La desintegración de la forma
September 3, 2015
The 9.99 Gallery
Even at its inception and during its heyday in the mid-sixties and early seventies, conceptual art was difficult to define. No one knows who started it, which artist did what and when, what were his or her philosophy, goals and policies. None of those present remember much; each person has its own history and scholars and critics have been left to try to make head or tail out of the movement—among them, many who did not live through those times and did not witness those events. That is why American curator and art critic Lucy R. Lippard in her book Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972 tries to reconstruct that story—readily admitting not being able to rely much on her memory—to give us a context of the artistic era in which she lived. According to Lippard she concentrated her efforts to write “a critical memoir of a small group of young artists’ attempts to escape from the frame-and-pedestal syndrome in which art found itself by the mid-1960s.”
The artists in “La desintegración de la forma” have also looked for ways to express themselves by making art that need not be framed or put on a pedestal; their work is ephemeral, cheap, and unpretentious, where the idea is paramount while the material form is secondary. For example, Diana de Solares’s work made of iron and twisted wires, shoestrings, electrical cords, pieces of pottery and other found materials are veritable poetic tangles, or drawings in space as defined by the Venezuelan artist Gego (1912–1994). They rest directly on the floor or hang from the ceiling, casting dancing shadows on the wall. Rejecting the idea of highlighting the work by placing it on a base or pedestal Solares eliminates that invisible barrier that separates the art from the viewer, thus denying it a special status. The works of Edgar Orlaineta, also suspended from the ceiling like a Calder mobile, have the appearance of a three-dimensional puzzle with each element playing a vital role in the final composition. In contrast to Solares’s sculptures that deal with formal aspects, the materials employed by Orlaineta are selected based on the artist’s interest in the work of American graphic designer Alvin Lustig (1915-1955), and more specifically in the book covers that Lustic designed for the publishing house New Directions during the 1940s. Although you’d think that the focal part of the piece is the narrative contained in the book that is included in each of the works and whose title provides the name for the work (in this case A Season in Hell, from the series New Directions, 2015), what actually counts for Orlaineta is the modernist design of its cover with its harmonic composition, its emphasis on abstraction and complementary colors, and its minimal use of typography. It was this rigor that gave fame to Lustig, who believed that good design should permeate all aspects of a person’s life, an idea that persists until today in the belief that form is important in the functionality of design in general.
The graphic design of the magazine covers is barely glimpsed in the work of Christian Dietkus Lord who obscures them with a series of painted circular compositions based on the Zen practice of Ensō painting. This practice dictates that the circle should be drawn with a single stroke, which once made cannot be altered. The gesture highlights the character of its creator and the context of its creation in a short and contiguous period of time. Traditionally this type of painting is done in black ink on very thin white paper. In Northern Shell ( 2011) Dietkus Lord uses a variety of colors to draw concentric circles deliberately obscuring the text that reveals the magazines’ content, including Attitude, a magazine that specializes in articles about homosexuality as a way of life for a post-AIDS generation.
The irregular circles that appear in the Transparencies (2015) of Alfredo Ceibal have their origin in the craters of volcanoes and the lakes that form inside them. The artist defines these shapes as “abstract mantras,” and depending on the limpidness of the body of water, they can be defined as “benign pools” or “malignant pools.” They are also places that invite meditation for their altitude and geographical location, as well as for their exuberant and less contaminated nature that make us feel part of a cosmic whole and of a world at peace. Ceibal’s series of drawings entitled Dialogues (2015) represents vague human forms of communication. According to the artist they denote different types of conversations that take the form of “language, ritual, dance, music, literature, body language, and the gaze, to understand each other.” To Ceibal “the great value of dialogue can not be underestimated as it is the crucial component for communication and equality in human relations.”
Communication so important for the proper functioning of society is interrupted in the work of Ronny Hernández Salazar. Vol-can (2014) is a file cabinet with open drawers filled with sand. The accumulation has formed a heap of sand, in the form of a volcano, burying the papers supposed to be archived there. Vol-can is a metaphor for the lack of justice; it represents court cases that have been forgotten, suspended in time, waiting for a judgment that may never come. The fragility of life is reflected in El final de las palabras (The end of words, 2004) by David Sánchez in which air produced by a fan spreads marble dust over the floor forming a thin white layer upon which visitors leave foot track made while walking on it. With its continued air movement the fan erases them so that others can make them again. To record and to erase is an exercise that could be repeated ad infinitum where the human presence is evidenced on a marble dust canvas analogous to the tombstones that accompany the graves. Other artists in the exhibition are Diego Sagastume with images showing the moisture condition of the asphalt, a time-ravaged wall, and rust on a ventilation duct that reflects a sunset, and a cast concrete floor; Sebastián Preece with a photograph of a decomposed book that was part of an important library but its disappearing due to neglect and the passing of time; and Tepeu choc with a work made of sift mesh and colored threads, a work he describes as the X-ray of a sculpture. Forms of communication, pseudo-alphabets, font types, abstractions that overflow, fragile materials that disappear over time, these are some of the ongoing concerns of the artists in “La desintegración de la forma.”