For Ecuadorian artist Roberto Vega, cracks provide an alternative space for reflection, representing an open pathway to history. At the Pfizer building in Brooklyn, the artist connects his drawings to already-existing cracks in the space, enhancing the defects instead of fixing them. Studies on Fissures (2017), which Vega created for the exhibition The Map is Not the Territory, is a site-specific work accompanied by a collection of ink drawings and a selection of objects and photographs that explore how the crack can open up possibilities for such reflection.The photos are embedded within sculptural objects made of plaster, sometimes obscuring the identity of the subject and sometimes allowing the faces to peek through. These images represent a personal archive which Vega accumulated while walking around New York over the past year and combined it with his personal memories of his homeland. In a sense the archive is cracked open, exposing a personal past.
The crack is what Vega calls “a reflection on the inscriptions of time.” In order to open up spaces of memory, this work uses his personal writing, archival materials, and poetry as his primary inspirations. Poetry, unlike more structured literature, is in many ways a broken form, with cracks in its content as exemplified by the caesura, which means in greek a break in the verse. In this case, the poetic notion of “Imaginary lands” prompts viewers to consider their personal ideas about territory and how these ideas may conflict with the dominant standard.
In “Imaginary Lands”, Vega uses a poetic phrase from his earlier work that is loaded with questions concerning to the realities of land ownership and its borders. Vega has been investigating the idea of memory for five years now. Before coming to New York, he worked with domestic archives while digging into the stories of his family and ancestors. Vega creates a reality that allows him to reflect on memory and question preconceived notions in order to rethink the past.
The concept of memory and time can be very fragile, he explains it by introducing lived experiences in Ecuador: “The country where I was born and raised carries a story full of scars and losses. We lost languages and territories. In 1999, we lost our currency and adopted one from abroad. I believe that Ecuador has a past history that, viewed from the lenses of success, is fraught with failures. But it may be that in our fissures and weaknesses we find a space where the creation of a dialogue is possible. Surely this exercise is also an attempt to work from my own scars and my own failures and how, from them, I can propose something and keep on.” Instead of viewing the fissure as a weakness, he makes the crack powerfully visible, to focus on its strength. According to Vega, we come closer to the collective truth when we study the discontinuity of the present and we take charge of moments of instability and turbulence.
Interventions and marks serve as affirmations that we are present in a certain space at a certain moment. Vega also works with the footprint (or imprint) of the crack, as he feels that it can serve as a metaphor for our time; it is a way to expose concrete and physical forces, as well as external forces that are beyond our control. This fissure refers also as an interruption in the habitual register of language and, therefore, the creation of a possibility.
The crack serves in a way as a “spatial reality” for knowledge and truth. In Vega’s words “The spaces and territories that we inhabit are regulated. Many times the rules that build them are unknown to us. Mapping the space allows us to read and understand it from another point of view. By naming space we can speak with our voice, using our own words. Re-naming and re-configuring space become an exercise of freedom, autonomy.” When thinking about the fissure and how one can connect to the world, Vega adds, “perhaps, through the cracks of power we can look out and recover our voice.”
By Natalia Viera Salgado and Roberto Vega
New York, April 2017