|Misplaced Ruins: Bridging the Gap Between Huaca and Contemporaneity
The Peruvian territory was home to many ancient cultures, from the Norte Chico civilization on what is now the North-Central coast of Peru (the oldest known in South America) to the Inca Empire, who dominated the Andes region from 1438-1533 (the largest state in Pre-Columbian America). The Spanish Empire colonized the region in the 16th century and established the capital in Lima, which is still the capital city. Peru gained its independence formally in 1821, although they remained in recession until an economic boom corresponding with the extraction of raw materials. Peru entered the War of the Pacific in 1879 with Bolivia against Chile, which ended in 1884 with a Chilean victory. Peru was caught in the middle of the conflict at first, bound to Bolivia by a secret treaty of alliance; Chile called for Peru to remain neutral but Peru refused. Lima was occupied for a brief time in 1881 by Chilean forces. Both Peru and Bolivia lost a significant amount of land in the war. The country has ranged in governmental systems from oligarchy to democracy and has endured periods of political unrest and internal conflicts.
The Shining Path, or the Communist party of Peru, first launched internal conflict in 1980, claiming to be the vanguard of the world communist movement and aiming to replace what they saw as a bourgeois democracy with “New Democracy.” The Shining Path are classified by the Peruvian government, the United States, the EU, and Canada as a terrorist organization, killing an estimated 69,280 people with an additional 4,000 people missing.
In 2007, Alberto Fujimori (Peruvian president from 1990-2000) went on trial for the murder of 25 people killed by an army death squad during his rule. In 2009, he was sentenced to 25 years in jail for crimes against humanity, specifically for ordering killings and kidnappings by security forces. Later in 2009, he was additionally sentenced 7 and a half years in prison for embezzlement. Fujimori is, however, credited with defeating the Shining Path and restoring Peru’s economy at the time.
The country’s main economic activities include mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing. With recent improved terms of trade contributing to economic growth, it is expected that Peru’s economy will continue to improve steadily since their free trade agreement with the United States in 2006. Peru’s main exports include copper, zinc, gold, textiles, and fish meal. The main language spoken is Spanish, although a large number of Peruvians still speak native languages such as Quechua. Roughly 45% of Peru’s population are Amerindians, the two major indigenous groups being the Quechua and the Aymara. Roughly 37% of Peru’s population are Mestizo, or a person of combined European and Amerindian descent in Spain and Spanish America. In a recent census, as much as 81% of the population described themselves as Catholic, a remnant among many of colonization in Peruvian culture. A mixture of strong cultural traditions has contributed to diverse artistic practices as well as a vast array of literature and musical traditions.
As described by Gilda Mantilla and Raimond Chaves, Peru has very peculiar weather conditions where it remains foggy, on the precipice of an always distant and never arriving rain. The collaborative duo wanted to connect the weather conditions of Lima to the idea of fatality in reference specifically to those as a result of political unrest in Peru: While researching the weather conditions of Peru for this project, they spotted a man pushing a trolley with a load of cardboard to a processing facility and decided to investigate.
This idea of the cheap substance that is recycled and repurposed but always hidden behind a nicer exterior became the substance of Misplaced Ruins as a metaphor for the political unrest in Peru and the disappearances/deaths of its citizens hidden beneath a carefully crafted image of the country as a tourist destination. As a statement to the world about Peru, the duo used recycled cardboard from Peru in six different orientations: As a grid curving down from the wall to the floor as an expanse of grey in reference to Lima’s grey skies, as a calendar where each day’s square represents the color of Lima’s skies on that day of the month, as rows of recycled cardboard held upright as if for shipping or for sale, as a sheet of cardboard suspended in a vitrine half-full of water (and left to disintegrate), as a pile in a vitrine of shredded cardboard ready for the recycling process, and as stacks of bundled cardboard cut to the size and shape of Peru’s paper currency.
In order to enter the space, viewers had to ascend and descend a large yellow pyramidal staircase reminiscent of the ancient Inca and Note-Chico ruins that are scattered throughout the landscape, a reference to Peru’s pre-Columbian architecture. An audio track ran ominously in the background, as well, referencing traditional music and sounds from Peru’s landscape and history then altered by the artists.
Misplaced Ruins attempted to explore the local issues of Peru as they translate into a Global context. The work was intended to be relatable enough to a Global audience that lacking an in-depth knowledge of Peruvian history wouldn’t inhibit the viewer from gaining an experience with the work; however, when a viewer is more attuned to the political concepts at play in the installation, the work truly shines. Curators of contemporary Peruvian art seem to advocate for a means of working that breaks through the traditional manifestations of culture and the country’s pre-Columbian past (which is usually highlighted as a marketing strategy for the commercial exploitation of tourism) and towards a promotion of contemporaneity, yet without forgetting Peru’s history but instead constantly reinventing its role in the arts. It seems fitting that Max Hernández-Calvo would highlight the work of a collaborative pair who’s work so delicately traverses this line between Global and Local, Past and Present, for the country’s debut in their own Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015. In addition, the work made for the Biennale is so deeply rooted in a Peruvian reality: conceptually, historically, meteorologically, and materially. Latin American artists must constantly fight for visibility, especially when most Latin American countries’ only opportunity to exhibit in the Biennial is in the Latin American Pavilion and/or under the shadow of the Mexican, Argentinian, and Brazilian pavilions (specific Latin American countries whose contemporary artistic production is more visible and frequently distributed globally). It is within these contexts that I would argue Misplaced Ruins was an incredible success.
Raimond Chaves was born in Bogota, Columbia, in 1963, and raised in Barcelona, Spain. Chaves received a degree in Fine Arts from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in 1989. Currently, Chaves is based in Lima where he has worked collaboratively with Gilda Mantilla, life partner, since 2001, while also maintaining a solo career. Chaves & Mantilla were featured in the 27th Biennial of São Paulo in 2006. Raimond Chaves is represented by Revolver Gallery in Lima, Peru, and ProjecteSD in Barcelona, Spain. Raimond Chaves’ work is based in political, cultural, and social investigations into the Latin American context, attempting to counter stereotypes surrounding Latin American countries and attempting to offer alternate views of these places. He often utilizes illustrative means of rendering images, drawing with graphite and ink, but also often works with video, QuickTime animation of photographs, and sculptural installations utilizing readymade materials that are regionally specific. He is interested in allowing his work to investigate the role of images in the global (mis)understanding of the Peruvian landscape. Raimond Chaves represented Peru alongside Gilda Mantilla in the 56th Venice Biennale of 2015, Peru’s first year occupying a National Pavilion of their own, in an exhibition titled Misplaced Ruins in the Arsenale.
Gilda Mantilla was born in Los Angeles, United States, in 1967, and raised in Lima, Peru. Mantilla received a BFA from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú with honors in painting in 1990. Currently, Mantilla is based in Lima where she has worked collaboratively with Raimond Chaves, life partner, since 2001, while also maintaining a solo career. Mantilla & Chaves were featured in the 27th Biennial of São Paulo in 2006. Gilda Mantilla is represented by Revolver Gallery in Lima, Peru, and ProjecteSD in Barcelona, Spain. Mantilla represented Peru in the 2003 Venice Biennale as a part of the Latin America pavilion. Gilda Mantilla’s work is (also) based in political, cultural, and social investigations into the Latin American context, attempting to counter stereotypes surrounding Latin American countries and attempting to offer alternate views of these places. She often utilizes illustrative means of rendering images, drawing with graphite and ink, but also often works with video, QuickTime animation of photographs, and sculptural installations utilizing readymade materials that are regionally specific. She is interested in allowing his work to investigate the role of images in the global (mis)understanding of the Peruvian landscape. Gilda Mantilla represented Peru alongside Raimond Chaves in the 56th Venice Biennale of 2015, in Misplaced Ruins.