To Name and to Make

Tropo 2 (N) by Gustavo Artigas, installation view at Espacio Yvonne (2016).

Tropo 2 (N) by Gustavo Artigas, installation view at Espacio Yvonne (2016).

In Reyes Josué Morales's discussion of community action within artistic practice, he describes the gesture of extending a bridge between art and daily life. In his case, this gesture invites everyday considerations into the making of visual work, and it does so within a context of erasure. These daily practices have fallen away, "we have grown apart from them," he writes. His community action To warm the bones is one example of this overlap; in the piece, Morales goes to the local baths over a period of several days. He is washed by elders. He revisits a quotidian action, drawing out its gentle sacredness. Touch and care, intimate exchange: these are points of contact that can be so easily erased, undervalued, and made invisible.

I am interested in the ways that Morales makes these bridges, how life and art bleed together on a practical level. That is to say, I do not write this from a disinterested position (perhaps this should be the disclaimer for anything anyone writes, though). In August last year, with designer Karl Williamson and artist Hellen Ascoli, I opened my home to be a space for exhibitions and visiting artists. The idea of the space is to live alongside art and people who think about and make art. We believe that to be side-by-side produces new questions, within an intimate and vulnerable space. It is a strange gesture to open one's home to a public (albeit a small public, comprised mostly of people within the arts community): the gesture of opening is immediately surprising in a place where violence is very present in both real and imagined ways. If there are four locked doors, security cameras, and jagged broken glass walls blocking the entrance to my home, what does it mean to open those doors and say, 'please come in, here we are'?

When we named this space, we decide to call her Yvonne (see how she becomes a person almost immediately?), adopting the name of the building as the space's personality. I imagine Yvonne to be a very particular kind of person, and I recognize the strangeness of personifying a space. She invites confusion, especially with my own subjecthood. A visiting artist calls me Yvonne, intentionally poking at my own role in defining the space. But closer to the spirit of Yvonne, other visitors designate all of us Yvonne - "Somos Yvonne" becomes the catchphrase. Gradually, artists begin to know they can visit, can drop by unannounced, for conversation and tea or a beer in the garden. This fluidity between art and life is from a very specific (ad)vantage, and it doesn't claim to make art present in the streets, to save lives, to be an answer. Instead, it proposes to make the tiniest gesture, to offer a safe place, an oasis in time, a shared conversation, a place to be together. Artists need care, too. In her smallness, Yvonne often seems to me to be forgettable, irrelevant, and yet she surrounds my daily experience. Perhaps this is also the thing about the public baths in Totonicapán: in their everydayness, they provide something that is hard to regulate, hard to quantify, but that is integrated into one's life in meaningful and often forgotten ways.

I can think of numerous spaces in Guatemala in which artists are making this kind of opening: Kamin in Comalapa, Angel Poyon's studio in Comalapa, Edgar Calel's Kit Kit in Comalapa, the Museo de la Colonia China in Guatemala City, Fundación YAXS in Guatemala City, Sótano 1 in Guatemala City, Lea in Totonicapán, Canal Cultural in San Pedro La Laguna, Chichicaste in Panajachel.... and so many more. Yvonne is the new kid on the block, joining a party that has strong roots here.

In the past months in the U.S., as the presidency of Donald Trump continues to make sweeping gestures that violate and revoke human rights, show a callous disregard for bodies (both human and nonhuman), and veer toward violent altercations at every opportunity--indeed encourage violence on the micro and macro levels with a brazenness that I haven't witnessed before in my life--the only reassurance I find is in the small gestures within which states, cities, community organizations, families, and individuals confront these encroachments. "The community goes further," Morales writes. "It is a form of doing." And so, perhaps it is naive to think that small gestures can be meaningful, but in these days, the smallest gestures seem to me to be the only way to avoid paralysis, they offer one way to build community, and a way to face fear and grief. In the failure of institutions, then, we find ourselves moving in tiny ways, closer to a shared space. Morales talks about making something and then naming it. Sometimes we also begin with naming something--pointing to it and acknowledging that it exists. And, from there, we make it.