all those things are also ours: de lo blando en lo curatorial

Carolina Cerón

Texto públicado en:
Ceron C. (2020) All those things are also ours: de lo blando en lo curatorial. Institution as Praxis—New Curatorial Directions for Collaborative Research (ISBN 978-3-95679-506-0) pp. 74-85. Sternberg Press.
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Curadurías blandas
(in English, ‘soft curating’) is a term coined by Colombian artist Gustavo Zalamea, arguably exploring the notion of the curatorial before it was identified as a subject area in the practice of exhibition-making.[1] In a sense, the notion of curaduría blanda is multi-sensorial instance of the now-acknowledged concept of the curatorial. In his work, Zalamea proposes a series of opaque and scattered strategies that unfolded in the ‘unauthorized’ sudacafield of practice.[2]

The present text entails a quasi-fictional account of a series of exhibitions that took place under the curadurías blandas umbrella during the late 1990s and early 2000s in Bogotá, Colombia. Curadorías blandas also includes a constellation of reviews, press and exhibition catalogues to dilute the limits that operate within the curatorial paradigm in the global north.

‘Soft’ is not the accurate equivalent to the Spanish word blando. Other possible translations could be ‘light’, ‘gaseous’ or ‘weak’, and ‘anaemic’ or ‘pallid’ and ‘pale’. But none of these apply. Neither ‘diluted’, nor ‘gutless’, nor ‘unaccented’, nor ‘infirm’, nor ‘frail’, nor ‘dim’. Not even ‘elastic’ or ‘silky’, ‘smooth’ or ‘velvety’, ‘bendable’ or ‘ductile’. This trouble within the translation involves, in itself, a missed encounter that brings into play the multiplicity of the non-equivalence. I will use each word not as a synonym, but as an aphorism that explores mismatched translations of the notion of blandura (softness) in relation to a specific situation under the curaduría blanda umbrella term.[3]

Although the idea of curadurías blandas poses a distinct reference in the Colombian art context, its introduction raises a question about the untranslatability of the word blandoand the impossibility of a general consensus on the meaning of such a word. Under the unsatisfaction of the inaccuracy, of diverse uses and meanings, one needs to come into terms with the challenges and potentialities of operating within the untranslatable.


Curaduría blanda is born in the intersection between two factors: 1. the no-budget projects – due to the economic crisis during the 1990s in Colombia practitioners are forced to make do; and 2. the need to adapt to the characteristics of the context and work with what is available in the local situation. The latter relates to Zalamea's affirmation at the end of the 1990s that the ambition that the ambition of local artists is no longer to ‘represent but to modify the space of experience’.[4]

At the time, local artists influenced by the 1970s and 1980s global art scene, divorced from the autonomy of the art object, and turned their attention to a series of spaces and projects based on the event of assemblage. The temporary events would entail the assemblage of ideas, gestures, artefacts and people. Each time, a new group of practitioners would come together under the new ‘situation’.

Zalamea coined this form of assembly ‘relational montage’. In this sense, the variable of the encounter is an analogy between the individual process of creation and the development of a collective project. Soft curatinginvolves both the creation of new pieces within the conceptual environment proposed by the exhibition and the sum of perspectives involving ‘divergent and contradictory’ approaches, avoiding rigid schemes.[5]

Unfold the boundaries of the walls.

Roles are also unfolding. The limits of the roles of the spectator and the artist break down and collapse. The author is no longer a monolithic figure of neoliberal categories. What a body can be is diluted into porous states of lightness. Each exhibition is an event attached to a context. They take place in the Fine Arts School and National University’s Museum (Escuela de Bellas Artes y Museo de la Universidad Nacional) in Bogotá. Later, it moves to the bakery called museum of bread.

There is an attempt to muddle the function of the chosen venues, turning the white cube into ‘soft’, suave. The series of exhibitions, texts, events and activities under the umbrella of curaduría blanda, are contingent and transient. Each instance is an invitation to inhabit a new set of conditions and possibilities.


The exhibition Intervenciones en el museo (November 1997) proposed an open call to students and teachers to intervene in the University museum. However, the target audience didn’t participate, generating a disruption in the sense of community among students and tutors at the University. Zalamea’s response was to turn the absence of community into the provocation of the following exhibition Emergencia(November 1998). In Emergencia, a word serves as pretext to the exhibition, informing spatial changes in the gallery. The limits of the space are expanded, and the roles assumed by students and tutors are diluted.

The geography of Emergencia goes beyond the exhibition site.

Telephones ring non-stop in various corners of the city. If picked up, people would hear a recording with words liquefied in others, without meaning, without direction. For instance: ‘accident that ensues’, ‘exit of a light ray’, ‘sprout of another liquid’, ‘national emergencia’, ‘mental emergencia,‘economic emergencia’, ‘crisis and catastrophe’, ‘state of emergency’. At another point in the city centre, a voice on a megaphone crosses universities’ campus reading a text where a word is summoned again: emergencia. The exhibition unfolds in the street, on the phone and through the sound-waves of the voice. The student lockers in several faculties operate as exhibition containers. A sign with ‘For Sale’ hangs on one of the facades of the university.

Without Borders.

The event expands beyond the atomized space, in a multiplicity of temporalities, united by their emergency model. Is it a resistance model in the making?[6]


The map of the exhibition space is constructed through handmade diagrams with overlapped layers. In addition, other diagrams connect the exhibition space and the city, mapping places of conflict in urban space in different moments in time.

Concept-maps “are navigation, guidance and disorientation charts”[7]useful and useless, provisional and changing. Furthermore, “a series of maps belonging to DARC[8](May 2005) call for an interlaced world in which countries and borders disappear; a call for illegal occupations, security doctrines, and inequitable trade. Establishing maps involves taking political positions, trace routes that may or may not be followed.”[9]

In the exhibition, the curator handwrites mental maps on the walls, which include comments of the works in preparation for the exhibition guided tour. A series of publications are also provided. Zalamea writes the text down and then photocopies them. If the exhibition space is defined by a time limit between the opening and ending of the display, the publications expand this temporality. However, the series of publications are not catalogues designed to preserve the temporality and the account of what happened inside the exhibition space. They are speculation devices alongside the artworks, expanding the activities of the curatorial.


In Tranz (April 2007), improvisation is a methodology overwriting the idea of an exhibition as a fixed and stable entity. In the exhibition space, there is an area with domestic objects and furniture that changes every few days. In that way, it is not a place, but a moving image where armchairs and a chess table lull the space and are altered from time to time.

There is an audio with a conversation between two unidentified men. “The audio is barely understandable, with a manipulated and distorted sound - a sound of modernity and its crises.”[10]The audio is situated next to a popular cheap reproduction of one of the versions of Arnold Böcklin´s painting “Isle of the Dead” (1880) depicting a rower and a white human silhouette on a small boat, crossing a wide expanse of water in the direction of a rocky island. The plot of the audio extends like an outline that hints a fragmented story with a flimsy frame where improvisation constantly modifies the conversation. When part of the audio is understandable, the two men wander on the possible significances of the image. When the audio is not playing, a series of conversations around the possible interpretation of that image take place between invited guests. The image and the exhibition space area operate as a scenography of the ever changing situation.


Intervenciones en el museo (November 1997) and Emergencia (November 1998) are presented as devices where illustration and exemplification move away from the intention of representing existing themes and are postulated as devices of local and community affirmation. They propose, from an experimental position, blurring the limits of the territories that authorize knowledge – the teacher, the academic text, versus life and experience. These exhibitions dilute the edges of the classic hierarchies of roles in the art world. The words that incite these processes are provided in a series of activities. The process is meant to be simultaneously a catalyst, and a segway to something other.


In Portátil, (May 2002) a suitcase becomes the world, and the world is contained in it. A suitcase encloses works by artists, students and tutors of an art school. The suitcase travels to different parts of the world to be displayed, as an unofficial biennial of Colombian art. These works can be displayed arguably anywhere and under any circumstances. It contains works by 90 artists and weighs no more than 23 kilos – the max. weight allowed by airlines. The portable is presented ‘as a reflection on the unstable, which moves continuously.’[11] The instructions remind us of game rules. The pieces are in corners, hidden under stairs. They must be looked for.

The objects in the suitcase are shown in the streets and unusual venues. The encounters take place at the billiards club Billares Londres in the centre of Bogotá; at the popular cockfight ring named Club San Miguel in Bogotá’s gentrified art district (BAD); in the city walls of Cartagena; in a small theatre inside an old house in Bogotá; in one of the first grocers in Medellin’s popular neighbourhood Belén; in a 1950’s house in Cali.

These venues are sites for ephemeral and contingent art encounters, in dialogue with contexts in which art is not traditionally displayed. This staging triggers tensions between the intention to display in a non-conventional gallery, and the actual functions of these spaces. The contingent encounters generated in the process of exhibiting also represent the ideological, aesthetic and theoretical principles of the portable project.

The principles of the series Portátil are based on the immediacy, and efficiency of a display that eliminates the institutional protocols: insurance, condition checking, packaging and shipping costs. The instructions only suggest that the display should be adapted to the space. In other words, the exhibition layout should reflect the organisers interpretation and respond to each set of existing conditions.

For Zalamea, Portatilrepresents a new ideal. He describes the suitcase as landscape-suitcase, suitcase-trap, explosive-bag, traffic-bag, sound-bag, ecological-bag, death-dragon's bag.[12]  For Zalamea, the open-ended and mobile assemblage/display gives rise to a new idea of society and conveys a utopian scenario based on a device-suitcase proposed by the project Portátil that establishes an order based on anarchy where inconclusive and inclusive projects, like Portátil, . ‘The capitalist system and its media convey the idea that it is a political situation in which the constitution and laws have lost their validity = chaos. It is a forgery, an adulteration of the original idea. Anarchy works in the field of utopia, but through its practices a future society is constructed and anticipated without authoritarianism.’[13]


Congress’ Contemporary Art Department (DARC, Departamento de Arte Contemporáneo del Congreso).

In the exhibition DARC (May, 2005) the notions of ‘museum’ and ‘congress’ is reviewed. The events relate to the idea of the copy, the false, the original, the adulteration.[14] “This is a fictional museum that complies with all the activities of a real institution. Including production, exhibitions, learning activities, audience development, collection consultancy. This museum doesn’t have yet a physical space. Nevertheless, Zalamea said, smiling, that he is confident that the Congress will bestow the museum.”[15]

The idea of a fictional museum, does not mean that there weren’t a series of events taking place inside the Congress lobby space. An anonymous flyer appears in one of the many DARC openings. The openings happen every day defeating the purpose of the exhibition launch. Historically, the way the exhibition has been introduced to its audience is via an inaugural event. The vernissage becomes an exercise of exposure  of the work, of the artist and the lurking faces of the audience.

The flyer reads ‘Our struggle is for the respect for our right to govern and govern ourselves, and the bad government imposes the law of the few on the many. Our fight is for freedom of thought and for walking, and the bad government puts prisons and graves. Our fight is for justice, and the bad government is filled with criminals and murderers. Roof, land, work, bread, health, education, independence, democracy, freedom: these were our demands in the long night of the five hundred years, those are our demands today. Brothers and sisters of other races and other languages, those whose hands this manifesto will approach, pass it onto all the men of those towns.’[16]

A section at the end of the page announces: ‘Take twenty (20) photocopies and distribute them to twenty (20) different people. Guadalupe Sánchez did it and after fifteen days she got a job and a house. José González did not do it and made fun of it. He began to have bad luck and fell in disgrace.’[17]The latter reminds the messages that appear around the central cemetery in Bogotá.


Curaduría blandas uses the strategy of the open call as a device to trigger ideas. The collection of proposals has the potential to open to unforeseen possibilities, meanings and layers in the postulates of the curatorial. A synthesis of these projects would point to a democratic disorder, a ‘large participation in many cases, an active, chaotic and unbalanced assembly.’[18]


In curadorías blandas, the curatorial founds its space of practice beyond the exhibition of artworks. The curatorial does not end with the opening, is not a static object to be admired and contemplated, or visited by an audience. Instead, it explores the events of knowledge, activism, circulation and translation of other forms.[19]

As a curatorial prototype, Zalamea´s curadurias blandas is based on a broad sense of praxis, where the idea of an exhibition is centered more on the discursive level and less object-orientated. The traditional notion of curating and the process and promise of an exhibition as a stable event is disrupted into opaque devices by Zalamea´s notion of curaduría blanda, contributing to the discussion of the curatorial, disclosing a series of practices that go beyond exhibition making.


Cerón, Jaime “Ablandar la curaduría: los proyectos expositivos de Gustavo Zalamea” Revista Errata #5; “Fronteras, migraciones y desplazamientos”. Bogotá: Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño- Instituto Distrital de las Artes. (August, 2011): 168-170.

Ordoñez, Camilo. Relatos de poder. Curaduría, contexto y coyuntura del arte en Colombia. Bogotá: Instituto distrital de las artes – Idartes, 2018. 

Pignalosa, María Cristina “Ideas para un museo del Congreso” El Tiempo, Friday, march 27, 2005.

Rogoff, Irit “Smuggling, an embodied criticality” in Microhistorias y macromundos, edited by Maria Lind, 185-204. Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2011.

Zalamea, Gustavo. Arte en Emergencia. Bogotá: Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo, 2000.

Zalamea, Gustavo. DACR. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2005.

Zalamea, Gustavo. Emergencia. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1998.

Zalamea, Gustavo. Portátil. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2002.

Zalamea, Gustavo. Tránsito. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2000.

Zalamea, Gustavo. Tranz 1. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2007-2008.

Zalamea, Gustavo. Tranz 2. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2009.

[1] Gustavo Zalamea. Arte en Emergencia. Bogotá: Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo, 2000.

[2] Sudaca is a derrogative term for South Americans, mostly used in Spain.

[3] The word Blandurain Spanish arguably translates to softness inEnglish. My argument aims to complicate the immediate translation of the word.

[4] Gustavo Zalamea. Arte en Emergencia. (Bogotá: Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo, 2000.) 10-12. Author’s translation

[5] Ibid, 12.

[6] Gustavo Zalamea. Arte en Emergencia. (Bogotá: Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo, 2000), 12-14. Author’s translation.

[7] Gustavo Zalamea. Tranz 1. (Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2007-2008), 12. Author’s translation.

[8] DARC stands for Congress’ Contemporary Art Department (Departamento de Arte Contemporaneo del Congreso, DARC), 4. Author’s translation.

[9] Ibid, 13. Author’s translation.

[10] Gustavo Zalamea. Tranz 2. (Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2009), 2. Author’s translation.

[11] Gustavo Zalamea. Portátil. (Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2002), 7. Author’s translation.

[12] Ibid, 8

[13] Ibid, 11.

[14] María Cristina Pignalosa, “Ideas para un museo del Congreso” El Tiempo, Friday, march 27, 2005, 2-4. Author’s translation.

[15] Ibid, 2-4.

[16] Gustavo Zalamea. DACR. (Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2005), 4. Author’s translation.

[17] Ibid, 5. Author’s translation.

[18] Gustavo Zalamea. Portátil. (Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2002), 4. Author’s translation.

[19] Irit Rogoff, “Smuggling, an embodied criticality” in Microhistorias y macromundos, ed Maria Lind (Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2011) 185-204.