The View from My Roof, Take Two

I’ve just moved from a small apartment in posh Plaza San Martín to a gorgeous, sprawling house at the intersection of San Cristóbal, Parque Patricios, and Constitución, three working-class neighborhoods in the south of the city home to some spectacular turn-of-the-century architecture. The reactions this news elicits from the porteños I’ve told say quite a bit about the area, and about Buenos Aires as a whole. The young and hip uniformly congratulate me on a great find in an affordable, tight-knit community, while denizens of the capital’s rich northern stretches usually let slip a pointed “Really?!” or a “Why?!”, mouths sometimes literally agape.

Those who know me can guess which of these two sentiments better approximates my own. I’m falling hard and fast for this century-old house, and for my new neighborhood in general. Very soon I’ll post some pictures of the former; for the moment, here are some views of Buenos Aires’ southern stretches from the I-need-to-pinch-myself-is-this-real? 200-square-meter, Wi-Fi-equipped terrace (!) that doubles as my roof (pictured at the top of this post).

First, the next block over, with some great street art at the corner:In the center of the block, just behind the house, is a stretch of industrial buildings that Charles Sheeler would have loved.A few blocks away, the massive Torres de Matheu stand unchanged since 1967, dwarfing the nearby apartment towers of San Cristóbal, below.The terraza’s bordered by wonderful concrete ventilation tubes that run the length of the house. The first one below points up toward a downtown skyscraper, less than 30 minutes from the house by public transit. The last one is home to a big bees’ nest that yields fresh honey.The plant-encircled stairs to the living room, where I’m currently typing away. More pictures soon to follow…

Cristina Likes Us! (Maybe)

Passing the Casa Rosada on my way to the Subte this past Thursday, I came upon an exhibition of photos by Victor Hugo Bugge, Argentina’s official presidential photographer since 1978 (when military dictator Jorge Rafael Videla held the office). I wasn’t in any particular rush, so I figured I’d pop in for a quick shot of fuzzy Kirchnerista fondness. I made my way down the first row of photographs, taking in the carefully chosen images of Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner doing what politicians have done since long before Videla — hugging babies, posing beside imposing neoclassical statues:

And doing some excellent things that past presidents didn’t do so often, like standing together with HIJOS, newborns taken from their disappeared parents by Videla and friends, then given away as spoils of war to families favored by the regime:

None of these photos surprised me much — until, that is, I noticed some familiar characters:

Wow, a lot of yanquis here. (And look, it’s Pittsburgh!) Then again, Argentines don’t hate Obama, and his relationship with Cristina seems to be on the mend right now.  And next to Bush, Clinton must have glimmered like a mirage in the Kirchners’ rearview mirror. Maybe, I began to reason, it wasn’t actually so strange to see these two icons of Northern imperialism guarding la presidenta‘s front door.

But HIM?

And again! (This one wasn’t very well received by the photo-viewing public, it seems.)

And strangest of all:

What’s going on here? Is Cristina trying to show a friendlier face to the US? Or to underscore Argentina’s importance on the global stage? And why is Bush in so many photos? Especially that dopey-faced one with Condoleezza Rice — the only photo, I believe, in which neither Cristina nor Néstor made an appearance. They must be messing with us, right?

Casa Rosadology’s a tricky game.

Camilo Guinot at Ro

I was surprised to fall completely in love with a sculpture this past Thursday evening, especially one made entirely of matches. From Juanele’s blog:

From the moment I stepped past the dog perched oddly on the threshold of Ro Galería de Arte yesterday evening, I knew I was glad I had come. Directly in front of me, in the very center of the room, was one of the most attention-grabbing sculptures I’ve seen in a long time, a flower/vortex/very private place made entirely of matches. True to form for a cone made half out of phosphorous, it sucked up all the oxygen in the room—and I couldn’t turn away.

Object of my fascination, this untitled match sculpture was also the incontestable centerpiece of Camilo Guinot’s show, móvil recurrente (“recurring mobile”), which opened at Ro last night with plans to run through November 14. It’s a layered, conical zig-zag of Dos Patos-brand matches arranged in pointy rows, their tips painted in a lipstick-like rainbow of reds and pinks. And it was assembled painstakingly by hand, a breathtaking work of craftsmanship built “less from matches than from infinite patience,” as Verónica Gómez’s uncommonly helpful wall text explains. Lost in its ridges, drawn to its point of convergence (equal parts sensual and grotesque), I imagined Georgia O’Keeffe, nearly a century after Red Canna, here in Ro, the faintest of smiles on her face.

Nearly as impressive as the match-flower itself was the show’s total coherence. Sketches, photographs, a notebook filled with tiny clumps of the fuzz that collects in your belly button, and video lined the wall. Among these works, one image—a photograph of dozens of red, waxen planes converging on an oven—stood out from a distance, bold and surreal. Sensibly for a show labeled recurrente, this untitled photograph made reference—in ways both subtle and superficial—to the works surrounding it. The red of its wax planes and their convergence on one central point hearkened to the sculpture just feed away. Wax surfaced again in another of the photographs against the back wall, this one depicting a smooth red triangle melting against a concrete curb. A third showed a belly-button-fuzz-like mass caught among power lines. The whole show had all been arranged as carefully as the matches themselves.

It was easier to leave Ro than to enter; by the time I was ready to go, the dog and its owner were long-gone. It was later than I had planned; I had lost myself in a bloom of matches.

Indicios at Galería Céntrica

A friend of mine opened a conceptual photography show a few weeks back. As I explained on Juanele’s blog, it’s a bit headier than average, but very well executed.

Looking through Céntrico’s locked front doors at the rows of designer shoes beyond, I began to doubt that I was in the right place. The corner store seemed “artsy,” alright, but I had made my way to this disorienting five-point intersection at the juncture of two Palermo street grids for photos, not footwear.

The photos were there, after all — but below the sales floor in Galería Céntrica, a small, triangular, basement space accessible through a side entrance and down a flight of narrow stairs. The whole building, as it happens, used to be a gallery devoted to young artists. But as the neighborhood’s prestige rose, canvas and Kodachrome gave way to Centrico’s leather and suede. The store’s owners decided to pay homage to the history of the space by reserving the basement for the sort of exploratory, art-for-art’s-sake projects that used to exhibit there.

The show I had come to see — Indicios, which means both “traces” and “clues” — fits the re-dedicated gallery’s by-artists-for-artists profile perfectly. The first exhibition by a new four-photographer collective consisting of Andrés Blasina, Carlos Janon, Germán Ruíz, and Sol Santarsiero, Indicios doesn’t feature the kind of shots that most people envision when they proclaim their love for photography. But that was never the idea. Ruíz told me that the group intentionally sought to downplay the individuality of the photos that comprise the show, foregoing wall labels and replacing the gallery’s spot-lighting with generic fluorescent tubes, harsh in tone and reminiscent of a crime lab.

Uninviting as the lighting may have been, these uncommon curatorial decisions were smart choices for a project that centers more on concept and juxtaposition than raw visual impact. The show includes photos of all sorts — its clues come as portraits, still lifes, and landscapes; they are large and small, colorful and muted, glossy and matte. Very few of them would, on their own, demand a second glance, but taken together, they represent the superstructure of a detective story that the viewer writes herself. Crumpled jeans on a blood-red couch, an aerial shot of Plaza Lavalle, and a dark-suited, red-tie-wearing man point toward a political scandal. A much larger but equally tense portrait suggests something more sinister — surrounded as it is by four views of a sterile, institutional building.

On its surface a detective story, Indicios is also a reflection on process. Ruíz told me that the four photographers behind the show opted to use only photos that they had created for other purposes, without modifying them at all.  They wanted to see how re-situating them in new surroundings might change them. Such dependence on context — especially a context that so mimics the police-detective approach — calls into question the objectivity of these superficially unremarkable, “unadulterated” images. It’s not the sort of operation that’s going to inflame the passions of most gallery-goers. But given the sort of feet that Galería Centrica hopes to draw downstairs, I’d say the shoe (and the clue?) fits pretty well.

Fantastic BA Photo Blog

Last week, I stumbled across Thomas Locke Hobbs’ photo blog, Buenos Aires Photographer, and seeing as it’s wonderful, I figured I’d link to it. If you like to look at pictures of cities, you’ll love this blog. I’ve already lost a few hours clicking through the categories listed at the bottom of every post to the site, and I don’t foresee this particular situation improving anytime soon.  In case you’re hesitant to click the link, here’s a little preview of what you’ll find:

(All images © 2010 by Thomas Locke Hobbs. All rights reserved.)

The View from my Roof

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One nice thing about doing this blog is that I’ve begun to pay more attention to the little details of my life in Argentina. Like the view from my twelfth-floor rooftop in Retiro. I’m a big fan of urban density–you more or less have to be to live in Buenos Aires–and my roof is a great place to take it in (and hang my laundry out to dry). When I went to retrieve a load yesterday, I took a few pictures. The top photo looks north toward the American Airlines tower; the second one shows a huge luxury hotel under construction across the street; and in the third, you can see the landmark 1934 Edificio Kavanagh standing over Plaza San Martin three blocks to the east.

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