Interview with Stefan Benchoam, co-founder of the gallery Proyectos Ultravioleta in Guatemala City
Instead of complaining about the lack of contemporary art exhibitions in Guatemala, the founders of Proyectos Ultravioleta decided to take the initiative themselves and found a space which functions as a “Kunsthalle” within the country and as a commercial gallery outside.
Who are the founders of the gallery? What are your backgrounds?
Proyectos Ultravioleta was founded by Byron Mármol, Juan Brenner, Rodrigo Fernández and myself. Byron and Juan are both self-taught photographers, although Juan also works with graphic design and branding. Rodrigo studied art, and I personally studied a double B.A.-Major in Fine Arts and Telecommunications, and was at that point splitting my time between my practice as an artist and Colectiva, an audiovisual production house co-founded by my brother Eduardo and myself.
When did you found the gallery?
Proyectos Ultravioleta was founded in 2009, not as a gallery but as a space for things to happen, inside and outside the context of contemporary art. It has only been since late 2013 that we have worked as a sort of hybrid: locally as a space for experimentation in the way that a Kunsthalle might operate, and internationally as a gallery by doing selective art fairs to raise the profile of the artists that we work with, the type of exhibition making that shakes us, and also raising the necessary funds to continue to do the things we do in Guatemala.
What motivated you?
Ultimately, as artists and friends, we kept talking about the types of art and exhibitions that excited us, always to come to the brutal realization that we very rarely had a chance to experience these exhibitions… and instead, only got only experienced them through images online and in printed publications (books and magazines). Nobody else in Guatemala was doing the types of projects that we were into, so rather than complaining, we decided to take maters into our own hands, open the space ourselves and produce the shows, concerts, workshops, performances, lectures, screenings, discussions that we were naturally drawn to.
What does the name of the gallery refer to?
From the moment we set our minds to opening the space, we knew that we wanted to have a two word composite as our name… “proyectos” something, given that we wanted to do all sorts of projects and not just exhibitions. We then went through a long long list of words that could follow, until we agreed on Ultravioleta as it held a series of characteristics that were of our interest: the idea that ultraviolet are indispensable to seeing altogether – without them we would not be able to see, where as too much exposure to them leaves you blind – to the simple fact that you could shorten it to UV, which we liked the sound of.
Can you tell us about the art scene and the gallery scene in Guatemala City?
Although there has never really been infrastructures to support artists (whether private or public), Guatemala has an incredibly rich history and cultural legacy. The general interest in collecting contemporary art is rather scarce and nuance, and as such, the artistic scene in the country has organically grown disassociated to the “art market”. The result is a refreshing scene that is far more concerned in generating incisive questions/discussions about our convoluted history and creating spaces for people of all walks of life to come together, instead of producing work that would fit the likes of a collector or art-market trend.
Yet, what is most fascinating to me is that the conversation of art has shifted from Guatemala City – as an isolated center – to the so-called “periphery”. As such, we are now experiencing an incredibly rich and sophisticated conversation with a series of incredible artist run spaces throughout the country which include Kamin in Comalapa, Canal Cultural in Atitlán, L.E.A. in Totonicapán, and Ciudad Imaginación in Quetzaltenango, to name a few.
What kind of art do you represent? What is the fil rouge that connects your artists?
Proyectos Ultravioleta has always been thought of as a crucial element in articulating conversations that are specific to Guatemala through the arts and culture. Site and context specificity are very important to us, which doesn’t mean that all the artists that we work with are Guatemalan, but rather than their individual practices enrich these conversations in different ways.
Yet, rather than thinking of a specific line that connects our artists, I personally believe that the strength of our program lies in the diversity of voices/practices/interest that we are able to bring together. We are very privileged to work with an incredibly set of artists which include Regina José Galindo (1974), Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa (1978) and Alberto Rodríguez-Collía (1984) from Guatemala, to mother/daughter Elisabeth Wild (Vienna, 1922) and Vivian Suter (Buenos Aires, 1949) who live in Guatemala, to Radamés “Juni” Figueroa (Bayamón, Puerto Rico, 1982), Federico Herrero (San José, Costa Rica, 1978) and Akira Ikezoe (Kochi, Japan, 1980) to name a few.
What kind of space do you have and how did you choose it?
Since we first opened, we have moved twice and are now in our third space, which is a dream.
Although we had been very motivated to be showing experimental work in a space that was as far removed to the white cube as possible – a space with wooden walls, bright yellow, red and blue industrial vinyl floors (the types you would find in restaurants), in the second basement of Guatemala City’s first shopping mall – we now rent a beautiful house from the 1950s set inside what used to be Guatemala’s biggest wood mill in the 50s, 60s and 70s. The wood mill is in a working class neighborhood in Guatemala’s downtown, and still operates – not in the scale/intensity that it did in the past, but with a few small jobs here and there.
We cannot tell you how fortunate we feel to be in that space, which is like an unexpected oasis in the middle of the city, and which we were introduced to by a dear friend who is a big supporter of the arts, and whose family owns the mill.
If you could choose to exhibit any artist, even from the past, who would you pick?
Such a tough question as there are so many ways to answer it! Yet what first came to mind was to articulate a multi-generational conversation of the local context through the work of Alighiero Boetti (who visited Guatemala in the mid 70s), Margarita Azurdia (Guatemala, 1931-1998, pioneering feminist Guatemalan sculptor, painter, poet, performance artist, and healer, who also worked under the pseudonyms Margot Fanjul, Margarita Rita Rica Dinamita, and Anastasia Margarita) and Hellen Ascolli (Guatemala, 1983), a wonderful young artist whose interests are closely bound to movement, the way that the body inhabits the space that surrounds it, and weaving, among other things.
Proyectos Ultravioleta takes part in Liste–Art Fair Basel from June 13th to 18th, 2017. The gallery will present a selection of works by Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa.
21 Calle 11-09 z1
Ciudad de Guatemala
Tuesday to Saturday: 10am–4pm