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here, there, and the in-between Curated by ChloĂŤ Courtney and Lara Goldmann January 11 - 28, 2017 The College of Fine Arts Downtown Studio Albuquerque, NM


the other day someone asked me to tell them all about the birds and the bees i wasn’t sure what they wanted to know i think they might be in trouble (the bees and the birds) but then who isn’t?

introduction by lara goldmann

i didn’t think about the birds and the bees very long we never do think about thoughts very long and just then as they slip our mind we put them to print so we are left with the in-between that tells us all about here when we went there and got lost -never mindsometimes i look at those thoughts that were put to print just when they slipped the mind and i hope that they last for longer just for a second more that would suffice


i never understand people wanting me to say something about something else words wont make it easier as they turn they will have seen all words won’t make it easier there when it slipped in the in-between and then nothing else to be said ... it seems things are not looking so grand right now which is why perhaps again looking harder might be the only option and then tell of what you saw when it slipped your mind ... all that much being said many people using many words and this then is very interesting it is always very interesting that they do


a second would suffice indeed then for all about the birds and the bees and that they are in trouble like everyone else ... this then is something being said about you and about me ... which might not mean much but it is being said and even if you turn you will have heard all it is like the other day when someone asked me to say something about domestic nature and i wasn’t sure what they wanted to know and about the fox and the wolf and i wasn’t sure what they wanted to know


as it is while you are listening you are hearing something else and then some say that might be what was said but how would i know that then is not so important i thought when someone asked me to tell them all about the birds and the bees and all about some other things among them foxes and wolves and some more i don’t know but then we both know that we know


here, there, and the in-between: denaturalizing nature and decentering coloniality by chloë courtney

During the months of July and August, twenty-seven artists and curators lived and worked in Mexico City, convening daily through the SOMA Summer international residency to discuss the theory of the archive, and venturing into the city to see how the problematics of this charged sociocultural structure manifested in the museums, archives, and historical sites of the city itself. During this period of intensive dialogue and exchange, I became increasingly aware that many of our conversations, concerning, for example, the role of arts institutions, curatorial strategies, or archival practice in contemporary art, were oriented to the defining feature of our age—impending ecological crisis, and the radical ecological change we are already witnessing. The reality of ecological change alters our understanding of time and space, exposing our global interdependency and the vulnerable nature of contemporary society in the face of extreme weather and limited resources. Just as they impact our understanding of global socio-political dynamics, the realities of ecological crisis also inflect our priorities as artists and intellectuals. I realized that my own art historical research, with its growing emphasis on decoloniality, risked neglecting the economic and environmental paradigm that had long been intertwined with and enabled by coloniality: the extractive model of capitalist consumption and “progress” that has largely generated the environmental and geological consequences known collectively as the anthropocene. At the same time as this critical relationship between the socio-political and ecological was making itself apparent, I became aware of a fruitful dialogue, both aesthetic and conceptual, between two bodies of work by artists in residency at SOMA, Michael Barraco and Elena Bellantoni. During several conversations with artist and curator Lara Goldmann, we realized that the connections between


Patricia DomĂ­nguez Of Domestic Nature, 2014 Whale bone, pterodactyls, found photography, teacup, stones

Patricia DomĂ­nguez Of Domestic Nature, 2014 Whale bone, pterodactyls, found photography, teacup, stones


Barraco and Bellantoni’s work had real substance, and furthermore, that an exhibition would be possible. With the full collaboration of Lara as co-curator, and the inclusion of Patricia Domínguez’s installations soon after, the exhibition here, there, and the in-between emerged. Together, the varying formal and conceptual strategies of these three artists offer an expansive and timely response to the question, what does it mean to decolonize? Their interventions explore the interconnecting relationships between colonial structures of power, capitalist models of extraction, and the natural environment. For example, Elena Bellantoni’s captivating, tightly polished video work uses cultural constructions of animals and natural settings to consider language and the state as structures of power, as well as the difference between legitimate knowledge and myth, and what kinds of bodies can carry legitimate knowledge and power. She utilizes fiction and sometimes, her own body, as a way to disrupt these constructions. Meanwhile, Patricia Domínguez’s quietly elegant, yet disconcerting installations emphasize the violence of labor and domesticity, often through specific instances of power, violence, and their aesthetics, as these forces play out in lived experience. Further, she considers notions of primitivism and nature as culturally constructed and ideologically charged, and often uses play, humor, and the absurd to create spaces and possibilities for decolonization to occur. Michael Barraco’s interdisciplinary work, based largely in photography, and video, with a strong research practice, uses birds as a symbol for the cultural, ideological, and physical points of contact between nature and culture, ultimately revealing the binary distinction between nature and culture to be fallacious and potentially harmful. Further, Barraco uses the importance of birds in popular culture and the power of affect to draw attention to the natural world in our very midst, and the way it reveals the consequences of human development. Thus, these three artists broaden and complicate understandings of what a colonized space might comprise, and what practices can be deployed in decolonizing. With this essay, I consider the included artworks through the lens of decolonial thinking, and hope to articulate how these works speak to each other across continents and diverse ways of making, collectively disrupting the cultural hegemony of coloniality.

Patricia Domínguez Eres un Princeso, 2013 Monstera deliciosa leaves, found record cover, photographs


Decolonial thinking signifies a resistance to the current conditions of coloniality, which continue to reflect the power structures established when European invaders took control of the Americas through both military oppression and cultural and religious domination. Peruvian sociologist and theorist of decoloniality, Aníbal Quijano, writes of the Americas, and of the cultural and social results of the genocide precipitated by European infectious disease, systematic violence, and the abuse of indigenous peoples through forced labor, “The cultural repression and the massive genocide together turned the previous high cultures of the Americas into illiterate peasant subcultures condemned to orality; that is, deprived of their own patterns of formalized, objectivized, intellectual, and plastic or visual expression.”1 Here, Quijano asserts that colonization not only stripped indigenous civilizations of their leaders and governing structures, but also of their ways of knowing, and that this colonization of knowledge has perhaps been one of the most serious forms of violence against indigenous peoples. Thus, Quijano goes on to explain, the decolonization of knowledge, and the acknowledgment of a plurality of ways of thinking, must be the first step to reverse the “violent concentration of the world’s resources under the control and for the benefit of a small European minority.”2 It is the decolonization of knowledge that holds the potential to disrupt the total conditions and logic of coloniality, which include race and gender discrimination, economic disenfranchisement, and the current international order of geopolitical power. Further, Quijano reveals how subject-object logic, the basis of European knowledge, is fundamentally constructed around the concept of the Other that arose from colonization, while Argentine philosopher Walter Mignolo traces the history of the naming of Africa, Asia, and America, seemingly neutral concepts of the division of space, to colonization and the construction of a Eurocentric narrative. In order to begin to decolonize, it is important to recognize that the logic of coloniality manifests not only in the massive, inextricable structures of geopolitics and climate change, but also in naturalized, commonly practiced ways of thinking and interacting with the world. It is here, in these everyday interactions and normalized models of conceiving of the world, that

Barraco, Bellantoni, and Domínguez attempt to intervene, changing our perceptions of cultural artifacts such as advertising, fairy tales or songs. Their work shifts our consumption of such popular media, engendering an awareness of its ideological content. The empirical thinking we associate with objective, scientific thought is a ubiquitous example of the legacy of colonization, as the name “empirical” suggests. Philosopher and anthropologist, Raymond Corbey, in his scholarship on the field of ethnography, links the scientific efforts of phrenology and other systems of classification with the commercialism of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century World’s Fairs, and with imperialism, revealing an interconnected triad of forces—science, commerce, and imperialism—all of which served to create a narrative that assimilates the cultural difference of colonized peoples as savage, or as contemporary ancestors to modern man, delayed in the evolutionary process. Corbey reveals that this triumvirate of science, commerce, and imperialism constructs European colonial control as the natural outcome of progress.3 If these are the origins of our natural sciences, it becomes necessary to find a new, decolonial way to consider ecology, one not rooted in coloniality. Patricia Domínguez’s installations neither romanticize nature as wild and unspoiled, nor subject it to the enlightenment rationality that is emblematic of the kind of knowledge considered legitimate under coloniality. Rather, she casts the same critical glance over the natural sciences and entrenched social convention, finding the connections and contradictions inherent to each, through a decidedly non-linear, decolonized process that gives equal weight to historical referents and personal associations. Patricia Domínguez’s installation, Of Domestic Nature, greets viewers with a bizarre scene carrying allusions to the prehistoric, while also evoking an uncanny sense of domestic familiarity. A monumental whalebone curves dramatically from the corner into open space, alongside a black and white photograph of a Tarzan character, pictured in a loincloth with cheetah cubs in his arms. The installation embodies Domínguez’s aesthetic of playfulness and the absurd, while drawing attention to the ideologically charged and often romanticized ways the concept of nature is constructed and reified through mass culture. Meanwhile, inflatable pterodactyls hover overhead, emphasizing the


Patricia DomĂ­nguez Eres un Princeso, 2013 Monstera deliciosa leaves, found record cover, photographs

Patricia DomĂ­nguez Eres un Princeso, 2013 Monstera deliciosa leaves, found record cover, photographs


absurd even further, while their cartoon gaze over the more blatantly ‘authentic’ whalebone and assortment of stones subjects bodies of knowledge usually considered legitimate, like biology and archaeology, to skeptical scrutiny. Further, a strip of vinyl flooring printed to resemble natural stone extends from underneath the whalebone. This allusion to a domestic do-it-yourself aesthetic represents the interesting paradox between the desire to experience the wildness of nature and the instinct to control or domesticate it. Similarly, the brass-knuckled coffee cup with a used teabag floating inside evokes what Domínguez considers the “silent violence” of repressive domestic structures in her native Chilean society, and the mundane quotidian routines they elicit.4 Similarly, Domínguez’s works previously shown as Eres Un Princeso, represented in here, there, and the in-between by the enormous monstera deliciosa leaves bound by reins and an accompanying Vincente Fernandez record, allude to the way that flora, fauna, and social relationships have all been colonized. Domínguez created the Eres un Princeso series during a residency at FLORA ars+natura in Honda, Colombia, where she spent several weeks at a local hacienda, getting to know the young boys who meticulously cared for the hacienda’s horses.5 The horses themselves are a status symbol for the narco elites of Colombia, and recreate the trappings of power they have carried since colonial times. Domínguez witnessed great care and affection between the child-worker caretakers and their horses, but she also observed the inherent violence in a relationship where one person cares for another, but is not allowed complete access: only the horses’ owners may ride them, despite the young boys’ constant devotion to the animals. Domínguez evokes the total colonization she witnessed in Colombia—of the horses themselves, their caretakers, and even the surrounding landscape— by binding monstera deliciosa leaves with reins which evoke horse reins, but are instead specifically designed for the morphology of the leaves. The Vicente Fernandez record included in the Eres un Princeso installation alludes to the way horse culture and its connotations of power pervade daily life in Colombia. Domínguez does not seek to condemn or undo such power structures and their presence in popular

culture, but rather to understand and reveal them, and to use them as a way of analyzing how the issues of coloniality manifest in daily life. In contrast to the way Domínguez’s installations unite seemingly incongruent objects through her intuitive process, provoking imagined or fictional histories, Michael Barraco’s work is more controlled, but no less complex and rewarding. His sculptural installation Bird Songs: An Archive of Love and Loss utilizes a familiar interface, the jukebox, to reveal the connections between the Western cultural imaginary and its ecological substrata. The jukebox at first appears to be the well-known fixture of diners and burger joints, evoking the subversive history of rock and roll, and the collective listening experience the jukebox has come to symbolize. However, on closer inspection, the jukebox reveals a collection of haunting images: dozens of solemn portraits of birds lying prone on the sidewalk, each of them paired with a popular song that makes some reference to birds. The photographs of birds that have died after striking windows or other reflective human infrastructure come from Barraco’s collective online archive, Urban Birding.6 This continually evolving project accepts submissions from all over the world, and Barraco publishes and records the images of birds that have died as a result of the passive violence of urban architecture, as well as the location and time of each instance, sending the data on to FLAP Canada.7 The artist acknowledges that the data Urban Birding generates is not as comprehensive as that collected by specialized scientific efforts, and yet, he, as well as anyone else who visits the database, knows that the combination of data and mapping with the solemn, individualized portraits of these birds offers something more powerful than either element could accomplish on its own.8 The images become records of ephemeral moments that manifest our collective disinterest and passive acceptance of the destructive consequences of human society on nature. In the work Bird Songs, Barraco pairs these images with popular songs, artifacts of mass culture that sentimentalize the symbolic power of birds, and capitalize on them as expressive metaphors of transformation, freedom, or joy. By using the general appeal of popular music and the familiar interface of the jukebox to promote interaction, Barraco reframes the songs, creating a space where viewers can synthesize new associations,


Michael Barraco Bird Songs: An Archive of Love and Loss, 2016 Interactive Audio Installation: customized jukebox containing 100 photographs and 100 CDs

Michael Barraco Bird Songs: An Archive of Love and Loss, 2016 Interactive Audio Installation: customized jukebox containing 100 photographs and 100 CDs


in resistance to the passive consumption of mass culture. In his monograph Ecology without Nature, literary theorist Timothy Morton traces our contemporary understanding of nature back to the aesthetics and ideologies of the Romantics, who constructed nature as a wild, untamed, divine presence.9 On the contrary, almost every aspect of the natural world has been affected by human development. Morton argues that continuing to frame nature as a wild entity separate from human society falsely elevates it, and distances ecology from our daily lives and actions in the popular imaginary. By pairing photographs of dead birds, concrete examples of the impact of human infrastructure on ecological systems, with songs romanticizing birds, Barraco reveals how underlying ideological structures condition our relationships to nature. In addition to considering the quotidian ways contemporary society affects the natural world, and making these relationships accessible for viewers, Barraco’s work and research practice also reveal that the dynamic of resource extraction characterizing our relationship to nature is largely a result of colonization. This added context further complicates the viewer’s relationship to nature, and to Barraco’s work. For example, his work Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees at first confronts the viewer with their own reflection, in a large, gilded mirror. However, the reflective plane is intermittently and surprisingly ruptured by video footage of a bird on a sidewalk, and alternately, a bustling mass of bees. The images confronting the viewer immediately evoke the sharply declining populations of birds and bees, prominent symbols of the natural world, and thereby implicate the viewer by incorporating their own reflection. However, Barraco’s research practice complicates this reading of the work. He points out that the honeybee is not native to the Americas, but instead was brought from Europe to support the intensive agricultural model of European society. Thus, the honeybees’ presence and importance to contemporary food production results from the colonizers’ impulse to control the land, fundamentally transforming it to become as productive as possible.10 The awareness of this history complicates our understanding of Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: not only is the bee population undergoing precipitous decline, but the bees themselves are emblematic of the

Michael Barraco Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees, 2015 Picture frame, one-way mirror, video monitor, false wall


Michael Barraco The New Academia, 2012-13 Inkjet Print

Michael Barraco Bird Shit (Tony Smith Series), 2014 Inkjet Print


Michael Barraco Bird on a Wire, 2016 Video, 14:00 Looped

logic of coloniality that continues to affect our relationship to the environment. Barraco explains that while there are bee varieties native to the Americas, the honeybee receives the most attention because it is the only domesticated variety, and thus, highly monetized. As such, Let Me Tell You about the Birds and the Bees not only frustrates and interrupts the viewers’ expectations with incursions from the natural world, but also evokes the colonization of the landscapes and ecosystems of the Americas. Whereas the work of both Barraco and Domínguez distinctly emphasizes ecology and how it is culturally constructed, Elena Bellantoni’s elegant video works primarily focus on the construction and articulation of power, in the context of the state and international politics, gender, and more broadly, in the rules of society at large. However, her work also reveals these structures of power to function within and through our understandings of both nature and empirical science. The video I Giocatori, or The Players, contemplates a man and woman as they slowly walk through a lush garden, and then sit down to a game of cards. The actors’ deliberate movements and measured glances encourage the viewer to consider the nuance of the scene, while their white robes transform Bellantoni and her counterpart, art critic Angelo Trimarco, into archetypes for man and woman, youth and old age. Importantly, the sound of birdsong, the play of light and shadow, and the lush green setting of the Archaeological Area of Fratte where Bellantoni filmed the video play a major role: together, these elements create a rarefied version of nature, as a cultural ideal. Bellantoni characterizes this lush green setting as naïve, and almost detached from the art world in its apparently simple, un-problematized, and idyllic view of nature.11 However, the formal quality of The Players, which unfolds almost like a stop-motion animation slowed down to half speed, draws attention to the artifice of its facture, and thus, to the way that this idealized version of nature is intentionally constructed and manipulated. The Players examines the power relationships that govern the art world, pitting Bellantoni as a young artist against Trimarco, a curator and writer known for his militant criticism during the seventies. Bellantoni inverts the traditional power structures that govern artists


by inviting Trimarco to collaborate with her, rather than the other way around. She asserts that the artist can shape the role of the critic as much as the critic can determine the success of the artist. The end of the film reveals each of the two card players to be engaged in their own games of solitaire rather than opposing one another. Again, Bellantoni confounds the cultural stereotypes. The players are not rivals, but merely playing alongside one another. In exaggerating the struggle between man and woman, youth and old age, and artist and curator, and then surprising the viewer by dissipating the perceived opposition between the players, Bellantoni destabilizes the power relations that govern society, and the permanence with which they are habitually perceived. A more recent work by Bellantoni, The Fox and the Wolf, the struggle for power, again considers how power is constructed, but deals more explicitly with knowledge, and the distinction between scientific knowledge and myth. The film takes place at the imposing conference hall of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, which is normally used for gatherings of visiting heads of state. Two figures slowly enter the hall: a woman, masked as a fox, and the man as a wolf. They begin a seductive tango, luring and persuading each other in a slow dance laden with tension, while the viewer listens to an authoritative, dry British voice describing the scientific properties of foxes and wolves. This lecture evokes a guided tour of a natural history museum, or a nineteenth century travel narrative, and the connotations of imperial power and exploration such knowledge carries. However, as the dance progresses, the character of the speaker’s narrative changes, slipping from scientific fact to the realm of the subjective, until we realize we are listening to a myth, or a tale from folklore. Is this story as legitimate as the scientific data? Or perhaps, it is even more relevant than the naturalist observations, since, like the dance onscreen, the tale the narrator spins also concerns the balance of power between the fox and the wolf. At a crucial turning point in this story, in which the female fox gains the upper hand, the woman takes the lead in the tango, reversing the conventional power structure of ballroom dancing, and in doing so, revealing the way it is laden with ideology. By bringing an element of fantasy into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both through the

Elena Bellantoni The Players, 2014 Video, 5:23


narration of myth by an British voice, and the presence of the fantastic fox and wolf tango dancers, Bellantoni questions the aesthetics and conventions that support political power structures, both satirizing and destabilizing them through her intervention. Elena Bellantoni, Patricia Domínguez, and Michael Barraco each emphasize different aspects of the structures that govern society and the individual’s place within it, responding to their various contexts and particular interests. However, putting these three bodies of work together makes apparent the degree to which coloniality and capitalist consumption implicate structures of power, from the individual and her everyday interactions to the dynamics of regional subcultures, international politics, and even hemispheric strategies of control and resource extraction. The three artists share a similar level of detail, suggestion of narrative, and rich socio-political sub-context, which is perhaps what enables their diverse concerns and aesthetic solutions to function together. With the magnitude of current changes in our ecological systems, and the continuing power of corporate interests on an international scale, it is vital that we exhibit, study, and support artwork such as that presented in here, there, and the in-between; work that exposes the power structures and ideologies extending from the most intimate interactions to global and systemic violence, making these paradigms concrete and tactile, while simultaneously destabilizing their authority.

Elena Bellantoni The Struggle for Power, the fox and the wolf, 2014 Video, 8:44


Endnotes 1. Aníbal Quijano, “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality,” Cultural Studies 21.2, 170. 2. Ibid. 3. Raymond Corbey, “Ethnographic Showcases, 1870-1930,” Cultural Anthropology 8, no. 3 (1993): 338-69. 4. Domínguez, Patricia. Interview by Chloë Courtney. Personal interview. December 14, 2016. 5. FLORA ars+natura is a space for contemporary art in Bogotá, Colombia, that specializes in the relationship between art and nature. 6. Michael Barraco, “Urban Birding,” continually updated archive of birds. http://urbanbirding.org/ 7. The Fatal Light Awareness Program Canada advocates for awareness of the risks human infrastructure poses to migratory birds. http://www.flap.org/index.php 8. Barraco, Michael. Interview by Chloë Courtney. Personal interview. December 19, 2016. 9. Timothy Morton, Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007). 10. Michael Barraco, “Hummingbird Heartbeat: Landscape Painting, Bird Watching, and Other Anthropocentric Ventures” (MFA thesis, State University of New York at Purchase, 2016). 11. Bellantoni, Elena. Interview by Chloë Courtney. Personal interview. December 30, 2016.

Acknowledgements This exhibition has been made possible through the generous support of the Albuquerque Community Foundation. We would also like to thank the University of New Mexico’s Museum of Southwestern Biology, and the Dean’s Office of the College of Fine Arts. We extend our sincere gratitude to Nancy Zastudil for her encouragement, advice, and role as discussion moderator, and offer our deep appreciation and thanks to Kency Cornejo, Subhankar Banerjee, and Lucy Lippard for their support of the exhibition and their participation as discussion panelists. Additionally, we give our thanks to Ed Brandt and Eugene Ellenberg for their design expertise. We would also like to thank the many colleagues and friends who supported the exhibition.


Here, there and in-beetwen  

Exhibition Catalogue. Texts by Chloe Courtney

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