Alejandro Medina's solo exhibition at La Nueva Fabrica in Antigua, Guatemala.

Alejandro Medina: Reconstrucción
La Nueva Fábrica, Antigua, Guatemala
October 17 - December 17, 2020

Nowadays, specific commodities dominate the globalized markets and leave less space for the existence of other products. Teak wood is – in its production – one example that has been overflowing the world since the 20th century, while at the same time contributing to the extinction of natural biodiversity in the rainforests of tropical regions. In his sculptural installation Atmósferas (2020), the Guatemalan-born artist Alejandro Medina makes use of this omnipresent wood that originates from Southeast Asia as plinths. The way it stands there, heavy and stable, the hardwood may symbolize its inherent economic power. However, in its function as plinth it gives the opportunity to showcase something else. Stacked up glass vessels have been firmly inserted into one another, each containing a small biotope. Six of such towers are built up side by side, each representing one specific tree species that is native to Guatemala. The vessels rise above our heads sculpturally and recall the presence of once standing trees. In the course of increasing deforestation and monoculture operations, some of these tree species are in risk of extinction in their natural habitat. Enclosed in Atmósferas, all of them seem to be protected while they can be observed simultaneously during their growth process, confronting the visitor with the beauty of nature – and its fragility. Due to the different mixing ratios of soil, seed and water in the various-sized vessels not all of these plants may survive their germination. Time and patience are necessary to find the right equilibrium so they can flourish in front of our eyes. With the support of intrusive aluminum frameworks that hold the fragile towers together, the apparent necessity of an artificial structure to rebuild a natural ecosystem is imposed. Furthermore, Medina refers to the Wardian cases, sealed protective containers for plants that were invented in the 17th century. In the historical period of colonialism, these terrariums were used to transport plants from one continent to another. It is one part of the beginning of the globalized world in which we live in today.

Trained in architecture, Alejandro Medina has developed a fascination of the organization of natural structures. The so-called L-Systems serve as inspiration for his spacious installation Reconstrucción (2018–ongoing). This mathematical system, invented in the late Sixties by the Hungarian biologist Aristid Lindenmayer, nowadays finds usage as an algorithm to generate fractals and to create computational models of the growth process of plants. In order to understand in a more profound way how branching in nature works, the artist has gone from the digital to the analog sphere. For the first time in 2018, he erected a new tree out of branches that he collected in a forest near his home. Consisting of tree branches plus small aluminum columns, Reconstrucción unfolds again – this time like a flying carpet over the floor. The construction is highly fragile: the light branches are lying just gently on the free-mounted metal sticks without any fixation. The slightest eruption and even a change in the air can destroy the brittle structure. Through this provoked instability, Medina not only emphasizes, but also experiences the deficient relationship between humans and nature in a truly meditative way: as part of the artistic process, he looks after the installation and he takes time for its reconstruction after each collapse. Being physically and repeatedly in touch with the branches, he finds himself in an embodied learning process – for example, through necessarily engaging with gravity as he constructs. A new stable position seems always traceable but the whole structure will never look the same. Every “reconstrucción” is a new attempt at detecting unknown opportunities instead of adhering to what was before. Does each collapse help us build up a new, and perhaps better life?

The reflection about this apparent lost equilibrium leads to Intercambio (2020), a changeable installation which may be understood as a proposition and a direct invitation to the visitor. It is a self-organizing seed bank that invites to give, take and exchange (“intercambio”) all sorts of sowings. Where would you like to plant a tree? Which seeds would you like to contribute? While the first stock of the seed collection originates from the artist himself and the seed bank of the National Institute of Forests (INAB), the inventory may vary during the running time of the exhibition. By inviting the visitors to participate, Intercambio encourages to get in touch with nature – to collect seeds, exchange them, plant them and to take care of the growing organisms. Thereby the artwork aims to raise awareness of our environment. A constantly updated list and further information about all the seeds currently available is offered online (see QR code). What may first look like an individual experience is indeed a broader collective project. “Each small step contributes to a larger whole”, Medina says. Questions of sharing and caring are characteristic of the artist’s worldview. The idea for this artistic project developed during his COVID-19 quarantine at his family’s home, where he was spending extensive time in the garden. He did not only, once more, look closer into nature but also started a personal collection of seeds. As a family project, hundreds of seeds were given new opportunities to live by being carefully planted in small pots, being taken care for and then handed over to neighbors and friends. Becoming now an artwork shown in the white cube, it becomes something larger than a private exchange. It also raises questions about the role of museums and art institutions. How can they contribute to a more caring, equitable and ecologically conscious society? With its participation in Intercambio, La Nueva Fábrica takes a first step ahead: a couple of seeds out of Alejandro Medina’s installation will be planted in the garden of Antigua’s art space.

© Philipp Lange
October 4, 2020