It was the second training session with the teachers of “Los Rocosos” from the Panquix area facilitated by ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió. They gathered in the morning in the meeting room of the Community Association of the 48 Cantons in Totonicapán.
When I arrive, some of the teachers are already waiting at the door. As we set up the materials and the space, others continue to arrive. The perfumes of the morning and the cheery multicolored skirts of the teachers add to the ambiance. They like to make jokes with one another.
This training, in preparation for the upcoming Green Week in August, will deal with Public Art and the Environment. We learn that public art consists of art in any medium, planned and executed for the public domain, that is typically outdoors and accessible to everyone. We see projected images of the work of the artist Tom Otterness and his bronze sculptures that are strategically placed in the New York City subway. Small, sculpted characters sit almost unseen under a door or alongside a stairway. A laugh and a wink for the hurried commuter in the big city.
Such a distant geography and reality: New York City and Totonicapán. But the concept and the enjoyment society takes from such artwork in public spaces, outside of museums and galleries, is shared. With the same smiles and jokes that the teachers so enjoy, we also delight in stumbling on a surprise and a spontaneous invitation to play out on the street.
With respect to environmental art, we are refering to art that deals with ecological issues or with the natural environment. And who better to embark on today’s task than this group of teachers, who are already raising awareness about nature’s fragility among their students. Now we look at projected images of the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy, who, alone in the forests and using natural materials gathered outdoors like branches, leaves, rocks, flowers, feathers, etc., creates his ephemeral constructions.
I observe the faces of the teachers looking attentively at the projector. I comment that we are talking about an internationally renowned artist, who uses all of the materials that are also available here in Totonicapán, at arm’s reach in their communal forests, and at no cost. I tell them that this Scottish artist is very famous and earns “a lot of pisto (cash)” with his works of art.
Looking something between surprised and incredulous, the teachers exchange glances and laughter echoes through the community room once again.
Inspired by these concepts and images, we get to work. We will work on figures with natural mud and dried leaves and branches with no tools but our hands and, of course, our imaginations. We visualize the spaces of the park: there is a fountain, a sculpture of Antanasio Tzul, stairs, and benches, among other attributes. We need to discover and examine the park in order to contextualize the images that will be sculpted.
Euphorically, the teachers get to work without delays or inhibitions, and in less than an hour, we set out with the sculptures to install them in strategic spots around the park. Atanasio Tzul now has a feathered serpent at his feet, there is a clay clock with hands made out of dried branches installed in a space in the monument, there is a lizard on the ground behind the gate, a character with a hat on a commemorative plaque, a small replica of the actual fountain—one by one the teachers installed their work throughout the park.
Passersby look on with curiosity and asked what was going on. Some of them take sculptures home with them, others take photos, posing in front of a cat with eyes made of rocks and ears of dried leaves.
We achieved our mission of intervening in public space with organic materials that wouldn’t contaminate. And we put our first examples of public art on display for the public in Totonicapán’s central park.
This project is being carried out in collaboration with EcoLogic Development Fund.
Translated from Spanish from Karen Phillips