A river runs through col­or­ful ex­hi­bi­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - THIS WEEK - BY CELIA WREN style@wash­post.com

Colom­bian cu­ra­tor José Roca doesn’t want visi­tors to bring too cere­bral of a mind-set to the ex­hi­bi­tion “Water­weavers: The River in Con­tem­po­rary Colom­bian Vis­ual and Ma­te­rial Cul­ture.”

“I think in ex­hi­bi­tions there is too much im­per­a­tive on un­der­stand­ing things, whereas you should be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing them,” says Roca, who cu­rated the show with Ale­jan­dro Martín, a fel­low Colom­bian. “Water­weavers,” now at the Art Mu­seum of the Amer­i­cas af­ter runs in New York and Madrid, is “meant to be ex­pe­ri­enced by the body,” Roca said in a Skype in­ter­view be­fore the show’s D.C. open­ing.

Hence the im­mer­sive, sen­sory rich na­ture of the ex­hi­bi­tion, which fea­tures Colom­bian draw­ings, ce­ram­ics, graphic de­sign, fur­ni­ture, tex­tiles, video and in­stal­la­tions that re­late to two themes: rivers and weav­ing. A room near the be­gin­ning of the show il­lus­trates the ap­proach. Upon en­ter­ing, you pass be­neath dan­gling fibers that sug­gest clumps of yel­low, brown and or­ange Span­ish moss. Depend­ing on your height, the fibers — part of Su­sana Me­jía’s “Color Amazonia” — may graze your head.

On a wall ahead plays a video of a wide, tran­quil river whose glassy sur­face re­flects the sky and clouds. Sud­denly, ma­chine-gun shots ring out. Spray spurts up as bul­lets tear into the wa­ter. This river is not so tran­quil af­ter all.

Artist Al­berto Baraya shot the video, “Rio,” while doc­u­ment­ing the jour­ney of a naval pa­trol boat down the Ama­zon River and a trib­u­tary, the Pu­tu­mayo. At one point, the troops aboard amused them­selves by shoot­ing into the wa­ter.

The video, Roca said at the “Water­weavers” open­ing, drives home the fact that “the Ama­zon is not just an idea.” Be­cause of Colom­bia’s to­pog­ra­phy, rivers have been crit­i­cal trans­porta­tion chan­nels through­out the coun­try’s history. They also have played a key role in crim­i­nal en­ter­prises and in the armed con­flict that has racked the coun­try for decades. Wa­ter­ways, Roca said, are “the axis of the con­flict.”

Colom­bia’s nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment is re­flected through­out the ex­hi­bi­tion. Cle­men­cia Echev­erri’s video in­stal­la­tion “Treno” projects the rush­ing Cauca River onto the walls of an up­per-story room. In the cen­ter of the room stand curvy chairs that ar­chi­tect Marcelo Vil­le­gas crafted from the roots of a va­ri­ety of bam­boo that grows near the Cauca. Visi­tors are en­cour­aged to sit on the chairs.

“The fur­ni­ture here is meant to be ex­pe­ri­enced,” said Roca, who is artis­tic di­rec­tor of Flora Ars + Natura, an in­de­pen­dent space for con­tem­po­rary art in Bo­gota, Colom­bia.

Else­where in “Wa­ter weavers,” ink-and-wa­ter­color draw­ings by Abel Ro­dríguez, a mem­ber of the Nonuya com­mu­nity, de­pict sub­tle sea­sonal changes in a flooded rain for­est. “Luz Blanca ( White Light),” a ta­pes­try of plas­tic rip­ples by Olga de Amaral, sug­gests a wa­ter­fall. Hang­ing lamps by in­dige­nous Colom­bian ar­ti­sans in­cor­po­rate tra­di­tional weav­ing tech­niques (the lamp­shades) and dis­carded plas­tic bot­tles (the lamps’ cen­tral sup­ports). Span­ish de­signer Al­varo Catalán de Ocón came up with the tem­plate for the lamps as a way to re­cy­cle bot­tles that might oth­er­wise clog Colom­bian rivers.

Me­jía’s “Color Amazonia” in­stal­la­tion re­flects a seven-year study of pig­ments de­rived from rain­for­est plants, its dan­gling fibers hav­ing been dyed with those pig­ments. The in­stal­la­tion also in­cludes a cab­i­net con­tain­ing mono type prints of the orig­i­nal plants.

“Water­weavers” orig­i­nated when the Bard Grad­u­ate Cen­ter Gallery in New York re­cruited Roca to cu­rate an ex­hi­bi­tion. He came up with the show’s theme, hav­ing no­ticed that much Colom­bian art and de­sign were re­lated, prac­ti­cally or the­mat­i­cally, to rivers and weav­ing.

He de­cided that the ex­hi­bi­tion would in­clude works of art and de­sign as well as pieces that might tra­di­tion­ally have been de­fined as crafts. The ap­proach is an at­tempt to pre­serve more of the real-world con­text that gave the works their orig­i­nal mean­ing.

Roca also re­solved to leave off ex­plana­tory text so as not to dis­tract from the art. (A small guide to “Water­weavers” in­cludes artist in­for­ma­tion.) “You can go through the ex­hi­bi­tion with­out read­ing any­thing,” he said, “just have the ex­pe­ri­ence of the art.”

COUR­TESY OF SU­SANA ME­JÍA

Fibers dyed with pig­ments de­rived from rain-for­est plants dry in the Ama­zon. Visi­tors to the Art Mu­seum of the Amer­i­cas’ mul­ti­me­dia “Water­weavers” ex­hi­bi­tion, an im­mer­sive look at in­ter­sect­ing as­pects of Colom­bian cul­ture, will see such fibers up close as part of the “Color Amazonia” in­stal­la­tion.

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