What Makes Friendships Resemble a Courbaril

María Inés Rodríguez by Danh Vō
MIR by Danh Vō

The CAPC years
“I had a marvellous time in Bordeaux, probably one of the highlights of my professional career. We managed to create projects that we all cared about. For the artists, it meant working in the nave, acknowledging its emblematic status, as well as making new works. It was also a satisfying challenge for the museum teams” notes MIR about her time as the director of the CAPC in Bordeaux from 2014 to 2018. The CAPC is indeed a historical place, it was the first art centre in Europe, opening its first exhibition in 1973 (as a comparison, the Pompidou Centre was inaugurated in 1977). An association at the beginning, it then became a museum in the 80s, to finally raise to the privileged status of National Museum, under the “museums of France” label. Besides the shows that she organised at the CAPC, MIR established a permanent floor for the collection. “I am proud of what we all have achieved” she says.

MIR had a very specific project in mind since the time she had applied to the CAPC: to show the work of Chilean-French filmmaker and artist Alejandro Jodorowsky. She knew him since Mexico, especially for his films, she had been surprised by his creativity, his surrealistic twists, the subtlety of his historical references, and even the cruelty of his subjects. “When you watch his work carefully, you realise the richness in the details” she notes. Jodorowsky had moved to Mexico in the 50s, and had revolutionised the theatre and comic books scene. Her research had developed into a friendship, for a project initially thought for Mexico. She was learning more about Jodorowsky’s work beyond cinema: extending to theatre, performance, literature, the Tarot of Marseille, and poetry, especially poetry. “When I arrived at the CAPC, it was the perfect time to do that show” she smiles, as she remembers the ambition of the project, that was to take over the nave of the museum. For the installation they had chosen a proposal by greek artist and architect Andreas Angelidakis, “it was as if we had created a little city within the nave, and there, we installed all of Jodorowsky’s archives” recalls MIR. Jodorowsky read the tarot in a space built within the exhibition, which also served for other informal meetings, including when the artist met with the museum teams. “He told a lot of jokes. It was a fabulous experience which involved everyone“, remembers MIR.

María Inés Rodríguez with Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky et Alejandro Jodorowsky
MIR with Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky et Alejandro Jodorowsky

A modular permanent collection 
From her arrival to the CAPC, to her brutal dismissal like with many of her predecessors (often as a consequence of political changes in the city) MIR had always wished to show the collection of the museum in a more permanent way than through temporary exhibitions only. The second floor became home to the permanent collection, where they worked on a three-year programme with Venezuelan curator José Luis Blondet, from LACMA in Los Angeles. “He has a very particular way to work with collections: a transhistorical way, that is also joyful. He created a genius project called ‘[sic] works from the CAPC Collection‘, that displayed works across the second floor of the museum in a thematic installation, with modules within the show that we could change from one year to the next” explains MIR. Each year, they would create new dialogues and narratives within the display, thus giving life to the collection, and offering visitors new configurations every year. The collection also traveled for the first time, and was exhibited at the Museu MARCO in Monterrey, and the Amparo Museum in Puebla.

María Inés Rodríguez and Richard Long (back), 2014
MIR and Richard Long (back), 2014

The projects
Several artists found themselves lucky to create new beautiful projects in the nave of the CAPC with MIR. Besides Jodorowsky, there was Leonor Antunes. The Portuguese artist worked intensively on the archives of the CAPC, “they are of an amazing value” says MIR, naming its archivist, Martine Péan. Péan shared images of a colonial past when the CAPC was still the Entrepôt Lainé, a customs depot that stored exotic produce coming from the colonies, such as rice and coffee. “We did a very strong project in the nave, where we were able to materialise a conversation we started in 2006, when Antunes was doing her residency in La Cité des Arts in Paris. […] Antunes covered the floors with cork. She changed the space’s acoustics. It was great” remembers MIR. Another ambitious use of the nave was with Danish conceptual artist Danh Vō. It was also based on a long conversation she had with him, about Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who had lived in Carrara for while, working with marble. “We talked a lot about the material, its relationship with the hand, and the hands and labour with the marble” remembers MIR. Added to the space’s colonial past, it was as a great point of reflexion for Vō, whose Vietnamese refugee past is well documented. “Because every artist gave their all, the nave project became significant” explains MIR, “we always had in mind to have a good mix between enhancing key elements of the space, as well as key elements of the artists’ work” she concludes. With British land-artist Richard Long, she reinstalled two works he had made for the terrace of the museum, but that had been installed elsewhere since: the first, owned by FRAC was installed in a castle, the other had been integrated to the CAPC collection. They worked on restoring the work that was still in the collection, and borrowed the second one from the FRAC Collection, to reinstall both in their original spots on the grounds of the museum. Consequently, two years later they also installed several of Long’s work across Bordeaux.

MIR Installing Leonor Antunes’s work at Amparo Museum, Puebla with Anne Cadenet
MIR Installing Leonor Antunes’s work at Amparo Museum, Puebla with Anne Cadenet

Institutional Collaborations
There were also collaborations with other institutions, notably Jeu de Paume in Paris with its director Marta Gili, and the Amparo Museum in Puebla, with Ramiro Martinez. Why not join forces? It gave them more leverage. Besides, MIR had been herself a curator for the Satellite programme of Jeu de Paume, so she knew the project’s track record. They did four editions, with Erin Gleeson from SA SA BASSAC in Cambodia, British-Ghanaian curator and critic Osei Bonsu, who is now at the Tate, Heidi Ballet and Laura Herman. Overall, MIR’s scope of work covered the presentation of the collection, working with artists who already had a certain career, but also with younger generation of artists, curators, and graphic designers (for the publications). With curator Anne Sophie Dinant who created a film programme, L’Ecran, MIR had also dedicated a space to show historical and emerging works in video, it then expanded to moving image and performance. For example, they organised a homage to the work of Babette Mangolte, which was shown in an installation with screens featuring works from the 70s in the nave. “It was a very niche and beautiful project” remembers MIR.

The Courbaril Tree
During a residency in Martinique, when visiting the courtyard of l’habitation Clément, MIR came across the tree that had been planted there by Aimé Cesaire: a Hymenaea Courbaril. She later also had conversations about it with Berlin-based Guadeloupean artist, Jimmy Roberts. Cesaire’s, “Notebook of a Return to My Native Land”, had been a very important book for MIR, for all the times she had to process feelings of being in between lands, nor from Colombia, nor from France. “In Martinique, standing under a Courbaril tree with someone, symbolises solidarity” she learned. She associated the symbolism of the tree with the network of friendships that come to play into the realisation of art projects, where solidarity guarantees that everyone advances together. “I deeply believe that we move forward in life thanks to others. Or that we can be the ones helping others move forward”. When asked about the best advice one could give to art curators, MIR reminds me that “we are not alone, and we must build strong relationships with others”. She recalls a TV programme she had been invited to speak to, where seeing photos of her native Bogotá she realised many aspects of her being a foreigner for so long. She also points to me the many consequences of current discriminations, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the racists discussions around the origins of Covid-19. “I think that one needs to stay very strong, and realise that you do have a lot of things to say and to offer. We all have a lot of value within us. Ultimately, discrimination is the problem of the one who believes in his/her superiority. To face that, we need to focus on our projects, believe in them, and move them forward” she says. “It helps to create a community that shares the same synergies, and loves the same things as you” she adds. It certainly seems like a sound advice, not only in case of difficult times, but also to thrive.

Danh Vo Solo show, CAPC 2018
Danh Vo Solo show, CAPC 2018

São Paulo, MASP
Since 2018, MIR works with the MASP in São Paulo, upon an invitation of its Artistic Director, Adriano Pedrosa. Recently, MASP started developing their programmes thematically for each year. Previous themes have included Histories of: Childhood, Women and Feminism in art, and Sexuality. This year it was Dance, a programme unfortunately hindered by the spread of the pandemic, but for next year, they are working on Histories of Brazil. “All the teams of the museum work around the theme, from a historical point of view to contemporary ones. Seminars begin two years ahead of a given theme, in view of publications. Publications include anthologies, and translation work, for world reference texts that haven’t been translated into Portuguese yet” explains MIR. As an adjunct curator, she support the curatorial teams, and, with a younger generation of curators, she is also curating a video space where so far they have included works by Laure Prouvost, Laura Huertas Millán, Babette Mangolte, and soon, Mathilde Rosier.

Rosa Barba exhibition at Capc, Bordeaux. 2015
Rosa Barba exhibition at Capc, Bordeaux. 2015

Tropical Papers
In addition to her work with MASP, MIR gave a fresh start to Tropical Papers, the publishing project she had started 15 years ago, during confinement. She invited artist José Ruiz Díaz, who was in confinement in a residency in Bogotá with a printing press—to do something with the Tropical Papers’ audience. Participants were invited to submit sentences starting by “Hoy…” (today) which all turned out to be related to the period of confinement, emotional, practical or otherwise timely. Díaz worked on a specific layout, which once printed, he posted online (on Instagram). “It brought him visibility, and some sales, I was very happy” smiles MIR. Currently, Dominican artist Quisqueya Henriquez has taken Tropical Papers’ Instagram residency over. “She was working on insects and so I introduced her to an entomologist” MIR laughs. “We started developing projects as if online was a real space. It became a very dynamic platform again, where things happen with artists, but also others cultural and non-cultural actors” says MIR. Together with Sofia Lanusse, for the administration, but also to discuss programmes, and with webmaster Andres Sandoval, they have created an official association for Tropical Papers. “Some places of work can be tense and toxic. So it’s important to create resilient spaces nowadays, outside of the competitive contexts that ultimately aren’t productive at all” says MIR. “We always have the opportunity to not engage with the things we don’t like to do, in order to focus on what we love” she adds. “We are able to create a space with Tropical Papers where we work with many motivated people, in a joyful and productive context” she concludes, reminding me of her thoughts about teamwork and friendships, and the insights of Aimé Cesaire’s Courbaril tree.

María Inés Rodríguez

Director at Tropical Papers, lives between Paris and Brussels

Adjunct Curator at MASP, São Paulo

Biography:

Since 2018, María Inés Rodríguez is adjunct curator for Modern and Contemporary Art at Museu de Arte de São Paulo, MASP. 
Between February 2014 and August 2018, Mrs. Rodríguez held the position of Director at CAPC Musée d’art Contemporain of Bordeaux. The core of her project was to consolidate the museum as a platform for knowledge through the exhibition, cultural and educational programs. Her program at CAPC includes major retrospectives with significant artists like Judy Chicago, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Franz Erhard Walther, Beatriz González, and site specific projects for the nave of the museum with Danh Vo, Leonor Antunes, Rosa Barba, and Naufus Ramirez Figueroa. In addition, she worked on exhibitions projects dedicated to emergent artists and curators, in co-production with Jeu de Paume, Paris, and Museo Amparo, Puebla. The Collection was also one of her main responsibilities, and it was at the heart of the program concerns, to expand the Collection visibility, as a heritage and educational tool. Since October 2016, a permanent exhibition entitled [sic] works from the CAPC Collection curated by José L. Blondet, presents a selection of some hundred works of the Collection displayed across the second floor galleries. Interested in artist books and printed editions, she has organized exhibitions with public collections dedicated to artist books from Serralves Foundation, CDLA-Limousin, and Beau Geste Press. 
Between 2011 and 2013, Mrs. Rodríguez held the position of chief curator at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo (MUAC) in Mexico City, where she led the public, collections and exhibitions programs. She has worked with the team on exhibitions and research projects exploring the appropriation of public space in art, design, education, architecture, and urbanism: Yona Friedman, the Boroullec brothers; and developed ambitious projects with Teresa Margolles, Nicolás Paris, Akram Zaatari, Jonas Meckas, Carlos Cruz Diez, and La Ribot among others. 
From 2009 to 2011, she was chief curator at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y Léon (MUSAC) in Spain, with a program dealing with the links between artistic production and historic, political and social contexts, favoring a dialogue on the local and global. This approach was reflected in a series of solo exhibitions that included Claire Fontaine and Alexander Apóstol, as well as in group exhibitions such as El Grito, and Model Kits, and in the collection of monographic editions Arte y Arquitectura AA MUSAC.

Parallel to her curatorial work, Mrs. Rodríguez has organized public lectures and exhibitions around the topics of printed matter and architecture. In 2005, she formed Tropical Paper editions, which now exists as an active website dedicated to contemporary creation in the Tropical region.

She has been awarded the following grants: Fondation Patiño – Ville de Genève, American Center Foundation, Apex Art Center in New York, and Davidoff Arts Initiative. Since 2017, she is President of Comité Art Citoyen France, Fondation Carasso, and Member of Martell Foundation Board in France.

Art critic and writer.

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