eros & thanatos : ex-libris images as cultural wallpaper

http://www.fisae.org/talksanddeb.htm

In guise of introduction

by Benoit Junod

In 1987, after three fascinating years as a Swiss delegate to the Conference on Disarmament in Europe, I was transferred to Colombia. I had been in the heat of international multilateral diplomacy when the first signs of crumbling of the Soviet Union were appearing. The idea of going to what seemed, from Europe, a ‘latino backwater’ seemed appalling: I fought the decision tooth and nail. Thank God I lost!

Colombia was at that time – and probably still is – totally fascinating. Despite the social contrasts, with small children selling flowers in restaurants at night to people in new Mercedes, despite the constant guerilla threats and the soft-bellied oligarchy, the drug cartels and potholed roads, the country is a real charmer which takes your heart and never returns it. One of the attractions is the salsa and the gorgeous women; another is the climate and natural beauties from the Caribbean to the Andes; a third is the artists and intellectuals. Not only the Boteros and the García Márquez which tip the iceberg, but an amazingly rich and fertile cultural ‘milieu’.

Around the corner from my flat was the Arte Dos Grafico workshop run by the dynamo Luis Angel Parra, who between borrachera hangovers and Toto la Momposina made a fabulous and well-equipped space available to printmakers and book designers (see http://www.artedos.com/). Closer to the centre of town, another graphics workshop, that of Umberto Giangrandi, a brilliant Italian painter-emigré who wasted his time and talent printing other people’s works. In these two places alone, I met an incredible range of artists, and the word ‘ex-libris’ soon came up in conversation.

So I organised a competition. The Banco de la Republica promised to print the catalogue, I gave the awards, and the first prize went to Mauricio Cruz. The jury had not the slightest hesitation – quite surprising if you think that Mauricio’s ex-wife was one of its members! No, the work was a cut above the others in concept and intelligence, and beautifully printed from a photo-engraved plate on fine japan.

We became friends, as within the group of artists I knew in Bogotá, Mauricio was certainly one of the few with whom talking about art was fascinating. He is an artist and therefore reasons in creative terms, but in the context of a well-structured, highly refined and broad cultural base, with great capacity for lateral thinking and unlikely references. His creations are often writings, as well as a wide range of two- or three-dimensional ‘artworks’. When he produces one of the latter, the intellectual and analytical path leading to the materialisation is as important (and sometimes even more important) than the end result. That is why his two blogs – http://testaferro.blogspot.com/ and http://emciblog.blogspot.com/ , which encompass only a fraction of his work, are examples of a series of artwork-discourses constituted by creative thought and observation.

I kept in touch with Mauricio after I left Bogotá and when I was in Turkey in 1992, I brought him over. The occasion was a crazy operation which I had put together with friends in Ankara called SANART ’92: a 350-person symposium on ‘Identity – Marginality – Space’ with 12 exhibitions simultaneously in the Turkish capital. Mauricio’s remarkable contribution to the symposium  can be found at http://emciblog.blogspot.com/2005_12_16_emciblog_archive.html.

Fourteen years later, our paths crossed again and Mauricio called me from Lyon, in France, where he is spending a few months. Again I asked for his help, and he came to Nyon to give us a presentation. There was a technical failure, but now those who missed out can find the whole presentation here.

 

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