"Cumanana" at Saltworks

By Eric Hancock

NovoaA friend and I had an interesting discussion about the nature of ritual, mostly in general, but I reckon the topic in question could be applied to replicated ritual within contemporary art, the catalyst for our particular discussion.  I was dismayed to hear that he had changed his position since the last time we spoke, taking the less adversarial position that ritual remains itself even when de-contextualized from its “authentic” place as a sacred intersection between individual, culture, and the spiritual, the now somewhat archaic nexus that once defined life as real.

Of course, I’m referring to when cultural items are plopped into the white cube, like at the recent exhibition “Cumanana” at Saltworks Gallery.  Cumanana, curated by Whitney hotshot William Cordova presents a variety of gallery objects and installations that both adhere to the typical post-modern matrix and in some instances betray their modernism with references to a multicultural origin, and vice versa.  Cumanana’s namesake, a primitive form of Peruvian musical poetry, pleasantly represents the ambiguity inherent to exhibitions of this kind.

MorenoGlexis Novoa’s contribution includes two drawings, both stunningly graphic interpolations of real and imagined cityscapes, combining architectural elements from his homeland of Cuba and elements gleaned from cities he has visited.  Viva Fidel, a site specific drawing breathed onto the back wall of the gallery deserves special mention for its clandestine relationship with the clunkier installations presented in the show, a deceptive inconsistency that reflects both Novoa and Cordova’s sensitivity to the drama and weight of materials.

Gean Moreno’s precarious mixed media vignette composed of a variety of precious and unprecious materials (mostly unprecious) tacked and stacked near the base of the wall betrays a domestic thematic current in the show as several of the exhibition’s pieces are entitled “house.” Jade Cooper’s tacked and stacked House of Cards follows suit with a low hanging installation composed of a broken frame and a disposable plastic table supporting a half-hearted card construction.

NovoaThe tongue in cheek/prosaically straightforward presentations of Moreno, Cooper, and Ernesto Oroza’s works can be contrasted with the more transcendental presentation of Mary Velverde’s Catcher occupying the main space in the gallery.  Catcher is a superstitious tribute to the Native American tradition of the dreamcatcher or god’s eye; only, Velverde’s catcher is a modern design with a menacingly rectilinear shape, tacked and spun onto the wall in red string.  The design is flattened and modernized representing a modern virtual symbolic order where beliefs, mysticism, and the sacred, like the domestic references in the show, can only be signified through an arbitrary material medium.

Through the house metaphor, Cumanana, produced by and representing a bevy of cultural backgrounds, effectively reflects that home is neither internal or external, modern or primitive, general or universal, real or symbolic.  Home is that shifting cultural signifier, like Lacan’s formulation of the real, that fractures and flows like an improvised poetry into whatever form the artist or Cumanero needs it to take.

Eric Hancock is an artist living in Atlanta.

3 thoughts on “"Cumanana" at Saltworks

  1. Isn’t it true to say that the ‘modernist’ movement in the visual arts in Europe, especially if we take Picasso’s work, was inspired by African art works – masks & carvings – brought back by travellers or looted from Benin? I stand to be corrected. If however this is true, then one can talk of modernism having existed in Africa before exploding on the European continent.

  2. ‘primitive form”?

    then classical European music must also be primitive as was John Cage and Philip Glass? Following the traditions of past examples through material and
    ritual.

  3. I kindof like the idea that Modernism existed in part as primordial seed from Africa. I think more generally, the African diaspora represented an alien language for a European that enabled him to signify the disjuncture inherent in Modernism. Slavoj Zizeck makes references to different forms of Modernism, some more or less arrogant and culturally nuanced than others, but maintains that Modernism is caused by an alienation that results from a switching back and forth between the universal and the specific within the Western history of capitalism. The problem is also one of narrative. Which narrative parallax one approaches the issue by determines the definitions that results. I think that the more thorough and inclusive a historical narrative becomes, the more inconsistent it consequently becomes, i.e determining the pre or sub status of that narrative.

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