Bar(b)acoa OMI (2017)In Art, Events, Recent projects, Socially Engaged Projects
Bar(b)acoa is a land art installation that evokes the moment of contact between Christopher Columbus’ expedition and the indigenous Taino people at Baracoa, Cuba. This encounter set off what is known as the Columbian Exchange, where the European and Mesoamerican food complexes began to interact, with the Europeans leaving behind pigs and bringing food crops, while introducing tomatoes, potatoes, corn, tobacco and other plants to Europe. The work’s title conflates the landing site and the indigenous “baracoa” a Taino word for ‘descended from the ocean’ and a cooking technique, which involved cooking on a surface elevated on four posts above a fire. This style was exported across the Caribbean, and morphed into other types of open-fire cooking like Mexico’s “barbacoa” and the French/ Cajun barbeque of the United States. The project features a fire pit, as a symbol of the transformation of methods and meaning that accompanied the moment of contact.
The artwork’s minimal forms, the conical mound and its negative inverse pit, reference early pre-Columbian architecture and sculptural forms in the Americas. They are intersected by a shipping container, suggestive of a discontinuous bridge: a subtle reference to the ethically fraught connection that Columbus forged when he initiated the European colonization and exploitation of the Western Hemisphere. The container is also one of the most basic, quotidian, and efficient structures, and indicates the broad and relentless globalization of culture and commerce. Covering the container is collaborator Katie Merz’s neo-hieroglyphic pictographic writing that creates an abstract narrative of the Columbian/Taino encounter, and also the construction of the installation. The installation is aligned along the path of the sun at sunset on the summer solstice, with a mirrored interior wall that annually reflects the sun back out into the landscape at that time. The project is periodically activated with participatory events exploring the impact of the original culinary exchange between cultures, with an eye toward fostering a more ecologically sound food system. Bar(b)acoa explores the potential of art and architecture to work in tandem to help communities envision an intercultural and sustainable future.