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The Origins of Work

Guzman’s diverse body of work ranges from traditional media to mixed media photos, videos, digitally programmed fabrics and textiles, his music performances and lectures research on psychological, social, and political theories. The artist is known for his works incorporating DNA Genetics sequences, perspectives on transcultural identities and the use of geometrics inspired by vernacular and industrial materials, like in his baffling performances at the Habana Biennial 2015 with his project “ELOO – El Organo Oriental”. Most of his research oriented works and postcolonial projects are based in a ceremonial experience he had twenty-five years ago, when he was living with the indigenous people from the Guna Yala Islands in Panama.

X Central American Biennial

ADN Soundsistema

ADN SoundSistema: An exploration of the indigenous, European and African roots of Panama and its connectivity with Latin America.

Surely at some point, you will have arisen the doubt of your ancestors far beyond your grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents. However, you may have settled for the response of the study by the DNA and Human Genome Institute of the University of Panama in 2002, which revealed that our genetic code or our common pool of genes is made up of 39.4% of Genes of indigenous origin, 31.2% of white origin and 29.4% of genes of black origin. Antonio José Guzman, Panamanian artist based in Amsterdam and who represented Panama at the X Biennial of Central America Art went much further, decrypt the mystery of its nucleotide composition and under investigation and the support of different entities managed to give music to their DNA. Surprising, is not it, that our DNA composed of a phosphate group, a sugar and a nitrogen base (adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C)) not only keep our molecular composition But of art itself.

But, and how did he do it?

Initially, Antonio joins The Genographic Project, an initiative of National Geographic that studies the DNA of thousands of people to help solve unknowns about where we originated human beings. Being the same categorized with the naked eye as Afro-descendant wanted to undertake the search for their African ascendance and eventually found the root in Senegal and Gambia-Mali. But a question is what sought the really greater inclination or interest the artist had and this was his Indian connection that obviously appeared in the studio. Subsequently, he hands his DNA to an organist. The latter based on the DNA constructs some books or rather, some rolls with holes that are introduced in the oriental organ. When winding, the instrument interprets those holes in musical notes that mix sounds of different instruments like: violin, viola, cello among others. His impetu is not there, and he gets the melody of his DNA to be detached from the marimba.

All this and more was known in our attendance to the opening event of the project entitled “DNA Sound System” where a room accompanied by banners with extracts of the sequence of the artist’s genes and the interpretation of it through an organ allowed us to enjoy Amusingly from a sample of experimental art, different and unique. Same as mixing science, technology and art using different media such as video, photography inspired by the DNA result of scientific research.

This project was the third one selected by invitation, thanks to the support of Senacyt Panama in collaboration with Víctor López Cabrera, Antony García González, Kevin Gonzalez, Alejandro Matamala, León Perlee, Marimba Espirito Tico, Cristian Leon, Tatiana Koleva, Gladys Turner Bosso, Silvia Estarás , The Habanero Organ and The Technological University of Panama.

Ponte Geek PTY

 

mapping los angeles

In 1960 the Suriname-born artist Stanley Brouwn asked people on the street to show on a piece of paper how they would walk from point A to point B. ‘This Way Brouwn’ was the result. A key work. In 1963 American Edward Ruscha photographed all the gas stations he came across driving from his home in L.A. to Oklahoma City, the city he grew up in. These he collected in the book ‘Twenty Six Gasoline Stations’. An ionic example of conceptual art.

I was reminded of these artists when I heard of the ‘Los Angeles Mapping Project’ (2013) by Antonio Guzman (1971). For a number of months he was artist-in-residence at the Windward School in Los Angeles, a college primarily for the children of the city’s wealthy residents. Privileged students who are frequently quite unaware of the (cultural) diversity of their surrounding area. Working together with more than a hundred of them, Guzman has illustrated the geography of their daily life. He had them record their route from home to school and also make maps of those parts of the city they never went to. He thus implicitly gave them insight into their own identity.

The result is a large installation composed of photos, drawings, light boxes, objects and sculptures that document basic geographic elements. Maps, cracks in the road, paving stone patterns, curbstones, etc. Sometimes aesthetic and consciously sculptural, sometimes dry and factual. The students’ contributions are included and incorporated into the work. In this way Antonio Guzman, following artists such as Stanley Brouwn, also brings up the issue of the authorship of the artist.

This work by Guzman fits in with his oeuvre in which he researches his own DNA in various ways (he comes from Panama, has African roots and lives in the Netherlands), in which he looks for transatlantic connections between cultures and in which he tries to expose the underlying power structures. He digs into his own past to feed the collective memory. In addition, every now and again he attempts to visualize the geography of the future. The presentations of these research activities are always realized using a wide variety of media: drawing, photography, sculpture, film, performance, workshop and lecture. Here, the concept behind and the intensity of the research is usually more important than the aesthetics of the result. He wants to open eyes, not please them.

Stanley Brouwn no longer shows as an artist, Edward Ruscha has developed along a different route. Antonio Guzman is already busy mapping out his next research project. It will no doubt soon be on show in a number of (distant) countries.

Rob Perrée

 

piertopolis

A pier symbolizes arrivals and departures, through the age’s people have been on the move. Today even more than ever before, for numerous reasons, out of curiosity, to have a good time, for nostalgic reasons, looking for happiness, a better world, following our loved ones, looking for identity, DNA, our roots. Because we are forced by others or by the circumstances to explore the world, to settle down somewhere else, out of discontent, or to work, temporarily or to stay, to never turn back and to become one with the elements. All this also makes a pier an ideal place to dream or philosophize about leaving or to reflect on it. A pier is a place where people come together, from different countries and cultures, for various reasons, to say goodbye, or to welcome each others.

While the ‘State of L3’ was a project in which Antonio José Guzman searched for his own DNA (he is from Panama, has African roots and lives in The Netherlands), in ‘Piertopolis’ he expands his concept. Inspired by Bas Jan Ader and motivated by the philosophies of artists and architects like Fuller and Constant.

On his travels, Antonio José Guzman makes photos and films, alone or with others, depending on the situation at hand, the circumstances and the possibilities. Not to seduce the eye but to make his audience a witness, to inform, to stimulate, to inspire or to surprise. While presenting his search to the public, the pier is ever present as a constant and stabile way to express himself. His audience can come together on the pier, connect to one another. Apart from that, what they see in all the different expositions change every time.

After all, the visual diary created by Guzman is like a documentation of his journeys and travels, of his encounters with others, other artists, like-minded people or people who think differently. Diaries do not follow a pattern, they show the inconstancy of everyday life. The interesting thing about ‘Piertopolis’ is that Antonio José Guzman succeeds in taking his personal topics to a universal level. By doing that, he makes those topics urgent. It becomes something that everyone has to deal with; It urges you to get involved.

The fact that he dares to always make his results dependant on the circumstances, possibilities and the people he works with or has to work with until the last moment, results in the fact that they are always surprising and refreshing, even when they are framed within a certain concept. What he shows in Amsterdam’s Museum Dock Kromhout is different from what he shows in The Hague’s Gemak De Vrije Academie or in New York at Corridor Gallery. His ‘Piertopolis’ visual diary in Bergen, Norway it’s different from the one he made in Dakar. Antonio José Guzman gives meaning to the term ‘ongoing project’ on different levels.

Rob Perrée
Translation of manuscript in Dutch

http://robperree.com/

Rob Perrée is Freelance writer and exhibition curator, specialized in contemporary American, African American, African and Surinam art and artist’s books. On the editorial board of Kunstbeeld Magazine, Co-founder of the Con Rumore Foundation, Lives and works in Amsterdam and New York.

 

the black atlantic

It is already seventeen years ago when British sociologist Paul Gilroy’s influential book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness has been published. But the effect, at least in the visual arts, it still going on. This spring Tate Gallery in London organized a great overview of black art under the title Modern Afro Journey Through the Black Atlantic with a clear reference to Gilroy. In upcoming October the debate Black Atlantic (Revisited) will take place in Rotterdam Union.

Gilroy introduced the term ‘Black Atlantic’ to create a recognizable and unify name for several black cultures around the Atlantic Ocean. According to Gilroy there are no cultures that are typically African, Caribbean, American or European though exists a hybrid of “Transatlantic” Black culture.

The artists collective The State of L3, which now exhibits in Smart Project Space in Amsterdam, relegate to Gilroy’s ideas by calling their exhibition Modernity & Aesthetics of the New Black Atlantic.

The State of L3 was founded in 2006 by Antonio Jose Guzman, and artist from Panama who is been living since fifteen years in Amsterdam. Together with Abdoulaye Armin Kane and Felipe Peres Calheiros, Coordinators for L3 in Senegal and Brazil, they create art installations and films that deal with black identity and African roots. It’s because of this variety of heritage that the members of L3 call themselves Pan Africanists.

In Smart, the collective has arranged a multimedia presentation. There is an inverse boat that serves as a traveling cinema and streets sounds for far away places tingle the ears of the visitors. But by far the most impressive subject of this exhibition is L3 founder Guzman himself with his video work. The film The Day We Surrender To The Air is a gripping report about the search for his own genetic roots.

For the project The Day We Surrender To The Air, Guzman went to the United States to analyze his DNA. The results brought to light that his early family assembled European Sephardic Jew and Muslim peoples of the Sahel, but also Indians and people from Panamanian indigenous tribes belonged to his family tree.

The film became a road movie, which followed the tracks that his ancestors thousands of years ago previously have taken. Guzman walks through the snow in Siberia from where his ancestors once crossed the Bering Strait. He stands on the edge of the Grand Canyon, which his family traversed on their way to Mexico twenty thousand years. And he looked straight through the gate in Senegal, where the slaves were driven towards the ships, taking off to an unknown destination.

Who are we and where do we come from? These are the questions that Guzman’s movie again and again emerges. And what does nationality mean if your genetic material can be attributed to almost all parts of the world? Guzman actually say in this movie that the world is one big family. And this is an important statement, in a time where right wing ideas more and more prevail in a growing number of parts of our world.

Sandra Smallenburg
NRC Next / Translation of manuscript in Dutch

Sandra Smallenburg studied art history at Leiden University and works as an art editor and critic for Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. She is also a contributor to ARTnews magazine.

 

in search of the african gene

‘L3’ is a gene that occurs in all Bantu people. Antonio Jose Guzman used it as code for his personal quest. Antonio Jose Guzman would prefer to go flying on a boat and sail across the sky. Over Africa, across the Atlantic; He created the Dogon Voyager for Interstellar Planetary Travelling, the spacecraft is the beating heart of his art project The State of L3, which is a growing web of artist and friends from Africa, Europe and Latin America. It’s a fantasy that Guzman gained by Jules Verne, the jazz of Sun Ra and the TV series Star Trek.  Parts of the expanding work was on display in Amsterdam’s Gallery 23 and Smart Project Space, Sanaa Gallery, Utrecht and in the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp MHKA.

At Smart Project Space Guzman made a boat with a video mirror loop, where previous visitors took look inside.  Guzman also made sculptures with winged forms from recycled material. Guzman: “The boat transports us to our friends and distant relatives, who we don’t know where they are”, Guzman did for the project workshops with selected young aspiring artists in Dakar, Recife and Amsterdam. The goal of L3 is to find a transatlantic black identity based on the colonial triangle.  Guzman: “L3 is the gene that you will find in all the Bantu people across the world”. The “State of L3” is imaginary, the vision of a state that encompasses all areas of the world where people with African roots live, the entire diaspora, the dream of Marcus Garvey, the negritude of Leopold Sedar Senghor. In the project the young artists of L3 rediscover these ideas not so much as a charge against the great injustices of the past, but as a source of inspiration, says Guzman. With The State of L3 Guzman invites the audience to look at themselves, and to question their relationship with identify and the post colonial world.

It started four years ago with Guzman’s fascination for DNA research. He made a documentary about it, previously screened at IDFA and the Thessaloniki Film Festival. A large percentage of Guzman’s ancestors was European, “Sephardic Jews, many slave traders themselves. A large part was native Panamanian. He also traced his roots to African Muslim peoples in the Sahel. Their descendants still live as Maroons, in the inaccessible border between Panama and Colombia.

The State of L3 started it’s tour of exhibitions during the Dakar biennial in Senegal. Guzman exhibit a boat and a car shape with fabric covered – “purposely not Dutch wax by Vlisco, but Nigerian printed wax”. The car drew a lot of attention on the suburbs of Dakar, “as if an expensive car is under the fabric”. Guzman video loops were projected during the biennial on residential buildings, images sometimes many meters high. “The people on the districts were moved, for the first time they saw a film in their streets and to their surprise they saw each other on it.”

Wim Bossema 
De Volkskrant / Translation of manuscript in Dutch

Wim Bossema is a journalist at Volkskrant. A history graduate of the universities of Amsterdam and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, he was previously in charge of Volkskrant’s Africa section.

 

unlimited movement

Surrendering to the air means floating. It means unlimited movement, and this is precisely what director Antonio Jose Guzman does in his project The Day We Surrender to the Air. Guzman got his DNA analyzed in the United States and discovered that he is of African, Central and North American, and European lineage.

His genetic identity was based on the Diasporas of his forefathers. So how did his parents end up in Panama? In this first part of what ultimately should become a trilogy, Guzman offers up an experimental mix of footage from places where he has roots with interviews and dance. His trip around the world and quest to find himself opens up a wider perspective on the countless surprising connections between the people of all continents.

The question arises as to what nationality actually means. Is it anything more than a passport? After all, Guzman feels more linked to his African ancestors than his Dutch ones. How do the various elements of his identity relate to one another? Starting with Guzman’s own DNA, his ‘atom,’ as he calls it, the film opens a window to the world.

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam IDFA
World’s largest documentary film festival held annually in Amsterdam.

 

genetic identity

Antonio Jose Guzman’s documentary The Day We Surrender To The Air is about the director’s efforts to trace his genetic identity and see to what extent it influences who he is. An analysis of his DNA showed that the director can trace his origins to Africa, Central and South America, as well as Sephardic Jewish Europe.

This documentary, screened at the 12th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival is part of a trilogy. The first part is a video where the director presents the cultural identity of his ancestors. In the second part, he looks at the unexpected similarities he noticed in the peoples of various continents where he searched for his roots.

In the third part, which has yet to be made, Antonio Jose Guzman will continue his search into his Jewish Sephardic past, enriching it with images from Spain, Portugal and Israel. “The fact that I end up in places that have been marked by a strong Sephardic community presence such as Amsterdam and Thessaloniki is interesting”, he commented. He believes that “descent influences what every person is: what we are in reality is ‘international individuals’. We must remember our common descent, which is from Africa”, he stressed. As he explained, in spite of the fact that there have been many films made in the past about multiculturalism and identity, “there is always room for one more film which essentially Africa”, he stressed. As he explained, in spite of the fact that there have been many films made in the past about multiculturalism and identity, “there is always room for one more film which essentially says that all people are one family – especially in our time, when extreme right-wing elements are increasing in societies all over the world”.

Having grown up in Panama, a country which has lived the dominance of the USA for almost a century, the director admits that his country is: “now nationalistic and chauvinistic”. However, he remains optimistic, saying: “in Europe and Latin America people are struggling to become European. Perhaps this is why they are more European than those who are born in Europe”.

Thessaloniki Film Festival, Greece

MP3’s Interviews | Guzman | Radio Rietveld | Stedelijk Museum | Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Radio Rietveld One | Rietveld Two | Rietveld Three | L3 RNW (French) | L3 RNW (Portuguese)

 

 

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