Magazine Article
South as a State of Mind (Kunsthalle Athens), Summer 2012: 126-128. Print.

Less is More: La Loseta and the Economy of Means

Presenting artworks outside of the strict confines of an institutional setting is at times a subversive act. One that allows ample space for experimentation, the proliferation of creative impulses, and a tangible exploration of the economy of means. As an artist or curator, using a private residence as an exhibition platform is both liberating and exhilarating and, in fact, has been employed as a recourse for artistic practices that have been relegated or marginalized either on political grounds or as a consequence of dire economic times. A case in point is the surge of apartment shows in Leningrad (today St. Petersburg) during the second half of the 20th century, where artists whose work did not conform to the strict parameters of socialist realism were rejected by the political establishment and consequently blacklisted. As a result, and with an unbridled desire to show their works, these “unofficial” artists used private residences as exhibition spaces developing art events, happenings, and performances.

Today, in our current global economic crisis, apartment shows continue to be a consistent and cost-effective resource for exhibiting artistic practices. Here, an alternative to the allegedly neutral exhibition space or “white cube” is constructed, which offers artists and viewers innovative ways to approach visual practice, not as a set of commodities but as a practice that truly incorporates the everyday. In San Juan, Puerto Rico a project titled La Loseta (the tile) initiated by artist Radamés ‘Juni’ Figueroa, spearheaded a one-year program of 12 monthly exhibitions during 2011 with local as well as international artists and curators whom Figueroa met during the course of his travels: Adriana Lara (Mexico), Jesús ‘Bubu’ Negrón (Puerto Rico), Matura Sucias Ratas (Puerto Rico), Gerardo Contreras (Mexico), Stefan Benchoam (Guatemala), Kristen Fink (Puerto Rico), Joel Rodríguez (Puerto Rico), Christopher Rivera (Puerto Rico), Esther Planas (UK), José ‘Pepe’ Rojas (Mexico), José Vera Matos (Peru) and Pablo León de la Barra (UK). Although La Loseta was comprised of 12 distinct exhibitions, as a whole, the project encouraged self-management, experimentation, interdisciplinarity, and artistic cooperation without regards to geographic location.

The title of the project, La Loseta, references the floor of Figueroa’s San Juan apartment, which consists of hand-made cement tiles with geometric patterns that conform to what is called in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands ‘creole tiles’. These tiles were first imported from Barcelona to Puerto Rico around 1900 and then produced locally in Santurce, Puerto Rico. They were widely used in houses, government buildings and apartment buildings throughout the island until they became outdated during the 1960’s. Providing a historical as well as an aesthetic setting to the exhibition program – the opposite of a sterile white cube environment- the tiled floor functioned not only as an essential support and backdrop, but also as an indispensable focal point from which to produce works.

Often made with e-mailed instructions and digital files, the first exhibition was a xylograph by Mexican artist Adriana Lara titled Index, which showed a hand signaling with its index finger which, according to the artist’s instructions, could be pointing to any direction. Figueroa chose to present it pointing upwards, referring to the first of a yearly cycle of exhibitions in his residence. The exhibition that followed, titled Alive and Kicking, showcased works by Puerto Rican artist Jesús ‘Bubu’ Negrón, who produced several small scale versions of a previous work titled Colillón Masculino; a cigarette-end sculpture comprised of glued cigarette-ends that the artist collected from the streets as a sort of urban anthropological survey. Guatemalan artist Stefan Benchoam, referencing a sculpture by Figueroa titled El Arcoiris, presented a video documentation of an action, whereby he created a rainbow by pouring paint buckets over the side of a cement slope next to a road.

Other artists recurred to minimal interventions and situations that necessitated the direct participation of visitors. Christopher Rivera, for instance, established a provisional and rather improvised tattoo shop where visitors could get a tattoo of the logo of the rock’n roll band of their choosing. For his part, Joel Rodríguez opted to physically intervene and alter the architectural structure of the space by drilling a hole on the wall of the living room, thereby creating a peephole where one could take pleasure in the view of the city of San Juan and its commercial pier. Seemingly alluding to the interplay between the public and the private sphere posited by an apartment exhibition program such as La Loseta, this aperture towards the outside suggested the deconstruction of this dual opposition; a minimal intervention that highlited space itself.

For the 12th and final exhibition, Figueroa invited London-based curator Pablo León de la Barra to develop a project which embodied the spirit of La Loseta in both form and content. Gathering a group of Puerto Rican and international artists, La Gran Bienal Tropical: Trópico Abierto approached visual practice from the myth of “Tropicality” as pronounced by Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica in late the 1960’s, which was not a set of particular objects, geographic locations or clichés, but best represented as an attitude that entailed a conscious and deliberate rupture from the establishment. Parting from this ideological framework, de la Barra selected specific works to create a “tropical” scene of sculptures, installations, and actions. Staged in the surroundings of the beachfront food kiosk La Comay in the town of Loíza, Trópico Abierto was not an ordinary biennial. Although the event gathered a group of international artists working within a curatorial framework, it disregarded the pompous grandeur and financial muscle-flexing that characterizes the international biennial circuit. The artists who were invited to participate from abroad, ranging from countries such as Cuba, Costa Rica, and Brazil, sent their works as detailed instructions, employing perishable materials and ordinary objects which were readily available, inexpensive, and relatively easy to find. In what de la Barra defined as a “green cube,” works by Wilfredo Prieto, Erika Verzutti, Karlo Andrei Ibarra, Guillermo Rodríguez, Federico Herrero, and José Lerma, among others were shown. A reiteration on the feasibility of the economy of means in art practice represented by projects such as La Loseta, Trópico Abierto assembled artists and the local community, directly engaging context and content within a theoretical framework.

Despite relying on a restricted budget, La Loseta additionally succeeded in achieving an international projection with presentations in Medellin, Colombia, Porto Alegre, Brazil (on the occasion of the Bienal do Mercosul) and Barcelona, Spain. La Loseta cannot be merely dismissed as an alternative art space, but rather defined as a viable economic model for exhibition making; merging art practice with the everyday, and actively breaking the divisions between the public and the private realm.

Carla Acevedo-Yates