La Puerta del Jardín

Carmen Lucía Alvarado
Esvin Alarcón Lam
Edgar Calel
Alfredo Ceibal
Margarita Figueroa
Jorge de León
Jenniffer Paiz
Sergio Ramírez
Sandra Sebastián
Luis Soto

Organized by Melanie Ford Lemus
and Pagoda Imaginaria

Art Exposition
Hotel Guatemaya
Zone 1, Guatemala City, Guatemala
May 07 — June 15, 2021

La Puerta del Jardín is an independent art exposition that grew from over a year of conversation between artists and myself, and our respective research and personal experiences within the ravines (los barrancos) of Guatemala City. The exposition includes seven artists, one filmmaker, one writer, and two photo journalists. 

This catalogue is an exposition publication. It includes the exposition text, photos of the works and artist statements, a glossary of the ravine, and acknowledgements.

Expo Text
(translation my own)

La Puerta del Jardín is an evocation of the possibility of entering and leaving a garden that is not a garden, or as Sandra Sebastián says, a garden whose flowers grew by the strength of their freedom and not by their domestication.

Although the ravines cover almost half of Guatemala City’s territory, no two are alike. Some of them are crossed by planned perforations in their slopes, where steel bridges perch. Each of their basins, hills, crevices and ditches have been sculpted not by accident but by the socio-political forces that govern them and, as an inescapable reality, waste and their flows have intervened in their depths. Their architectures contradict the binary distinction between urbanity and rurality, where homes have been erected next to their cliffs and basins.

For more than fourteen years, Sandra Sebastián kept the reels of analog film with images captured in zone 18 of the capital. Portraits, which are traces of a friendly documentation of the Puerta del Jardín, whose name came from the same community that inhabits the ravine. Sandra’s photographs are protected by a previous fragile architecture, spatially reformulated by the work of Jorge de León, whose imagination transcends the conventional museum space. Jorge, whose work for years has been related to the images of the press, builds a tension between the ideas of a white cube and marginality, which converge and contrast with the photographs of Luis Soto, conceived to accompany a journalistic report some years ago. They sit in dialogue with Sebastián’s intimate feminine gaze.

There is no attempt to replicate and even less attempt to illustrate the ravine as such. Rather, each artist presents moments, encounters, or situated objects, and even draws from their deeply familiar experiences, precisely to show the impossibility of encompassing the entire human condition. The threads drawn almost transparently on Alfredo Ceibal’s paintings on paper perhaps invite us to witness a chapter in the artist’s life, who has witnessed the social erosion of the city’s territory that has caused displacement of people and their stories. La Puerta del Jardín approaches the ravines not as passive and accidental figures, but as spaces of community, work and intentional exchange.

Unlike a glossary, the works in this exhibition are not theoretical definitions but ecological images, in the sense that they intervene in the peculiarities of an unconventional space, sometimes with undesirable characteristics. But when they are embraced, these settings transform the idea of the exhibition, where the molded and crumbling walls become comforting outlines of familiar landscapes, as Edgar Calel’s large-format painting subtly challenges us, whose clay-ravine crumbles with each rain drop and whose canvas moves with the wind as if to remind us that the earth not only moves under our feet but also above our heads. In a longing for stable soil, the roots of bamboo are said to bind the earth. These rhizomes are also used worldwide to control river edges. ‘A la orilla del agua’ is an installation conceived by Esvin Alarcón Lam, who raises the relationship between Chinautla bamboo, pipes and a video documenting a water source, where the cadence of plastic buckets that rise and fall to extract vital liquid, resemble the palpitations of the earth, since bamboo and its roots are analogies of non-existent pipes.

Choosing the safest location to build a hillside home means understanding the different properties of the land. Jenniffer Paiz, in an act of emotional exploration, draws maps that move away from cartographic logics, where the lines respond to the relationship of her body traveling through space. By mapping her location in relation to her own body, the artist invites us to observe the topography from a feminist perspective, but by presenting an installation of white t-shirts and without gender indicators imposed by society, her work allows us to understand the subjectivities of territories beyond identity categories. The daily climb to a ravine implies that the bodies are subjected to a certain physical resistance. This recognition of change and adaptation to the territory—landscape for some—continues to be vital for survival and for contemporary disputes. Like the different silhouettes of a ravine, the changing lines and open forms expand throughout a film scene. Sergio Ramírez, cinematographer, exposes a fragment of the film 1991, where he contrasts the youth and violence of the country from the narration of the moving image.

The artists in this show consider the multiplicity of definitions: as a statement that explains a term, as the physical characteristics of a topography, and as an explicit material detail. Both natural characteristics collide with rather social constructs. Margarita Figueroa’s textual intervention makes a forceful reflection. The artist tells us that not all people have gone to a ravine but that does not make them unaware of the perceptions of these distant spaces for some, and where a voice emerges from Figueroa’s artistic imagination, to speak to the ground about the gravity of gravity, and in a certain socio-political context, and therefore, affective, posing the ravine as a possibility of vertical flight. In a different way, text works through the Puerta del Jardín as pages in Carmen Lucía Alvarado’s fragmented essay, addressing the subjectivities of internal migrations and the journey of fictional space, as the least metaphorical.

La Puerta del Jardín was born from the collective and political organization called friendship, and brings together people from the visual arts, design, journalism, cinema and literature as a strategy to enter and leave a disputed territory, and to direct the gaze from the horizontality of seeing up and down. It is a door to the meeting of life in a mountainous city.