Oscar Murillo: on being ‘glocal’

South London Gallery

20 September – 1 December 2013

“If I was to draw a line, this journey started approximately 400km north of the Equator”. This is the name of the giant installation produced by Oscar Murillo; it also happens to be the first UK solo show of the twenty-seven-year-old Colombian artist.

November 19, 2013
by Helton Vilar
Oscar Murillo, installation shot. Photo credit Helton Vilar

Oscar Murillo, installation shot. Photo credit Helton Vilar

Murillo has had a short but exciting career. Born in a small city in Colombia, he was taken to London when he was ten. Here he graduated and then post-graduated in Arts, and has since risen fast within the exclusive circuit, particularly in Europe and the United States. A quick Google search later, we find the virtual Murillo talking with globetrotting curators and represented by large galleries, with pieces for sale at places such as the Gagosian.

At this installation in Camberwell, he works within a huge environment reminiscent of a studio. Walls are adorned with mass-marketed packaging imported from around the world, with a personal focus on his native Colombia. All these labels with their different languages, designs and formats, serve the same purpose. They are remains of current times: global distribution and subsequent localised customization. Aesthetically, they have the shared “look-and-feel” of cheap, colourful products.

The visitor literally steps onto the installation – a used and dirty canvas, something that sticks to your shoes. “All happens in the ground”, Murillo claims. Seeds, bottle caps, and unshaped organic masses: globalization really stinks. The scenario includes tables with finished and unfinished paintings lacking labels or explanation. For a moment, all this mess feels like an “anti-exhibition”. Nothing is prepared for the visitor, but the visitor is summoned to find out what exactly happened? I tell Murillo it is reminiscent of a big party that ended a week ago. Interestingly, he replies that the opening was infact a big party, with lots of Colombian food and guests.

At a 2012 residence in “Rubell Family Collection Museum”, Miami, Murillo initiated something similar. Settling down in the gallery for some weeks, he produced large-scale paintings, which he gave very particular, odd names like “Chorizo”. By the way, this illustrates well the cultural crossroad, and where the artist stands with his narrative.  Even when he is paid for a commercial utilization of his work, he refers to something very intimate, declaring in an interview given last year to The Art Newspaper “I was invited by Comme de Garçons to do a campaign for their new season. They used five images of previous paintings of mine and gave me £10,000. Their clothes are quite expensive and I could have bought a new wardrobe, but instead I invited members of my family to go to Dover Street Market in Mayfair, London, and attempt to buy some of these clothes, which are targeted at a certain kind of audience—my mother is not exactly eight stone. The trip became a cultural clash that I wanted to do something with”. This explains why his mother appears in some profile pictures wearing fancy sunglasses.

Undoubtedly, Oscar Murillo wrestles with a strong perception of current identity, which perhaps stem from issues with globalization. Actually, these topics appear also to retain a particular hold over recent Latin American art, with artists like the Brazilian Jac Leirner and Marepe cross-referencing globalization issues through personal objects and performance. Marepe, for instance, transported a whole wall from his hometown into the exhibition room at 27th São Paulo Biennial. Living in East London, Murillo mentions the dichotomy of far-flung cultures cohabiting within the same British atmosphere. This is about how people live together, but also how they don’t mix with each other. The challenge proposed by Murillo’s “studio-installation” is to bring together the local and the global, merging the twain and becoming “glocal”, whatever this means for you.

Here in South London Gallery, the visitor will be able to watch a behind-the-scenes video and see the efforts made by the artist so that he himself, as a native Columbian, may feel at home. Being or not-being global remains an interesting discussion and Murillo initiates it in a raw, almost brutal fashion. Perhaps this is the appropriate way to respond to the violent cultural imperialism and stereotypical industry, in which art is sometimes the villain, sometimes the victim.