In 1960 the Suriname-born artist Stanley Brouwn asked people on the street to show on a piece of paper how they would walk from point A to point B. This Way Brouwn was the result. A key work. In 1963 American Edward Ruscha photographed all the gas stations he came across driving from his home in L.A. to Oklahoma City, the city he grew up in. These he collected in the book Twenty Six Gasoline Stations. An iconic example of conceptual art.
I was reminded of these artists when I heard of the Los Angeles Mapping Project, (2013) by Antonio Jose Guzman (1971). For a number of months he was artist-in-residence at the Windward School in Los Angeles, a college primarily for the children of the city’s wealthy residents. Privileged students who are frequently quite unaware of the (cultural) diversity of their surrounding area. Working together with more than a hundred of them, Guzman has illustrated the geography of their daily life. He had them record their route from home to school and also make maps of those parts of the city they never went to. He thus implicitly gave them insight into their own identity.
The result is a large installation composed of photos, drawings, light boxes, objects and sculptures that document basic geographic elements. Maps, cracks in the road, paving stone patterns, curbstones, etc. Sometimes aesthetic and consciously sculptural, sometimes dry and factual. The students’ contributions are included and incorporated into the work. In this way Antonio Guzman, following artists such as Stanley Brouwn, also brings up the issue of the authorship of the artist.
This work by Guzman fits in with his oeuvre in which he researches his own DNA in various ways (he comes from Panama, has African roots and lives in the Netherlands), in which he looks for transatlantic connections between cultures and in which he tries to expose the underlying power structures. He digs into his own past to feed the collective memory. In addition, every now and again he attempts to visualize the geography of the future. The presentations of these research activities are always realized using a wide variety of media: drawing, photography, sculpture, film, performance, workshop and lecture. Here, the concept behind and the intensity of the research is usually more important than the aesthetics of the result. He wants to open eyes, not please them.
Stanley Brouwn no longer shows as an artist, Edward Ruscha has developed along a different route. Antonio Guzman is already busy mapping out his next research project. It will no doubt soon be on show in a number of (distant) countries.
TEXT Rob Perrée, Amsterdam, May 2013
Rob Perrée works as freelance writer, art critic and curator, specialized in contemporary (Afro-) American art, African art and art using new media. His work has appeared in countless catalogs, books, magazines and newspapers. He is editor of the Dutch art magazine Kunstbeeld.
TRANSLATION Jane Hall
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