by Diógenes Ballester

Diógenes Ballester: Manifesto of an Arteologist


Any artist, in the process of creating art, is also a student and scholar of art, history and philosophy. An artist who takes this multiplicity of roles seriously might be called an “arteologist.” In this process, the arteologist is like an egregor or a griot, helping to ferment and mature the connections which in contemporary art are linked to cultural identity, historical meaning and spiritual transformation.

I like to call myself an “arteologist”.

I am an immigrant from Puerto Rico to the United States who has lived in Paris and other parts of the post-industrial metropolises of the Western world and developing industrial metropolises of the East. The stages of globalization I have encountered through these migrations have reconfigured my artistic language. It has become a language that speaks of fragmentation and the displacement of the emigrant, about a multicultural diaspora that is re-lived daily by millions of exiles, refugees and migrant workers, constantly mutating, multipolar individuals.

My work examines trans-Caribbean and transnational history in order to help locate and rebuild bridges to our past that can anchor us in our collective future. This process has shown me the need for a new mythology for the 21st century, and even suggests some possible outlines for that new mythology.

A globalized 21st century, multipolar mythology must be built on the collective mind of cross-cultural communication. The flows of energy and cultural memory that circulate in the world of the Caribbean, those syncretic processes of struggle and reaffirmation that connect all of us, the stream of sounds that we can derive from listening to ancient codes, could provide a model for the development of this new mythology.

I want to speak here of globalization, as the deployment of a system of production of symbols and material goods. The powers of symbolic production, religious, artistic, political and intellectual, continue to be subjected and integrated into the economic apparatus according to its own industrial and commercial criteria. One key way this interaction takes place is via the new media, which are predominantly used for economic power.

However, new media lets other voices co-create and transmit experiences to an audience beyond the physical space inhabited. The resulting cross-cultural fertilization afforded to those of us who function as arteologist allows us to not only create and deploy symbols of meaning, creativity, and imagination, but also challenges exclusions to the current dominant production of knowledge and reality.

An Arteologist’s Manifesto

The arteologist is like the new-born phoenix bird that saved the remains of the ancestors in a sacred place before beginning the journey into a new era. The arteologist meditates on reality by watching and listening to truth rooted in the past, present and future.

Artists always research and investigate their art forms. They formally or informally study their artistic concepts and aesthetic processes, including the content and the message they wish to convey.

The investigation of cultural remains can take various forms: experienced, observed or empirical. And while some of the less empirical methods are related to subjectivity, we know that empiricism itself has assumed or imposed a worldview.

Alongside the skills of an investigator, there is the creative and artistic aspect of the work. The conception of art and its product needs to enhance the stories told and be a part of its meaning.

The installation is not just an object. It includes all the energy that flows around the construction. It mobilizes, articulates, and takes different forms. Part of my creative process is experiencing feelings and sensing the energy passing through my mind, body, and spirit. While I am creating these installations, I connect with the fluidity and dynamics involved in the gesture of telling a story, the story of intercultural meaning related to the fundamental elements of life. I feel like my being is flowing; I perceive in and with the whole space. This kind of perception relates to the senses and is part of a vision that involves theory and praxis.

The objective is to translate into an aesthetic perception a dialectical vision that follows the breathing of our history.


One function of the arteologist is to discover, investigate, extrapolate meaning, and offer a reconfigured perspective on what has been left behind as artifacts. I hope that this presentation has given you a sense of my work as an arteologist.

I have been blessed as a Puerto Rican with a rich religious, cultural, political, and familial heritage. This heritage invites curiosity and investigation. These are the factors that interest me and through which I express my creativity. These are the memories embedded in these installation art projects.

My work attempts to apprehend, reconfigure, and re-contextualize my/our histories. It manifests as integrated altarpieces that depict layers of experiences and culture. These installations, like my quest, are offered not as a product but rather as a process. Deconstructing the threads of religion, history, art, culture, politics, and oral histories strengthens us as part of the chain of history. Becoming a link in that chain is as important as cutting the chains of slavery.