Juan Betancurth: for faith, pain or pleasure

The text below was written to follow the bulletin board exhibition that I curated at CCS. The idea was to explore the interaction with Juan Betancurth‘s utensils.

The exhibition happened between October 4th and November 15th 2012. The original text can be found here.



Juan Betancurth: for faith, pain or pleasure

October 4, 2012 – November 15, 2012
CCS Bard

The faith, the pain, the pleasure. What appear to be three completely different sensations, are shown in a singular perspective to be not so distant from one other. The plenitude, the nirvana, the peace, reached through the sacrifice of the flesh. Lash, kneel, starvation, pray. The suffering of the body is the purification of the mind. What could be more pleasant than to realize that you are clean of all your thoughts?

Juan Betancurth’s work, For faith, pain or pleasure, investigates the boundaries of these sensations. Through the utensils he has created, Betancurth tries to demonstrate how people’s feelings and desires can lead to an encounter with the same objects in different ways. It all depends on the individual. Where should I put this? Where is the manual? What can I do with this object? No answers. It is totally up to participants to explore the functionalities of Betancurth’s objects, and through them, to discover ways of accessing their own inner compulsions. The restoration, the new, the ready.

The Czech philosopher and naturalized Brazilian, Vilém Flusser, in his book A Filosofia daCaixa Preta (or, in the English translation, Towards a Philosophy of Photography), discusses how the camera, as photographic apparatus, has technical capacities that determine the parameters of how to use it (viewfinder, set speed, aperture, frame and shoot). It is up to the photographer to go beyond that, to experiment with the apparatus in a way that is not limited by how and why it was originally constructed. Betancurth’s utensils lie in this further exploration of the apparatus itself: although the artist hand-crafted his utensils with specific, personal uses in mind, it is up to the user to explore how to handle each one in a new, unique, and personal way.

The interaction with the utensils is not an additional feature of the work. Quite the opposite. It is an integral part of this exhibition. When a utensil is not on display in the bulletin board, it is being used by someone, somewhere. What is he/she is doing with it? What is the missing object? What are the limitations of it? The participants are invited to write and display the testimonies of their experiences with their selected utensil within the exhibition space of the bulletin board. In this way, the public will become aware of how people are using the objects, along with their cumulative limitations and potentialities; and possibly they will be driven to develop yet another use for the utensil.

An important aspect of Juan Betancurth’s work is the site in which it is inserted. The space, depending on what it is, can cause different reactions and manifestations of the same work. In this case, the utensils make tangible the limits of how private desires can be explored in public contexts. It provokes the audience to investigate their own passions, fears and secrets. It opens new layers of interpretation of the specific exhibition space about and how to engage with it.

During the 2012 exhibition Dirty Looks: On Location in New York, Juan inserted his workLimpia, 2012, into a quasi-public space—a gay video booth inside a sex shop in Chelsea, NY—thereby creating a tension between private and public. In the two-minute video, a man uses a fabric mask with a brush to clean himself. The work was programmed on one of the channels of the video booths, surprising clients with a very slow and contemplative work (an obvious counterpoint to the huge range of pornographic options). By deciding to screen Limpia in this way, Betancurth allowed it to have new values and meanings, and forced the audience to have the same experience of the gay men that frequent the sex shop to cruise or watch porn.

A similar context-specific approach could be seen in a walk that Juan co-organized together with Todd Shalom, director of Elastic City, an organization intended to create poetic exchange between the participants and the places we live in and visit. As part of Carlos Motta’s 2012 exhibition at The New Museum, We who feel differently, Shalom and Betancurth organized what they called Sketchy Walk, the goal of which was to recreate the cruising environment that defined the Bowery neighborhood ten years ago. Just a simple walk through a region gave a new layer of interpretation of how private desires are manifested in public environments.


Betancurth’s context this time is a bulletin board, a space to be reconfigured, altered, customized. In this instance, the focus of Betancurth’s work is the interaction of the public with his utensils. What motivated someone to use that object? How far can someone go with it? And if someone gets hurt?


Responsibility for the utensils will be given over entirely to the audience participant. It will be their duty to return the work, or not. They will be accountable for breaking, damaging or losing it. Will the utensils still be on display after four weeks of exhibition? And how many people will have the courage to share their testimonies in the public space of the bulletin board?


Juan Betancurth is a Colombian born artist (1972) who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Betancurth’s mixed media works use themes from his own experiences to depict scenes, be it literal or figurative, that have been of significance in his life. Family dynamics, Catholicism, Santeria and Witchcraft are among the most common threads in his work. These subjects come together as symbols used to create a visually striking personal mythology that is dark, tender and satirical. Selected exhibitions include DirtyLooks On Location, NY; Sketchy Walk in collaboration with Todd Shalom, The New Museum, NY (both 2012); Chamber of Delights, El Museo del Barrio Biennial (2011); andAltar to Myself / Installation, Queens Museum of Art (2006).

Juan Betancurth: For faith, pain or pleasure is curated by CCS Bard Graduate Student Thiago Carrapatoso.


The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College is the third venue to host Matthew Higgs’s (Curator and Director of White Columns) bulletin board project. CCS and Higgs collaborated to begin a bulletin board program at Bard in the fall of 2007 with the understanding that the graduate students at CCS would curate it. The bulletin board is an enclosed glass case divided into three panes by aluminum bars.


Arte Cibridismo Espaço

Como ativar o espaço público?

Qual a mudança que a arte eletrônica pode causar no espaço público? O que isso difere das mudanças provocadas por um trabalho de arte contemporânea tradicional? Quais as limitações que a arte tecnológica sofre e quais as interferências no significado sobre o que é o espaço público?

Para responder essas perguntas, um objeto se faz necessário: algo que se relaciona com o ambiente que se está inserido e traga um novo significado ao espaço público. Mas a cada trabalho, há uma singularidade. Cada objeto traz um novo tipo de relação, um novo tipo de questionamento e, consequentemente, um novo tipo de significado para o que é o espaço público ou a esfera pública.

Rosalyn Deutsche, em seu texto “Agoraphobia”, afirma que a luta entre classes é o que faz ativar a esfera pública. O espaço público só pode ser constituído graças às diferenças socio-econômicas e a constituição da esfera pública. Como ela diz:

“Democracy abolishes the external referent of power and refers power to society. But democratic power cannot appeal for its authority to a meaning immanent in the social. Instead, the democratic invention invents something eles: the public space. The public space, in Lefort’s account, is the social space where, in the absence of a foundation, the meaning and unity of the social is negotiated – at once constituted and put at risk. What is recognized in public space is the legitimacy of debate about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate. Like democracy and public space, debate is initiated with the declaration of rights, themselves deprived in the democratic moment of an unconditional source. The essence of democratic rights is to be declared, not simply possessed. Public space implies an institutionalization of conflict as, through an unending declaration of rights, the exercise of power is questioned, becoming in Lefort’s words, ‘the outcome of a controlled contest with permanent rules.’”1

Neste caso, o que importa é a luta de classes e a interrelação socio-econômica entre os cidadãos. Agora, como uma obra de arte pode ser relacionada a esse tipo de conflito? Uma obra de arte conseguiria ativar este significado? Quais os significados que uma obra de arte pode trazer para o espaço público?

Um texto de Miwon Kwon, publicado na revista sobre crítica de arte October, parece apontar para um possível caminho:

“Today’s site-oriented practices inherit the task of demarcating the relational specificity that can hold in tension the distant poles of spatial experiences described by Bhabha. This means addressing the differences of adjacencies and distances between one thing, one person, one place, one thought, one fragment next to another, rather than invoking equivalencies via one thing after another. Only those cultural practices that have this relational sensibility can turn local encounters into long-term commitments and transform passing intimacies into indelible, unretractable social marks – so that the sequence of sites that we inhabit in our life’s traversal does not become genericized into an undifferentiated serialization, one place after another.”2

Será a arte pública ativadora do espaço público? Será que ela por si só consegue dar significado a um determinado local? E como fica a relação entre os cidadãos e o espaço em que esta arte está inserida? É importante ressaltar que, em muitos lugares onde a arte pública é instalada, a comunidade no entorno não é consultada ou se quer pode opinar no trabalho do artista. Se a arte pública tem o caráter de ativadora do espaço público, como se deve dar essa relação com a comunidade local? E como fica a relação entre o artista e a comunidade?

1 – Deutsche, Rosalyn. “Agoraphobia”. Evictions. 1998. pags. 273-274

2 – Kwon, Miwon. “One place after another: notes on site specificity”. October 80. Spring 1997.


Developing the cybridismDesenvolvendo o cibridismo

It has been two years now since I’ve done my research “The Art of Cybridism” thanks to the grant that Funarte gave to me. At that time, I used the concept created by Giselle Beiguelman to describe the state of being between networks (on and offline) and did a sociological mosaic about the context of the Brazilian new media art production. Giselle helped me to select the artists which, somehow, could represent the interest in the use of open source formats or in the close connection between technological production and general public.

The interviews that I did not only explore the works of each artist, but give a little more details about Brazilian contemporary art scene. It is interesting to notice the concerns about how to preserve electronic art works that were pointed out by Mariana Manhães in our talk, or the death of the romantic conception of what an artist is described by Fernando Velázquez. The research is not just about the artists who use the technologies as a medium, but also how they are inserted in a local panorama.

Here, in NY, to my Masters, I am researching how to give a step further in what was published about cybridism and to start a new conversation with the art world of North hemisphere. For this, I am dismembering the terminology (cyber + hybrid), conceptualizing the technology ubiquity, defining the public sphere that we are inserted, and understanding what is the identity of someone living in this reality. Cybridism is much more than a concept, it is a state. Today we are cybrids, which generates several other questions: who are we? Where are we? And how do we relate with this environment?

The idea is to develop a method to be used to analyze new media art. Using this concept, will be easier to understand the emergent production and how it was created. At the end, the process is more important than the output itself.

I will post here my discoveries, which will be the continuation of the studies that I began in 2010. And let’s see what will happen. 😉Já faz dois anos em que fiz a pesquisa “A Arte do Cibridismo“, graças a uma bolsa de pesquisa em mídias digitais da Funarte. Naquela época, abracei o conceito teorizado por Giselle Beiguelman para descrever o estado de estar entre redes (on e offline) e fiz um mosaico sociológico sobre o contexto em que a produção de arte em novas mídias brasileira era feita. Giselle ajudou-me a selecionar os artistas que, de alguma forma, poderiam representar essa busca por utilizar formatos abertos ou demonstrar a aproximação entre a produção eletrônica e o público geral.

As entrevistas realizadas não só comentam sobre o trabalho de cada artista, mas explicam um pouco sobre a situação da arte contemporânea no Brasil. É interessante ver a preocupação pela preservação das obras que Mariana Manhães apontou em nossa conversa, ou a morte da concepção romântica sobre o que é o artista que Fernando Velázquez explica. A pesquisa, no fim, não é só sobre os artistas que usam a tecnologia como meio, mas também como eles estão inseridos em um panorama local.

Aqui, em NY, para o meu mestrado, estou a pesquisar como dar um passo além do que já foi publicado sobre cibridismo e iniciar uma conversa com o mundo artístico do hemisfério norte. Para tanto, estou desmembrando de onde vem a origem do nome (cyber + híbrido), conceitualizando a ubiquidade tecnológica, especificando os espaços públicos em que estamos inseridos, e entendendo qual a identidade de um ser inserido nesta realidade. Para mim, o cibridismo é mais do que um conceito, é um estado. Hoje nós somos cíbridos. Mas isso levanta várias outras questões: quem somos nós? Onde estamos? E como nós nos relacionamos com o ambiente inserido?

A ideia é criar um método que possa ser usado para análise de obras que usem as novas mídias. Por meio desse prisma, será mais fácil entender como a produção emerge e quais os percalços da criação. O importante, no fim, acaba sendo muito mais o processo do artista do que a conclusão da obra em si.

Vou postar por aqui a evolução da pesquisa, que será uma continuação dos estudos que iniciei em 2010. E vamos ver para onde vamos caminhar. 😉