Photo Essays

Finding Humor in Crisis, Gallery Photoshops Wild Animals in Its Closed Exhibition

Forced to shutter to contain the pandemic, Guatemala City’s Proyectos Ultravioleta has created a series of “Nature is Healing” memes, which are both endearing and hilarious.

A panda and their cub peruse the gallery’s current exhibition The Gardeners, enjoying artworks by Roberto Cabrera (all images courtesy of Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City)

The viral meme “nature is healing” is one of the few positive things to come out of the coronavirus pandemic. A satire of recent and mostly false social media posts about animals suddenly reemerging in unlikely environments with the decline in human activity, the meme speaks to our sometimes misplaced desire for a feel-good story in difficult times.

Jumping on the trend, Guatemala City-based gallery Proyectos Ultravioleta has ingeniously photoshopped fuzzy and feathered visitors into installation views of its now shuttered exhibition The Gardeners.

“We’ve witnessed the return of swans to Venice, dolphins in Sardinia, mountain goats in North Wales, and now the unimaginable: ostriches, pandas, and even penguins, amongst other animal friends in our space in Guatemala!!” reads the caption of the gallery’s Instagram post, where the images were first shared.

Tuxedoed penguins admire Jessica Kairé’s sculpture “Folding monument (monument to the 1944 Revolution)” (2020) and Jorge de León’s drawing “Untitled, from the series Homólogo” (2015). They must come from an important collecting family.

Proyectos Ultravioleta closed its doors about three weeks ago, after the first case of the coronavirus was confirmed in Guatemala. Stefan Benchoam, one of the gallery’s co-founders, told Hyperallergic the meme idea came as the team brainstormed how to rethink its programming for an online-only platform.

“Suddenly we saw a saturation of the digital space. The question for us was, how can we add to this?” he said. “We didn’t just want to add more noise, we wanted to make people smile a little bit.”

A tribe of art-loving goats enjoys Edgar Calel’s oil on canvas and wire installation “Calendars” (2019-2020), resisting the urge to chew on the work.

The gallery was inspired by rapidly circulating and since debunked photographs, such as those of elephants getting drunk on corn wine in a field in China, as well as unbelievable images that turned out to be completely real — like documentation of hundreds of wild Kashmiri goats coolly parading the streets of Llandudno, a coastal town in Wales.

The Internet’s immediate, blind obsession with the phenomenon is a massive but admittedly well-intentioned fail. And like all the greatest hits of the meme canon, “nature is healing” is an instantly recognizable symbol of the times we are living, signaling a collective and very human attempt to make the best of tragic circumstances.

“People were desperately trying to find a silver lining,” said Benchoam.

An elegant ostrich strolls outside the gallery’s entrance.

The art world has always been receptive to memes, but in recent weeks, the arts have enjoyed a notable viral moment; the restaging of famous artworks using household items, for instance, has become a favorite quarantine pastime. As galleries and museums adapt their programs to the digital world, they might take a tip from Proyectos Ultravioleta and add visual humor to their slate of viewing rooms, virtual shows, webinars, and online auctions.

This lemur can’t walk away from Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s portfolio of aquatints “Heart of the Scarecrow” (2015)

“The pandemic is hitting closer and closer to home, affecting the places we live in and know,” said Benchoam, adding that the crisis’s impact on Latin America’s already frail economic infrastructure will be disastrous.

“We’re all trying to find ways to cope. We wanted to create something to lighten the burden.”

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