The Portuguese artist Ricardo Gouveia, or Rigo 23, might be best known for his series of larger-than-life, one-way-sign-inspired murals, painted on buildings across San Francisco, where the artist has lived since the 1980s. For the better part of the last decade, however, Rigo 23 has produced a series of projects with underserved and underrepresented communities. The latest of these, Programa Espacial Autónomo InterGalactico (Autonomous InterGalactic Space Program), has just docked at REDCAT, CalArt’s theater and gallery space in downtown Los Angeles.
The culmination of more than three years of coordination and labor by Rigo 23 and artisans from Chiapas, Mexico, as well as members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), Programa Espacial represents a convergence of multiple worlds.1 When Rigo 23 met with the members of the Good Government Junta of Morelia, Chiapas, to propose a collaborative art project between himself and artists from the region, he asked, “What would happen if they got an invitation to attend an intergalactic meeting somewhere other than the Milky Way; how would they travel?”2 The junta members accepted this proposal but made it clear that the project was not a priority and would only be accomplished if he won the support of a local artist.
Because Programa Espacial is a collaborative project between an artist and various indigenous communities, and because those communities are under the jurisdiction of the EZLN, the exhibit brings up questions of commodification and appropriation, but these questions seem to have been of lesser interest to Rigo 23 than the question of positionality. The spiraling path a viewer takes through the exhibit evokes (within the limits of California’s fire code) the curve of a snail’s shell, creating interplay between a viewer’s sense of being sympathetically “inside” the EZLN looking out, or an outsider looking in.3