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by Jose Cáceres and Noriko Yamakoshi

la_cápsula—between Latin America and Switzerland: An Exploration in Three Acts

1. Saturday, November 30. Welcome to la_cápsula

It is a buzzing weekend in Zurich. The 7th edition of Volumes, the independent publishing fair, is taking place at the Kunsthalle, and several Latin American artists and curators are participating—rapidly a small Latin American community was built within the stands and halls of the fair and they will probably come together again at one place: la_cápsula, an independent and experimental art space that seeks to create a dialogue between Latin America and Switzerland. Today, Enrique Arriaga and Janet Martínez are performing The Beasts, an audiovisual exploration, within the program of the exhibition.

We arrive late. Despite the darkness set for the performance, we find some seats. We were immediately in: you could close your eyes and let the sonorous messages by Arriaga relate to your thoughts; you could open your eyes wide and get pulled into the video imagery created by Martínez; you could immerse yourself in their collective dimension of relations, translations, and rifts. After the performance, the discussion with the artists moved from Spanish to English, English to Spanish—Spanish may be the (main) language at la_cápsula, but their events are characterized more by the fluidity between languages, honoring their intentions to be a place of dialogue.

The discussion ends; the bar opens. Adriana Domínguez and Elena Rosauro, curators of la_cápsula, “disappear” behind the bar and start to serve beer, water, glasses of wine. They talk warmly with everyone, they laugh (...a lot and almost always simultaneously), Elena comes to the front side and hugs the Latin American Volumes community arriving. Adriana comes out as well, talks to the artists, asks if they need anything. They are always cheerful, welcoming. Visitors and artists at la_cápsula are more than their intellectual, artistic, and connoisseur personae, they are guests in their home, hogar, that Adriana and Elena have created within the Zurich art scene.

2. Wednesday, February 5. The Interview

“Tenemos para 8 horas de conversación con esas preguntas” (“We will have like 8 hours of conversation with these questions”), wrote Elena the day before the interview. We checked our questions, highlighted the important ones. For the interview, we have invited Adriana and Elena for lunch. It was their turn to be guests. The conversation started effortlessly. We shared experiences of how everyone arrived in Zurich—neither interviewers nor interviewees are from Switzerland. Adriana is from Mexico, where she studied art history, and came to Zurich for an internship at the Galerie Peter Kilchmann and graduated later from the MAS Curating Programme. Meanwhile, Elena studied art history in Spain and finished her PhD in “Latin American Contemporary Art and Political Violence,” which brought her to Zurich. Their stories started rapidly to interweave. From their personal and collective memories, a herstory emerged:

Exhibition Memories

José Cáceres and Noriko Yamakoshi: What was your first exhibition both separately and together?

Adriana Domínguez: I organized my first exhibition when I was 16 (everyone laughs). It was really like I WANTED to do exhibitions. My mom had a friend who owned a beautiful English school with a beautiful backyard and garden and we did the exhibition there—like very creatively on chairs and hanging elements. In the university, I did, I think the most important one, an exhibition about feminism, because I was able to show Valerie Export and Ana Mendieta who were my heroes at that time.

Elena Rosauro: “Sheroes”?

AD: Yes! And our first show together at la_cápsula was…

ER: … in a garage, wave · forms [with Joanna Selinger and Mayar el Hayawan] which was [held] in June 2017.

JC+NY: What was first: the exhibition idea or la_cápsula?

AD+ER: la_cápsula.

JC+NY: Could you explain more about it?

AD: But you have to say your first exhibition, Elena.

ER: That was my first exhibition by the way.

AD: That was your first exhibition? I didn't know that.

ER: Well, I had an exhibition before, but I was the artist (everyone laughs).

A Garage, A Name

JC+NY: How did the concept of la_cápsula come about?

ER: You tell the story.

AD: Well, Elena and I share the similar interests in Latin American art, it was the theme of Elena’s Master’s and PhD, and for me it’s my background, and it was something that we felt was missing here in Zurich. The only space that was showing art from Latin America was the Daros Collection, but by the time I arrived here it was already closed.

ER: They are still here, but now they do not have an exhibition space anymore.

AD: So, we were very lucky to find each other. We met through our internship at Peter Kilchmann; that was when we found out that we share the same desire or need to show Latin American art in Zurich. We didn’t have a space then, but my husband at that time was renting a tiny garage close to Prime Tower, together with some friends. I asked Elena if she would like to do exhibitions with me in this tiny garage, which was the only space we had available. But it was better than nothing. We had to start somewhere. Elena was very enthusiastic, which was the best thing that could happen because this was how the project started. As for the name, it was inspired by the tiny space, because it was so small that we thought it’s like a tiny capsule where something happens and then stops because you simply close the door. Then we started to discuss a concept and idea around the space. Our objectives were very clear: what we wanted to show was Latin American art, and we also wanted to showcase politically engaged art along with socio-political criticism. We also thought that it would be interesting to encourage dialogues between Swiss and Latin American artists. This was the only thing we had clear at this point. It was still very confusing at the beginning, then we chose a couple of artists—actually we started our first exhibition with Swiss artists (both start to laugh), because we didn’t have any money and we only had this tiny space. We thought, it is better to feature local artists who can attract the local audience because no one knew who we were nor the name of la_cápsula. And yes, our first show was literally held in a garage. (laughs)

JC+NY: How long had you had the garage space for?

AD: We actually did just one show! So, it basically gave us the name (laughs).

Zurich and Latin America

JC+NY: Were there any challenges in introducing Latin American artists to the city of Zurich within the political, social, and cultural context?

ER: It wasn’t difficult to bring Latin American artists here, but it was challenging to bring the Swiss audience to Latin American art exhibitions.

AD: But we have seen a change since we started. Somehow, it’s getting popular. There were places where Latin American art was shown, such as Peter Kilchmann and Christinger de Mayo, which was a gallery that closed four, five years ago. And they also have a lot to do with Latin America, so you can say that there was some interest towards Latin American art in Zurich. But we experienced more resistance in the youngest generation, in this very emergent art scene. There was already a circuit of off-off-spaces which is very popular in Zurich. But we were able to attract all the people who were feeling sort of “orphaned” including students from Latin America who are doing their Master’s and PhD in the city. Our space became a meeting point for them and also because we always hold parties at the end of the shows, and we were discussing topics that the other spaces normally wouldn’t discuss. Recently, we are also connecting with emerging Swiss curators who now also are very interested in Latin American art, so it’s becoming a bigger network involving many Swiss curators.

ER: But it’s been a process …

AD: … a long process.

Community and Political Space

JC: I would like to hear your opinion, but I feel like Zurich has a less strong Latin American community in comparison to the other cities in Switzerland such as those of Lausanne or Geneva. It doesn’t seem to be either active or organized.

AD: I think we are attracting orphans really. It became a community very slowly. At the beginning, it was only our friends coming to our shows. No one knew who we were, and I think many of the people in the other art spaces weren’t really interested.

ER: I feel like somehow la_cápsula became a safe space for many people. People we knew and people we gradually met. Now it's bigger and open.

JC+NY: This could be a big statement, but would you say la_cápsula is assuming the role of being the meeting point of the Latin American community in Zurich?

AD: (laughs) In a way we do.

ER: Yes, actually, we have a friend from Chile who was living here for five years, she is a cultural journalist, and then she moved back. Last summer, she visited Zurich for some conference and stopped by at la_cápsula. The moment she entered she was like, “Wow, this is the place that was Daros before.” That was the first thing she said. There were orphans and now they have a space to meet again.

JC: In my opinion, the sense of a Latin American community is closely attached to the la_cápsula. At the end of 2018 when I first visited your space and one of your exhibitions, this is what I immediately felt: “This is the place you want to be if you want to know something about Latin America, to talk about it, and want to see artists from Latin America”.

AD: A year ago, we started to notice or someone made it clear to us that the same people who are visiting this off-spaces circuit were not coming to la_cápsula. It was a kind of different public. I started to panic a little, thinking what are we doing wrong, why are people not coming to our exhibitions, etc.

ER: … Swiss people.

AD: Yes. … the Swiss people who were following emerging artists in this independent art scene. But then we realized that this is what makes us unique, and this is what we can offer: to open a space where you can find different sorts of narratives and discussions, and also a different kind of public. And then slowly, slowly people started to come to la_cápsula from this circuit. We also have to say that we did an exhibition last summer with Adán Vallecillo [Golpe #10, June 2019] which helped us a lot because he already had a big network with Swiss curators and galleries. He is a renowned artist from Honduras, although he is very young. The show provided us a platform that we didn’t have before. So, thanks to him we are able to connect with even more people.

ER: And actually, this kind of politically engaged discourse we had, we never made it explicit until he came and told us, “Of course, this is the only space where you can show politically engaged art.”

ER+AD: It’s a political space.

An Exhibition, A Concept

JC+NY: Which exhibition has represented your curatorial concept at the best so far?

ER: We would say our last exhibition [The Animal That Therefore I Am?, October 2019-January 2020].

AD: There are several reasons why the show represented us the most—it was probably the first exhibition that we could do thorough research from the art history point of view. We were inspired by the bestiaries, a topic which has been intensively researched, but we wanted to do a contemporary take over. It was really fun to do the research, look for the artists, and give it a twist. But at the same time, we addressed themes we are interested in; there was a lot of political and social content in the show. We had both Latin American and local artists. It involved kind of everything.

ER: We created a publication towards the end of the exhibition and did a lot of performances which were inspired by the show.

JC: You could say, you had a full program.

ER+AD: Yes!

ER: We developed our curatorial work through this exhibition. For our next ones, we want to keep a similar practice.

AD: We had always these wishes in mind, to have a program and to do a publication, but we didn't have the money. Thanks to the little funding that we got, we were able to bring people in, to do performances, to do something specific for the exhibition. It was really important for us to have the possibility to do as many things as possible.

ER: But if you ask us next year, then we’ll probably say “our last exhibition!” again. (laughs)

Curatorial Persona?

JC+NY: How do you position yourself as curators in your exhibitions?

ER: I think this is something difficult for us. I would say it’s more like a personality trait, and we don’t enjoy talking too much. We are always like, “Let’s drink!” We do this all the time.

AD: And we drink. (laughs)

JC+NY: “Welcome to la_cápsula, here is your drink! Then we can talk.” (laughs)

ER: We did the finissage talk with Michael [Günzburger]. Actually, we wanted to do a talk with two artists from the exhibition [The Animal therefore I Am], but one couldn’t attend and he actually suggested that maybe we could talk about the exhibition and we were like, “Hmm...yes.” (laughs)

JC: As a witness, it was pretty cool to hear about the concept of the exhibition. In my humble opinion, it could be repeated.

AD: This is something I also noticed. We could give more information; we should. So, as Elena said, it’s more like our personal traits. But it's important, because there is a lot of research. We do the curatorial text which explains the general idea, and also we like that the artworks speak for themselves, which is really the main thing. But yes, I think sometimes we should do something differently.

JC+NY: The question would be: in what way do you explain your curatorial concepts the best. Is it in a text, in guided tours, in a conversation after two mezcals?

ER: Maybe in karaoke. (laughs)

AD: I think the nicest way always is to have a talk. People can ask questions and something grows out from there. Sí. Sí. Because we enjoy talking to explain our exhibitions one-on-one when people visit us individually, but for the future, this is something we have to tackle.

ER: At openings, we always said like, “Ok. At eight we say something.” But then it is a quarter past eight, and we don’t say anything.

JC: I think your style is more about hosting your audience when they come into your space, greeting and taking care of them, making sure everyone is enjoying it. I’ve witnessed that you always try to connect people. I think it is one of the appeals of your space and your curatorial personality.

ER: We were often misunderstood as bartenders, since we are usually behind the bar (laughs). We don’t position ourselves so much as “the curators.”

AD: We definitely like being that way, to connect people and welcome them all. It’s authentic, and we enjoy this part the most about all the events that we do.

JC: Maybe it is also part of our Latin American culture. When we invite people, we take care of them, and we do everything so they have fun.

AD+ER: Absolutely!

AD: Sure. I think it’s a matter of personality. For this “curator persona,” you need some kind of personality that we don't have. We are curators, we assume being curators, and we are very proud of it, but we never will be this kind of “look at me” type of curator.

JC+NY: Would it be appropriate to call your style like a “living room,” considering all the personal aspects together?

ER: Oh, I like that (laughs). Yes, I think we have been doing as we felt comfortable. I think that can be our method.

To: Zurich

From: la_cápsula

JC+NY: We heard that you had some struggles connecting with the community and the local scene, and at the same time, the city has enabled you to do what you do. If you would wish for something for the Zurich art scene, what would it be?

ER: The first wish I would say is more financial support. Also, lately I have been thinking that it would be nice if the city or the canton would support the off-spaces, if they would give spaces with low rent that they are not using. If they would provide this kind of space with this kind of rental option, it would be something that would really help us all. We are all struggling with the financial aspects. If we had some kind of support from the public institutions like having a space where we could do la_cápsula… I mean we really love our space, but in the event that we wouldn't have our space and we need to look for another one, if the city could offer one empty space with low rent, that would be really helpful. I would wish for that.

AD: We had talked many times about this, because the issue is not that we would like that they give us all the money. Actually, we would like to be totally financially independent and not have the need to ask for money from the city, but then the way they could help us is, like Elena said, if they could offer much reasonable spaces or if they allow us to sell food without a special permit. These kinds of compromises that allow you to become independent. They know we are doing this work without pay. No one running an off-space is getting paid for it, and it’s something that brings a lot to the city because all the emergent artists start exhibiting there, then they become more famous and start showing at Helmhaus and so on. It's good for the city and its culture. These kinds of tiny things that will support us to become independent, that would be our wish. Or you don’t have to apply for twenty different funds. Maybe, once you are selected, it would cover three years. This would be really helpful because people normally have to split their time between their normal job, running the space, and getting the funding. If the city could help us with these things or create new models, it would make things easier.

JC+NY: I think you explained the system of the art scene in the city very well.

AD: These days, the new politics has made it difficult to receive funding for the off-spaces that have been around for a while. They are making it easier for new spaces, and we definitely worry about this trend. Our wish is to be here for a long time (laughs).

3. Wednesday, February 26. Der Spaziergang.

We would have met at 11am in Helsinki, a club in Zurich. But we never did. On that day, Zurich had a winter’s day that people had been wishing for in December and January but had never arrived. Plans have to be changed. We should meet for lunch. Tacos. No, we should go to the Bistro on the top of Prime Tower, the highest skyscraper of the city to see the snow. Both interviewers and interviewees forgot about the objective of today: to have a curatorial stroll through the city. We surrendered to the weather. Nature responded kindly to our acceptance because it stopped snowing when we finally met. So, they took us to their origin: the garage that gave them their name. Welcome back to la_cápsula!

Over lunch, Elena and Adriana narrated their experience as artists. Yes, they are performance artists now; maybe they always were. Just a couple of days ago, they participated in a set of performances called “Through States of Matter,” which they have hosted before at la_cápsula. They staged a writing performance based on the concept of “sentipensar” (to feel and think simultaneously)—Eduardo Galeano wrote once that, “The only language that says the truth is the thinking ‘sentipensante.’” They will let their senses go with the flow of the performances and start to write their thoughts or quote from a pile of books they have in their corner stage. Unknown poets were born from their writing and quoting exercises:

mischwesen werde ich sein
the scent of time
encendidos, vibrantes, eléctricos
force of (modern) history
casi carnívoramente

she was quiet but she liked noises
así, sólo así se llega al centro
avoid this sort of lunacy
it floats at a distance

Later, we walked through the Kreis 5, and it was definitely a curatorial experience (we were back on track!). Besides appreciating the aesthetics and history of the district buildings, Adriana and Elena examined apparent empty spaces and their possibilities as an art space. Floors, display windows, doors, and colors were noted and discussed for the ultimate goal of making exhibitions. You could see their experience of being an “itinerant space” during their first year as la_cápsula. Every space has its potentialities.

Suddenly, a small snowstorm arose and made our walk difficult. Winter was here again. We found refuge in Helmhaus. We read with joy the small exhibition booklet, almost a kind of key to experiencing the exhibition of Florence Jung. As the usual talks in opening days at la_cápsula or the poems created out of their performance, the conversation was a lively ceaseless dialogue between languages and cultures, impressions and opinions, coziness and laughter.

la_cápsula is an independent and experimental curatorial project initiated by Adriana Domínguez – alumna to the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, MAS, ZHdK – and Elena Rosauro in June 2017. By promoting a dialogue between artists and cultural producers from Switzerland and Latin America, la_cápsula has opened a space in Zurich in which topics that affect both geographic territo- ries, such as environmental issues, feminism, geopolitics, gender issues, and decolonialism, are addressed in a wider sense and discussed within the context of Switzerland and its local population.

Jose Cáceres is an historian and independent curator. He is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zurich, developing a decolonial critique to the idea of history from a Latin American perspective. Recent projects include the intervention Chile Despertó with Impresionante (Chile) at Volumes 2019, the documentary exhibition Chilean Revolt. A Chronicle at la_cápsula and Walmapu ex situ in collaboration with the collective Trop cher to share. He is enrolled in the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, ZHdK.

Noriko Yamakoshi is a German born, Japanese curator, researcher and writer. She has engaged herself with exhibition and programme making under various forms of organizations in contemporary art along with research and writing projects. Her recent curatorial involvement includes Games.Fights.Encounters (OnCurating Project Space, Zurich, 2020). She is currently in the Postgraduate Programme in Curating at ZHdK.

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