by Cecilia Pavón
The first time I met Juliana, years ago, she confessed something without my asking: She told me that her parents were evangelists and that during her childhood, she had witnessed several exorcisms and seen many unbelievable things that she could never forget. I was surprised that she would tell me something like that fifteen minutes after meeting her in a work context for the first time. I’d been called upon to write something for her exhibition. We were at her studio a few meters away from the Botanical Gardens, one of the most beautiful parks in Buenos Aires. Since that day I’ve been an assiduous visitor of that studio, a secret and magical space in Buenos Aires. Even though it’s private, it’s almost public because it’s always open to receive visitors. During the day, people work stoically there and when the sun goes down an infinite cycle of conversation begins, with Juliana and Manuel as hosts. You could say that one element that runs through all of Mondongo’s work is the almost sacred value of conversation. That’s why their first exhibition consisted in a series of masks of people from the world of culture, people that they hardly knew: they would go to these people’s houses and make plaster casts of their faces, but it really was an excuse to have conversations. The last time I visited the studio we talked about the Mapuche living in the south of Chile and Argentina. We’d read in the newspapers about Betiana, a 16 year old machi that had been guided by ancestral spirits to reclaim a piece of land. After that the Argentinean army shot her cousin Nahuel in the back and killed him. That day Manuel told me that when his family ran away from the military dictatorship that he had lived with the Mapuche in the Patagonia and he remembered being fascinated, in the middle of this traumatic experience, by the love and dedication they put into their craftwork. Then I told them, that for me, their studio was a shamanic center in the middle of the wild megalopolis of Buenos Aires. Shamanic in the sense of healing, where art is understood as a ceremony, where information (from reality, history, and culture, both collective and personal) is transformed into an unknown energy capable of making people connect with their pain, even if they don’t realize it, even if they think they are just in front of some fantastic piece of art. Because, one way or the other, every piece created by Mondongo is about mourning, an inexhaustible feeling anchored in childhood and playing, just like the conversations lost in the air of the studio in Gurruchaga Street almost in the corner of Santa Fe.
Cecilia Pavón (born 1973) is an Argentine poet, writer, and translator. She has published and translated numerous books in Buenos Aires. In 2012, all her poetry was published in a volume called “Un hotel con mi nombre” (“A hotel with my name”).