To Be Self-Sufficient in Chile
Stories of ExperienceAugust 12, 2015
The absence of a culture that values the visual arts as a tool for social change and intellectual enrichment has been, in the case of Chile, both a hindrance on artistic development itself as much as a driving force behind new and creative ways of thinking. While on the one hand erratic public policies having to do with the most basic needs of the cultural sector are undermining their capacity for action—as happens, for example, with museums and their precarious financing and infrastructure—on the other hand, those same flaws are precisely what have led cultural managers and artists to create their own channels of visibility.
An important factor here is education. In Chile, so-called academicism has an impact on who, what and how art flows, both inside and outside the country. The “brand” of an art school often determines the future careers of young artists. In speaking of art education I mean a broader dimension: poor social understanding of the importance of visual arts for the integral development of the country. This has to do partly with the way knowledge is distributed; the upper classes receive, basically, a good technical education but poor training in the arts and humanities, while disadvantaged sectors, because of a lack of resources, get a very poor education, especially in art. This points to how little importance the authorities attach to promoting the development of critical and reflective thinking.
This lack of interest—which is not only confined to the state but also extends to the private sector—inevitably translates into weak financial support for the arts, with the exception of public funding that the Council of Culture delivers for specific short-term projects, but not for sustaining initiatives of proven quality over time. Thus, culture, and the visual arts in particular, are subject to state subsidies and lack of private enterprise. As an artist and director of a non-commercial gallery told me, it is as if they were denying artists and cultural producers the right to recognize their activity, as well as depriving society itself of the knowledge and sensitivity agents and artists can provide.
But it is precisely here, at this point of the convergence of factors, that the power of self-management rises and we start to gauge the vital importance of its existence in Chile. After all, it is these self-run spaces—and only rarely, institutions—that have shown a real ability to read the context and widely disseminate the uniqueness of local contemporary art. In this sense, it’s likely that self-management can well be taken as an important and constructive factor in the Chilean scene in a system that activates certain creative abilities which are then reused in other areas and for other purposes.
Here, then, I present some of these successful, currently operational, Santiago-based initiatives.
Fundación Taller Arte BLOC
Taller BLOC [BLOC workshop], one of the capital’s most established and experienced alternative spaces, was founded by artists Catalina Bauer, Rodrigo Canala, Rodrigo Galecio, Gerardo Pulido and Tomás Rivas. Installed in a former bakery in the Providencia district since late 2009, BLOC functions as a center of activities related to the production, training, and dissemination of visual arts, including its well-known mentoring program for emerging artists, taught by the space’s founding artists.
BLOC has also developed a program of conversations with both Chilean and foreign artists, short-term exhibitions of mentored and guest artists, electronic music concerts, performances, and presentations of contemporary dance, and forums for dialogue and reflection about artistic production, responding to needs that were present at the time of its inception and are still in force. "BLOC was founded on the basis of friendship, and at the same time, the urgent need to provide a platform for both its members and for the artists who, since 2010, have been members of the Annual Mentorship Program," say the founders.
Motivated by a desire to be accessible and to connect with other contexts, it uses various mechanisms to develop not only local but international exchanges, establishing partnerships with other art spaces and institutions, such as Residencias de Arte URRA [Art Residencies URRA] in Argentina, la Escuela de Arte de la Universidad Católica de Chile [the School of Art of the Catholic University of Chile], the website Letrasenlínea, and online radio Molécule.
In 2011, BLOC formalized a directory with its five founding artists and the addition of two new members, Matías Mori and Peter Morse, a lawyer and a financial advisor, respectively, who have collaborated in the development of an integrated vision of the project. Since 2013, BLOC has had the legal rights and obligations of a Foundation. Currently, management is the responsibility of Rodrigo Canala, Tomás Rivas, Gerardo Pulido and Rodrigo Galecio, along with artist Paula Dittborn, who serves as a mentor, and Peter Morse, a board member.
The BLOC management model is based on collaborative work. Each of its members has many functions, from managing financial resources through sponsorship and donations to content editing and management of infrastructure. The board decides matters relating to the orientation of the institution in terms of educational, curatorial and editorial perspective. As a non-profit foundation, it seeks donations from the private sector and from public companies benefiting from the Cultural Donations Act[i]. Funding also supports tuition for artists participating in the Annual Mentoring Program, including scholarships for other artists who want to enroll in the program. BLOC has also tested the waters of mixed financing, which joins both private and state funds by way of contests.
This principle of independent management has its advantages, according to the members of BLOC, allowing for agile decision-making and the avoidance of bureaucracy. "It allows us to develop a teaching and production model that does not strictly conform to university standards (too imbued with the logic imposed by a scientific model, with their systems of verification and conventions of Bologna[ii]), which results in greater freedom for artistic experimentation and, in turn, dialogue with the artists of Annual Mentoring Program ", they say.
Managed by siblings Angela and Phillip Cura, Galería Temporal [Temporary Gallery] is a project of artistic intervention and, at the same time, a transitional and mobile space for the exhibition of contemporary art. Its history began in 2011, with a showcase in the shopping arcade Galería Alessandri (located in the center of Santiago), which for six months was occupied in an arbitrary and ironic manner as an art gallery. Over time, this gesture signaled the opening of a new exhibition space, mercurial in nature, for the local visual arts scene.
The relationship between art and public space is at the center of their interests and leads in two directions: first, Galería Temporal seeks to expand the possibilities for experiencing contemporary art in the city by irrupting into spaces frequented by a broad and heterogeneous audience, and second, invites the usual art-world viewer to go beyond the traditional patterns and circuits of exhibition. Thus, Galería Temporal is not accessible through public space because one is already immersed in it. With artists and spectators, the project moves and plays around the minimum distance required to activate contemporary art in everyday landscapes, and in that sense is an art gallery reduced to its minimum expression: a display case in a public walkway that does not require staff to serve an audience or to care for the works, nor to open or close it daily, as it is always at one’s disposal—during office hours—to be seen.
This project assumes the identity of the "temporary" because it alludes, with a certain irony, to a widespread condition in the Chilean cultural field where, as we said at the beginning, the survival of spaces dedicated to the visual arts does not seem to be guaranteed, even for commercial spaces or traditional institutions. The "temporary", on the other hand, expresses the transitory nature of the gallery, which permits it to assume a plastic and flexible role in contemporary art. To come and go at different times and places as resources and ambitions expand and contract with proposals potentially as diverse as the contexts that house them, the self-imposed inconstancy of Galería Temporal becomes a condition of its survival.
The project has run in six showcases located within different shopping arcades in downtown Santiago (Galería España, Galería Edwards, Galería Presidente, Galería San Antonio, Galería Alessandri and the mall located in Huérfanos 1373). Over time, shopping malls have fallen into abandonment as they have become displaced as commercial spaces by the "caracoles"[iii] in the 80s, and now, by malls. Thus, within these passages there exists a kind of smaller shop such as jewelry, sewing, waxing salons, cafes, footwear and photocopying, many of which have given artists their windows for the development and display of temporary artistic proposals.
Galería Temporal’s administration relies mainly on competitive public funds (Fondart), which has allowed it, in three years of operation, to finance the production of works, rental and repair of the exhibition spaces, publication of catalogs and payment of fees in the areas of administration, publishing, design and photographic records, among others.
Galería Tajamar [Tajamar Gallery] is an exhibition space created and run since 2011 by artists Nicolas Azócar and Florence Infante, who are married to each other. Its main feature is its architecture and its location in the city where it is housed: Tajamar Towers, a modern housing complex opened in 1966 that has a plaza and shops at street level. Tajamar is one of those commercial showcases. With its hexagonal shape and translucent quality, it is solid and ethereal at the same time, allowing 360 degree views of exhibitions twenty-four hours a day without any need to enter the space. Transparency, architecture and location shape its curatorial parameters. In its four years of operation it has given prevalence to work, interventions, and installations that are in dialogue with the urban environment, the casual passer-by, residents of the Towers, and the public who regularly visit the gallery.
Like BLOC, Tajamar was established in 2012 as a Foundation and makes use of the Cultural Donations Act. The foundation incorporates a directory and an expanded council working in the areas of communications, development, and the arts. The fundraising is channeled in three ways: strategic partners, natural partners, and grant funds. These efforts are based on communicative actions that serve to generate social and cultural positioning, which should also translate into more funding.
Being independent has its benefits, according to Azócar and Infante. "The positive side of staying on the fringes or independent of institutions is that a horizontal relationship with the artists is achieved. It is vital, for the survival of these projects, to be able to work together; that's very rewarding. In addition, there is not the totemic relationship that exists, for example, between museums and artists.”
LOCAL Arte Contemporáneo
Founded and directed by artists Ignacio Murua and Javier González Pesce -along with Pamela Ipinza until 2013-, LOCAL opened its doors in 2011 in what had been a small family home in the Italian neighborhood that is now a shopping area closely linked, primarily, to design and gastronomy (the same neighborhood where Taller BLOC is located). The space opened with the exhibition Canciones de amor y otras pasiones de origen romántico [Love Songs and Other Passions of Romantic Origin], in collaboration with Galería Loewenthal, a project with an ironic/playful tone in which they asked invited artists to work from a romantic song to make their own version of it, resulting in a new song, painting, sculpture, performance, action, poem ... anything, really. "Basically, we were questioning certain deep, critical, political, or intelligent Chilean artists. At this time we did not know that LOCAL would continue, but the results (both in terms of the level of participation from artists, audiences, and financial support from a company) convinced us to go forward. "
For 2012 and 2013, LOCAL generated annual programs that confronted problems specific to the local art system. Thus there emerged exhibitions such as Economía pirata [Pirate Economy], where the artists worked without pay, thus questioning the financing and production of art exhibitions; and Diez años, [Ten Years], a group exhibition of seven artists, recently graduated from university, that consisted basically in their signing a legal contract obligating them to remount the same exhibition in ten years, calling into question the mechanisms behind the legitimation of artists. Along the same lines, González Pesce and Ignacio Murua devised a series of exhibitions that sought to revive three shows that had happened in Santiago over a decade ago, with the aim of reviewing the recent history and system of local art. The project, which considered Galería Chilena, Matucana 100, and Galería Animal, proposed that those spaces invited to participate respect three rules: the exhibition should have happened a decade or more ago, should retain its original title, and involve the same artists . Everything else could change. Only one project, the reformation of the Condoros exhibition of Galería Chilena in the Metropolitan Gallery, materialized.
LOCAL has also participated in local fairs such as Ch.ACO, where the projects they submitted had more symbolic than commercial value—taking into account the precariousness of the art market in Chile— and in international fairs, where they participated with artists like Martín Kaulen, Maria Karantzi, Carlos Costa, Rodrigo Araya and Alexander Leonhardt. In 2013, these and other artists had solo exhibitions in LOCAL.
Today, LOCAL operates under a new model, and is not only conceived of as a place to display internationally recognized artists like Gonzalo Díaz and Nicolás Grum (Chile) or Ian Waelder (Spain) and Tris Vonna Michell (UK), but also as a space for discussions, encounters, and situations.
In 2015 they have proposed to contemplate reality as a space of action. They are producing beer and have also created a band. As part of the cycle of reality, they are generating activities linked to neighborhood or other experiences, such as serving as headquarters for the gathering of signatures in support of the candidacy of artist Carlos Costa for councilor, in which instance they work with local artists on the design and implementation of his campaign. "We make shows that we want to do with the little money we can obtain on our own; the artists are usually very generous and often collaborate with us. When someone comes from the outside, it’s with our support and by means of international funding. We don’t have a management model. Virtually nothing is planned; everything is intuitive and spontaneous. Basically, the directors manage all the administration, coordination, and dissemination with few resources, reacting to each case presented to us as necessary. In this, we are not so skilled, yet we managed to capture a fairly loyal audience. By starting with this project, one of the first things we rejected was to be a commercial space, without having anything against art market. We just happen not to believe that Chile has a market in tune with our artistic interests. In addition, we have seen many places with many more resources than we have fail in this attempt. We thought that if we were honest and worked according to our real needs, LOCAL would not collapse."
CIA Centro de Investigación Artística de Santiago
CIA is a private institution run by artists. Located in the center, at 2016 Rosas Street in the Brazilian neighborhood, it works as an exhibition space for dialogue and reflection, whose storefront facing the street allows a connection between art and the public. While presenting the work of artists disconnected from traditional modes of exhibition, it conducts outreach in the form of talks, publications, and cultural management. Since its recent founding in mid-2014, it has sought to bring different types of artists, generations and trends together—from Cecilia Vicuña, Lotty Rosenfeld and Mario Navarro, to the private Hernández collection and the canine artist Tropical—moving away from commercial and institutional pressures to embrace a sustainable, cooperative model, where the project organizers, Enrique Flores, Sebastián Salfate, and Ivo Vidal, contribute a fee toward the operating budget. For these artists, "self-management right now is a compulsory route, when the amount of exhibition space is reduced and the support of institutions and private companies is predicated on approaches that do not make allowances for more experimental and risky practices."
Drawing somewhat—and from this pole of the continent—on models of spaces based on the economy of friendship, CIA mixes proposals for community impact with the experience and visibility of established artists, and the experimentation and playfulness of emerging artists that work with issues of the everyday life, the street and housework.
Another of the newer santiaguina spaces in the current scene, Cancha, arose in 2014, when artists Viviana Bravo, Mathias and Catherine Labbé Tuca rescued the historical building Casona Montt to repurpose it as a multidisciplinary research center about the historic quarter of Santiago. The house was built by the same architects as the Palacio de la Moneda, which belonged to the presidential Montt family in the nineteenth century. During the twentieth century, it was declared a historical monument, and then was partially demolished during the dictatorship, to be transformed into a commercial gallery and offices. These features provide material for in situ development of research into the processes of transformation of the city.
Pointing to a relational work with the city, Cancha operates under the model of a home open to all disciplines involved in research on downtown Santiago. It is funded by the residents, who pay tuition for the duration of their research. One of the residency projects that has gained visibility is Ciudad H, curated by Ignacio Szmulewicz, whose results have been exhibited in spaces in the capital such as Galería Tajamar, Galería Metropolitana and the Centro Cultural Matucana 100, among others.
Espacio Hache [Hache Space] was born in 2012 as a research project of its director, Carolina Hoehmann, for her Masters in Cultural Management from the University of Barcelona. Thus, it is the result of a management model designed specifically for a center of artistic production in Santiago de Chile.
Located in an old house in the Ñuñoa neighborhood, Espacio Hache defines and funds itself through three areas of work: the dissemination and circulation of local contemporary art (through the sale of works and the development of cultural projects); graphical specialization (through the Hache serigraphy workshop); and production (through lease of workshops and spaces).
The project is led by Hoehmann with Rodrigo Vergara, a Chilean visual artist with experience in managing non-traditional spaces (the now defunct project Hoffmann House, founded in 1999 with José Pablo Diaz) who is in charge of editorial content; Soledad Pinto, the artist in charge of the printing workshop; and assisted by visual artist Juan Reyes. Other artists associated with Espacio Hache are Javier Rodríguez, Magdalena Atria, César Gabler, Pablo Ferrer, Félix Lazo and Paloma Villalobos.
In addition to realizing solo and group exhibitions of artists and participating in fairs like Ch.ACO (where they won, in 2014, the competition in the Pop_Up Spaces section dedicated to Chilean self-run spaces), Espacio Hache is positioning itself into the future as a platform for the production and marketing of serigraphy and graphic techniques in general. For its next exhibition, Espacio Hache has given visual artists the challenge of working with serigraphy, regardless of their experience with the media.
MICH (Museo Internacional de Chile)
MICH is the acronym of the Museo Internacional de Chile [International Museum of Chile], organized by a group of artist-friends that physically operates in a house in Providencia (and occasionally in public spaces, through projects such as Chile dibuja [Chile draws]), and virtually, through a website where it publishes news and critical texts. Made up of Simón Catalán, Javiera Muñoz, Alexis Llerena, Pilar Quinteros, Sebastián Riffo, David Vargas and Héctor Vergara Chilean artists (until early 2014, Christian Álvarez and Felipe Contreras were also involved), the group was founded in 2010 in a provisional workshop located in the commune of Ñuñoa. Today, from the department of Riffo y Quinteros in Provindencia, they develop multidisciplinary projects—shows accompanied by concerts or talks—that lend exposure to artists lesser-known in the traditional circuit, and to issues related to art history and social, political, and historical processes.
In 2012 MICH participated in the Youth section of ArteBA and in 2013 took the exhibition Un esquimal con un zorro blanco que acaba de cazar. Imágenes de Chile [An Eskimo with a White Fox that He Has Just Hunted: Images of Chile] to Casa de las Américas in Havana. Since that year, MICH’s formal status is as a Community Nonprofit Organization in the commune of Providencia, and is based on the domestic economy.
The group explains its vision and projection as space very clearly in its Declaration of Interest: "Both the production and dissemination of art and its critical review, even those depending on prescribed structures, still stand on autonomous processes. Processes that we propose as an alternative to the official, not in opposition or complement, but in a parallel path of alterity, that is, seeking to safeguard the identity and context of the production of works in favor of a view that ideally privileges work as a constructor of discourse, rather than discourse as a builder of works. In no measure do we intend to establish a sense of the re-founding of artistic institutions, but rather a foundation of a particular project before being validated by the collective objectivity, to be able to gather the subjectivities of individual participants, echoing contemporary reviews, not so much the art itself but the culture itself."
[i] The law on donations for cultural purposes is a mechanism that encourages private intervention, by both companies and individuals, in the financing of artistic, heritage or cultural projects. The legislation encourages public-private partnership, in that it ordains that the State and the private sector participate in the financing of cultural projects which qualify for this benefit. The Treasury provides financing through a credit equivalent—for almost all types of donors—to half of the donation, which means in practice a tax break from the state.
[ii] The Bologna Declaration was an agreement signed in 1999 by education ministers from several European countries (both the European Union and other countries, including Russia and Turkey) in the Italian city of Bologna. It was a joint declaration (the EU has no jurisdiction in education) which launched a process of convergence that aimed to facilitate exchange among graduates and adapt the contents of university studies to social demands, improving their quality and competitiveness through greater transparency and student learning based on standardized ECTS credits.
[iii] A “caracol” (snail) is a type of spiral arcade that was popular in Chile during the 70s and 80s. Its name derives from its helical form of construction, similar to a spiral staircase. They are considered the ancestors of the mall in Chile.