unsettled Primaries

El Museo del Barrio Oct 22, 2014 – March 4, 2015
Torrance Art Museum Aug 23, 2014 – Oct 18, 2014


unsettledprimaries.org (2014) is a hybrid, web-based project conceived by Mariángeles Soto-Díaz in collaboration with participating Venezuelan artists, the Torrance Museum of Art and the Museo del Barrio. For this collective event realized in summer 2014, artists located in and outside of Venezuela were invited to interpret a series of conceptual instructions that correspond with the primary colors of the country's flag. Using abstraction to respond obliquely to the flag's politically charged history, Unsettled Primaries reappropriates primary colors from reductionist readings and signals a multiplicitous, collective reflection on color's power and the fluidity of meaning.

The Venezuelan flag features horizontal bands of the primary colors, yellow, blue and red, occupying equal parts in its rectangular composition. It is said that Francisco de Miranda, the Venezuelan transatlantic revolutionary known as "The First Universal Criollo" who initiated the process that would lead to the independence of Venezuela and Latin America, conceptualized the Venezuelan flag for independence after exchanging ideas about color theory with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Europe. While this is only one myth among many surrounding Miranda's inspiration of primary colors for the flag, the story still resonates with Miranda's interdisciplinary and philosophical interests, which are well documented in his extensive journals chronicling encounters with Europe's leading intellectuals, artists and politicians.

For this project, Mariángeles Soto-Díaz invited Venezuelan artists to choose and interpret a set of open instructions to make an abstract work with equal distribution of primary colors. The instructions were meant as a productive challenge to the artists, particularly in light of the volatile political climate in Venezuela today and especially the many conflicts surrounding the use of the national flag in recent years.*

This experimental abstract project is a proposition put forth to think through many questions: Is it possible to reconcile formal and political meanings on a plane of simultaneity? Can color help us activate a shared experience of ambiguity and nuance, or are the established "universal" primary colors, an essential discovery in color theory, always mired in nationalism or flag-waving for Venezuelan artists? Is viewing art through the screen of a computer while imagining its materiality in real space a new kind of phenomenological experience? For individual artists, can a simultaneous performance of instructions interpreted in different parts of the world feel like a collective gesture?

unsettledprimaries.org explores the potential of making something charged, tired and familiar new again, examining settled meanings. As in past projects directed by Soto-Diaz under the umbrella of her entity Abstraction At Work, Unsettled Primaries rests on the underlying premise that there is a conceptual and ambiguous border in the notion of abstraction that encroaches upon and even overlaps with symbolic representation, underscoring the uncomfortable fuzziness and fluidity of meaning in subject matter.

* In 2013, as the two major candidates for presidential elections dressed in primary colors, government officials forbid the opposition from using them in their campaign despite the fact that the flag and its colors in various configurations were being used by the incumbent presidential candidate and precisely in that context. The rationale used by government officials was that using primary colors was an inappropriate use of patriotic symbols as per the Constitution passed in 2006 revising the Ley de Bandera Nacional, Himno Nacional y Escudo de Armas de la República Bolivariana Venezolana and/or the Supreme Justice Tribunal's own judgment.


Participating artists: • Ricardo Alcaide (VZLA/BR) • Emilia Azcarate (VZLA/ESP) • Juan Pablo Garza (VZLA) • Jaime Gili (VZLA/UK) • Dulce Gσmez (VZLA) • Esperanza Mayobre (VZLA/USA) • Ana Maria Mazzei (VZLA) • Teresa Mulet (VZLA) • Susana Reisman (VZLA/CAN) • Luis Romero (VZLA) • Fabian Salazar (VZLA).

To visit the project [ unsettledprimaries.org ]

At the Museo del Barrio [ Link ]

At the Torrance Art Museum [ Link ]

Installation/viewing station at the Torrance Art Museum:

Unsettled Primaries, installation view

Unsettled Primaries, installation view