Building Dialogs

Building Dialogs is a virtual exhibition organized by Fabian Goncalvez Borrega (Exhibit Coordinator, OAS Art Museum of the Americas) and Gesche Würfel (Teaching Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). 

For the Building Dialogs project, Fabian Goncalves initiates a process in which a group of artists select pairings of each other's works, creating their own multi-layered narratives.  Stimulating the conversation among this small network of artists, we pivot from a vertical to horizontal curatorial practice, we reinforce lateral contributions and visual syntheses, and we question the monolithic idea of authorship. Each pairing contributes to a transformative dialog, synthesized through the eyes of the beholder.  In conversation with Gesche Würfel, they construct this conceptual base for transformative visual dialogs among the four selected series of photo artists: Alejandra Delgado Uria, Thomas Kellner, Brad Temkin, and Gesche Würfel

The four photographers allowed for their images to be paired with those of the other artists, creating diptychs, inevitably affecting changes in perception. The artists also agreed to house their own versions of Building Dialogs on their websites and link them to the other artists’ renderings, to our website and our social media platforms #AMAatHome #AMABuildingDialogs. Gesche drafted the first visual dialog (see below), as a spark for the other three artists to create their own collaborative Building Dialogs:

Alejandra Delgado Uría’s Dialog
Thomas Kellner’s Dialog
Brad Temkin’s Dialog


We embrace the heightened significance of our online platforms, and while we cannot expect for virtual walls to be interchangeable with physical walls, they may indeed harbor potential for revitalized cultural exchange.

Please check our four social media walls:

Co-curator Fabian Goncalves’s Note:

Dialog, A Bridge to the Unknown

In Inca mythology, the universe is divided into three territories, or pachas: hanan, kay, and uku. These realms share a structure similar to that of the Catholic notions of heaven, earth, and hell. This overlap helped Spanish missionaries to advance their own religious notions in the New World while simultaneously allowing the Inca to preserve aspects of their own mythology within that of Catholicism, giving rise to syncretic beliefs that remain part of Andean myth and religion to this day.

The three pachas represent three distinct planes of existence, interconnected and bridged by both physical and spiritual and mythological elements. Together, the three realms shaped Inca religion, the concept of the Inca cosmos, and the day-to-day worldview of both the Inca nobility and the common person.

The three pacha realms are also conceived akin to buildings, with rooftops, levels, and basements. Through the photography of these four artists, we’ll explore these “buildings”: the hanan, the roof, through Brad Temkin’s Rooftops, a series of ambiguous and solitary gardens against the open Chicago sky; the kay, the center, through Thomas Kellner’s Brasilia, 50 Years of Utopia, in a melodic deconstruction of facades and interiors of Brasilia; as well as through Alejandra Delgado’s series Fantasmagorias, of disembodied architecture of Bolivian Cholets; and, finally, the uku, the basement, through Gesche Wurfel’s Basement Sanctuaries, a personalized and intimate view of New York City superintendents’ basements and common areas.

Uku can be seen as the Inca underworld, beneath the kay realm, a place where those unfit for hanan to go upon their deaths. Uku can be represented in the European building traditions by cellars, originated as storerooms for perishable food, with a design based on farmers’ root-cellars and the expansive undercrofts of palaces and cathedrals. It can also be seen as a place for entombed bodies and detritus from above. Basements are the lowest parts of the building and absorb the earth’s energy of cool darkness, concealment, and insular underworld, and the sacred mystery of the death and rebirth of the deities of vegetation. In contemporary times, they became a place for humble and essential activities: laundry, carpentry, and repairs that support life in the upper regions. They are the base from where to build, the beginning of a transformative conversation.

Wurfel’s Basement Sanctuaries are void, although their presents infer and felt no human presence on her pictures: an allegory of the emptiness left behind by immigrants on their places of origins and their being reborn and/or reemerging in a new place: Basements Sanctuaries, as superintendents complete the cycle of death and rebirth. These images resembling tunneled catacombs with recycled decorations are reminiscences of the supers’ effort to recreate, based on lingering memories affected by time and trans-acculturation of places from their past, places that may not even exist anymore. Through captures of colors and forms, Wurfel evokes the presence of supers’ families inducing us, the viewers, to communicate with them. 

The kay, or middle world, in Incan mythology is the physical realm of living beings and the world of birth, death, and decay, equivalent to our own inhabited world. The earthly kay world was envisaged as a horizontal area lying between the upper hanan and the uku below. According to Laura Laurencich Minelli in The Inca World, the human realm witnessed numerous phases of destruction and recreation. The Incas saw the gods as striving to create an ever-more-perfect form of humankind, with cycles of destruction and rebirth dealt upon Kay Pacha: qualities similar to those of our European-influenced present, resembling Plato’s cave’s earthly world of illusions, a realm of the living things striving for freedom, progress, resilient desire, emotions, envy, greed, fear, and chaos on this human order mandated by other humans.

Order and stratification visualized in the work of Thomas Kellner’s Visual Analytical Synthesis depart from formal standing architecture and creates a gestalt that houses the original building and metaphorical comments of it. This big contact sheet had an architectural visual morphology that reminds us of rows of buildings in some imaginary city block. These optical illusions are built upon and manipulated by the collective consciousness of well-known buildings embedded with fetishism, celebrated by congregations, metaphorical commentaries that open up a dialectic conversation and, therefore, an inevitable synthesis. These trembling commentaries function as springboards which throw the viewer’s imagination into a new visual dimension (synthesis) with loose connections to the original building, but based on it, and they too make the viewer flow through an expansive rhythmic sequence, a drenching of the senses that allows us to get lost in this invented, but orderly, realm. Furthermore, it may resemble representations of the viewers’ brain activity as it dices and digests information. Similar to the emotions brought about by seeing important pieces of architecture for the first time, as monuments, cathedrals, memorials, or comprehending them for the first time: like those which millions of New York visitors experience when they are exposed to the marvelous design and decoration of New York buildings, housing anonymous inhabitants.

Alejandra Delgado’s Fantasmagorias superpose two or more negative-like images and, while playing with different levels of opacity, blur the full figurative discourse on the buildings’ colorful facades. These multistory and multifunctional Cholets include the living quarters of the owner’s family and several rental floors for parties and gatherings. These party complexes dedicated to exclusive corporate events are the realm of the flesh, lust, excessive drinking, and gluttony, provoking movement of bodies without observance and losing momentarily a balanced life. This behavior provides the opportunity for entities to gain control of themselves. Delgado’s multi-layered imagery hovering between the material and the spiritual allows those ghosts to reveal themselves. These phantoms and ghosts are brought into these contemporary buildings by renters’ partakers and owners’ unresolved grief and persistent attachment to the dead, or to violent death.   

Hanan is the upper world, the realm of Inca gods such as Inti (the sun god), and his sister Mama Quilla (the moon goddess). Incas believed that those who lead a good life would ultimately ascend to a hanan afterlife. Gods and their physical representations connected hanan with the lower realm of humankind. According to Juan M. Ossio in his essay “Contemporary Indigenous Religious Life in Peru,” some sky divinities can be identified as heavenly mediators with Earth, such as the planet Venus (the goddess Chasca), and lightning (Illapa).

Others serve as earthly mediators with heaven, such as the Apu mountain spirits that bridged the gap between the realm of humankind and the heavens of hanan. The Inca regarded mountains and their peaks as sacred, at times using them as locations for ritual sacrifices to the gods (sometimes using humans as sacrificial offerings). We imagine our ancestors residing on the Island of the Blessed, the Land of the Dead, the Spirit World, Underworld, Night Sky, or West, mythic conceptions of sacred places of origin. The transcendent realm, the heavenly world, sacred, is above the earthly world, profane, and worship is the act uniting both. It is the ambivalent nature of the Holy. On the one hand, life is enriched and renewed through an ever-closer relationship with the divine; on the other hand, the Holy represents the fear of Catholics, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, of God’s power as potentially damaging, for the forces of the holy that so greatly transcend as grave dangers to humans.

Brad’s Rooftops take us to ambiguous gardens closer to God on the tops of buildings, with no visible horizon that liberates us from earthly bodies, separating us from everyone else, as the highest form of human creation, away from the endless quarrels of Chicago’s streets. These inviting beautiful oases on rooftops in a concrete towering desert are privets with selective access. They may represent the uppermost societal layers, where only a chosen few with access are liberated from chaos, sickness, and death, from the people below these skyscrapers’ gardens who at times reach a step too high, searching for the false god of profits and empty progress, only to be punished by God for vanity.

These projects started as responses and reflections, appropriation and reformulation of buildings as human outcrop. As Wurfel’s co-curator of the project described, “Building Dialogs builds dialogs among four photographers concerned with the built environment. We photograph buildings from the top to the basement and examine their architectural structures. The images have been paired to create a dialog between two photos searching for colors, patterns, elements that can be found in the works.” As a consequence, pairing images in a visual dialog creates a new composed individual image.

These new syntheses, unknown mere moments ago, symbolize the blend that can be reached in a sincere, open conversation free of stereotypes and personal attacks. The unknown is what artists strive for, as Rebecca Solnit describes in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost: “Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived is what must be found. It is the job of the artist to open doors and invite in prophecies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long process of making it their own.” Also, by blending images, artists are connecting three pachas, opening passages among three realms that they use to move freely between these pachas, and in doing so unveil their role as semi-gods like the Moon and the Lighting according to Incan beliefs, reinforcing the artist mobility through social classes and their permanence in time confirm our mortal condition.
-Fabian Goncalves Borrega