Piedrín names the small stones used in construction: either the effect of tearing something down, or the material used to build it up--aggregate, we might call it in English--and it's a word that is used only here, regionally. It's a simple material, strong only in collaboration with other things. Piedrín is a small gesture, a way toward building something, or taking something apart. Either way, these are pieces that only make sense as part of a larger whole.
Piedrín leans on language as a way of thinking through certain propositions about art from Central America. This is because my training is as a writer, not because written language is the best way to understand what is happening here. Language is just one tool among many. It is important that this site be bilingual (at least), that we think about multiple audiences. There is also slippage between languages, and this site embraces that point of slippage as a point in which we learn things about ourselves. When our language doesn't have a word for something, pointing to that absence forces us to acknowledge the ways in which blind spots in culture operate. That seems, to me at least, more relevant than ever.
I would like to tell you how or why I am in Guatemala, but I'd rather not start there. Instead let me tell you that after more than a decade working with contemporary artists in the U.S. and Latin America, I find the community of artists in Central America to be generous with me in a way that is constantly surprising (especially given ugly histories of U.S. intervention here, not just in politics, but also in the arts). I find alternative spaces to be vibrant and smart, numerous despite staggering odds. There are things which are not good, that need time and attention, that need revision. There is plenty of chisme to go around, longstanding feuds and bitter rivalries. There are interpersonal relationships that take time to tease apart, backstories to understand. Surely those things happen in most creative communities. But there is community here, and much of it, and this is something that has been of interest to me in all my work. I am curious what drives community, what sustains it, how those threads are woven together, and what holds them.
What is the point of describing and exploring community? The point is that in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, of fighting against every manner of discrimination, of pain, of failure, we consistently look to each other for support and strength and challenges to how we think and love and live. I start this website on the week that a new administration takes over in my home country, and I tell you straight: I think community and its implications and questions and challenges and hopes are something that we are all going to need--a lot of--immediately, if we weren't looking for it, and actively building it, before.
And so, here we are. I write to you, in small pebbles, from Guatemala's capital city. I write to you about contemporary art and politics, exactly 20 years after the peace accords officially ended Guatemala's 36-year armed conflict (a conflict that continues in so many quotidian ways). I write to you, trying on new voices, writing as often as I can, building a body of texts about the place that has come to mean so much to me. As the borders between countries in the Americas are violently demarcated by imagined and built walls, Central America is, more than ever, a strategic site for locating a contemporary art writing practice. This place speaks to the exchanges that are most current, to the concerns of people who are moving through diasporic and post-war experiences, and to the fluidity of borders and geography, from a place that has historically been outside the cultural conversations that dominate publications and institutions in the U.S. Sometimes what is outside tells us much more about what is happening in the places that have been considered the insides. Curator and political theorist Pablo José Ramírez writes, "Contemporaneity, then, is a location on the border that allows us to measure the achievements and limits of modernity, to find ourselves in the other, to find ourselves in the middle."(1) I am not from here, but I find myself here. I find myself in the other, in the middle, between places, far from home, and making something, however small, in collaboration with many voices, written and described, in the hopes that it will also mean something, however small, to you, at this moment in which we find ourselves.
Here, we start. Welcome to Piedrín.