Art Review: “Beatriz Santiago Muñoz and the Cosmogonía”

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I had forgotten to post this compelling review of the work of Puerto Rican artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz by Jan Galligan and Lillian Mulero (published in JANguarte). It certainly made me want to find out more on the artist and filmmaker:

Beatriz Santiago Muñoz is an artist who thinks like an anthropologist or sociologist, but works more like a revolutionary theorist. During her 15 year career, Santiago Muñoz, has exhibited in galleries and museums in Europe, South America, Mexico, the U.S., and here in the Caribbean. She has received several awards and scholarships and given lectures and workshops on her work. Most recently, she was invited by Gasworks, contemporary art organization in England, associated with the Tate Modern museum that offers residencies for artists. Santiago Munoz was charged with the creation of two works, La Cueva Negra and Pharmacopoeia, for exhibition in London. Both works present a view of the natural scenery of Puerto Rico.

beatrizThe Black Cave, a video documentary of 20 minutes, follows two cousins, as they explore the Paseo del Indio, an important Taino Indian archaeological site, largely forgotten and located next to a stream which runs beneath a highway overpass. The children, who live nearby, come on horses to play games and weave fantasies. Barefoot and shirtless, they move through the jungle environment with a sense of belonging and a close knowledge of the landscape. [. . .] Simple in its construction, this short video at first seems to depict play and exploration. In fact, it represents a long period of study by Santiago Muñoz, who spent months getting to know the history and archeology of the site, and winning the confidence of the cousins ​​during many sessions of filming them at their games. This intense study and promotion of trust characterizes the Santiago Muñoz’s method. Establishing a relationship with individuals who are the characters in her film, and are active participants in the revelation of the story. This allows her to develop the story in a way that is faithful to the time and place – its history and its environment. Her projects function as critique and indictment, at the same time. This is the political backbone of her work. In developing this unique method while working in communities of people marginalized or suppressed, Santiago Muñoz has found a way to include thoughts and ideas of the protagonists of her studies. This process invites a political education of her subjects.

Pharmacopoeia is a documentary about six minutes long, shot in 16mm color film instead of video. This is an important distinction to Santiago Muñoz, since the technical and physical characteristics of the film are very different video. Video allows different forms of presentation, from small iPhone or iPad screens to video projections on a large scale. In the case of video, Santiago Munoz is open to different formats and possibilities. [. . .] La Cueva Negra is a narrative, while Pharmacopoeia is a literal document. Constructed as a series of photographs, Santiago Muñoz presents a collection of little-known native plants, used by Indians and early settlers for medicinal and hallucinogenic effects. These plants are: Nicotiana tabacum, cultivated for its narcotic effect Versicolor Brugmansia, Angel’s Trumpet, whose seeds can be hallucinogenic in small doses and deadly in large quantities and Hippomane Mancinella, Manchineel tree. Standing under a tree during a rainfall can cause blisters on the skin, and burning the tree creates a smoke that can cause blindness. The Carib Indians used the poisonous sap of this tree on the tips of their arrows, and poisoned the water of their enemies with the leaves. Ponce de Leon was killed in Florida by an arrow poisoned with Manchineel sap.

About her film, Santiago Muñoz says “the government’s efforts to eradicate Hippomane Mancinella from the island, greatly changes the ecology of coastal areas” and she examines “how this desire to make the landscape harmless contributes to an image that deliberately promotes Puerto Rico as an idyllic tropical Caribbean island.”

This exhibition was organized in two parts. In the first part, presented only the video La Cueva Negra as a projection entirely covering the back wall, while a high-quality sound fills the gallery with the thunder of the huge trucks. In the second part, Santiago Muñoz, selected works by artists Lourdes Correa-Carlo, Edra Soto and Ylva Trapp. Santiago Muñoz presents her film Pharmacopeia sculpturally as described above, along with a number of her botanical drawings of the plants shown in her film.

About her work, Santiago Muñoz says: “Over the last year I have developed a numb of projects that have to do with the construction of the symbolic meaning of the experience and representation of the land and the landscape of Puerto Rico. I’m interested in the different ways the possibilities of representing the earth, proposing through play and improvisation a new mythical and symbolic relationship and a new visual and formal language, which can produce other relationship. You can challenge the standardization of the senses to which we are currently subjected. Both La Cueva Negra and Pharmacopoeia are the result of this interest. ”

Note: the work of Beatriz Santiago Muñoz is included in the section on San Juan, PR, in Art Cities of the Future: 21st Century Avant-Gardes, published this fall by Phaidon Press.

More information about the artist can be found on her website: http://fabricainutil.com and at Agustina Ferreyra gallery on their website: http://www.agustinaferreyra.com

For full review, see http://janguarte.posthaven.com/beatriz-santiago-munoz-and-the-cosmogonia

For more on the Gasworks exhibition, see http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/reviews/beatriz-santiago-munoz/

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