Habitable spaces: on Mercado Modular de Ideas / Space Tianguis 

Salvadoran artist Simon Vega develops his work within the junctions of sociopolitical phenomena, history and science-fiction. He uses aesthetics to articulate different time(s) and space(s) that speak about new possibilities. He also reflects on El Salvador’s Civil War as a byproduct of the Cold War and uses USA’s and USSR’s Space Race to refer to what in general terms was a conflict between capitalist and communist beliefs. This political playground is key to understanding his use of materials and symbols.

His most recent project “Mercado modular de ideas / Space Tianguis”, on view at Centre Pompidou in Paris, is a commissioned work far more functional than his previous installations. It consists on five modules connected to each other through wooden platforms and it was conceived as a lounge area to host workshops programmed throughout the exhibition. At the center, a working space is surrounded by a coffee and water station, a reading module, a mini lounge and a barter station.

Vega’s installations are a mash-up: a setup of unrealistic possibilities in which he uses frail materials to represent NASA and USSR aeronautical equipment and machinery, as well as science-fiction inspired spaceships. Within his creative process, he prioritizes the use of second-hand objects and recovered materials to embellish his installations: he hunts for materials just like people from ‘precarious’ Salvadoran context do in order to build informal architecture, furniture and vehicles. His resourcefulness of materials (re)mediates1[1] the reality of El Salvador and the Central American region, and in a larger scope, of people in developing countries struggling for a good – if not better – life. It is by acknowledging this reality that his materials acquire meaning, and it is by the transposition of them into symbols of power and value that the satirical tone in which he articulates relative quests for survival can be grasped. However, deprived from his usual “procédé”, in Mercado modular de ideas / Space Tianguis, materials were regulated for the best interest of the visitors: no corrugated metal, no reused elements nor mobile decor were allowed, for safety.

Critic Ken Olwig aptly states:

Perhaps it is time we moved beyond modernism’s utopianism and postmodernism’s dystopianism to a topianism that recognizes that human beings, as creatures of history, consciously and unconsciously create places[2].

Simon’s interest and re-presentation of marginality and its knowledge, seems to lean toward decolonial and border thinking. It suggests that there is a need to think about new possibilities without yet offering solutions, and it critiques both capitalism and communism for building global economic and political injustice[3]. In one of the modules, Vega displays objects to illustrate a bartering practice he established prior to the exhibition. With every Sunday’s activation he encourages visitors to participate. In this way, Vega’s installation is a clear echo to the exhibition’s subtitle “Rethinking the human”. He designs a hospitable area that takes from and moves towards a place of possibilities, of inclusion, of the communal. Vega shared during his conference talk that he nourished this work with Joseph Beuys’s idea of a much larger sculpture that is formless and that is social.

Simon Vega’s proposal goe far beyond its visible and tangible dimension, it focuses on the contactual[4]: he designs a space that becomes a place for encounters. In the same way architecture designs inhabitable spaces, Vega designs a symbolic space for relationships to land and take-off in order to create a better place -to live in.

-Alejandra Paz

Published by Y.ES Contemporary, December 2019 issue.

[1] From French philosopher and art critic, Florian Gaité: remédier (remediate) in art is the representation of historical wounds. (Re)mediate, associated to mediation in art, is the idea of showing/presenting what needs repair in order to open the topic to discussion as an attempt to heal and as a practice of resistance.

[2] Kenneth Olwig, “Landscape, place, and the state of progress”, in Stack, R.D., Progress: Geographical  Essays, John Hopkins, University Press, Baltimore, MD, 2002, p. 52-3

[3] Walter Mignolo, “Geopolitics of sensing and knowing: on (de)coloniality, border thinking, and epistemic disobedience”

[4] Paul Ardenne, Un art contextuel, Flammarion, Paris, 2002, p.179