For their first solo exhibition in Peru, avaf—having currently assumed a one-man format led by Eli Sudbrack—presents a selection of newly commissioned and existing works displayed in the two temporary exhibitions spaces of MATE, as well as the museum’s external courtyard, that reveal the most recent developments in their artistic practice. As in previous projects, the show’s title, abstracto viajero andinos fetichizados (something like ‘abstract traveller fetichised Andeans’), is a slightly nonsensical derivation of the group’s acronym that playfully speaks about some of the ideas that inform the work on view. The dialogue with local context, another prominent feature in past projects, appears in the installation shown in the main gallery. But while in the past this dialogue was much more focused on individual narratives and critical commentary on specific current affairs—such as George W. Bush’s war on terror or the crackdown on New York nightlife by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani—, abstracto viajero andinos fetichizados seems to represent a departure from this topical approach and a move towards reassessing and distilling some aspects that have characterised avaf’s production since the outset.
The dialogue with Peruvian culture emerged more or less accidentally when, during a research trip to Lima, Sudbrack visited the Museo Amano and came across some striking examples of pre-Columbian textiles. The artist was particularly drawn to the bold colour schemes and geometric patterns produced by the Wari, in which he found striking formal correspondences with avaf’s own work. Wari civilization came to power around 680AD and extended from the highlands to the coast of Peru. The abundance of colour has always been a characteristic trait of avaf’s work, and in Wari textiles he found several resonances in terms of palette and colour combination. It is as if, beyond the huge geographical and temporal distances that separate the pre-Columbian civilisation and the artist, Sudbrack somehow found a converging way of communicating through colour.
In typical avaf fashion, the centrepiece of the installation that occupies MATE’s main gallery is a set of four woven rugs that were produced in collaboration with Elvia Paucar Orihuela, an artisan from San Pedro de Cajas who learned the trade from her late father, don Santiago Paucar, one of the most recognised weavers in the region. avaf created the rug designs by combining some of the elements found in Wari textiles and others taken from some of their own existing work, which were then woven by Elvia using the technique that has been passed down to her by her father. Although incorporating a traditional technique and drawing on elements from an ancient culture, the resulting pieces seem to completely sidestep any anthropological or ethnological connotations, focusing instead on the interaction between colour and form. They are, above all, intense clusters of colour that concentrate a great amount of energy in a somehow condensed space. Hanging from the gallery ceiling, these rugs actually translate this concentrated energy into movement, as they periodically revolve increasingly faster around their suspension point, eventually becoming a kind of blur of colours until slowing down again.
Avaf’s first incursion on the meaning and potential of colour in their own work undoubtedly signals a movement of reassessing the role of certain elements in their practice and picking up some unexplored threads that can take the work into new directions. A similar movement can be also found in the second gallery space, where they show a 2-hour long video programme containing footage accumulated by Sudbrack over almost 20 years alongside a selection of short video works. Bringing together more than 60 clips recorded mostly on mobile phone cameras, the programme offers an almost archaeological insight into the vast range of references that has informed their work over the years, as well as non-professional documentation of some of their most iconic pieces and the many performances and parties that took place in their installations.