|I copied this from livinggallery.info, where it appeared last year: Ambulatorio, 9th July 2012, Belfast, an installation for three weeks.Slavka Sverakova, 2012-08-04
Three days after the launch of the installation of glass grid with aerial photographs of Belfast, rioting groups and individuals in the adjacent area undermined the hope, which Oscar Muñoz embodied on a disused road between two massive steel walls, that is a hope for a city without barriers once more. Placed at the intersection of Flux Street and Crumlin Road, with no access to a short no man’s land in between, the huge steel walls compensated for the disabled civilised self-control between neighbours, the residents of two opposing communities, Lower Shankill (Protestant) and Ardoyne (Catholic), for decades.
Commissioned by the Golden Thread Gallery and the London 2012 Festival on behalf of Draw-Down-the-Walls (an ongoing initiative shared between the gallery, North Belfast Interface Network and the Lower Shankill Community Association) the Ambulatorio started with cutting a doorway into each of the metal walls to fit in doors. Then, in a persistent rain, a dedicated team placed large square grey photographs over the old tarmac road. The installation will open and close as an exhibition, turning it into a hybrid, a public work of art with a timetable attached. This paradox of convenience and accessibility has been born out of need to protect the work of art from rioting / vandalizing people. In that sense even if impermanent, it emphasises relationship and behaviour as its target.
Impermanence made visible has been a central issue throughout art of Oscar Muñoz. Perhaps most famous are his mirror portraits, and portraits revealed on glass when breathing over it. The Columbian artist consistently addressed the relationship between an idea and intrinsic qualities of material. Sealed under the cracked glass the images of the Ambulatorio are primary documents of people’s physical existence, buildings, streets, emptied of life by the distance of lens, and transmuted into abandoned archaeological sites. Consequently, the images trigger two opposing meanings of hope and failure; a hope that this stubbornly closed junction will open and revert to its original function. A failure of it not occurring. Replacing the tarmac with cracked glass foregrounds not only brittleness of the material but also impermanence of the state of things, thus pointing to the fragility of existence. In that as it evokes Existentionalists (Sartre / de Beauvoir) this art works out of a continuous sense of existence as a compelling drama of freedom and constraints in everyday life. Ignoring ambiguities and complexities provides remarkably direct questions about morality free of ideology.
The simplicity of that idea reels against the powerful context of the decades of harm. Oscar Muñoz, in another context, asked “[…]how society comes to accept war – or rather dark and corrupted succession of wars – as a part of the routine of living, where both the past and the present are plagued with daily violent events which are persistently repeated.”
When crisis mode is a source of art, its grip on intention may be propulsive. Belfast is a locus reformulated by the antagonism of two communities, each treating its own area as autonomous zone. The city thus is a privileged site for exploration of micro history in relation to its place in the world. Cities operate multiple interacting systems with history and nature providing the ground for struggles who controls resources, organisations of daily life, and visions for the future. The Ambulatorio taps into those systems.
Standing at one of the doors, the large glass covered squares issue a comfortable rhythmical invitation to move towards the other open door. Slowly and silently, stepping softly on the cracked glass, the utopia descends in between the weeds as humble reality. The weeds on paths alongside, if they were people, would claim their autochthonous ownership of the place, insisting loudly on hegemony over the newcomer. As a part of nature, they symbolise the universal rule of change, tacitly. The adjacent wall of an empty Victorian factory connects the present state of mind to a past when people used the road to go to work, freely. The tall surrounding walls make the glass surface of aerial images oscillate between becoming a top of a tomb, a shrine, a temple of truth, a sacred space for confession and resolution, for loss and recovery. The brittle glass tells of ethical givens dictated by inherited distrust in An Other, the relentless obstacles embedded in hate and anger. If at all, then thoughts attributed to Buddha could have been repeatedly whispered from the cracks of glass:
No matter how hard the past
You can always begin again.
Instead, the violence erupted in Ardoyne on the 12th July this year, cars were burned, police attacked, abusing language filling the air. The rioting takes away the high moral ground the community painstakingly try to hold and maintain. Breandan Clarke posted a note on Facebook that young people came to guard Ambulatorio against vandals and rioters. I thought of them as living hope.
It is a coincidence, that the idea of moving away from the conflict to togetherness appeared at the same time also in an exhibition in Norway. Pontus Kyander curated Sammen / Together for the Trondheim Kunstmuseum focusing on art that investigated “the good standing in the shadow of evil”. If after its three weeks in Belfast, it were re-assembled elsewhere place the meanings it already has into different contexts. And in this sense it is as autonomous as Carl Andre’s art practice during the 1960s.
To those who seek one way service from each work of art my suggestion that a politically charged art has anything in common with Minimalism may appear incredulous or plainly wrong. Not so. Consider Andre’s statement, he made in an interview to Phyllis Tuchman in 1970: “My idea of a piece of sculpture is a road[…]we do not have a single point of view for a road at all, except moving along it.”
The Ambulatorio is a road inviting us mentally to move along, walk along amongst the weeds. It is made by placing things over other things. Andre’s major contribution to the art of the 1960s was recognition of visual power of setting similarly shaped units directly on the ground. Andre’s friend and colleague Richard Long is cited at that time as saying “…a good work [… ]is the right thing in the right place at the right time”. Andre asserted that a place is “[…]an area within an environment which had been altered in such a way as to make the general environment more conspicuous.” Like Andre, Muñoz installed his work in person and kept the configuration attuned to the site. Both share genuine interest in properties of materials, their intrinsic capacity to evoke substantial meanings. An example is Andre’s claim “My art will reflect not necessarily conscious politics but the unanalyzed politics of my life.” Muñoz places his art inside the conscious politics of a city through the desolation of constant questioning why and how people accept wars.
Ambulatorio operates multiple registers, two, perhaps, have leading voice. Political activism and autonomy of art. For decades, writers on art, kept the two apart, placing them in unstoppable conflict. The tenor has been “art cannot be both”.
I sense that the turning point was the discussion that recovered social function of Warhol’s art. It opened the chance to avoid that “common sense” logic that art may be either socially engaged or autonomous, but not both. Phenomenology pointed out the role of slippages in our perception and thinking, something Alberto Giacometti knew as constant struggle to retain an image. Muñoz turns that difficulty into a subject matter:
My work insists[…] on documenting an immemorial scenario: the ‘logic of everyday thinking’ that stems from the impossibility of retaining and fixing images permanently.
Ambulatorio in Belfast and Sammen / Togetherness in Trondheim, have another “spiritual sibling”, Disobedience Archive (The Parliament) in Umea. That exhibition focuses on similarities and differences between artist’s and activist’s practices.
Coincidences are wonderful – they provide a net to catch new ideas.
Ambulatorio, photos: Paul Moore, by Draw-down-the-walls, courtesy of Golden Thread Gallery.
· Carl Andre’s quotes have been accessed in Rider A, Curve over the Crest of the hill, on
· Oscar Muñoz’s quotes have been accessed on
· The press release for the Sammen/Together characterised the exhibition as examining human communality in an age of cultural divide and conflict and addressing “our need to build hope, to construct images and symbols that can be used as tools to come to grips with our most painful experiences. It is sometimes said that people die for a cause, and that they die for the living. But it is more certain that those alive are forced to live for the dead.”
· Disobedience Archive is at Buildmuseet, Umea, accessed on
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