Faire mondes, which features articles in French, English, and Spanish, recently posted an article by Maica Gugolati, “Une con-versation: Alice Yard et Beta-Local.”
Here are excerpts:
This article is about a discussion between two art communities in the Caribbean region: Alice Yard, in Trinidad and Tobago, and Beta-Local, in Puerto Rico. The focus of this contribution is to recover a past conversation between the two entities that was interrupted due to the first wave of COVID-19 in the USA in 2020. At that time the directors of Alice Yard were invited by Beta-Local to start a trans-Caribbean exchange. Thanks to this publication, I aimed to digitally restart that interrupted discussion: what if the pandemic had never happened? However, this question is formulated in a past conditional; the two art centers had to face Covid related restrictions that maybe pushed them toward different approaches to their communitarian ways of collaborating locally and trans-nationally. Therefore, I opted to change the main question accompanying the exchange to: how can this Conversation continue and be enriched nowadays?
The Zoom meeting was with the artist Christopher Cozier, one of the three co-directors of Alice Yard, the artist Sofía Gallisá Muriente, who finished the direction of Beta-Local during the pandemic, and the artist Pablo Guardiola, one of the current co-directors of Beta-Local.
The online exchange took a philosophical turn into a shared brainstorming on the concepts and practices of what it means to have or create a “conversation” between them. I decided therefore to preserve this dialogue format in the text, trying to analyze the main axes of the oral sharing while maintaining some of the jargon and expressions used. [. . .]
Pablo Guardiola [. . .]
The artist Pablo Guardiola introduces one of the issues they face when wishing to have a conversation among different parts of the Caribbean region: its polyglossia. Due to the fragmentation of the region among historical imperialist colonial pasts and trades, the art director shares a conflicted feeling about linguistic limitations that illustrates a tendency toward endogamous relationships even in artistic exchanges.
We want to keep having the same structure of how we relate to other people, in particular with the rest of the Caribbean. It’s kind of like an interest that goes from reading more literature and theories from the Caribbean, but then also having direct dialogues and conversations. But something that it’s kind of like… [Pablo takes a pause of reflection] it takes time… But when Sofía was in Costa Rica and met Chris, they suddenly had a direct bond. After that also other people from Trinidad associated to Alice Yard had visited Puerto Rico through these different programs related to Beta-Local and it’s almost a spirit of wanting to have direct interaction with our fellows in the region. […] When we [Beta-Local directors] talk about art institutions, we’re interested in [the] full spectrum of them. We’re highly critical of what is behind an artist organization, an artist’s own space and art institutions in general.
Pablo Guardiola introduces a common issue in the Caribbean region, and Caribbean studies, that can limit the idea of a united pan-Caribbean sharing. Even critical essays on Caribbean culture, anthropological and sociological writings, depend on a system of official translation that can limit accessibility due to the diverse polyglossia of the region. According to my expertise in the field as well, many of the academic contributions become inaccessible due to their language publications and editorial networking and distribution. The Caribbean is a complex region made up of postindustrial plural societies that for the Cuban writer Benitez-Rojo are polyrhythmic (2001). With this term he describes each Caribbean country as having a central rhythm displaced by other rhythms in such a way as to merge into a state of flux. The archipelagos express a pluriversality of varied cosmogonies that are interconnected.
Pablo introduced a detail that points out a peculiar way of connecting among colleagues; he described the link between the artists Sofía and Christopher as a “direct bond” that allowed a long-term conversation to take place.
The term “conversation”, etymologically from Latin: cum-versare, links the act of turning (versare), with, together (cum). More generally, it evokes the act of dwelling in company with, where human beings find themselves when together. Inspired by its etymology, I argue that Alice Yard and Beta-Local started a “Con-Versation” as an artistic and communitarian practice.
The Con-Versation, rather than being trapped in an incomprehensible crisscrossing of multiple languages, finds a peaceful mediated space in its shared creole registers.
Christopher Cozier: One of the things that Sofía said to me [when she was in Trinidad at Alice Yard], was about being in an English-speaking space that was not hierarchical and hegemonic because the relationship for Puerto Rico to English is usually through the United States. So, to find herself in a fellow colonized location where English is the dominant language, but not formal English, but Creole English. There were certain evocative resonances in terms of the kind of Creole Spanish that you all speak and the kind of Creole English that we speak, and you’re finding these weird affinities […]. There’s of way where curatorial practices and institutional interfaces that we face, may miss this longstanding connection it’s always in the present tense, it’s always at that moment of exchange.
The artist Christopher Cozier emphasizes the fact that Con-Versation had the power to displace the historical established relations of imperialism and hierarchies, thanks to the act of exchanging and working in a plural region with shared experience of a system of exploitation and systematic dominance. The artist Sofía Gallisá Muriente was interested in the fact of working in an environment where English is spoken in a creolized way that does not relate to the neocolonial language, American English, that the Spanish of Puerto Rico normally relates to.
Language is not the only factor that allows the Con-Versation to take place. Even though many islands have a different predominant language that provides a sense of separation and isolation, all those places are historically and contemporarily ports that symbolize a path of communication, exchange, compromise, and trades between them. Along with this image of the island as a place for exchange, in Con-Versation are found shared vernacular expressions, common behaviors, and performative ways of storytelling, that include physical and nonverbal communication and colloquial mannerisms.
The Con-Versation in the Caribbean archipelago, therefore, can allow people to create shareable “situated knowledge” that can defy the sense of dominant hierarchy in the name of a relatable sociality. [. . .]