The Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (MACBA) presents a complete exhibition on the Colombian María Teresa Hincapié (1956-2008). It is not a common exhibition, since his work does not consist of paintings or sculptures. “I’m not interested in dead art,” he said. “I believe that life is art and my body is my living art.”
In a co-production with the Museum of Modern Art of Medellín (MAMM), the exhibition If this were a principle of infinity, it will remain open until February 26, 2023. Its curator, Claudia Segura Campins, spoke to EL TIEMPO about the life of the Armenian-born performerof her work that is difficult to grasp, of the exhibition and of the ideas of a woman who was ahead of her time.
Why organize an exhibition on María Teresa Hincapié at this time?
Because he is an artist whose practice has been so difficult to categorize that the possibility of limiting it and framing it in certain frameworks has somehow slipped away. In addition, he is someone who talks about art from his life and establishes a relationship between artistic creation through the body and a very coherent way of living, which makes us think about that impossible difference between the two. She is also an artist who was interested in very contemporary themes, such as the need to generate through her practice a resistance to hyper-productivity, fierce consumption and the overwhelming speed of the city. She carried out ecological projects and since the 90s she spoke of the need to take care of the planet, to pay attention to the most insignificant elements in routine domestic acts, to take care of that nature that gave us so much and that we were mistreating. In addition, it allows the museum to speak of the performative in a much broader and more extensive way; not as a limiting category, but as hybrid, powerful and fluid.
How do you summarize the importance and universality of your work?
I was captivated by María Teresa’s work because she tries to answer -although she never answers them- existentialist questions that we have all asked ourselves. It is a search for how to live better on a spiritual level in the world, which means being in contact with our peers, but also with animals, with nature. It is the way to be at peace.
How did the idea come about and what were the first steps for the exhibition?
It stems from my interest in the practice of María Teresa. I lived in Colombia for four years and there María José Arjona and Rolf Abderhalden, from Mapa Teatro, told me about her. As exhibition curator at MACBA, I presented this project as a possible exhibition and from then on I began the investigation and invited Emiliano Valdés to be the co-curator of the exhibition and thus also involve the Museum of Modern Art of Medellín.
How did you face the challenge of showing a work based on performances without your presence?
We found ourselves in front of enormous archival material, videos and photographs with sometimes poor quality, and it was essential to interview friends of María Teresa, as well as being very close to her son, Santiago Zuluaga, who currently lives in a piece of land that she bought in 1996 near the Sierra de Santa Marta, which is called La Fruta. We find ourselves, then, with all this material, but without the presence of the artist, who unfortunately is no longer with us. The decision to incorporate new works in the exhibition was very important and, in this case, to invite four artists to reconsider a project they had done with María Teresa. José Alejandro Restrepo offered a new reading of the Untimely piece that he had done with her in 1992. And we invited artists to do a new work: Coco Fusco, María José Arjona and Mapa Teatro incorporate the body into the exhibition and also project a material of María Teresa’s archive towards a future and through the voice of others who speak of contemporary themes that are closely linked to her interests.
You have said that the work of María Teresa Hincapié represents the poetics of the domestic. What is it referring to?
I mean, she did routine actions, to which we hardly pay attention, and she ritualized them, gave them a sacred character, a character that needed attention: those actions are really what is important. In addition, she said that our home was in our body and, therefore, that home, which is that terrain of the domestic, of intimacy, expands a lot in the sense that if you are in the mountains and your body is home , that mountain will also be that domestic part. Therefore, it is a matter that is not limited to the realm of the physical house, but is a more mental and even spiritual positioning.
How are the parts that make up the structure of the exhibition?
It is not articulated chronologically, but through seven areas that bring together actions and works of María Teresa. We begin with If this were a principle of infinity, which gives its name to the exhibition and was the first solo action or performance that she did. We continue with a preamble in which we incorporate two works related to the stage in which she was linked to the Acto Latino theater group. Then we go to I am a woman who is no longer a woman, which raises the connotation of the feminine. We continue with Hacia lo sagrado, which brings together one of her most important projects entitled this way. Then there is the village-school, which is what she dreams of doing in La Fruta, that small piece of land that she bought thanks to winning the National Salon of Artists in Bogotá for the second time. Another one called Pies que lamen follows, which brings together practices in which María Teresa walks slowly, above all. And This land is my body, based on the ecological idea that action is healing and is healing towards the earth. Besides we have the projects commissioned to the artists.
How has the relationship with Colombia been during the preparation and presentation of the exhibition?
Continuous and constant. In addition, the Colombian Foreign Ministry and the Colombian embassy in Spain helped us with transportation. The curatorship with Emiliano has also been fantastic. And Colombia is where María Teresa has developed, she has grown. The interviews with people close to the territory were fundamental, as well as feeling her relationship with the original peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
How did María Teresa Hincapié move from theater to visual arts?
He was during a stage in the group Acto Latino. She said that the theater taught her to live, to walk. She allowed him to be in the world. But at one point she needs to experience other genres. She collaborates with Álvaro Restrepo around dance; then another with José Alejandro Restrepo around a bibliographical installation. That gives her breadth and she feels the need to create her own character for herself, without having to simulate another. She then jumps to the visual arts. First doing her If this were a beginning of infinity at the Teatro Cuba, to which she took all the things from her house and where she lived for three days from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night. In 1990 she presented it under the title Una cosa es una cosa, already purified and with other elements, at the National Artists Hall of Colombia and for the first time she won first prize for an unknown artist with an intangible, immaterial and performative work. .
What message did she want to convey?
I wanted to refound the need for pause, to think inward, to calm down, to listen to oneself, to nature, to the other. She was also an advocate of the production of knowledge through exchange with others, through a collectivity. Hence her great project of the village-school and her relationship with her students throughout her entire life.
How was your relationship with spirituality?
Very high. In 1995 she started the project Toward the Sacred with a pilgrimage from Bogotá to San Agustín. He begins to delve into the texts on the subject, in worldviews, in the epistemology of native peoples, in the need to approach other ways of understanding divinity, in different religions, and all his practice drifts towards a search for those priorities: how spirituality can penetrate their actions, their manner and their coherence when it comes to living.
Why do you think she was a visionary woman, ahead of her time?
Not only because of the themes that I have mentioned before (criticism of productivity, consumerism, extraction from the planet), but also because of what is now also called mindfulness, the need to contemplate, to stop, to listen to the body . In addition, he raised issues such as the idea of the relationship with other species, other animals, plants. He even reconsidered the idea of gender, not as much as queer theory, but he did speak of being a mutant, of the need for a union between positive and negative, masculine and feminine. He was a person who went beyond the hegemonic approaches that were given to him.
Now that the exhibition has been open for a few weeks, do you think they managed to transmit the energy of her body, even though she is not present?
Yes, there is a presence of a very important absence. We are very lucky to have the performance by María José Arjona En silencio pero juntos, which is activated for several days and at all hours of the museum, and in which seven wonderful local performers work through movement, not only in the exhibition but throughout the museum. They are changing the dramaturgy of the museum and the way the public relates to it. They offer a continuous incorporation of the real body; there is a physical presence. The exhibition is articulated in such a way that there is a very direct relationship between the practice, the work and the person. It is a very intimate exhibition, which requires silence and time. We also showed the writings of María Teresa trying to make her presence the most important part of the exhibition. In this sense, the voice of María Teresa can be intuited from another sensory place.
How has the public response been?
Wonderful. We also put out a publication that expands our three-and-a-half-year investigation and includes fantastic texts, a previously unpublished interview, and images from the projects. The exhibition has a very good response and people visit it again.
Juanita Samper Ospina
EL TIEMPO correspondent in Spain