Friday, April 10, 2009


Centro Cultural Recoleta
March 13-April 19, 2009

res' retrospective show at CCR evidences a strongly conceptual humanism, very much welcome after all the hypertheoretical (hypothetical?) photographic work now in fashion. Consistently, res packs a powerful punch in a crushed velvet glove, from series to series. The delayed impact of these works stems from our formal expectations and res' measured, thoughtful approach. His photographic acumen allows him to weave a subtle, uneasy spell over us. The photos confront in different ways; some hazy and oblique, others strike at the heart; still others are curiously unbearable; we feel an inner itch, a slight dizziness or malaise. Always, the powerful emotional resonance of these pictures is momentarily subsumed into res' inestimable aesthetic qualities.

Conatus, res' latest, reanimates several art-historical narratives, only within contemporary signifiers, thereby drawing both elements into alien spaces; these are lonely figures, cut off from the centuries that gave them birth, or modern lives trapped within sociopolitical repressions of the past -although they are of course not yet past. The larger-than-life Crista depicts a comely young woman languishing on the cross in place of the traditionally male representation of Jesus. This image challenges our preconceptions about spirituality on so many levels I don't know where to begin. The scale of the piece is daunting, but effective in wedding intellect to gut-level emotion. Another life-sized piece shows a young woman in a wedding dress in a barren, snow-covered landscape with a dynamite vest on and two more sticks in her hand. I read this as about the ineluctability of self, i.e. if it isn't expressed one way, it will emerge in another, more destructive way. While the signifiers are political, I see this as gender-based; although it's not clear if this is an Arabic woman, this could be an interesting tweak of suicide-bomber theories, in that this female suicide bomber may be [unconsciously] protesting against the social constraints of Islamic (or other) societies upon women, as well as oppression by the Western world.

In the series Donde Estan?, obviously deeply felt sentiments are conveyed by res' imagistic and conceptual sophistication. In contrast to the shocking photographs of the aftermath of the military dictatorships in Argentina, res opts for photos of the living, or of a tapir foetus in a jar of alcohol; this image, so disarming in its vulnerability and scale (the actual foetus is about 5cm high) is a stand-in for the victims of the military. It reoccurs in different ways, an icon of the disappeared that won't disappear. Nighttime is another icon, revealing ghostlike images of people under uncompleted highways holding photos, a picture of a youth, suspended among buildings, haunting remnants of times past in obscure, unclear vistas; which speak to our interior lanscapes too.

It's this sensitivity that allows him to retrace the steps of historic Argentine military campaigns against the Indios (NECAH/1879) and record the shabby, mediocre results of that conquest (in a series of then/now photos of the same sites as were photographed by Antonio Pozzo in 1879) without straying into the stridently political; this is a human issue, the pictures seem to say, and the loss is our loss - as well as "theirs." In Cementerio de Choele Choel, an almost unwilling elegiac quality slips out from the image of barren ground with regularly spaced burial mounds and a solitary, workmanlike cross at the edge, commemorating the unmarked graves. It could be viewed as an abstract composition, but it's just that considered remove that draws you back to the emotional content. Again, res shows his talent.

The final section of NECAH/1879 consists of individual cutout letters photographed while suspended in front of the Argentine landscapes conquered by Gen. Roca, the letters (in the course of 24 framed photos) spell out the words, "No entregar Carhue al Huinca," or in English, "Don't surrender Carhue to the white men." The photos are amazing for their temporal qualities, for their suggestion of an almost alien future superimposed on time-worn, sunbaked fields and roads, the overall effect one of timelessness-the very timelessness that allows Calfucura even now to speak through res.

There is something quite plaintive and unguarded about the people portrayed in Intervalos Intermitentes, in marked contrast to contemporary art photography in North America and Europe, where the theory is that blank expressionless faces reveal the most truth (?). In contrast, res wishes to find the more engaged and vulnerable part of people; in fact the people often seem to be looking at us quizzically, wondering who we are, why we're there, what we think about them. They are photographed at two points in time, in some cases before and after a defining event: for a boxer, a match; for a surgeon, an operation. The surgeon looks more alive, more aware, after the operation; the boxer too, after his fight. In fact all the subjects look more alive, engaged, with the passage of time, not less. Life, as arduous as it may be, enlivens them, enriches and challenges them in essential ways; we see the inexpressible, time, made flesh.

The same magic attaches to the diptych El Aborto... un Sacramento, with the graffiti-splattered Catedral De Bs. As. on the left, and an arrangement of abstracted strips of color from the photo, on the right: an artistic prayer or visualization over an unyielding institution, for a more humane, more permeable, plastic version; and a more joyous, pacific revolution. Or we simply switch our membership to a new church, the church of sight. res might say that we transform our world by sight, that when everyone sees things differently, they change. And of couse, he wouldn't be the first.

It becomes sublime with Yo-Cactus: to be confronted with res' images of himself (or un-self) morphing into a cactus plant is to witness an almost blissful, surrendered at-one-ment with nature. This is an artist at the peak of his powers, secure enough to find strength within utter simplicity.

From the visual opulence of Planta Vestida to the plangent fun of Plastiquitos, or the curious update on Richter there is plenty more to see and to talk about, but I will leave that to you, with the assurance that res is one of the finest young artists working in South America, more surprising given that he is a photographer; it's difficult to find such good work in photography, especially now. res' work deserves a look, and you deserve to see it.

Nick Thabit
Bs.As. April 2009

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