“In his book Royal Commentaries of the Incas, Garcilaso de la Vega affirms, as all other chroniclers do, that the ancient Peruvians didn’t have a form of writing that allowed them to express their ideas through graphic symbols with the aim of perpetuating the most important occurrences in their lives, or their achievements. It was very difficult for us, since the beginning, to resign ourselves to think the same about the Mochica civilization, who had reached very advanced cultural levels in all sorts of human activities. It was inadmissible that the agents of such a culture didn’t have, as rudimentary as it may have been, a form of expressing their ideas graphically, of conserving their history. That’s why we think that, fundamentally, civilizations are forged when, in addition to having all the means for their subsistence in abundance, they conserve a history that constantly revives the past, reflects the present, and allows a glimpse of the future.”
Rafael Larco Hoyle
“The Mochicas”, Volume I, 1938
In her work, Ximena Garrido-Lecca (Lima, Peru 1980), analyzes the politicization of public space and the use of vernacular materials that have been employed in crafts, arts, and architecture throughout Peruvian history. Her work in video explores, in non-narrative documentary form, anthropogenic landscapes that emerge as consequence of the changes in labor culture throughout different rural towns, and from the exploitation of natural resources for economic purposes. In an exercise that inverts her observations of the landscape and the economic chronicle of land-use and labor, in Botanic Insurgencies: Phaseolus lunatus Garrido-Lecca has constructed an experimental space in which the cultivation of the lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus, a large sized bean that shows in its skin variegated black and white designs) takes place in a hydroponic system conceived by the artist in collaboration with a team of producers and biologists led by Falco Manuel Garcia-Gonzalez from the university UAM Xochimilco. For the duration of the exhibition, the Cube space at Sala de Arte Público Siqeuiros will serve as a laboratory in which the legumes will be cultivated and harvested with scientific precision, and its grains will act as objects of study and graphic creation.
This living project has the ulterior intent of establishing a symbolic re-activation of the purported written system of communication employed by Moche culture, a Peruvian pre-Incan civilization that, between the years 100 and 850 CE, developed impressive hydraulic irrigation systems which allowed them to extend their agricultural frontiers in large scale, and who are well known for their significant artistic and architectural legacies. Although early chroniclers like Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and archaeologist Max Uhle declared that the advanced civilization lacked a written system of communication, by the early 20th century this hypothesis was confronted by Peruvian researchers and scholars. Rafael Larco Hoyle excelled as the highest exponent of this opposition arguing that, in fact, a written system communication did exist and was evidenced in Moche artistic legacy, revealed through ideograms and pictographs that showed messengers carrying communications engraved on lima bean grains. For Larco Hoyle, every graphic sign (starting with petroglyphs) conveys and evidences “History.” The chroniclers that denied the existence of Moche systems of drafted communication were only thinking about writing as alphabetic and phonetic. However, the meaning of Moche ideograms has not been decrypted and it is reputed by other scholars that they could have been part of a system of divination instead of a language.
Taking this into account, throughout the time the exhibition is installed, the artist will be developing a sort shamanistic translation from Spanish to the Moche language or system of divination of a chapter titled “Edicto contra la idolatría” (Edict Against Idolatry) from the book Extirpación de la idolatría del Pirú (Extirpation of Peruvian Idolatry): a kind of manual for the colonization of indigenous people through the conversion of ‘pagan’ religious traditions to Christian ones, written by the missionary Father Pablo Jose Arriaga in 1621. As the lima beans get harvested, some of the grains are chosen and endowed with a meaning that corresponds to a line from Arriaga’s text. This magic reading that reproduces, in the format of an ideogram, the detailed rules and punishments against the local religious traditions described in Arriaga’s text, is a gesture of resistance in which Garrido-Lecca employs an operation of cultural undervaluing similar to the ones that were used in the debasement of important spiritual traditions and other aspects of indigenous civilizations. This new graphic representation of the text, presented as a pictorial mural in the museum’s Façade Project, is a critical stance against the frictions, faults, and problems of intercultural interpretation.
Botanic Insurgencies…, then, is composed of various elements. First, the study of the lima bean as a pre-Hispanic symbol and the history of its interpretation, then the conversion of Arriaga’s colonial text into a Moche ideogram as a critical stand against it and, from aesthetic and practical perspectives, the integration of vernacular materials into contemporary practices and systems (the lima bean plant and clay incorporated to a hydroponic system), an exercise that the artists has developed before in her work for the exhibition Arquitectura del humo (Smoke Architecture, 2015), among others.1 In Botanic Insurgencies… Garrido-Lecca takes into account Moche agricultural legacy and their pottery heritage combining them to elaborate what could be its present or future state: a hydroponic system, which aesthetic alludes to that of an inverse pyramid or a model for a Mesoamerican ballgame, constructed mostly of clay, that sustains the millenary crop. In this alternative present or future that the artist presents us with, the seeds still bear messages. The ideograms and pictographs are no longer drawn or carved on ceramics, or temples, instead they are painted as murals by a sing maker that makes them present within the contemporary public sphere.
In a process similar to the one used in Arquitectura del humo, all of the material that will comprise the mural piece will be produced within the exhibition space. Yet in contrast to Arquitectura del humo (where the all processes occurred while the gallery was closed to the public providing the project, that already employed strategies of architectures of control, with a sinister aura) in Botanic Insurgencies… all activities (the harvesting and cultivation of the plants as well as the painting of the mural) are visible to the public. This difference emits a breath of transparency and inclusion lacking in our times of profound corruption, brazen xenophobia, and exclusion.
Recently, the New York Times published an article titled “The Internet of Things Is Coming for Us”2 in which the authors, William Neuman and Peruvian archaeologist and professor Luis Jaime Castillo Butters discuss peculiar Moche scenes that are repeated throughout their ceramics and temple walls. These sequences show a future imagined by the ancient civilization where quotidian objects –vases, weapons, and clothing items— come into life and reveal against them. Neuman and Castillo Butters use these vignettes as transmitters of a history of beliefs and myths of the future that permit them to establish a parallelism between the ancient recognition of the possibility of animism in everyday objects and the contemporary fear of intelligent technology. In this way, the writers prove Larco Hoyle’s thesis of a Moche written expression that permits us to read their fears, myths and “allows a glimpse of the future,” while substantiating Nietzsche’s theory of Eternal Recurrence (in which incidents reoccur in the same order but in different times) by reading similar suspicions between such remote cultures. Likewise, the hybrid futurism that Garrido-Leca elaborates in Botanic insurgencies… is not a nostalgic manifesto about a past that has been lost, but a radical activation of pre-Columbian ideas, systems, and aesthetics within the contemporary public, production, and artistic fields.
Michele Fiedler, February 2017, Mexico City.