In the inter-related works Gross of Chullos and Gross of Unknitted Chullos, both 2012, Ximena Garrido-Lecca considers the relationship of value and labour both in art and artisanal production. The Gross of Chullos drawn on accountancy paper are the recognisable symbol of Peruvian culture – the pointed woollen hat with ear-flaps that have been worn since Inca times, and continue to be sold in markets worldwide. Each drawing, like the hats themselves is the same, but not identical, having a unique combination of rainbow coloured bands, colours more vivid than anything nature appears to be able to conjure. For a Gross of Chullos, the yarns of 144 of these hats lie in a tangled heap on the floor. Disordered those same intense colours retain a strong sense of where they originate, their palette quite distinctly Peruvian in curious spectral way. The pinks and yellows in particular are almost unnaturally florescent in their over-dyed vividity entangled with woodland greens and the blues of skies, lakes and jagged mountains. Specific to a culture, but unwoven, undone. Such simple destructive processes of transformation stand, or perhaps rather slump, as both conceptual plays, and allegories for social and political situations.
Power is always embedded in networks, even if the current discourses around network cultures emphasise a flat hierarchy, they conveniently overlook issues of access to resources. In fact the value of any network is that it is a closed system, a select group, a typology. The lines that are drawn between one of these spaces and another is a crucial delineation of cultures – not borders as such, but lines in the sand that are contingent and mutable.
Garrido-Lecca’s sculptures and installations – a line that is particularly difficult to draw out here, which we will get to later – transplant markers of networks and movements into territorial claims. Her recent short film as part of the exhibition Paisaje Antrópico shows a bucking bull being pecked by a condor riding on its back. Played out in slow motion – both beasts becoming mythical as they fight to break free from one another against the haunting avant-garde soundtrack that acts in an almost visceral level. It’s a violent and disturbing sequence of events, which ends to reveal itself as much as entertainment as ritual – the smiling spectators watching from the edges of the rodeo.
Sasha Craddock has described Garrido-Lecca’s film Toropukllay as ‘an iconic power struggle between a bull and a condor’ which is an accurate description of the ritualistic event it documents in the highlands of Peru. And while her work is not itself a form of symbolism, it does talk of symbols. As such iconic power struggles could equally be found in much of Garrido-Lecca’s oeuvre where the symbolic functions of political iconographies or folk traditions sit side by side, as does the references to minimal, conceptual and post-minimal art forms. While these are ‘global’ art tendencies that underpin the work, mediating the vernacular architectures into the white cube, they are equally basic forms – think Carl Andre’s bricks turned inside out – culturally at least.
The works are, therefore, systemic rather than autonomous. They are not isolated representations of groups or communities, or social affects – Garrido-Lecca’s work is as much a process of making as the presentation of an object. As mentioned they are not delineated things as one might expect of a sculpture, but not enclosures that one might expect of an installation – they vacillate between these two states. Instead the exhibit more eco-logical concerns in the Guittarian triumvirate of being interconnected between material, living and psychical worlds. One could also suggest that they are semiological, not in the sense that they are bound by language, but that they represent systems of communication and support. The divisive nature of the sign/signifier/signified is collapsed into a more overgrown and eroding system of exchange.
Take, for instance Substance Turnover: American Colors, on the one hand it is the recreation of an electrical meter found, commonly, in Peru and across Latin America. The adobe bricks from which the column is built suggests its origins in the rural landscape where contingency and vernacular forms consistent with building traditions are still applied, in all their makeshift lack of precision to the matters of modernisation – the simply supply of electricity, or, as can be seen in other examples basic services such as water and sanitation.
But the work is not a monolithic column – it spreads into the electrical system of the gallery, counting off the energy it is using while on display as art. The energy itself is consumed by a single lightbulb strung from the sculpture to illuminate a cactus living in an old paint bucket from the company ‘American Colors’. Such poetic entropy in providing the basic units needed for life, hangs around the work, as the meter slowly measures them – an assisted microcosm, a model of socio-poltical dependencies.
And as much as Garrido-Lecca’s work falls between sculpture and installation, it also falls between documentation and material concerns. It touches on issues of anthropology, or perhaps more acutely the display of anthropology particularly within museums. The Walls of Progress literally build together these themes. Models of adobe brick walls observed from field trips to the Sacred Valley and represented in the gallery in miniature. Each wall is painted with what, to the outsiders eye, seems like crudely sketched advertising – the logos suggesting agricultural supplies like those on the anonymous, but often patriotic plastic raffia sacks used in markets throughout the highlands. But, in fact, these slogans are for political campaigns in elections – be they localised revolutionary groups or national governmental parties. On a toy scale, the individual walls are architectural – but together the 16 walls operate on a secondary level, as testament and survey of both vernacular architectures and vernacular social issues, and the often precarious territories between private and personal space being played out in various strata of the landscape – be it the rural or the political.
As such, we might say that Garrido-Lecca’s works are systemic examples of eco-governmental power, the system defined by Foucault. One might equally refer to them as heterotopic – another of Foucault’s defining concepts that captures the tendency of defining ‘Other Places’ as distillations of independence in their particularities that define some form of resistance without being revolutionary.
As Philip Stokes points out “The theme that underlies all Foucault’s work is the relationship between power and knowledge, and how the former is used to control and define the latter.” [Philip Stokes, Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers, 2004.]
That the second principle ‘Of Other Spaces’ is the cemetery as heterotopia brings these aspects of Garrido-Lecca’s practice into closer proximity to this critical thinking, but not only in its most obvious forms. The sculptures based on shrines – both individual graves from cemeteries, or the multi-storey, low-rent catacombs of the nichos in her large-scale installation The Followers represent this other space directly. But there is throughout the practice a maudlin sense of loss and death that mirrors the overlaying of two times that Foucault identifies.
In the light of this strand to Garrido-Lecca’s practice we could start to see The Walls of Progress – while suggesting development into the future, could equally be headstones of sorts, marking the constant erasure of one regime with another, a cycle of local independent played out against an inevitable disappearance of traditions and customs as time rolls on through modernization.