El estado real de las cosas
The Landscapes of Our Failed Identity
The road. The green color of the Guatemalan mountains unveils as we travel into the country’s hinterland. All the beauty of the country appears to us like a thunderlight. The Spanish chroniclers dedicated large volumes to praise those same landscapes. In their amazement they described a wonderful and fertile soil, blessed to the point of making thrive any little seed that fall down to the ground. Since then, Guatemalans have used this image from Colonial times to keep promoting our optimism for our landscape. Since the 17th and 18th century, passing through the nationalistic texts requested by the administrations of Manuel Estrada Cabrera and Jorge Ubico, and ending with the characterization made by the “touristic” documentaries presented by the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism, our identity has been shown as to be founded in the country’s volcanos, skies and lakes; that is a fantastic space where the indigenous people are no more than the persons in charge of attracting tourists with their traditional dresses and their exotic cultures.
That is the dreamed image that asks us to live as a landscape and not as a country. It is a place without cultural differences (or without convergence, and with no political contradictions). It is a land that seems to exist -like Cinderella- for alien peoples that discover its beauty and make it into something economically feasible. But it seems that neither the efforts of the chroniclers, nor of the dictators or of the present public institutions have been fruitful, they weren’t able to convince us that natural beauty is enough to makes us live as a nation. They though that marginalization is no more than other mark in the landscape that we see when traveling in the country, and that poverty is bearable for those who appear in the postcards without a voice.
Of all of this we can only conclude that we live in a territory with a flag and with a certain cultural convergence but that, at the end, it does not represent a country or a nation or anything. It is a lush landscape, but overwhelmed by political disgrace, graft and a total despise of its natural resources -as long as they don’t represent a business opportunity for the usual few-.
So, this “blessed” land in reality matters only to a little few. That love for the country’s landscapes only hides the old and dated propaganda for the naïve and expressed precisely by those who step on any hope for change.
El Estado Real de las Cosas
Central Park, Guatemala City
“El Estado Real de las Cosas” (The Real State of Things) is the first ephemeral installation of Guatemalan artist Mario Santizo, which requires a determined space and audience in order to fully experience it.
This work is composed of eight small oil paintings, each representing a different touristic landscape of Guatemala. These include the famous Lake Atitlan as well as views of Tikal, one of the major sites of the Mayan Civilization; the arch in Antigua Guatemala, a small colonial town famous for its well preserved examples of Spanish-American Baroque); el “cerro de la cruz” (the hill with the cross), a small mountain surmounted by a christian cross, from where you can see all the city of Antigua Guatemala; Iximche, a pre-columbian archeological site where the kaqchikel kingdom used to stand; a portrait of a quetzal, the current national bird, anciently worshiped by the Mayans and Aztecs as an air god. These paintings are individually hanged from 50 coloured balloons filled with helium, allowing them to float in the space for some days, before inevitably falling to the ground.
These touristic destinations are part of the collective imagination not only for Guatemalans, but also for the travelers who come to visit Guatemala, mainly due to the Guatemalan Tourism Institute (INGUAT) selling these representations as those corresponding to a country with amazing nature and significant relics from different ages in history.
The cultural strategy of Mario Santizo targets how Guatemala desires to represent itself, with these appealing images of a country with a lush environment and a rich cultural heritage, all despite the brutality of real life: a country where the differences between the rich and the poor are manifest and overwhelming, where basic civil rights such as public education and health care cannot be reached by the majority of the population.
The metaphor that underlines this work –where beautiful pictures are floating in the space, hanging with colorful party balloons and subsequently falling on the ground day after day, in a sort of slow motion image– is how Guatemalans view their country, as if the mere existence pretty things meant nothing disagreeable is happening amongst them.
The appearance of the nation has to be one of wellness and beauty, falling but always raising, as quoted from the national hymn: “Ojalá que remonte su vuelo, más que el condor y el águila real y en sus alas levante hasta el cielo, Guatemala, tu nombre inmortal” regardless of the vastly unequal reality.
Gail Cochrane, 2018.
 Hopefully, it shall raise in flight, above the condor and the royal eagle; carrying up to the sky, in its wings, Guatemala, your inmortal name.