(new scenarios of custom)
Architecture is repressed by custom,
styles are a lie.
Art history, like science, presumes in it´s beginnings of a path through the most ‘solid’ of it´s manifestations: architecture. Stated as infinity truth, we insist that the history of humanity is contained in each of it´s edifications: cultural, religious, political, social and economic symbols translated to the perdurability of stone, concrete, wood, iron or marble. What Octavio Paz masterfully resumed in ¨architecture is the witness less venal in history.¨ is not more than an empowerment of this to narrate. Seen from a different perspective, art history forks from a set path and architecture stayed with flagrant autonomy in regards to itself. In spite of this, they did not stop sharing responsibilities in the human aesthetic compendium.
Faraway brother style is a project by artist Walterio Iraheta (El Salvador, 1968), where he takes as conceptual reference the authority of architectural speech in the construction of an ideal social-esthetic of El Salvador in the past decades; he (re)takes the path set about by architecture as central language for art routed from a ‘secondary’ formality (no lesser sense of value, but for arriving in a second lap) like photography. In this work, the ironic use of a paraphrase of the tittles of architectural publications are suggested with the term ¨style¨ as safeguard of a typology and/or of a recurring mode, while appealing to ‘faraway brother’ (´hermano lejano´ in Spanish)in reference to a crucial social issue from El Salvador´s contemporary history: the immigration process. El estilo del hermano lejano – an almost literal translation- gathers a series of 10 photographs of Salvadorian homes built with family remittances, which is the primary source of the country’s economy1 and that Iraheta recovers in a work of anthropological cut, understood in it´s most holistic sense.
We would have to return to the social-economical and political context, in which the fragmentation of the Salvadorian society takes place, and not only resume it to the era of the civil war, between 1980-19922, but to see it since 1970 and as it persist to date. A continued migration that happens before, during and after the armed conflict and that turned El Salvador into one of the countries with the higher migration index of the region. A process that not only did it provoke an enormous uprooting in the restoration of the most ancestral practices of the indigenous people, or of colonial customs; but it also forced to forget the modern evolution process and the entering of a postindustrial era without development, postmodern era without the fair foundations of the modern world and into a postwar almost as dark as war itself. 3
¨ The rootless man, torn from his frame, his medium, his country, suffers at first, for it is more pleasant to live amongst your own. However, he can take advantage of his experience. He learns how to stop mistaking the real from the ideal, culture with nature. But if the displaced man manages to overcome the resentment born from despise or from the hostility of his hosts, he discovers curiosity and learns tolerance. His presence amongst the ¨autochthonous¨ forms an uprooted effect: by perturbing his customs, by disconcerting through his behavior and judgment, it may help some of them to enter in this same route of detachment to the convenient, a route of interrogation and amazement.¨ 4
So, as a principle of christian root, this thought presumes the crystallization of desire through sacrifice, but contradictorily the exhibitionism of that desire. Due to this, the sacrifice of the faraway brother has to be equipped with the varnish of success stories, those that feed the pseudo Christianity of the ‘self help’ manuals in accordance to the child prodigy. In the words of the constant apostate that once was Niestsche: ¨in architecture, the pride of man, his triumph over gravitation, his will for power, assumes an invisible form¨: what other monument can explain better the Salvadorian exile than it´s own house? 5
This process of selection and classification that Iraheta uses, is characterized by the displacement, from a sculptural attitude and an object point of view that leads to a hydration point in the rhetorical of (post)filmic; it is precise to remember that the artist has defined his field of obsessions from different angles of the Salvadorian contemporary history and in many occasions by using the domestic territory as an allegory to a false self portrait, in a documentary strategy. He manifests an intense concern for the project and the process, as well as a singular predilection for the theatrical world in regards to representation; so his work conflicts in an idea of truth (given in ‘the documents of what is real’ and an idea of the fatuous given in the scenarios). As a result the definition of ‘new scenarios of custom’ refers to farce as a way of life and to ‘non-style architectural’ (suggested by Le Corbusier) as an inherited practice. The photographs of ‘this sculptures’ may be presented as modular disposition or in remembrance to the context itself; majestic houses built in towns whose names are Citalá, Ilobasco or Intipuca can´t be more than a product of that permanent joke that is the tenacious central american tropic.
This ‘architectures’ are at the same time allegories of houses that are ‘non-habitable’, but not so much in the modern treason of pragmatism, but due to the sense of usurping with crude and domestic exercises, the sacrum space of contemplation. Those visions (variable) of the houses, of the architecture, of the simulated culture (explicit in the climatic and installation solutions of cold countries and postindustrial cities) become an emblem of a country that tilts between rationalism and game. From Baudrillard´s interpretation, that hyper real arises from the interaction between the real, the social and the symbolic, so the simulation ends replacing the real; assisting a hyperbole of the fateful, where paths of baroque, kitsch, indigenous and necessity intersect: more than displaced architectures, they are architectures of necessity, one that is founded in legitimating as an exercise of visibility and self acknowledgment.
The taste for artificiality, the fragmentary conception of the space of ‘representation’, the constant aesthetic of bricolage (in the anthropological and post-critical sense of the term) they are the main dish in a series of photographs. In the houses you can see the defective tensed in relation with the idea of perfection, the unfinished as a style form. But they also immediately refer to the drive to assemble and immediately disassemble a reality or a scene. In one of the cases it relates to a harsh combat of mannerism, a stroke of luck with overexposure of power in ornaments (scrollwork), in the mixture of an exuberant, tropical and chaotic architectural weave. It is poverty with a concrete an iron spirit.
1 Remittances represented 2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of all the countries in development in 2008, but 6% of GPD of low income countries. In several small nations, remittances exceed one fifth of GDP and constitute the largest source of foreign currency. El Salvador leads the list of countries that live on remittances in Central America. (taken from the Report on immigration and remittances of the World Bank in April 2011, by J.Tuck-Primdahl and Rebecca ONG)
2 Between 1980 and 1992, El Salvador suffered a violent bellicose conflict between the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) and The Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) that generated around 75,000 victims from deaths or missing people. The war ended with The Peace Agreements of Chapultepec, January 16, 1992; that demobilized the guerilla and incorporated it to the political life of the country.
3 One of the most commonly known consequences of the war and post war, was the Salvadorian migration of demilitarized youngsters, that later on form part of the gangs in Los Angeles, and would later on export their model to Central America. Currently El Salvador lives a civil war leaded by two gang groups: La Mara Salvatrucha (also known as la 13) and La Mara 18. The gangs do not control the political structure of the country, but they are mafias that controls the daily lives with assaults, kidnappings, bribery and keeps the civil society in constant fear.
In that personal and social tear that signifies any exile, an idea is founded, of a country extended with aesthetic and cultural imports that acquire the quality of ‘custom’. The great theoretical of culture, the bulagrian Tzvetan Todorov in an autobiographical documentary like The displaced Man, executes with masterful wisdom of this tear in the conscience of the haggard:
4 Todorov, Tzvetan. El hombre desplazado (Translation Juana Salabert). Mexico: Santillana, 1998. PG 29
5 Consult Jose Martí: The history of men told by their houses. In The gold Age, Revista Zunzun, Casa Editorial Abril. La Habana, 2003
Iraheta´s work, starting from a cartographical structure, places the new conception of a visual map of a migrant El Salvador, a country-I insist-extended; a wide angle perspective that captures the focalization of disorder. If in Beckett´s work, Happy Day, the characters are buried, literally, in the garbage, in Faraway brother style it restores from the sub soils of the aesthetic. Walterio Iraheta´s project resumes certain poetics that allude –not without strangeness- that life; bourgeois by excellence, with all the elements of comfort, warning that there is someone inside that space, feeling watched and enjoying it; while the artist situates himself from the viewers space, not as a voyeur, but with a civic, historical and scientific curiosity; a stroke of luck as an archeologist of ‘the ordinary’. He is interested in the viewers perspective and asks himself what that habitat consists of, what lies behind that piece of scenery that is within itself a story of the faraway brother´s personal journey; a house does not betray it´s destiny of autobiography. Each construction is somewhat narrative a (micro) history to tell, an object of simulation and as last instance, a system to gaze at exaggerated things, in the limits of delirium, fair sculptural answers to a time of change. It is the answer that leads to any displacement: a change of paradigm and place; a new scenario for customs.