There’s No Business
La Perla is an historic residential neighborhood below Viejo San Juan, at the edge of one of the most picturesque stretches of shoreline surrounding the capitol sector. For us, La Perla has always been an intriguing mystery. It sits literally across the street from some of the primest real estate in Puerto Rico, yet remains largely untouched by the tourist trade or any attempt at urban snazzification.
Early on in our boricua sojourn, we were warned, perhaps way too melodramatically, that this few, densely built square blocks of apartments and houses, located in the shadow of the most dramatic ramparts of El Moro fortress, was not a neighborhood we ever wanted to venture into, being, for reasons not specified, a dangerous place. Shortly after we received that bit of advice, we read in the newspaper about a string of shootings in La Perla, and suddenly it was occupied territory, with police roadblocks, reports of constant, door- and window-busting raids, and complaints by citizens about rampant abuses by the occupying forces.
But we were also hearing some very different news, mainly concerning efforts by artist Chemi Rosado and people from the neighborhood to create a skateboarding bowl which would be a permanent replacement for the deteriorating wooden ramps then in use. This project was a bit of a sensation at the time—you can read one report here—and for us La Perla became considerably more interesting, a real neighborhood with a certain pride in its resourcefulness; a can-do attitude born of scarcity and official neglect. Although it didn’t register at the time, that was exactly the dynamic we attributed to the rise of those “alternative” art spaces we were so enamored of, whose origins, we believed, bespoke flaccid institutional behavior as much as artist initiative.
This is all by way of telling you that we recently ventured into La Perla for a look-see, on the occasion of La Perla Habla, a more or less homegrown weekend of music, open-air art workshops and exhibitions, film, and many other activities with a distinctly community- uplift flavor. The event was, by all accounts, the brainchild of artist Edgardo Larregui and his foundation Coco D’Oro; or, at any rate, Larregui is its most visible spokesman. Visit this page to get an idea of what was supposed to happen, and this one for a typical news report and some historical background. In fact, it seems to have been the effort of many people, both from within and without the community. There was, for example, an improvised film theater set up by the Viejo San Juan art organization BlackBoxArt, which when we visited was showing very well-made video doc about the historic riches of the neighborhood.
La Perla Habla, basking as it did in a perfect Puerto Rican weekend afternoon—blue skies, friendly crowds, raperos rapping, kayakers kayaking and swimmers bobbing in the gentle surf—was likely for many visitors a pleasant entertainment along the malecón, although certainly the organizers and residents were in it for deeper satisfactions. Peering out from the tiny crevice of our artworld perspective, La Perla Habla was an enormously refreshing change from the usual hustle-bustle of gallery shows, museum openings, studio visits, art fairs, and their putatively art-critical chorus, accompanied by the spam-like gusher of promotional emails and flyers, headache-inducing panel discussions with repeating loops of heated debates about nothing, mean-spirited conversations over endless tallboys in smoke- filled rooms, insanely self-absorbed bloggery quacking everywhere across the internet, coupled sadly with paltry actual sales of artworks: in general a pinched-voiced, trembling- handed, pasty-faced affair, usually conducted in the unhealthy neon effulgence of night. Not that we don’t adore the whole magilla—it’s our world, after all—but to our thinking it quickly becomes a mite hermetic and precious, and we appreciate the sight of folks milling happily in the open air.
From the uncomfortable moment we were greeted by amiable young men showing us product and fistfuls of dollar bills to the end of the afternoon when we were bid farewell by a bunch of clucking chickens, La Perla Habla redeemed the artworld as we’ve known it lately. We saw a few of the same people we see on opening nights, looking more smiley- faced and relaxed than usual. We were gratified to discover that BlackBoxArt was involved in a key way, showing that they are living up to their promises, always a jolly development though not often the case. And we finally got into that part of the city whose ominous mystery turned out to be far more of a genuine human truth, at least as we saw things in the light of an afternoon.
Another Blast from the Recent Past
Since we think that Elsa Meléndez is making big strides with the work she’s showing at Galería 356, and because we gave it only a passing, and not very good, glance in our recent discussion of Sin envoltura, the gallery’s present exhibition, we’d like to have another go. The images below are details of the installation Experiencia humana o comida para ratas (monotype on plexiglass, dimensions variable, 2007) in the gallery’s front window, a very groovy space for special projects. Meléndez thinks of herself as a printmaker, and the wooden boxes she has been making until recently do, in fact, contain figures which are essentially three-dimensional prints. She says that her new work is consistent with what she was doing with the boxes since the plexiglass sheets are a kind of plate on which she scribes the images.
Whether you swallow this or not, the figures are evocative and jolly and the rodents just the right touch to make the party a witchy one. We’d like to picture you, intrepid Rotund reader, hopping into your automobile and wasting just enough precious fossil fuel to get yourself to the gallery, which is near where Calle César González crosses Avenida Franklin D. Roosevelt. Galería 356 is open 11 to 5, Tuesday to Saturday, and Michele Fiedler, the director, says the show will be up until mid-August. Call 787-282-7820 with any questions or send the gallery an email.
Why not get all worked up for a change? Here’s a sure-fire way to get the blood boiling. Visit the most recent espisode of Rotund World, in which we show everyone our rosy red you-know-what and say unkind things about other people, even those who thought they were our friends. Upcoming: a few words about the fleeting, remarkable BLOG.
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