If you didn’t happen to be walking the streets of Guatemala City in 2006, you probably missed an old green Volvo cruising around with a pair of pale bare feet sticking out of the back, insinuating the macabre nature of its contents: a dead body in the trunk. The person behind this action was Gabriel Rodríguez, an artist known for pushing viewers to the limit of tolerability, confronting us with things we try to ignore, while maintaining an almost gentle touch in his use of simple actions that blend into everyday Guatemalan life.
This striking car ride through a city, which for decades has tried to bury its own violent history, is called Muerto (Dead Guy), 2006. The action, which is one of Gabriel Rodríguez’s early works, took place in Guatemala City ten years ago. It’s no coincidence that Muerto evokes the language of the pioneers of political conceptual art—Aníbal López, Regina Galindo, or Jorge de León—who have all been important "fellow artists" of Rodríguez.
The point of departure for disruptive urban interventions in Guatemala is often the rather peculiar nature of violence, namely that it can be just as omnipresent as it is ignored. For people who witnessed the nation's arduous attempts to sweep its history of violence under the rug, Rodríguez’s artistic actions are difficult to distinguish from the reality of everyday life in Guatemala.
Muerto lives on in simple documentary photos, just like the work Pequeño Sísifo (Little Sisyphus), 2008, in which he paid one of the many kids working on the streets of Guatemala City to hold a heavy hunk of asphalt for as long as his strength would allow before letting it fall to the ground. In order to appreciate such artworks, we are forced either to acknowledge the presence of violence in our society or to do just as we are prone to do in reality: look away.
Rodríguez’s installation works frequently boast elements of humour and never shy away from revealing paradoxes. In his work Propiedad de dios (Property of God), 2009, he declares the ceiling of the gallery space property of God. While in Todas las escuadras que puedo hacer con mi cuerpo (All the right angles I can make with my body), 2014, he presents a series of seven photographs, in which he demonstrates all the 90 degree angles he can form with his body.
With unflinching honesty, Rodríguez presents his own relationship to the artworld and how he came to be a part of it in the video Cómo me convertí en artista (How I became an artist), 2013. Setting aside the romantic idea of feeling called to the profession, he simply discloses which art books he read before he could comfortably refer to himself as an artist. We all have our idols and inspirations, many of which we prefer keep to ourselves in order to maintain an aura of mystery around our motivations. Rodríguez has never had much patience for such pretense.
Text by Sandino Scheidegger
Gabriel Rodríguez was born 1984 in Guatemala City, Guatemala, where he lives and works. Since he founded the art space Sótano 1 in downtown Guatemala City in 2013, it has developed into a defining venue for the growing independent art scene of Guatemala.Learn more about Rodríguez on Instagram or Facebook, or contact him by email.