Artist: Luis Roldán
A skull can be read as a ruin signifying the vanity of human existence, the inevitable transitory splendor of human life. Ruins are crumbles of our material world, abandoned fragments, hollowed out of the divine spirit that once animated them.
Images give us hope, that particular hope of accessing the world without limits. Images create a special bond with death, as if the birth of the image could both suppress and sustain life. Or even be exchanged for a life. The human skull, this faceless death mask, this skeletal residue with its empty stare that once animated a human face, is an image, an emblem, an allegorical representation of a history, a montage out of which is read, like a picture puzzle, the nature of human existence, its spirit. Yet it is also the figure of its greatest natural decay, the transformation of the body into corpse, and then, into dust.
But what is really remarkable of the skull as image is the effect it has on recognition. It looks like a figure with something missing; it is at once a body and its ghostly double. It is a cadaver, just as the French theorist Maurice Blanchot notes: “He is, I see this, perfectly like himself: he resembles himself. The cadaver is its own image”.
But all that isn’t so odd after all. Body and image are to resemble each other the same way a shape resembles its mold, emptiness resembles what surrounds it, or an observation or a thought translates into a painting or a sculpture.
Luis Roldán’s ever mutable urge to rescue ruinous objects from their fate by imposing upon them new destinies is, in truth, the task of all artists: that of embodying one’s observations. In the poem “Eidolon”, Walt Whitman suggests that the drive of human creativity is that of issuing eidola. In ancient Greek literature, an eidolon (plural: eidola) was an image, a double, a phantom, a ghostly apparition, a spirit-image of a living or dead person. For the Romans, the same type of spectrum was known as simulacra.
The gathered objects in Roldán’s new piece, Eidola, used to be hat molds. They were the volumes that shaped hollow felts into hats. They stood in the place of the head, like soulless wood brains —as the one Pinocchio must have had— constantly searching for another fragment to attach itself to, in pursuit of completeness.
Eidola is a legion of sculptures searching for idols and a band of paintings searching for corporeality. In other words, it’s an arrangement of elements that emphasize what is left of them, or, rather, what is missing. The sculptures and paintings organized in the exhibition space are fragments that invite us to continue completing, enlarging, augmenting, researching the myriad hypotheses that might justify their existence. But mostly, their purpose is to provoke our imagination, to make us creators of stories and narratives by suggesting an interplay between observation and materialization, surface and volume, void and being, possessions and desires.
Split surfaces, pieces in halves and fragments, invoke a certain fear that appears when we stand in front of an open body. It might be the fear not only of having to acknowledge the fragility of life, its brevity, but also the fear of probing and questioning the indivisibility of the human body. In Eidola, surfaces stop being the intangible frontier between interior and exterior. Roldán exposes the colorful fleshiness of the parts, and renders, as a visible residue, the delimitation among individuals. These objects are fragments, as we are also fragments, constantly searching for an other who, even if not exact, will complement us, shape us, and make us whole.
Again, it is not about the independence of parts, but how they come together. Striping down the surfaces, opening a gap, creating a tension between paintings and sculptures, doesn’t come from a preoccupation with dissection that seeks to rescue some essence. On the contrary—and this is just an intuition—Roldán grants some sheen to these objects, covering their surfaces with brightness and color, creating new bonds and points of contact that will, in return, renew our gaze over mundane things.
Eidola is a response to constraints and a seizing of opportunities. Despite the use of found objects, Roldán’s representation of the external world becomes a much more complex thing. He shakes objects loose from their attachments and bestows new meanings upon them. Meanings that point toward absolute acts of poetic intuition, producing a text written with our own words, yet one which appears suddenly from a place beyond language.
For despite these attempts of interpretation, Eidola will remain a mystery, a resilient friction. These artworks will resist analysis and interpretation; they will not offer relief or closure. We will not be able to dismantle the mystery, at least not until we cash-in on their stubborn materiality. We cannot tear the mystery into pieces. Art invites and resists interpretation. This is what constitutes art and this is how it reveals the extent of our world yet to be encountered.
In fact, there is nothing to comprehend. The pleasure that derives from these objects comes not only from the beauty with which they have been invested, but also from their essential quality of being present, surrounding us, staying with us, completing us. Here is a traffic and an economy of properties: the object hides its essence, the essence hides in the attributes, but the attributes render visible the object in a grammar of intuition and anticipation, and above all, in a grammar of the encounter.
Perhaps, in a broader sense, we all depend on the images and thoughts that others have produced, what others have encountered for us. We have no easy way of distinguishing a genuine thought from those that have been borrowed or suggested by others. However, it is our good fortune to be able to enjoy them once we encounter them. As it is our fortune to continue imagining alternative realities, meanings. Indeed, this is what a fragment calls for: to continue its creation, to invent its match, its double, to complete it.
Democritus did say that our attitudes and emotions give off eidola, but that they are too thin for us to detect them, except when we are asleep, as they enter our dreams.
Luis Roldán (Cali, Colombia, 1955) studied Art History at the École du Louvre (Paris), engraving at S.W. Hayter (Paris) and Architecture at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Bogotá, Colombia). He has exhibited extensively at institutions internationally. A selection of solo shows include: Expiación, Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño, Bogotá (2014); Presión y flujo, Galería Casas Reigner, Bogotá (2014); Mechanical Ventilation. Interactions with Willys de Castro and Other Voices, Henrique Faria, New York (2013 and 2011); Transparencias, Museum of Modern Art, Medellín (2011); Continua, Sicardi Gallery, Houston (2007); Acerca de las estructuras, Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, San José, Costa Rica (2006) and Permutantes, Sala Mendoza, Caracas (2005). Selected group shows include: the First Biennial of Cartagena, 2014; the Tenth Monterrey Biennial, 2012; the 53rd Venice Biennale, Latin America Pavilion, 2009; and Dibujos, Museum of Modern Art, Buenos Aires (2004). He has won numerous awards such as the Luis Caballero Award (Bogotá, 2001) and the National Award in Visual Arts (Colombia, 1996). His work is included in important collections such as Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Museo del Barrio and Deutsche Bank Collection, New York; FEMSA Collection, Monterrey; Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami and the Museums of Modern Art in Buenos Aires, Bogotá and Medellín. He lives and works both in New York City and Bogotá.