On March 15 and 16, 2013, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley presented the symposium Spiraling Time: Intermedial Conversations in Latin American Arts. In the audience were students from Professor Julia Bryan-Wilson’s History of Art course Latin American Art Since 1920. We are grateful to them for sharing with us their reflections on some of the lectures and conversations they heard. This post is from student Natalie Cone.
Encountering the Spiraling Time symposium exposed just how steeped in restrictive ideologies about the linear progression of time I was. My conceptions about how time works have been transformed. I have discovered that time and memory are nuanced and complex, and do not neatly conform to any systematic grid like a calendar. Blurring the lines even further are the political and economic forces invested in the way we remember. There are incentives to controlling the way humans experience time, and especially the memories of the past, when they are saturated with a history of state-sanctioned terror, violence and disappearance. The scholars and artists who contributed to the event all presented compelling work that challenges the impulse to think about time in narrow terms. Their work resists the notion that lives of the past and present are disconnected, discrete and isolated in their experiences. In contrast, the weight of the past was revealed as a significant force that haunts and shapes the contemporary human experience.
Cindy Rose Bello described the precarious state of existence in Columbia, and the experience of suspended time, as manifested in the art of Oscar Munoz. Bello explained the instability and violence that plagues Columbia as cyclical and perpetuated by ties to a global economy. Munoz’s evocative work Aliento (Respiration), from 1996-2002 suggests the instability of life in Columbia that generates an inextricable and suspended relationship between experiences of past and future. The work is a head-sized mirror upon which a portrait of a disappeared Columbian citizen is invisibly rendered on the surface of the glass. The image only begins to reveal itself after another person engages with the work by breathing on it. It is as if the essence of the disappeared is harbored within the body of the person engaging with the work. As hard as one might try, the portrait inscribed on the mirror is never fully resolved. Just as one gets close to covering the glass with the moisture of her breath, the reflexive instinct to inhale prevails, withdrawing the precipitation from the mirror and erasing the registration of a face from the surface of the glass. All that remains in the mirror is one’s own reflection. In this work, the intimate level of engagement between the viewer’s body and the portrait of the disappeared is a metaphor for the indistinct boundaries that define the time and space between the two. The suspension of the photo’s indexicality conveys the stifled human narrative that frames contemporary Columbia.
This work described by Cindy Rose Bello profoundly demonstrates the fluidity of time and space, and the potential for memory to shape contemporary experience. Munoz’s work is also a critique of contemporary government, and its implication in the disappearances and perpetual civil violence that impedes upon Columbia’s ability to move forward. It was only one of a number of memorable works that altered the way I envision the relationship between past, present and future.