The room is filled with a light aroma that could be rose. It is familiar yet unidentifiable. A nude body is curled up on the ground beneath a sheet of plastic, the material sticking to different parts of the body. Condensation can be seen on the plastic, showing that the body has been in this position for some time. This visceral action was one of many enacted in Hector Canonge’s S U R. The artist describes S U R as a series of actions that (re)capture, (re)frame, and (re)contextualize the work the artist created during his travels in Latin America in 2012. He further explains that S U R is composed in five interrelated parts (Genesis, Fatherland, Heartland, Tropica, and Carnation) that blend into a narrative related to the artist’s life and familial history. Canonge brought S U R to Boston, where his actions merged the contexts of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru with Mobius’ intimate exhibition space.
When the artist emerged from the plastic, he began to cycle through a series of actions that employed materials indigenous to Latin America. He poured Mate tealeaves on the floor, the muted smell filling the space. He poured refined sugar in a circle around his body while singing, his controlled exhalations oscillating between power and sounding as if he were out of breath. He wore a heavy woolen sweater that he unraveled with his fingers, the smell of dust captured in the fibers traveling through the air. As the piece unfolded, Canonge continued to build a visceral and sensorial installation through his chosen materials and focused movement and sound. The gentle introductions of smells created a crescendo that led to one of the most dynamic actions in S U R. Canonge revealed stalks of raw sugarcane that he broke into smaller pieces that were tied to his waist. He proceeded to peel them with his teeth. He then invited the audience one by one to experience the delight of tasting raw sugarcane. With one side of the stalk in the participant’s mouth, the other in Canonge’s, the stalk sat between the two people, their heads at an intimate proximately. Boston is known for having active audiences that are open to participate in live art pieces, however, this action was so intimate that I was surprised at how quickly the audience agreed to engage. After more reflection, I believe that the eagerness to interact with Canonge was something that the artist intentionally built into the structure of the piece. Not only did the deeply poetic actions create a familial feeling amongst the audience, Canonge’s consideration of faint smell created a curiosity around the materials he used. By the time we were asked to participate, we were thoroughly intoxicated by the experience, making it impossible to refuse.
S U R opens a dialogue around a myriad of ideas. The work clearly has political overtones, providing opportunity to consider the complex relationship that the US has with its Southern neighbors. Although Canonge is specific in creating an experience inspired by Latin and South America, S U R also tackles more general considerations around themes such as otherness, colonization, and how place informs constructions of identity. The piece was loaded with complex content, yet maintained a sense of accessibility throughout. As we experienced Canonge exhibit his vulnerability, we were open to engage with him, ask questions, and contemplate the evolving role of place in the 21st century.
– Sandrine Schaefer
Hector Canonge is an artist based in New York City where he studied Comparative Literature, Filmmaking, and Integrated Media Arts. His work incorporates the use of New-media technologies, physical environments, cinematic and performance art narratives. In his work he explores and treats issues related to construction of identity, gender roles, and the politics of migration. His performances mediate movement, endurance, and ritualistic processes as well as the interaction with the public. His visual arts projects and performance art work have been exhibited and presented in the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia.