Introducing Miguel Angel Biazzi
This is a partial look through the vast work of Miguel Angel Biazzi. It is an invitation to his workshop in San Telmo, the most traditional and picturesque neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. His work is, additionally, an open door to the world of the aboriginal view of the cosmos. It would be interesting to recall the etymology of this word, ab-origo-inis: from the origin. The Argentine aborigine is not an exotic character who does not fit the canons of occidental civilisation but the man who was there “from the origin”, in contact with natural cycles, treading on the earth with his bare feet, under the protection of the starry sky. Biazzi avails himself of all the contemporary art techniques, from objets trouvés to installations, in order to confront and connect them with humanity’s most ancient techniques, masks, vegetable-fibre textiles or ceramics, among others. The result is a personal world where archaic and contemporary man, urban and tellurian culture, sacred and artistic objects merge and mingle.
An explorer of roots
He could be described as a Renaissance man. He seems to master all – or almost all – of the art techniques, he seems to be truly addicted to work, and his fundamental concern is the recovery of pre-Hispanic cultures. Similarly to rediscover the fabulous Greco-Roman legacy which lay hidden under their native ground, Miguel Angel Biazzi explores the roots of indigenous culture and re-creates its images with renewed vigour. Within the unlettered cultures, ancient traditions and techniques were passed on from teachers to disciples, and Biazzi undertook, with great responsibility, the task of exploring and recovering a whole heritage in order to renew it by means of contemporary techniques. In his vast CV there are collective and individual exhibits, which have taken place inland, abroad and in Buenos Aires, there are various awards and recognition, but perhaps the most significant fact is that since 1983 he has ceased to send his work to exhibitions and prize-awarding events. This speaks of an artist who is truly involved in his work and stands aloof from the system of our country which quite often does not understand de value of autochthonous culture and is influenced by imported trends and fashions. In fact, Biazzi prefers to show his work abroad (his last exhibit took place in Spain at the end of 2003) where the public and the critics show boundless interest and respect.
Working with mother earth
The range of themes that our artist covers is as vast as the pre-Hispanic and colonial heritage itself. Biazzi reinterprets his chosen motifs, such as the harquebusier archangels in the chapel of Uquía in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, or the fine watercolours and drawings of the Jesuit Florian Paucke. He also re-creates other themes originating in mythical tales, from supernatural beings or in legends. From the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve, Biazzi gathers, as if he were an urban archaeologist, the remains that the city throws out of its bowels. Old sewing machines, schoolbags or crutches magically transmute into birds of ill omen, miracle working saints or landscapes from other worlds. An anecdote from his childhood seems to have marked his love for all that is tellurian. Biazzi says that in the house where he was born in Luxardo, Córdoba, there was no interest at all in art . Only a reproduction or two zebras and another or San Ramon Nonato, the patron saint or women in labour, hung from the walls, bat Biazzi as a child used the earthen yards of his house as improvised and natural canvases to impress his precocious drawings on. Fortunately, never again did he lose contact with the earth, or the Pachamama, as he prefers to call it.
Pre-Hispanic subject matters
What are your main concerns regarding the subject matter of your work?
I’ve several ones, but they always deal with pre-Hispanic culture and indigenous matters. The last topic I worked on has do with Florian Paucke (1719-1780), a Jesuit who, until his order was expelled in 1767, lived in the San Javier reservation of the “mocoví” indigenous tribe, to the north of Santa Fe. He watched their lives and habits, as well as the natural surroundings, the birds, the animals and insects that were recorded in fine drawings and watercolours , which are kept in a monastery in Lower Austria; he was a talented historian, painter, musician and luthier. Another subject that interests me is the “Cantata para America Magica” (Cantata to Magical America) (1960) by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), the foremost Argentine composer of the XX century, and perhaps the most important in South America; unfortunately, it isn’t available in Buenos Aires, but it was released in the United States. I re-create the lyrics images. I’m also interested in the aboriginal cosmogonies, a subject that is almost unknown to us who are more familiar with the European myths about the creation of the world than with those of our own land.
You are a great reader and researcher of the indigenous myths and legends, have you ever done fieldwork?
I was born in Luxardo, a country village in the province of Córdoba. I used my memories to make a series called “The Muse of the Cornfields”, for which I drew my inspiration from the countryside and the Italian settlers in the area. Then in San Francisco, Córdoba, I studied fine arts; I made long necked figures, like the ones by Modigliani. Then I moved to Salta, where I lived for twenty years, and discovered that everything tended to be round shaped. I worked for an insurance company and stood in front of the marketplace to paint. When we walked round the hills, we usually found pots; in Salta I discovered the value and beauty of funerary urns, as well as of handmade weavings. There was something very profound going on between the landscape and the people.
Then came the “porteño” (Buenos Aires) period.
When in arrived in Buenos Aires I began to study indigenous culture more systematically at the Centro de Estudios Antropológicos (Centre of Anthropological Studies), with Guillermo Magrassi and with Adolfo Colombres. I learnt how to decipher what I liked aesthetically. My friendship with Magrassi was important as we began to work together, illustrated several of his books.
Our country is rich in folk religious celebrations, is there any that may have moved you particularly?
Yes, the Holy Week in Tilcara, Jujuy. It’s a very colourful celebration and for the occasion people make tapestries with dried flowers and show them in the streets; biblical subjects are illustrated with local flowers. I also like popular processions very much and above all the carnival in Salta, that is an authentically autochthonous festivity, without any foreign influence. The groups of people in carnival costumes and large masks parade up and down the streets. The “chiriguano chané” Indians also carve masks in silk-floss-tree wood and once the carnival is over throw them into the river.
The Salta scenery must have deeply influenced your life and your artistic production.
Yes, in the north the mountains are a mighty sight, the Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca ravine) was declared to be a Heritage of Mankind by the UNESCO. Salta´s poets have also been very important to me, Manuel J. Castilla (1918-1980), the author of “zambas” (folk musical genre) such as Balderrama, the poet Ariel Petrocelli and so many others. I also value music; in fact I would love to attain the synthesis of folklore and the undeniable European heritage achieved by such musicians as Dino Saluzzi or Rodolfo Maderos.
Biazzi in focus
What’s the supernatural being you wouldn’t like to come across?
Huayrapuca, it means red wind in the Quechuan indigenous language. It’s a two headed being; at one end of its body it has a monstrous dragon’s head, at the other and a snake’s head. It lives in the high summits and deep abysses of the Andean range, and walks the plains absorbing the moisture of the plants.
It can destroy the crops and bring draughts (according to Adolfo Colombres’s book “Seres Sobrenaturales” (Supernatural Beings).
Any supernatural being that you would love to have as a friend?
The Pachamama (pacha: earth; mama; mother). It’s the Mother Earth or mother of the hills, the top deity in the Northwest. She is represented as an old woman that watches over everything living in the valleys and looks after the treasures of the ancients. To pay homage to her, cairns are set up, piles of stones that people heap up as they walk over the hills. “Acullico” (chewed coca leaves); candles, food, beverages and other offerings are left in the cairns.
Name a scenery you like.
I believe that in every man two landscapes coexist, that of his birthplace and the one he has chosen. My native one is a yard in my country house in Luxardo (Córdoba), with a grove of damson trees against the background of a cornfield under a deep blue sky. My chosen one, the Valles Calchaquíes (Calchaquí Valleys) surrounded by colourful mountains, with large old houses standing in line along narrow streets.
Whom do you consider a master of art?
Leónidas Gambartes was. Because I identify with his manifesto:
Whom do you consider a master of life?
Guillrmo Magrassi, he was a scientist, a cultural sociologist, a social anthropologist and art theoretician, and above all a defender of the poorest among the poor. We produced the book “Origenes” together, a compilation of the myths and legends of indigenous Argentina. Félix Coluccio was a master too, who dedicated his whole life to the research on folklore, he was an archaeologist of folk customs and an explorer of Latin American beliefs and traditions; he has recorded over eight hundred legends. I teamed with him illustrating several of his books.
Is there any disciple to continue your work?
I think my son Maximiliano can continue my task because he has always been beside me in everything I did. Young as he is he Knows how to interpret my projects perfectly well and how to cooperate so as to put them into practice, I trust him. But it’s up to him…
Is there any legend that you would like everybody to know?
One that describes the origin of the universe, a cosmogony that Magrassi reflects in his book “Origenes as follows: “There was a time when earth was above and the sky below. So much dirt fell that the sky complained and requested the inversion of the planes. Since then the sky has been above and the earth below (…) There was another time when a big tree joined the different worlds. The world at the top was that of abundance. The men on the face of the earth went there to get supplies, climbing up and down the tree, the vital link. But one day they did not comply with their traditions of solidarity, they did not hand the best and most tender pieces to those who could mot go up, they gave nothing. The elders complained. A great fire came and everything was burnt down.”
What’s the best legend in the Argentine Northwest?
What remains to be done?
To continue reclaiming pre-Columbian art, which has suffered quite a lot of damage, in order to examine in depth the essence of all that is tellurian. To carry out several projects, that I find hard to achieve because of lack of physical space.
Is there anything you would like to understand?
What the boundaries of art are. The reason why we have to check what is done in Europe or the United States while we don’t value what is ours.
Julio Sanches (art historian, critic and curator)
“Biazzi allows himself to be enticed, on one hand, by the reality of a past forged towards the dawn of America, and, on the other, by all that spellbinding, seductive atmosphere promised by the new world. The artist becomes an insightful explorer of spaces inhabited by mythologies and struggles, by ways of life and accounts of events. Through his personal experience of twenty years’ settling in the north of Argentina (Salta), close to the path that links myths with spells; Biazzi has grasped the birth of the American roots. He does not deal with his painting like a folklorist. He does not delve into the theme by falling into the details. The artistic act is asserted by the concurrence of highlighted textures and a conciseness that allows the re-creation of the characters. Thus the eye points to the anecdote, but the spectator must retrieve what is hidden beyond its atmosphere.”
“And as, in our south American-Argentine latitudes, our true aesthetic-artistic history began over ten thousand years ago with painted, stencilled, superposed hands, it is also hands, Argentine ones, that gathered, that interpret and give, bringing together the cold hand of science, with its search for a slice of truth, and the warm hand of art, as an approach to beauty with a view to metaphysics or with the involvement of the absolute. It was and is by this reason that we, a Scientist (a cultural sociologist or social anthropologist, and art theoretician) as a compiler of compilers, and an Artist (sketcher, painter, sculptor, ceramist, creator of installations, experimenter, illustrator) as a re-creator and creator, have come together, to join in this bequeathal our hands to yours, who receives, reads and listens, looks and sees, brigs together and joins, so that our legends become even more our own.”
Guillermo Magrassi, excerpt from the book “Origenes” (Origins).
The Biazzi space
It is located in the heart of the San Telmo neighborhood, on Defensa street, the district’s busy main road. In a store with access to the street, Biazzi paints, reads, listens to his favourite music, exhibits his work and attends to all those who show interest in his paintings and objects. His is one of the few cases in which an artist can hold a conversation with the public in a direct manner. The Biazzi Space is constituted of the family group, Lina Berazategui, who has many years’ experience in art galleries, is Biazzi’s wife and right arm, in charge of public relations and organisational tasks that she shares with their son Maximiliano. Biazzi is a privileged man who has an autonomy that is unusual among artists. The Biazzi Space, which was created at the turn of the year 2000, is located in Defensa 763 and may be visited ever y day from 11am to 7pm. The telephone number is (54 11) 4361-6809, the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and the websites are www.espaciobiazzi.com.ar and www.geocities.com/mabiazzi.