Even if only passing or looking through the window, Blur—Borroso, Unshärfe by Camila Ospina Gaitán and Juan Ricaurte Riveros at Orbit in Hamburg, is hardly discrete. Screenshots of an Instagram warning, printed on fabric and hung from the ceiling, announce hostile dialogue. Just behind, bulky pieces covered in golden foil float on the floor and blur with an immanence of aggression. Plunged in a white frame, swinging in metallic reflections, its tips light and tense, ‘Garment No. 1’ and ‘Garment No. 2’, both by Juan, appear suspended. Underneath, might there be a body sustaining the shape of this sheet?
In contrast, as you make your way through the space, small, delicate pieces of nipple-shaped blown glass rise subtly into focus. These are held by thin pieces of metal. Glass Nipples, a series of sculptures by Camila, may at first be unnoticeable among the massive golden bodies and fabric. But the physicality, and reflections, of these modest glass objects pierce the room uncomprimisingly. It is clear that the initial impact of the flamboyant scenario is a game of illusion—as these lascivious surfaces draw our attention, over-riding more subtle works, we’re quickly entangled in a question of objectification.
Knowing previous work by these artists, this is hardly surprising. Camila’s series focusses on the sexualization and objectification of the female body, questioning its ongoing colonial perception. Her response is to invest the body with a direct communication as a site of politics, history and resistance. Juan’s work stems from a year-long obsession with a popular colonial syncretism in South America, particularly in Colombia, where the Virgin Mary is often associated with the Cordilleras, an extensive network of mountain ranges that is also an important symbol of worship for indigenous native groups.
This tension, and its contrary playfulness, illustrates colonial strategy in Latin America, which allowed evangelical missionaries during the 1500’s to frame a more relatable approach to christianity. What both Camila and Juan attempt to show—in a quite different manner—is that the importance of this approach lies beyond symbolism—these strategies served above all as economic proxies.
Associating the divine to a figure rather than to a place overshadowed the holy protection previously ascribed to the land in South America. This, in turn, allowed for exploitation of the mountains where gold and silver were found and then mined. If a saint, rather than a mountain, was to be worshipped, then there were neither religious nor economic obstacles to exploitation. Could we ask the same question about bodies in general? What about sexualised bodies in particular?
These questions at the threshold of Camila’s and Juan’s work, lie in the trigger of immediate recognition, contrasting with the realisation that what is made visible is the fragment of a body, scattered and reproduced as endless commodity. As structured as it is violent, this key shift in the relation between bodies and nature marked the foundation of a colonial project still stirring and promoting violence today. It might as well be the moment when bodies became a symbol of resistance.
As cities sprawled and forests shrank, fueled up by a mirage of progress and wealth, people accumulate, surrounded by concrete and blood, standing as a contrasting element of strength traversing centuries of violence. Blossoming once again, the witnesses become an open archive.
Blur-Borroso, Unshärfe is shaped to put forward a critique of how such symbolic decisions have spanned into dimensions of violence—attempting to reveal what is hidden beyond immediate recognition in order to underline the body revealed from underneath that same violent gesture.
Guilherme Vilhena Martins (Lisbon/ Berlin) is a writer and curator. He has curated several exhibitions in Portugal and Germany and published two books, as well as texts, chronicles and reviews written for several editorial projects in Europe. He is one of the co-founders of the EGEU project in Lisbon.
Camila Ospina Gaitán is a Colombian artist. Her work attempts to reveal identities through ordinary aesthetics. It started with her own identity as a Colombian woman, deconstructing the sexualization and stereotyping of Latino women and transformed into a more global understanding of the sexualization and objectification of the female body.
Juan Ricaurte Riveros’ practice is driven by his interest in the imprint of life, under the principle that bodies belong with other bodies, as well as a constant identity search of what it means to be South American. His work spans performance, social feasts, sculpture, and installation.
Blur-Borroso, Unshärfe, Orbit, Hamburg, 23-26 Feb, 2023