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A Guide for the Imperfect Idler

Destruction on Demand 

El Gordon Demolition S.A.S, a company registered in Medellin, offers subsidiary services in the construction sector. Its corporate purpose, as stated in the commercial registry, is to perform “demolitions, roof deconstruction, façade aging, rustic finishes, rubble relocation, rubble packing, rubble and/or demolition remains sales, blueprint budgets, drawings, and renders for demolitions. In addition, the company will be entitled to en- gage in any and all lawful activity.” This is an initiative by the young Colombian architect and artist Pablo Gómez Uribe, who currently lives and works in New York. 

By looking at El Gordon’s commercial activities, as stated above, and paying special attention to its corporate purpose’s elastic ending clause, we can observe a tension between disciplinary boundaries and roles of architecture, art, and real estate. Here I am referring to the financial integration of planning, functionality, and capitalist development that the theorist Manfredo Tafuri considered a terrible yet inevitable consequence of the semiotic opacity that structuralism generates both in art and architecture.1 As a service borne from the discredit owed to institutional critique, El Gordon is in agreement with the concerns evident in Juan Peláez’s nominalist painting that declares every supposedly critical space to be referentially empty. To this we add the investigation into the disappearance of a fact and what remains—its image—as critic Jaime Cerón observes in the project Instituto de la vision by Nicolás Consuegra,2 in which there is a clear absence of signs and notices on buildings that have been sacked by vandals in search of metals to be sold on the black market. Also trained in architecture, Felipe Arturo’s sculptures and installations show a constructive impulse borne from the erosion of the raw materials economy in developing nations, in industries such as rubber, sugar, and sand. Likewise, this demolitions firm might also deal commercially in José Olano and Verónica Lehner’s precarious structures or the small balls Luis Roldán forges from lint, detergent, and organic material he collected from clothes dryers over the years, after removing his clothes. He mounts these in an installation accompanied by a popular song that melodramatically announces its wish to “break the damned wall.” Curiously, Gómez Uribe’s company does not limit itself conceptually to showing the pragmatic aspect of Gordon Matta Clark’s anarchitecture— that is, the transformation of waste into matter—but rather aspires to it being reused as a sort of feast for the phoenix. These artists belong to different generations, cities, and regions of Colombia and, moreover, diverge largely in their artistic training and personal interests. Nevertheless, their work enters into dialogue in the liminal zone of the nation-state. Colombia may have overcome the effects of a bloody civil war that has waged for over half a century, leaving significant social, political, and economic scars, but unlike Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela, Colombia never enjoyed modernist movements that articulated aesthetic programs animated by visions of utopia or aspirations of social change. Despite being today a nation with a booming emerging economy that is driving accelerat- ed modernization in a territory that until recently had been divided into factions, many artists are detecting symptoms of a state that has ceased to be relevant to the nation, even while these two continue to be joined by a hyphen and problematized by the concept of sovereignty. In this sense, despite being registered in Medellin, El Gordon acts as a transnational entity and a private outsourcing service provider for the state. In other words, this initiative is a metaphorical substitute in art, beautification, and urbanism for obligations and responsibilities that the state has procrastinated or simply forgotten for decades, using the pretext of the war against the guerilla and drug trafficking at the precise moment when it welcomes the reductive, seductive terms of the global economy, without attempting to memorialize the past.

Does digging up, collecting, and demolishing a given time serve the distorted purpose of detecting faults in the chains of meaning or undermining structures compromised by civic abandonment and public indifference? The work that these artists produce from various situations, be they in Colombia or abroad, attempts to put into disarray the logic of the international market that is now betting on the local, facing the possible misunderstandings and dysfunctions that are generated in the equivalence between functionality and economic development; or rather, they use compositions of erroneous cartographies in which what remains is the shell of the design, the institutionalization of different aspects of urban planning in terms of an alchemical laboratory of architecture with the objective of transforming waste into public sculpture, imitating or cannibalizing recognizable patterns in Brazilian concrete modernism using the obsolete nature of raw materials as the supposed means of economic independence. On the other hand, these artists accumulate the everyday detritus of their domestic environment in order to make abstract models of that which has stood in contrast with the homogenous spectrum of “Latin America” as the construct of an international market that demands the assimilation of all difference. Although the operations are not analogous, these works demonstrate the necessity of weaving together a visual discourse from the rubble and structural instability.

Gabriela Rangel 

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