Álava’s art projects, in the form of dialogues, verbal descriptions, rumors and random encounters, explore notions of trust and intimacy, and use language as a medium to investigate the interconnections that exist between public, private, educational and interpretative aspects of art.
TRUST ME: TELL ME A SECRET follows the format of a VIP art tour and will take place inside a major contemporary art fair in New York City, in May 2012. Performances won’t be announced or documented– “visitors astute enough to notice Álava’s presence are rewarded with the first hand experience of seeing the work changing,” (David Pierce, Surface Design, 2012). Instead, Álava will handwrite the content of the conversations onto fragmented pieces of paper. These fragments will then be integrated into an impossible-to-read visual installation entitled Tell Me a Secret, which will be on view in the Fall of 2012.
Since the 16th Century during Spectacle Fairs, or what later would be called Victorian Freak Shows, “the exhibit could not be seen before a show and therefore needed the showman to market their particular attractions to the curiosity seeking public. An essential part of the telling of the tale consisted of reasons to explain to the audience the history of the person they were going to see.” (The University of Sheffield, England.) Being aware of the different meanings given to the Carnivalesque Life by figures such as Mikheal Bakhtin, TRUST ME: TELL ME A SECRET poses the following questions: What is the definition and cultural significance of art fairs in 2012? Who goes to art fairs and why? What is said inside of an art fair and who is asked to explain what’s in them?
We enter new terrain when participating or witnessing Álava’s work— Described as “almost invisible” by Holland Cotter (New York Times); “indispensable, it makes us pay attention to what we don’t pay attention anymore” by Alfonso Armada (ABC); “We can appreciate Álava as an inspired and subersive artist. In a world in which social and ethical considerations seem to be losing their force, she presents us with situations that linger in our minds as ethical conundrums. Álava’s brilliantly conceived projects evoke matters of trust in art, which inevitably demands a moral gloss. This may place her on the margins of the art world; however, that may well be a highly honorable site in today’s world. Her methods remain a way of making contact with her audience, transforming them from passive viewers into active participants.” (Gema Álava: Brave New World, by Jonathan Goodman, Fronterad, 2010); “In Gema Álava, sophistication and immediacy fuse together. Her artwork is a spiderweb that further expands as you find yourself caught in it. Her empathy borders on vampirism, and that is unusual in this self-centered artworld egocracy.” (Anna Grau, ABC).
Originally inspired by George Kubler’s The Shape of Time, Álava was awarded a La Caixa Fellowship in 1997 to further develop in the United States her thesis, “The human concept of time depends on the culture and the moment in which we live, and rebounds in the way we experience, understand and remember our reality.” Since 2001, during more than 1,000 tours given in major art museums in New York City to different audiences, Álava has been able to observe firsthand the way viewers interact with artworks. In 2011, she was nominated for and awarded a Fellowship from the Peter Reed Foundation in NYC for her trilogy TELL ME – FIND ME – TRUST ME. That same year, the Smithsonian Institution nominated her for a 2012 SARF Fellowship for her investigation entitled “VERBAL AND TEMPORAL INTERACTION BETWEEN THE PUBLIC AND MUSEUM HIGHLIGHT PIECES,” in which she stated, “I am an artist who has earned art degrees in three different countries, but it has been during the last ten years as a part-time museum educator in several major art museums that I became aware of the important role that the general public – and its verbal interaction with the artwork on view – plays in the selection and inclusion of certain artworks in exhibitions, catalogs, and studies which, consequently, have a direct effect on the subjects and courses being taught today at art colleges, where many future artists are attending class; as well as in the way we understand our reality, and therefore our culture.”
Previous art projects by Álava that deal with concepts of intimacy, trust, verbal/temporal engagement with artworks; as well as the tightropes of culture in the 21st Century, include: A DIALOGUE (2008), selected by artist Cai Guo-Qiang and performed at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum’s ramp, which consisted of an impossible-to-document conversation between both artists; TELL ME (2008-2009), developed with the participation of 22 artists inside a major art museum of New York City while the museum was closed to the general public, was based on the awareness of the impossibility of using museum security cameras for artistic purposes. As a result, the only documentation of TELL ME remains in a handwritten book made by the participants while inside the museum; For FIND ME (2009), developed in the streets of New York City and San Francisco, and presented at CUE Art Foundation, artists Lars Chellberg, Barbara Holub, Paul Kos, Ester Partegas, Robert Ryman, Arne Svenson, Merrill Wagner, Lawrence Weiner, and Maria Yoon gave Álava original artworks in order for her to place them outdoors or in public spaces, being aware that the exact locations would never be revealed to the public; TRUST ME (2010), developed inside two major art museums of New York City during visiting hours, presented at Instituto Cervantes in New York City with the participation of Jason Shmidt, Ellen Fisher, Mayrav Fisher, Jonathan Goodman, Jessica Higgins, Erika Kawalek, Erika Knerr, Alison Knowles, Ferran Martin, J. Morrison, Gordon Sasaki and J.G. Zimmerman; invited participants to listen to the description of art works that could not be seen, and to appreciate art through multiple senses. HERE AND THERE (2011), selected by curator Sandra Sider of Lehman College Art Gallery, consisted of unnannounced interventions during gallery visiting hours, allowing chance and serendipity to decide who Álava’s audience was.
Site: Gema Alava
Title: Trust Me: Tell Me a Secret
Place: major contemporary art fair
City: New York
Country: United States of America
Date: may 2012