'The stones are alive', Karina Skvirsky

Artist: Karina Skvirsky

Dates: February 12th 2022 to March 26th 2022

Digital Catalogue3D Exhibition




Artist: Karina Skvirsky


The second show to kick off the Ponce+Robles gallery’s exhibition project is by Karina Svirsky, an American artist with Afro-Ecuadorian roots. The gallery’s project, entitled Centro de Conexión Permanente (Centre for Permanent Connection), will run through 2022 and 2023 and its central, vertebral element is the role played by gallery spaces in today’s digitised and globalised world. In the words of Mariano Navarro, this role is characterised by “its communicative capacity, the possibilities it enables, connecting both people and ideas, with the specific pretension that from this skein of different and differentiated synapses emerges a denser and richer aesthetic, visual and social discourse than would otherwise emerge from the almost outdated, mere temporary presentation of artists’ works.”

In this case, the connection occurs between the gallery space and a Biennial, specifically the Biennial of Cuenca (Ecuador). Through the connection, Karina Skvirsky’s project “Sacred Geometry” is presented at the gallery in 2019, and is subsequently taken to ARCO Madrid and FRIEZE New York. The work attracts the attention of the Biennial’s curator, Blanca de la Torre, who selects Skvirsky to present her video work “How to Build a Wall and Other Ruins” (2021), which is a further development of “Sacred Geometry”, and which in 2022 returns to the Ponce+Robles space in its latest expansion: the “Rumi” (stone) series.


According to the text written by Blanca de la Torre for the Biennial, “the installation and video presented in Cuenca propose a para-fiction around the engineering feats achieved by Inka architecture in Ingapirca, Ecuador. Karina reimagines the labour, carried out by women, and dedicates her project to constructing an extended work in which expert theories are embodied, thus highlighting the contribution that Inka technology can make to our expertise today and demonstrating what it means to place indigenous knowledge in the foreground. In the video installation, engineers, anthropologists and historians of the pre-Columbian world are interviewed about their theories on how the Inkas built the walls of Ingapirca. The installation follows the structure of YouTube ‘how-to’ videos. The artist overlays various theories on construction techniques, exploring the legacy of indigenous knowledge in the communities and proposing fantastical gender roles in their history. The interviews are juxtaposed with a video performance in which the artist herself, together with a brigade of Ecuadorian women from Ingapirca, actuates the experts’ divergent theories by building a wall in the Ecuadorian province of Cañari using recycled materials (cardboard boxes upholstered with plastic bags).

The Ponce+Robles gallery presents Karina Svirsky’s “Rumi” (stones) series, in communication with the wall as the main element that serves to articulate the artist’s vision.

The perspective from which Svirsky approaches her discourse is based on Carolyn Dean’s work, “The Culture of Stone”, in which Dean writes about the significance of stone in Inka culture. Stones were considered sacred stand-ins for deities, individuals or the past. As the Inkans expanded their empire northwards, they stopped in what is known today as Ecuador. There, they found the Cañari, an indigenous group native to the area. With Cañari labour they built Ingapirca, the most important Inka archaeological site in Ecuador. Like Machu Picchu, the site is made up of carefully carved stones positioned snugly next to one another without the use of mortar.

Over the past three years, Skvirsky has photographed Inka stones at Ingapirca with a large-format camera. Her repeated visits to Ingapirca led to many conversations with local residents from the Cañar province. It is striking how they speak of their indigenous roots. They view the Inkans as colonisers who enslaved them and invaded their lands for 70 years. Instead, they identify with their Cañari ancestry.


Rumi builds upon this research and these conversations, using photographs to explore the relationship between the Inka and the Cañari. The archeological record shows that, while the Inka imposed their culture and architecture on the Cañari and other indigenous groups, they also co-existed with them. Inka structures sit side-by-side with Cañari ones. While the relationship was not a partnership and the Inka expansion did involve violence, it did not result in the genocide of indigenous peoples in the way that the Spanish conquest did.


In this recently-completed series of collages, Skvirsky juxtaposes Cañari stones, organic in shape, with Inka carved stones in playful geometric compositions. The colour blocks in her collages are juxtaposed with the textura and realism of the cut-out photographs of the stones, suggesting through abstraction the tension between the two cultures and the complexities of how their history is perceived.