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MEXICO CITY— On the morning of July 31, Mexican news giant Excelsior reported that the 14th edition of the Simposio Internacional de Teoría de Arte Contemporáneo (the International Symposium on Contemporary Art Theory, or SITAC) scheduled to take place January 18 to 20, 2018, had been cancelled. The Symposium has been run for 13 consecutive years by Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo (PAC), a nonprofit organization that funds contemporary art initiatives in Mexico.
Over the past decade, SITAC has become one of Mexico’s most important contemporary art events. It’s sponsored by Mexico’s biggest contemporary art museums — including Museo Jumex, Museo Rufino Tamayo, and Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo (MUAC) — and has long attracted key contemporary art thinkers from around the world as participants. The confirmed guest list for the 2018 edition included the German moving image artist Hito Steyerl, Russian author Arseny Zhilyayev, Columbia University gender theorist Elizabeth Povinelli, General Idea co-founder AA Bronson, and Lebanese filmmaker Jalal Toufic.
Excelsior’s article began by stating that, “even though [SITAC’s] organizers tried to hide what was an open secret in the local art community,” they had confirmed the Symposium’s cancellation. Later that morning, PAC reaffirmed that SITAC’s 14th edition had been canceled in a statement that also sought to deny the existence of the symposium and therefore its cancellation — in effect claiming that the event couldn’t be canceled because it was never confirmed.
A la comunidad artística, el Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo informa lo siguiente: pic.twitter.com/Daxhdvj0SX
— Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo (@PACSitac) August 1, 2017
However, prior to the cancellation, PAC had hired Russian artist Anton Vidokle and Mexican artist Pilar Villela as co-artistic directors of the 2018 the symposium. Vidokle was to be in charge of international participation; Villela of the local. But they did not get along, to the point of “collaborative failure,” according to Excelsior. Vidokle said that PAC’s director, Mariana Munguía, called him on July 6 to inform him that SITAC’s 14th edition was being canceled because of his and Villela’s inability to work well together.
Munguía told Excelsior that Vidokle had never officially been appointed, but he told the paper that he’d already been paid him half of his honorarium. He sent Excelsior the emails from Munguía naming him and Villela as co-directors. Villela declined to speak to Excelsior, but did say she had resigned from SITAC for personal reasons. PAC’s fiery public statement called this leak an “undue, biased, and opportunistic diffusion of an internal work process.”
The PAC statement explained that, as the “collaborative relationship progressively collapsed due to a lack of understanding between artistic directors,” the SITAC committee voted to cancel the “proposal” — meaning the work that Vidokle and Villela had done over the course of several months — “to allow time for the consideration of alternatives.” The nonprofit’s explanation for making no public statement about the cancellation before Excelsior’s report was that it had never made a public statement announcing SITAC’s 14th edition in the first place. “As an internal process, still under discussion, the PAC had not publicly announced the definitive model of the next SITAC, its directors, or its possible program,” the nonprofit’s statement explained.
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“Calling it a cancellation was irresponsible sensationalism,” Javier Toscano, a Mexican art and culture critic based in Berlin, told Hyperallergic. “It was an internal conflict, not a cancellation. They’ve changed the date of SITAC other years. It doesn’t happen at the same time every year and they decide that stuff internally.” These sentiments were echoed in many Facebook comments in response to PAC’s public statement. “SITAC hasn’t had much of interest to offer for a few years anyway;” Toscano added, “There were a few really bad, poorly-managed editions in which there was very little conversation happening. Maybe this will be a chance for them to shake things up and regroup. They’ll need to hustle now.”
What Toscano did deem “inappropriate” is that PAC suddenly cancelled Vidokle and Villela’s project, an assessment with which Irmgard Emmelhainz, a translator, writer, and lecturer based in Mexico City, agrees. She wrote a letter to Munguía — which she shared with Hyperallergic — in which she defended Vidokle and expressed her fury over the cancellation and the opaque way in which it was handled. Her letter reads, in part:
I cannot sit idly by the cancellation of Villela’s and Vidokle’s SITAC and not be concerned about the obliteration of such a relevant space for discussion, especially because we are living in times in which totalitarianism and obscurantism start to appear in the horizon in the West, terrorism and surveillance are the norm, and critical and dissident voices are being systematically silenced and spied on in our country. What is more, this decision is depriving the public in Mexico of a public event of global resonance. I demand that PAC has a more transparent policy and provides explanation to the artistic community about what has happened clarifying the contradictions highlighted by Etgar Hernández article without dismissing it as gossip. That PAC assumes its institutional role as mediator of the discrepancies (internal or between the co-directors) that have arisen. And/or confirm that the event will take place in January co-directed by Anton Vidokle.
PAC has yet to indulge any of her requests. It said in its statement that the organization will reconvene in September to decide what SITAC’s 14th edition will be, and when.
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