Meet Cerveza Tupac, a delectable home-brewed beer crafted by the artist and arts professional Giuseppe de Bernardi. Hailing from Lima, Peru, de Bernardi has made his way to Southern California for a residency at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica in the month of April. He heads a non-profit artist residency program called Tupac Cultural Association, which has supported contemporary artists in Peru since 2001. This dynamic arts center offers studio space, has an international visiting artist residency program, and hosts multi-disciplinary art events throughout the year.
In a country where there is almost no opportunity to receive grants or state funding for contemporary art, de Bernardi developed the beer as a way to generate financial support for the artists at Tupac. Revenue from the beer sales goes directly to the center's numerous programs. But Cerveza Tupac is not only a product; it is also considered an on-going artwork that explores the idea of generating community. In contemporary art, this kind of concept falls under the genres of Relational Aesthetics and Social Practice.
There is a precedent for artists making food products as art. Argentine-born, Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija is known for his elaborate meals served in galleries and museum spaces, exploring the social relationships that emerge through collective activity. The Danish artist group Superflex worked in collaboration with a farmers' cooperative in the Brazilian Amazon to produce a version of the popular South American soda-like beverage guaraná outside of the sphere of multinational corporations' controlling interests in the region. L.A.-born and Mexico-based artist Eduardo Sarabia started distilling his own tequila brand as an artwork after relocating to the state of Jalisco, Mexico, the heart of all tequila and mezcal production. And locally, the art collective Fallen Fruit has been working since 2004 to investigate the uses of urban space, mapping out the city based on its existing trees that produce fruit falling in public areas for potential consumption. Communal jam-making sessions, nighttime neighborhood fruit tours and the production of limited editions of spirits infused with fruit off the streets of Los Angeles then followed.
Not unlike the projects above, all of which have been exhibited in formal art contexts, Cerveza Tupac has been the subject of gallery exhibitions in Lima. In one installation, billboard-sized ads come photomurals promoting the beer were displayed. One image showed a large group of artists gathered around a long table, all enjoying a glass of the frothy, cool beverage. Exploring art-making through the lens of commercial branding, a slogan reads, "The first beer in the world created to support contemporary art is Peruvian."
If beer advertising can be said to promote lifestyle, Cerveza Tupac markets community, artists, and the contemporary cultural scene in Peru. In addition, it provides a direct strategy for supporting the region's arts programming and functions as a platform for cultivating an agenda of contemporary art. The beer's consumers are thereby positioned not only as collective stakeholders in the body politic of Peru's cultural capital, but also as participants within the ethos of postmodern theory. As such, the artistic and social agency of Cerveza Tupac recalls the interest in the aesthetics of everyday life as defined in both Relational Aesthetics and Situationism, yet plays with the anti-consumerist and revolutionary principles associated with the latter movement. The beer's logo itself (and that of the arts center) pays homage to Peru's famed indigenous rebel leader Túpac Amaru II and is reminiscent of the iconic image of Marxist revolutionary and guerillero Che Guevara pervasive in popular culture.
The leftist ideologies within Peruvian socio-political history have also played a role in determining the current conditions in which de Bernardi has developed Cerveza Túpac's artistic posturing. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, the contemporary, cultural environment in Peru was held static under an oppressive atmosphere, contributed to in part by the presence of the Maoist guerrilla organization the Shining Path. For more than a decade, guerrilla warfare took place in rural areas of the country, and at times, escalated into attacks in Lima resulting in violence against civilians. As the group's activities declined in the two decades following the capture of its leader Abimael Gúzman in 1992, the cultural environment at large has opened up and the Peruvian art scene, centered almost exclusively in Lima, is finding a renewed sense of momentum.
While the generation of current mid-career and mature artists was subject to the constraints of the former period, younger artists are operating from a more open slate. New contemporary art galleries, such as Galería Revolver, are making their way to international art fairs. Mexican artist Yoshua Okon, who received his MFA from UCLA and was based in Los Angeles for many years, is an artist in their stable, along with Peruvian artists Ishmael Randall Weeks, Jose Carlos Martinat and Gilda Mantilla (who coincidentally was born in LA and was one of the artists representing Peru at the 50th Venice Biennial), and Argentine Matias Duville. In recent years, Lima has hosted a biennial public art exhibition called Centro Abierto that transforms downtown Lima through temporary public interventions and sculptures. Open to artists based in Latin America, the initiative has commissioned recognized and emerging contemporary artists from throughout the region to present transitory works in the spirit of the Münster Sculpture Project.
De Bernardi's Cerveza Tupac finds common ground in Los Angeles, where many artists are invested in the goals of Social Practice and are also finding ways to enact micro-economic development projects. With increasing frequency, L.A. artists are developing self-funding initiatives using new platforms of social media. Kickstarter, for example, is a progressively popular way to raise the relatively small, but critical funds needed for production costs. Projects that may very well be part of programming at an arts institution utilize these crowd funding strategies as an option in the face of limited organizational budgets. By inviting friends, family, and the arts community to invest in the realization of their work, artists are creating collective interest in their artistic ideas and goals.
Despite the fact that in Los Angeles the name Tupac might immediately conjure up an association with famed rapper Tupac Shakur, it is the Peruvian hero for which the California Love performer was named that is the emblem behind de Barnardi's brew. Túpac Amaru II, indigenous leader in colonial-era Peru, has historically been an important symbol for the struggle for independence and the rights of the proletariat. De Bernardi's aim is to address the needs of the artists and the creative community in Lima and to strategize a means of self-support for their endeavors. In the spirit of revolutionary leader Túpac Amaru II, de Bernardi and his collaborators seek for artists the most important freedom of all: independence.
Top Image: Giuseppe De Bernardi, "Cerveza Tupac: tactical social economy" (2011) at Revolver Gallery, Lima.
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