Introduction to Mal de Mer towards a Sad Tropic: Notes on the Other Island in CAAM

I met Marco Montiel‐Soto in autumn 2017, on his second and still initiatory visit to the Canary Islands. Originally from the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, he had immigrated to Europe twelve years previously and eventually settled in Berlin. 

Drawn by the Canary roots of a significant percentage of Venezuela’s population, and by his fascination with the explorations of Humboldt, a native Berliner, he decided to embark on a journey to those islands, so closely linked to his beloved, bleeding Venezuelan homeland. 

When he travels, Montiel‐Soto behaves like an explorer, anthropologist, reporter and, of course, artist. I had a chance to witness this at our very first meeting. We had an appointment at the CAAM, and Marco, unable to park his car on the streets (still open to vehicular traffic at the time) of the colonial district of Vegueta in the
city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, called me and asked if I would mind getting into his rental vehicle so that we could begin our meeting as scheduled. I didn’t mind, so I got into the car and, as we drove about looking for a place to park, we used the time to begin talking. When I settled into the passenger seat, I felt a number of objects beneath me, which I moved aside as Marco began to tell me about his trip and his project. 

Meanwhile, his HD video camera, mounted on its adjustable mini tripod clipped to the rear‐view mirror, was supposedly recording the entire journey. What at first seemed like a simple parking job ended up being a nearly half‐hour‐ long conversation as we went round and round in an unexpected loop. Finally, we found a spot beside a pavement café, some distance from the centre, and continued our meeting over a cup of coffee and some breakfast. 

That’s Marc Montiel‐Soto in a nutshell: spontaneous and rigorous in equal measure, affable and approachable. Ever since that first encounter, I’ve been captivated by his work, the way he went about planning his future project, Mal de Mar hacia un triste trópico. Notas sobre la otra isla [Mal de Mer towards a Sad Tropic: Notes on the Other Island], although initially the project’s title referred to Venezuela as the Eighth Island. Months later, the island of La Graciosa was officially declared the eighth Canary Island, so to avoid any misunderstanding the artist replaced that name with ‘the other island’. 

We agreed to continue discussing the possibility of realising this project in 2019 or 2020, and things began to come together months later at the 1st Riga Biennial in Latvia. I was quite curious to see that new biennial, as several international artists whose work I know well had written to tell me they had been invited to participate, along with an important list of truly interesting artists. Therefore, attending the Riga Biennial would be an opportunity to see for myself how Marco Montiel‐Soto managed to deploy or stage his complex ideas, as well as a chance to peruse the works and proposals of other artists, and so I did. 

Montiel‐Soto’s installation in Riga, his solid multidisciplinary proposal, whose enormous scale posed quite a challenge, was exceptional, one of the most outstanding pieces at a blue‐ ribbon biennial. So, then and there, we set the date for the summer of 2019 and began to work with a clear timeframe in mind. During those conversations, I suggested that the Spanish art critic and historian Lidia Gil might be a good choice to curate his project. They got in touch and initiated an intense, fluid professional dialogue, which led to the solid proposal presented at the CAAM‐Sala San Antonio Abad. 

Being by nature an unapologetic gleaner, a weaver of trans‐temporal discourses, in his rambles through the museums of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria the artist was overcome by an irrepressible urge to request objects from their display cases, walls and rooms; his idea was for them to dialogue with his ‘tropicalist’ interventions and works, thereby reinforcing and staging the multiple meanings of the project as a whole. To this end, we submitted loan requests to Casa África for exceptional original figures fashioned by the great cultures of the African continent, and to Casa de Colón for a 17th‐century cannon and engravings. Detailed images of these items can be found in the pages of this catalogue. 

I would like to express our sincerest gratitude to the artist Marco Montiel‐Soto, to Lidia Gil, curator of the exhibition, to Beatriz Sánchez, its coordinator, to the entire CAAM staff, to Acaymo S. Cuesta, to Marcos García González, to the authors of the catalogue texts, to Casa África and Casa de Colón of the Council of Gran Canaria, and to all those who visited us to share this space for reflecting on the tropic and its utopias and dystopias. 

Orlando Britto Jinorio, 2019

Director of the CAAM 

this text was originally written for a Marco Montiel-soto´s CAAM publication.