In 2000, Virginia Pérez-Ratton, Founding Director of TEOR/éTica, traveled to Europe with the intention of persuading the legendary international curator Harald Szeemann to visit Costa Rica. Szeemann, who had been responsible for the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, had never been in Central America before. At the tireless insistence of Virginia, he made the research trip and consequently invited six Central American artists to the 49th edition of the Biennale in 2001. In this occasion two of the artists Federico Herrero (Costa Rica) and Aníbal Lopez (Guatemala) received the ‘Special Prize for Young Artists’.
In recent years, Central America and the Caribbean have been characterized by a desire to be seen and understood by the outside world. Decisions have been made and actions taken with the aim of gaining greater visibility from almost complete invisibility or at least a partial and distorted presence. Throughout its 11 years of existence, TEOR/éTica has supported the work of young artists from the Central American region like Priscilla Monge, Federico Herrero, Ernesto Salmerón and Regina Galindo, efforts that have contributed to making possible their outstanding participation in important spaces of the international art scene among which can be cited the Venice, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Havana, Prague and Pontevedra's Biennials.
In retrospect, it could very well be said that one of the major achievements of TEOR/éTica has been precisely this one: placing Costa Rica and Central America in the map of the international art world. Its decisive regional and international projection as well as its emphasis on research and criticality has made TEOR/éTica one of the most dynamic and proactive art spaces in the region.
Originated in 1999 as an independent, non-profit project in San José, Costa Rica, the activities of TEOR/éTica include not only national and international exhibitions and curatorial projects, but also seminars, artists’ talks, conferences, workshops and theoretical events.
The production of knowledge and critical thinking have always been one of TEOR/éTica’s fundamental objectives. This is achieved in different ways: through exhibitions which have made possible a dialogue between national and foreign artists, through talks and workshops, and also through the extensive collection of publications, journals, books, and audiovisual material available in the public library and research center. Furthermore, TEOR/éTica occasionally hosts artistic and curatorial residencies resulting in the spontaneous stimulation of knowledge-sharing and artistic exchange.
Among the most important events organized by TEOR/éTica is worth mentioning the event organized in 2000 entitled “Central Themes: First Regional Symposium on Artistic Practice and Curatorial Possibilities” which took place in San José, Costa Rica. This event attended by nearly 200 people of Central America and abroad, aimed at reflecting about the position of contemporary art production in the region going beyond the concepts of center and periphery. As Virginia eloquently expressed, the event was an occasion for Central America to assume its rightful place within the international artistic community, respecting its own context and conditions and eradicating the image of the subaltern.
Another major milestone in TEOR/éTica’s exhibition history has been Estrecho Dudoso (Doubtful Strait) organized in December 2006. Except the Havana Biennial, this international exhibition has been the biggest visual arts event that has been conceived in the region. Attended by over 70 artists, this ambitious activity engaged all the museums of the city and six shows were curated: two historical anthologies (Margarita Azurdia and John Downey) and four interconnected but independent thematic exhibitions: Limits, Intangibles Routes, Traffic and News of the Filibuster. As they themselves contend: “This was a test for us, as it claimed a certain global projection but from our own perspective, with a very broad temporal coverage -eighty artists born between 1902 and 1983- and a small administrative structure.” In addition to the important connections and exchanges it enabled between regional and international artists, Estrecho Dudoso “represented an awareness of our own curatorial and organizational skills, a place to recognize and honor our own exhibition spaces as places of legitimacy and, most importantly, it was a positive outcome of all these years of research and efforts in stretching the boundaries of the local art scene.”
Although initiatives like TEOR/éTica have without a doubt changed the condition and visibility of the contemporary visual arts of and in the region, one of the main obstacles in the development process of this institution is that its efforts have been hardly accompanied by official or corporate support. Most governments continue to promote proposals that would present a conservative or folk vision of culture and thus have no real foundations or relevance in the actual context.
What can be expected of TEOR/éTica in the near future? “We hope to continue with the spirit that has characterized TEOR/éTica during these years of work, a spirit conducive to meeting and questioning, reflection and dialogue, intended to generate critical thinking. We hope to strengthen the ties of cooperation we have been building over the years, those that have allowed us to become what we are: a space of visibility and legitimacy of contemporary art in and outside of Central America.”
For more information visit TEOR/éTica’s website.
In memoriam to Virginia Pérez-Ratton (1950 – 2010).