Ever since I lived in New York City in the 70s, I have always been attracted by the graffiti and murals that began covering building exteriors in the city.
Invited by the Museum of the Americas in October 2020 for the opening of the TESTIGOS / WITNESSES exhibition, I took advantage of the three weeks spent in Denver photographing murals in three different areas of the city: Santa Fe, Larimer Street, and Westwood. These were murals that impressed me and that undoubtedly give Denver something personal, a very current identity, and that is how this project originated. Flying back to Guadalajara, I realized that there were many portraits on the murals I photographed that allow me to speak visually of the prevalent multiculturalism in the political, social, and cultural identity of the United States as well as of many countries in the 21st century.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION
The photographs of the murals, or part of the murals, are all taken in Denver, a city that can be considered a symbol of many United States cities. All the photos have an additional element -- the environment, the landscape surrounding the mural, that is to say, that the project is not a record of the murals of the city. Rather, it is a set of photographs that take over an urban landscape with the murals that took over urban facades. Through each of the photos, a new urban landscape is created. The project consists of 50 photographs of murals as a potpourri of multiculturalism -- 50 murals that represent the 50 states of the United States.
The entire work is 59 inches high (150 cm) with variable width, the longest being 315 inches (96 cm). Wall and ceiling are painted black with spotlights illuminating only the vinyl on which the photos have been printed.
No museum labels or captions are provided, so that visitors can experience directly each of the multicultural murals with no external interference. A number (from 1 to 50) will be placed below each mural for easy reference and as a necessary tool for the second part below.
Murals have reached a style of artistic expression manifested in cities like Denver as well as in others throughout the world with a tangible maturity. There are some very talented artists displaying their work to people passing by. The transfer of this urban art to a museum or cultural institution confers an additional dimensionality to the art represented and recognizes the value of that specific type of art and its street artists.
One can imagine a global multiracial future as can already be seen in the West, not as ghettos living side by side, but rather as a multicultural race with infinite color tones. In this way, I want to give an equal footing to all the portraits represented in the exhibition.
There will be a counter with a button in front of each mural, and visitors may press the button of the image they most identify with. Another option is for the visitor to choose a paper printed with the 50 numbers, tick off the number of the chosen image and then deposit the paper in a box or mail it to the artist with a copy to the museum or institution to ensure transparency. The final option is for the visitor to register a QR code and vote from home via a web site with the obligation of presenting a photo identification.
Not placing museum labels or captions beside the portraits allows freedom in each viewer’s individual discourse and invites them to select the image they most identify with. If the discourse of the work is basically visual and reflective, the visitor provides additional information and, most importantly, participates in the creation of the artwork as a whole.
Furthermore, the issue of voting systems requires an urgent review in most countries in the world for the good of democracy, and especially in the United States at this point in time. This action would allow a discourse about the voting mechanisms in the 21st century and the question of the use of photo identification or not and why, as well as the possibility of cheating by voting more than once when pressing the counter button.
At the end of the exhibition, several graffiti artists would be invited to intervene the work with aerosol paint and thus take over the artwork themselves. After all, muralists did appropriate facades, the photographer appropriates the murals, and now the graffiti artists appropriate the pictures.
Murals and graffiti are pure urban art; photography has its variations, but plays an important role in the urban context. That is why three types of urban artists are brought into play in the project: those who invade the city and its facades with their paintings; those who take a picture of it with part of its environment; and, third, those that reinterpret the city by appropriating the artwork. These three types of artwork allow the curator a lot of space for creativity. This engagement allows for debates and lectures on art appropriation -- When does an artist cross the red line?
Due to the type of vinyl used for printing the work, once it is removed, the work cannot be used again. It remains as a moment in the pulse of time and invites one to reflect on the ephemerality of all things in this world just as Tibetan Buddhists express themselves in their well-known sand artwork that is erased with the movement of a hand.
The destruction of the work printed on vinyl recalls the ephemerality not only of murals but of life itself, where we must seek balance and respect for all living beings. The action of the fourth part of the project speaks for itself and the action can be recorded. Video would be ideal.
Despite the fourth part and as a result of a conversation with those involved in the project, if necessary, a record could be made consisting of a book in the form of an accordion with the work as exhibited on one side and retouched with graffiti on the other.
Since the complete artwork is 59 inches high and 3,780 inches (315 feet) long, this translates to approximately 63 separate printed pieces measuring 60-inch long each.
I believe that in the current simultaneity of globalization and confinement, a book would allow people who could not attend the exhibition to experience it with a link to the video, and continue voting online if they so wish.
Born in Paris, and with a French passport, they consider me French but I am not, despite a French cultural education. Canadian passport acquired for having lived in Canada but I am. The DNA study specially acquired for this project defines me as 50% Flemish / Nordic European from my mother's origins and 50% Semitic, Sephardic Jew from Egypt, Levante, Armenia, Catalonia, Sicily, Algeria and Morocco. I don't have a Flemish passport, nor do I have a Semitic. Prepare a 52-page PDF explaining the step-by-step path of my ancestors according to my genes on the one hand and my feelings on the other. This personal and intimate document would be presented at the end of the exhibition on screen (projector or TV.
I discovered my DNA, it was fascinating. On the one hand, does the result received fit the physique of a person, their feelings, their way of thinking? In case we would discover that we are more multicultural than we think despite appearing somewhat different. In case, the coexistence between human beings could improve if one discovers one who criticized an ethnic group all his life to discover that some percentage of that belongs to him by unknown ancestors.
The discourse for this project is indeed manifold and very personal, feel free to contact me for more insight. It is worth mentioning that no discourse will be imposed on visitors, so viewers define their own by selecting the mural with which they most identify. Having shown the project to several people, I was impressed to hear that there were so many interpretations for the same mural.