Putralk, Cristina Coll or Juvenal a certain queer or non-masculine sexuality. We were also interested in exploring in CUIR another way of talking about dissident bodies, as in the case of Rubén Esparza's work, Jesús, which photographs the body of a trans man from the front. The idea was, as far as possible, to put voices to all these dissents that exist in the contemporary world.
Thinking about the content of works like Maricón Sushi, by Sebastián Calfuqueo, for example, we see that even in the 21st century we live in a society that discharges its ignorance through discriminatory acts, phobias (towards the trans, the other). How do you think that projects like CUIR make it possible to generate a discussion around themes such as the relation with the other and inclusion?
Leo: When we started to think about the selection and the crossing of artists we were always interested in going deeper into the theme of inclusion and continuing to talk about certain issues. For example, within the collective, we can always talk amongst ourselves, but when we put it in context and project it to society, the question arises about the nature of phobia, discrimination or aggression.
Daniel: For example, very different work situations and impossibilities for people who belong or don't belong to the collective.
Leo: We think it's interesting to continue doing this kind of exhibitions, to think about these types of discourses, to generate dialogues that collaborate to build a more tolerant way of thinking. The CUIR exhibition can be seen online and has a wider reach: it has been seen in China, in India, in France, in the United States, in Uruguay, and a large part of Latin America. We believe that this will mean building a much more tolerant way of thinking. On the other hand, a good percentage of the selected artists are Latin American or Latino, so it's also like continuing to be linked to this part of dissidence and minorities; we too, as part of these dissents and minorities, find a group of belonging.
Daniel: The challenges and achievements of the collective have also been very different: they are as if they are out of time from one scene to the next, and it seems to us that while there are still problems of discrimination, homophobia, or, for example, all the crimes that have occurred in Argentina in the last year, where we have had almost one crime per day of the year - almost 365 crimes - these voices must continue to be given a place so that we can build a more just society, with rights and opportunities for all.
Leo: We would like to clarify that the murders, which were almost one every 30 something hours, were femicides, which obviously continues to be very serious. We believe that these displays as instances for education go with our desire to build a more tolerant and more peaceful society... at least it is a wish.
Throughout your production, there has been a systematic visualisation of the arts and crafts within a space dominated by the so-called "fine" - or traditional - arts, as well as the recognition of the work of craftsmen and craftswomen, the work of women artists ignored by the history of art. What has it meant for you to open this Pandora's box? Did you feel or do you feel at some point that you were assuming responsibility or mission?
Daniel: It's important to say that our parents had crafts and we grew up watching our parents work with their hands. For us it was also important that from a very young age we grew up in homes where manual work was a value and we had the opportunity to experiment with different techniques such as painting, ceramics, always working from the perspective of the craft. Furthermore, as we matured, and as we followed a different training path from each other, we both agreed that we were fascinated by the crafts for the pleasure of working with textures, with materials, and this, when we decided to develop our work as a duo, we incorporated it into our language.
Leo: When you say you're opening Pandora's box, the crazy thing is that we're inside that Pandora's box, because the interest we have in these productions, in the symbolic world, has always fascinated us in our training. In the choice of materials, of artists' referents, both in Argentina and in other parts of the world, and this kind of B-class look at art that was being produced. We've always had that fascination, which ends up being a bit more of a mission than a responsibility when we talk about this because it's also to perpetuate this chosen family within the world of art and crafts; we're not very interested in dividing that boundary between one and the other.
Daniel: Over the years in our creative process as a duo we discovered artists who worked with the same poetics and with the same way of treating materials, which also made us pay attention to all those artists who in one way or another worked like us in trying to blur the borders or limits between gender and work. When we began to work, we were particularly interested to see how in other decades, in the last century, artists, especially women, who were excellent painters, decided to transfer their craft (because the historical moment, the scene at that time, required it) to other techniques, such as tapestry or textiles or ceramics. This is basically what happened at the time of the Bauhaus, for example, when the school of tapestry and ceramics was created, and where women artists were practically directed, and it is precisely there, in tapestry or ceramics, that they managed to find a certain place and be recognised. This happened on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. We also felt it was important to rescue these works and to support the history and the work of these artists who were either not given the recognition they deserved by art history at the time, or whose recognition came too late.
"Group work dilutes the notion of individuality" is often mentioned as a significant feature of your creative process. Does this imply living in a state of permanent work and production?
Leo: One of the things we have as a leitmotiv of our production is that we never separate art and life, it's one thing. This way of producing as a pair is always a continuum, of talking, of constructing ideas, of thinking, of things that we are always thinking about and that remain for a moment in a kind of freezer and then are taken out to be able to work. At times, finding materials or ideas or links or part of life becomes an important part of our work. In these constructions, one of the themes that we also work on or that we take as part of the concept of the CUIR exhibition is the construction of identities, constructing an identity that is a poly-identity.
Daniel: In our work the dialogue is permanent and there is always a process of work and research that we share and where we always look for a third alternative, which is neither Leo's nor Daniel's option, but Chiachio & Giannone's option. It is a synergy that is achieved, and in this synergy, all the limits of personal authorship are erased, which is one of the interests that were present from the beginning in our projects and creative process, and which responds to the idea of how we wanted to live from the moment we decided to work and be together in life, where art would go through all our lives and there would be no individualities.
On a conceptual level, the questioning of binarisms such as art/craft or masculine/feminine is presented as a possible reading option for your work, but also the love and dedication to a craft that is capable of opening up unimagined worlds. What happens when your work moves from the studio and the gallery to the public space, to work with different communities?
Leo: What happens when our production leaves the studio is that another kind of dialogue begins to take place, a dialogue with a real audience. We have an imaginary public, but when it comes to putting it into that real dialogue, it always grows in different ways, it always goes elsewhere; that's one of the things that interests us most about sharing with people, about the talks, the work we do in the community because it happens to us a lot with embroidery when we do these actions with the community, like when we did the Bordatón at Isabel Croxatto with the people who visited us. The activity takes us back to memories, and there is something in the collective unconscious that will take you to places of great affection. So that's one of the things we want to rescue: that memory of the affection of each one of us when we work, which is what happens to us in our work. A space for reflection is also built, as was the case with the flags we made at the Museum of Latin American Art in Los Angeles, which was a community construction.
Daniel: Another important theme is that when Chiachio & Giannone decide to move the white cube from the exhibition or gallery to the studio, this has the intention of extending the limits of the collaborative process we undertake to make the spectator an accomplice. On the other hand, what also interests us in making ourselves visible or showing ourselves in action, working, is to contribute in a more direct way to clear the limits that exist between work and craft, between gender and work, and to make it even more visible. Every moment or interaction that takes place in this process is very interesting for us because it also allows the other (the viewer) to complete the meaning or the contribution that our work can make when we address issues such as, for example, why it is important to celebrate diversity or to live in diversity. The concept or the thought that is constructed collectively makes a greater contribution.
While researching on your website -chiachiogiannone.com- I came across a reflection: "Contemporary art (reaches a point where it) has been silenced through a series of protocols that finally dictate its forms of production". In the current state of things, where the threat of the pandemic leads us to assume a series of redefinitions and transformations, where do these protocols stand, and how do you perceive or imagine the immediate future for the production and development of art?
Daniel: This situation of pandemic crisis came to expand contemporary art and the world of possibilities; of course the impossibility of inhabiting more shows in exhibition spaces is irreplaceable because the link that is established between the spectator and the artwork is very different to the link that is established when visiting a virtual exhibition, even the link that is established between the work of one artist and another in an exhibition setting. For us, it is fundamental to rethink this new way of being present, of how to inhabit the exhibitions. Physical distancing was not during this pandemic a social distancing, because it was proven that we communicate: what changed was how we communicate and are present with each other.
Moreover, there was a very interesting manifestation that took place around this pandemic: the local, or the possibility of the visit, was surpassed by the global, where the global and virtual space no longer had a limit and we were able -which is precisely what happened with the CUIR show- to do it in the virtual exhibition space of Isabel's gallery. The exhibition spaces on a global scale were closed but didn't stop, they continued to be open in other ways, and what was also a learning process is this, how we learn to inhabit these virtual spaces and how to re-signify them. For example, some exhibitions took place in public spaces, in drive-in theatres, on balconies, in the gardens of museums, and other spaces were inhabited. In all this quarantine or isolation, one of the things that all of us artists have realised is that we carry the experience of confinement in our bodies. Surely with time, we're going to see how it impacts or how it will be reflected in the way contemporary art is produced.
Leo: We also believe that the production is going to be a little more concise, a little more humble, closer to the possibilities, without using too many economic resources, because in any case, we don't have so many economic resources in contemporary art from the latitude where we are producing. We believe that what is coming is going to be of great sensitive intelligence, all the concepts and what is worked on in local productions. We believe, or at least we lean towards that side, that mega-productions will not have so much space in the major centres. We believe that each region or each production in each of the places where we are is going to be a great power.
Daniel: Another important point is that social media or virtual spaces allowed the democratisation of the content. This is very important because it's something quite new, at least in the local scene here in Argentina. Many people were willing to occupy these spaces and enjoy them, and also what happened is that other voices could be heard. And this democratisation, the fact that many people decided to occupy these spaces and enjoy them, also made it possible to create new communities through the internet, to create a very different sensation to what we were used to experiencing until now.
Leo: And also what the pandemic, this seclusion, brought is understanding or knowing how to coexist with disillusionment and failure. We are a generation that doesn't put up with that much, and neither do the younger generations. It is an apprenticeship because the pandemic and the disease bring us face to face with that sense of failure. It's going to be interesting to live with that and see how we get out of it.