Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition

Curated by Nadim Samman

Marina Abramovic, Doug Aitken, Darren Almond, Aranda/Lasch, Julius von Bismark, Angela Bulloch, Los Carpinteros, Julian Charriere, Phil Collins, Constant Dullaart, Olafur Eliasson, Oscar Figueroa, John Gerrard, Kai Grehn, Noemie Goudal, Alex Hoda, Pierre Huyghe, Antti Laitinen, Lucia Madriz, Carsten Nicolai, Olaf Nicolai, Raymond Pettibon, Finnbogi Petursson, Lari Pittman, Jon Rafman, Andrew Ranville, Matthew Ritchie, Ed Ruscha, Hans Schabus, Chicks on Speed, Daniel Steegmann, Ryan Trecartin, Suzanne Treister, Chris Watson, Lawrence Wiener, Jana Winderen

 

Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy is pleased to announce a major new site-specific exhibition on Isla del Coco, 550 kilometres off the coast of Costa Rica. Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition engages the narrative and legal identity of Isla del Coco, contrasting historical legends of buried treasure with the island's real status a natural treasure worthy of protection. In so doing the project embelishes the 'treasure island' imaginary by interrogating models of spectatorship and property rights, while venturing the question 'How can an exhibition create its own legend?'

 

Content

An intervention on Isla del Coco - the paradigmatic 'treasure island': A vacuum sealed container containing numerous artworks by leading artists, buried at a secret location and left behind. This 'exhibition architecture' (a contemporary treasure chest) is a new commission by New York based architects Aranda/Lasch, designed to maintain the physical integrity of works (including works on paper, sculpture, LP vinyls, digital video and audio files) underground or below water to a depth of 6.7 kilometers.

The GPS coordinates (or 'map') of the exhibition location will be logged at the site of burial. These coordinates will then be digitally encrypted and the resulting data given a physical form - by the Dutch artist Constant Dullaart and his collaborator, German cryptographer Michael Wege.

This physical 'map' then will be sold at auction, encased within a second edition of the treasure chest, with proceeds dontated to the marine protection of Isla del Coco under the auspices of the ACMIC (Area de Conservation Marina Isla Del Coco). These funds will be specifically earmarked for a sustainable research and conservation project devised by TBA21-Academy in collaboration with our local partner FAICO (La Fundación Amigos de la Isla del Coco).

The buyer will take receipt of the 'map' without the decryption key, along with the chest.

 

Context

Isla del Coco is the historical source of many foundational legends relating to buried treasure. The best known of the treasure legends tied to the island is that of the Treasure of Lima: In 1820, with the army of José de San Martín approaching Lima, Viceroy José de la Serna entrusted the treasure from the city to British trader Captain William Thompson for safekeeping until the Spaniards could secure the country. Instead of waiting in the harbor as they were instructed Thompson and his crew killed the Viceroy's men and sailed to Cocos, where they buried the treasure. Shortly afterwards, they were apprehended by a Spanish warship. All of the crew bar Thompson and his first mate were executed for piracy. The two said they would show the Spaniards where they had hidden the treasure in return for their lives - but after landing on Cocos they escaped away into the forest.

Hundreds of attempts to find treasure on the island have failed. Several early expeditions were mounted on the basis of claims by a man named Keating, who was supposed to have befriended Thompson. On one trip, Keating was said to have retrieved gold and jewels from the treasure. Prussian adventurer August Gissler lived on the island for most of the period from 1889 until 1908, hunting the treasure with the small success of finding six gold coins.

 

Implications

An exhibition that might only ever be virtually accessed (through documentation, narrative etc.), but which could - in principle, though not without a great deal of effort and luck - be experienced/uncovered first hand: The real entombed within a virtual crypt(ography) and an actual buried treasure.

A challenge to the practice of ownership: Purchasing the (encrypted) map may afford the buyer a better chance of accessing the exhibition than other persons. However, it does not legally or practically guarantee their priority. Does it underwrite an ownership claim on the artworks contained in the box? Auctioning a digital file is also a challenge to the preeminence of the physical object in the art market.

The exhibition title Treasure of Lima highlights the maritime and colonial history of Central America. The original Treasure of Lima consisted of precious metals and artifacts requisitioned by the Spanish from their Central and South American dominions. Though 'stolen' from them by Thompson, their legitimate ownership of the trove is disputable. The project's concern with pseudo-ownership echoes this problematic history.

By adding a new treasure to Isla del Coco the regulations restricting human access to this protected area (on ecological grounds) are highlighted. The project challenges these regulations: In order for the exhibition to be experienced in real life (by the map holder or other 'treasure' seekers) access must be had. This will only be possible if the protection laws are abolished or if their enforcement fails. The recovery of the buried treasure (trash?) will then mark the loss of greater (natural) bounty. Perhaps this project represents an attempt to bury our hubris.

Burying a contemporary treasure on Isla del Coco is more than an incursion within a geographical location. It is an intervention within the narrative and legal construction of a place. Stories relating to historical events on Isla del Coco have developed into legend, inspired novels and genre fantasies for more than a century. If, as some argue, the Treasure of Lima was never buried on Isla del Coco then perhaps this project can breathe new life into the utopian function of treasure fantasies and secret knowledge.

The following questions guide our enterprise: How can a scheme for an exhibition add to this imaginary while interrogating and challenging models of spectatorship, audience, ownership etc.? How can it create its own legend?

 

Note

The 'treasure chest' is made of inert natural material that will not harm the environment that it is buried in. The burial will be supervised by a biologist proposed by the national park authorities - to ensure that we do not disturb native flora or fauna. \the location of which will remain absolutely secret.

May 28, 2014