Shining out from this group show in Medellín’s very impressive modern art museum was Nicolás Consuegra’s series of square-format found photos. They depict a show of their own: ordinary families proudly displaying their Renault 4 or R4, the most popular Colombian car of the 70s and 80s.
What do I see, as a foreigner, in these photos? Certainly something different to the typical Colombian, who’d be deeply familiar with the shape of this low-cost family hatchback, which became as ubiquitous as the Volkswagen Beetle over in Mexico.
The R4 was the first affordable, yet reliable, car in Colombia. Is it gratuitous to reflect that it hit the mainstream during a dark time for the country - unimaginably dark, from the perspective of an impeccably bougie gallery, converted from an old industrial unit, in an exceptionally beautiful and welcoming city?
Is it a leap too far to detect a sinister edge to Consuegra’s decision to blur the old photos: not to illegibility, but enough to cause confusion, or spark a sense of eeriness?
One mother - or grandma - hoists her child proudly onto the roof of a shiny white model, a placid blue sea, all rough waters blurred out of existence, behind. She seems to be smiling, but we can’t be sure.
In another maternal scene, a young mum leans out of the driving seat, proffering a placid baby in pure-white swaddling clothes. And there’s a young man - or maybe woman, the blur makes it impossible to tell - in a plunging v-neck and flares, leaning against their Renault, proudly possessive.
Consuegra culled the original versions of the photos from a celebratory press release from Renault back in 2004, and says he put them together to showcase “middle class lives of that moment, and their sense of ownership of a vehicle that developed a personality of its own”. The R4, after all, had become known in the country as el carro colombiano, a signifier of unity and progress.
So maybe that “sinister” or “eerie” feeling is actually the artist lending a sense of universality to a happy national moment?
Anyway, I didn’t know any of that backstory until I did some research of my own. Testament to Consuegra that his images have such force, without the context.
La Vuelta is at MAMM (Medellín). 5 December 2018 – 17 Feb 2019