Diego Sagastume: Overload

The 9.99 Gallery is pleased to open its Project Room to a new exhibition: Overload by the Guatemalan artist Diego Sagastume, which opens a critical dialogue on the founding myths of present-day societies, rethinking modernity and its structures, from a visual, cultural and architectural framework, and speaking within a local context in a sculptural language.


Overload presents a number of sculptures made with industrial materials, such as concrete, tiles, and iron, to dialogue with modernity and its failed passage to a misperceived postmodernism, and, in the case of Guatemala, imposed.


From the photograph of a man with an amorphous bundle on his shoulder, Sagastume began to think of that image as a portrait of the time, a contemporary metaphor mounted on the shoulders of a rigid modernity that never reached its objectives. This idea was then constructed by observing the urban landscape in Guatemala City, a town built of architectural types from different eras, such as the modern international style, with its milestone constructions of the 50s and 70s that preserve tile mosaics, with brises soleils or bars, and metal cast letters. The sculptures presented in the Project Room are more than an abstraction of modern architecture: they function as artifacts that trigger questions about what it means that our time is historically, socially, and culturally superimposed on modernity and, according to the artist, a muddled national identity.


In Sagatume’s sculptures, there is a reference to iconic projects such as the buildings of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, 1887–1965), and the City of Brasilia by Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer (1957), examples of modern concrete structures conceived as large, indestructible cubes. In Guatemala, all this influence fell on its clumped landscape and a group of architects who studied abroad, such as Roberto Aycinena, Pelayo Llarena and Carlos Haeussler. They began the project of modernizing Guatemala City through its architecture, with edifices in the Civic Center (1954–1976) and buildings like the rectory at the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (1960) or developments, in zones 4 and 9.


The journalist Gemma Gil and the architect Raúl Monterroso write in Guatemala City’s Guide to Modern Architecture,1 that what defined the constructions of the time was “the use of new construction systems (…) such as a greater number of stories on the same lot, and to have abandoned the traditional system of adobe and masonry.” In addition, they mention, “the use of noble materials, such as brick, marble, mosaic, or exposed concrete, shows an aesthetic intention that seeks to explore beyond the rational (…) and ignite in the old city some flashes of modernity.” With this exhibition, Sagastume seeks to put these ideas of progress into play and to argue, very discreetly, that the failure of modernity is that it remained there, that it didn’t have continuity.
“Nowadays everything seems at hand, happening all at once,” says the artist to compare the present and the way we receive information and visual stimuli with these methodical forms of construction. By the artist’s own account, the whole process for conceiving the physical structures also starts from a digital platform. Hence the Internet is part of this postmodern collage mounted on conceptual spaces.


This “overload of information built on a superstructure in a network,” as the artist adds, is also a syndrome of postmodernity “that leads to a feeling of anxiety that is nothing more than a shapeless burden”—a reflection on how imperfect and sarcastic the physical world is, and how all its modern figures also fall into the construction of their own actuality, like the bundles that ironically fall over his sculptures.


1 Gemma Gil, Raúl Monterroso, Andrés Asturias. (2008). Guatemala City’s Guide to Modern Architecture. Guatemala City: El Librovisor, Ediciones alternativas del Centro Cultural de España en Guatemala.