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May 2005 - Beyond Macondo: Modernism in the Other New World

The next session of our forum will be on 16th May, and will be lead by Jack Ossa. Jack is a local architect who grew up in Colombia, and went to school at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University in Bogota. He will be talking about contemporary trends in architecture in his home country, in a slide presentation followed by open discussion. The working title and outline follows:

Beyond Macondo: Modernism in the Other New World

“Space was changed and time corrected by the designs of his absolute will…”
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Autumn of the Patriarch

Let us look at literature: At a time when many “Western” critics had declared that there are no stories left to tell, that the “novel is dead”, literature resurrected itself in the least expected of places: Latin America. From Borges and Neruda through Garcia Marques, Fuentes, Vargas Llosa, Paz,…it is hard to imagine modern literature without the presence of these long list of literary giants from South and Central America. Thanks to a phenomenon that Milan Kundera calls “tropicalization” (drawing from a passage in Rushdie’s Satanic Verses), some of the brightest and juiciest pieces of literature in the last half century have come from what is considered the under-developed part of the world.

But what about the visual arts? Latin America, along with the rest of the so-called “Third World”, is on the other side of the tracks for most leading architectural journals, their coverage usually being restricted to Europe, the US and Japan. However like in literature and cinema, could a bright and vibrant art be growing there, unnoticed by the rest of the world? It also leads one to other questions, like what inspires novelty when technological advance and the advent of new materials do not form the leading edge? Do fewer resources and harder conditions lead to an art that is simpler and truer to its core?

Interestingly in literature, the likes of Garcia Marquez arguably follow the great tradition of the rugged yet vibrant “New World” literature established by legendary Southerners like Faulkner and Hemingway. Supposing that a similar tropicalization is to occur in the visual arts, do we – the dwellers of the “New South” – have anything to learn from it?