As if it were an appendix of the mothership, Carlos Fernández docks at Despacio a habitat that encapsulates not only his work, but also himself and even a patch of life where each one of us might find ourselves.
COORDINATES: 9°56′00″N 84°05′00″
OTHER MARKERS: Avenida Central, Calle 11, San José, Costa Rica
RESOURCES: canvas, plants, seeds (I), Carlos’s hat (II), soil and chicha (III)
ACTIVATIONS: pedagogical workshops (IV), funky bar (V), seed exchange (VI), and others, still unknown.
This is a real person’s temporary and imaginary work camp. At this station, a series of live elements coexist; they are not the final products but parts of a simmering process. It is also an installation that sustains itself through collective participation and collaboration.
While participating in this experience, the concept of excess provides clues and serves as a common thread: in abundance lies beauty. The plants’ greenness blends with its smells and paintings function as registers of past lessons and future explanations. It is imperative to allow oneself to be enchanted by the layers that coat and recoat every corner—superimposed, hidden information, and the possibility of germination in every square centimeter of the space.
We discover that we can access a fragment of a practice that has long represented not the intermingling of one or two disciplines but rather Carlos’s life itself: his everyday to-and-fro and his passion for agriculture, art, botany, and education. The production of this work represents the search to redefine these practices as well as an act of appropriation.
This station, set at the center of San José, will offer moments for learning, contemplation, and dance. Always in the spirit of exchange—of knowledge and experiences, of seeds and the multiple possibilities between practices that will here appear to overflow and interconnect. There is a subtle but continuous invitation of integration; we are invited to engage in the (self)care inherent to the relationship that we can create with the soil and harvest.
Suddenly, art is life understood through the idea of purpose: of working the soil as if it were a canvas; of generating spaces to share or exhibit beyond the traditional ones. Even of needing to collect and exchange seeds as a reflex of turning the gaze toward the beginning, a gesture that seeks to perpetuate life.
Thoughts by Paula Piedra. Translated by Paula Kupfer.
Carlos Fernández's solo show at Despacio in San José, Costa Rica opens March 23th and runs through April 23th, 2017. (Facebook Event)
The indoor garden that is part of the exhibition will remain throughout 2017 and serve as Despacio’s new central archive.
No one had come to see an artist’s performance, one early morning, when attendees shuffled into a community garden to hear an agronomist give a lecture on biodiversity. They sat on wooden benches, busily taking notes, unaware that they were experiencing one of those fascinating moments when art and life become indistinguishable.
Reverberating nature’s constant flux, even within the confines of a single location, artist and agronomist Carlos Fernández illustrates biodiversity on a single large canvas he paints over and over again. While many artists assemble tangible documentation of their performances into thoughtfully designed exhibition-ready artworks, Carlos breaks away from convention by perpetually painting over his own work, rendering it an ephemeral medium. From the anatomy of Yucca roots to the optimal organization of a garden, from cultivation systems to which plants can be used as natural fertilizers—all of this and more has been put to the canvas, with only the most recent subject visible. The rest is hidden under thick layers of paint.
Carlos’ art practice does not disguise itself. It is unique in its ability to create these moments when the border between art and life blurs and any explanation would only detract from experiencing them. Because of this, Carlos avoids discussing his artistic approach in his lectures, especially when his work is being displayed within the context of everyday life. However, the conceptual underpinnings of his lecture performances come best to light on the infrequent occasions when the artist presents his ideas and knowledge in an art setting.
Carlos’ lectures and workshops often extend beyond the garden walls into galleries and museums. In such spaces, he also organizes community driven performances like seed exchanges, where visitors are asked to bring seeds from their plants at home to swap with the artist from his archive of the hundreds of seeds he collected from across the country. Gallery goers who show up with nothing to exchange are still given seeds suitable for their specific home environments, so long as they return a few seeds in a year once the new plants have grown. This is much more than just a kind gesture. It is a vital service that keeps the artist’s archive of seeds up to date.
Regardless of the venue, in Carlos’ world there is no reason to separate art and life. He takes this idea a step further by creating a genuinely credible oeuvre closely connected to the quotidian aspects of life, providing as much guidance for people in the art world as for those outside it. His teachings encourage active participation in society rather than passive observation through the arts.
This close interplay between art and non-art is consistent with the way he conceived of his own creative trajectory: juggling the two professions of artist and agronomist, before finally melding them into one consistent practice, one which connects broader social, ecological, and economical developments, while embodying the medium of lecture-performance, generating both situational and non-situational forms of knowledge.
This kind of practice might never be suitable for the greater public, as it demands that the audience take the time to listen and depends on their ability to give in order to take. These are traits that at times seem as far removed from the arts as Carlos’ aforementioned lecture venue: a public garden so far off the contemporary art map that one must look to the local community to find it.
Text by Sandino Scheidegger