To move from reading to criticism is to change desires; it is no longer to desire the work but to desire one’s own language.
– R. Barthes
We are living at a time when the exhaustion of resources within the visual arts constitutes an aesthetic era, a temporal plane whose lucidity is found just within the knowledge of that exhaustion. It’s a severe judgment but no less relevant and seductive if we understand the reflexive determination and the historic function of self criticism as a device exercised over art. Consummating the inheritance of the episteme of modern art, that is to say beyond the methodological disposition of art as its own critic, what takes shape today can be described as the insurmountable experience of material and conceptual exhaustion in visual arts. More than ever, the work of art feels the impotence of its own political exploration, although this is where it can demonstrate its most radical density, its most ruthless consciousness of the end. What I want to express here is that the philosophical experience of exhaustion of resources is the sign of an era, a diagnosis that can partially define some contemporary artistic practices.
The reflexive potential that can connect art with this aesthetic dimension of exhaustion isn’t a relationship expressed exclusively on a thematic level but, above all, it should be written on the level of material and conceptual proceedings. In many ways, works of art are not, as Adorno pointed to, a thematic apperception test of the artist. On the contrary, they are practices in which the dimension of artistic language is configured as a political space of sensitivity. It’s an exercise in which resources appear under the sign of certain alterations of virtue, which produces a formal and conceptual problem. Under these coordinates of reflection, I would like to analyze how consciousness about contemporary art can be expressed under the figure of depletion in the artistic practices of young Chileans: painter Adolfo Bimer and sculptor Sofía de Grenade. Both artists investigate new resources in which the human body and nature are critically included through the deconstruction of painting as much as sculpture.
The artistic work of Sofía de Grenade can be described as a strategy fundamentally based in the critical desublimation of sculpture’s bases. Her pieces work directly with nature and are always staged from minimalist predecessors. However, all of the objects she composes hold a political relationship with the spatial, social and economic conditions from which they are extracted. In that sense, exhaustion is incorporated as an object and territorial forerunner. In the aesthetic condition of the object, she subsumes the relationship of exploitation faced by nature and the different industrial systems that sustain human existence.
Sofía de Grenade: The material condition of the works and the precedence of the materials I work with are inextricably linked to the land. You could call this a methodology, but the truth is that everything constitutes a constant process of recognition and searching in the landscape. Moreover, I’ve always had a doubt with respect to industrial materials because there’s something in them we have denied. I’m interested in being able to manipulate industrial material on a manual scale, misusing it to create an appropriation. I’m currently working more than anything with the chemical-industrial impact on the landscape, especially relating to the sale and commercialization of Chile’s natural resources.
César Vargas: Your work suggests sensitivity for exhaustion, but from the perspective of the land and how exploitation organizes the way we relate to nature. In fact, this can be seen through a perhaps apocalyptic character in your study of the natural landscape.
SGD: Yes, it could be seen that way. Lately my work has been directed toward the earth, with projects centered on fieldwork that contemplates photographic documentation, the collection of objects, installation, and graphic publications that represent the process and create new possibilities for dissemination of the work.
Currently, my projects relate specifically to places affected by the overexploitation of the agriculture industry, privatization, and the robbery of natural resources in Chile and Latin America. The field of research is an open reflection about different conceptions of chemistry and its repercussions in the construction of the material and symbolic landscape in Latin America. On one hand, visible chemistry (in this case, agrochemicals) that affects, destroys, and reconfigures logic and living in places, and, on the other hand, the invisible chemistry of time: the natural deterioration of things outside and the layers of time contained in the soil that sustains them.
CV: In your proposals there is a disassociation between formal order and political weight hidden in your object based pieces. So I have the idea that your processes develop a tendency for abstraction but an abstraction of materialist character, an inclination for subverting the content to benefit the form, sacrificing the politics of the discourse for the political in the resources. What do you think about this reading? Do you think that the horizon of abstraction, that is to say abstraction as a political form proceeding from resources, is an important aspect of your proposals?
SGD: For me, approaching the term abstraction through work with industrial or post-industrial phenomena has to do with, from the first moment, isolating a property of the object, in this case its function. This primary act of using an object or material toward an end other than what it was designed for is, in and of itself, an operation of abstraction. What interest me personally is looking for a neutral grade in the object, understanding something in neutrality that is beyond certain categories, that is to say, a prevalence of ambiguity over category.
I try to approach the political under the same parameter. For example, in my work called La gran salina I confronted the theme of selling and robbery of water resources in a country like Chile, or the devastation of the soil caused by agrochemicals. Truthfully, I’m not interested in giving my opinion or creating a political discourse about the future. For me what’s truly political is to rethink the past and situate it in the present. If you excavate the soil on Chilean territory, what appears is an infinity of layers where violence has been systematically exercised against subjects and against the land during centuries in this place where I’m interested in working. The act of collecting PVC pipes that were originally water ducts for an abandoned agricultural plot for over three years is related to the drought, with untangling functions, untangling productivity in a place where one resource was already tapped out. To bring it to the present as an object stripped of its function is a profoundly abstract act.
Much more innocence would be required in order to ignore the strategic condition of diagnosing exhaustion, with which we’ve identified the general character of our discussion. Now, in the case of Adolfo Bimer’s work, the factor of exhaustion is also introduced through a critical and deconstructive perspective with respect to the traditional form of painting. At a material level and also as a conceptual register, his artistic practice can be thought of under a post-pictorial industrial regime in which narrative value, perspective, drawing, and everything about painting as an element of representation is dismissed. Bimer confronts the demise of painting through a new way of understanding the pictorial act, an extension of the materials that carry proposals for representation to the vascular and cellular territory of bodies. In this emergence of new resources and the exhaustion to which they are subject, a singular productive and political pictorial synthesis is shaped —a plane of reflection.
Adolfo Bimer: I see an importance in the fact that industrial and construction materials haven’t been created for the realization of works of art. I perceive a type of democratization of the resources that seems to me to be important in order to think about artistic practice. My work seeks to establish parallels between the use of industrial material related to systems of medical visualization, and in chemical and visual reactions that arise from this interaction. The material resources used for the construction of partitions or a wall become, in some way, metaphoric of the skin and out interior/exterior. It adjusts to a comprehension of art as the construction of a body through layers. For example, 254: Cortes is a series of works that have been realized with a Mexican thermal insulation material submitted to heat that alters its composition and form. Because of fragility, texture and color, they create a parallel with histological pieces of cellular fabric and artificial leather developed in laboratories. The industrial is once again close to organic through the act of fatiguing the same material.
CV: I think there’s also a type of aesthetic-political process or tendency through abstraction in your work, an inclination to deconstruct the elements of control exercised through medicine in the construction of the image of the body. How do you see this relationship between social body, abstraction, and the medical register?
AB: In many cases the medical references do have a tendency for the abstract. Even though we recognize and understand them, they are images that our eye isn’t designed to be able to see. Many of them are simply data organized under certain parameters so that they generate an image that we can recognize, like, for example, a head in a brain scanner. That is the case with the works 257/260, where I worked with the radiology team from Cleveland Metro Hospital to access brain scans of people who were shot in the head because of gang conflicts. The violence of this act looks neutralized because of the cropping, which coincides with the principle of pareidolia, with a type of caricature portrait. The abstraction is in the distance that’s produced with respect to the observed image. The importance is placed in how to conserve the conflict without displaying it directly, to amplify the realm of perception.
CV: I see a very dim relationship at the level of process that your work 257/260 and the work La gran salina by Sofía de Grenade can be part of. What can you tell me about this relationship at a level of the politics of resources?
AB: Of course there is a connection with Sofía’s work because she refers to exhaustion from a political and economic perspective of natural resources. For my part, the work confronts another kind of exhaustion but it is directly related. It’s the exhaustion that is demonstrated by medicine, the lack of human life for it to maintain its current practice. This looks provoked by our effect on the landscape (it has already happened on a partial scale), for example, how a sickness is born from the extinction of resources in an area. Even though in the case of the brain scans there is a difference because it isn’t a sickness but a social consequence that brought about death. The territory here is the separation of shared living spaces by gangs.
CV: Allow me to get a little deeper into the theme of medicine. In this case biology has to do with a conceptual form of expanding the limits of painting, procedures that alter the same function as the form of painting. I want us to shine some light on this process of arriving to the abstraction of the human body, how painting functions from the figurative to the level of abstraction to arrive at another level in which something like an organ or a simple human form isn’t recognizable.
AB: On the first level you could say that the notion of figuration of a microscopic image can seem lost, because in general they are paradoxical images that tend toward abstraction despite their being concrete. The image is a phenomenon of translation. Another level of abstraction is that of flow as the predecessor of what happens in the frame. I have the idea that art is a continuous negotiation between the intentions of the artist and external conditioning factors. In paintings you can clearly see where the pools of paint followed the inclination of the floor, gravity, temperature, etc. Chemical and physical relationships determine the results of the image. I can’t dominate the materials and painting emerges as the testimony to that relationship. It’s the same relationship with control that the medical image establishes to try to dominate the human being on a cellular level, versus the internal reality of the body, which is presented as control and being out of control in my work at the time of painting.
CV: Your way of acting within painting has to do with the experimentation of an organic model of flows, so that the painting is in permanent movement and doesn’t appear like a reproduction.
AB: It’s important that you point to the fact that I produce paintings that change with time. Its something I’ve had to learn to accept rather than control. It seems more interesting to me to accept the fragility of the material as artistic practice. To be capable of perceiving the passage of time is linked to the idea of the body in constant variation. Like Sofía said before, it’s the invisible chemistry of time. How do you relate to a painting that will change its color or texture in 30 years? The color of a boy’s blood isn’t the same as that of an old man. They are things that change —skin color, teeth— it’s the passage of time. It’s assuming the temporality of being subject to our bodies. That long-term temporality will also appear in the short term while the painting is being made. The image changes in front of me and there’s nothing I can do about it. Control in the work would fail. The only thing left to do in a pictorial practice is to be vigilant: to observe and accept.
Without a doubt the problem of exhaustion as a horizon reflected by artistic practices can’t be understood as a theoretic declaration about the self of the artist. Very much to the contrary, this concept refers more to a state of reflection in which the aesthetic procedure in the work nakedly displays the consciousness of the same resources. We have tried to make evident how the stated exhaustion coefficient operates in the visual practices of Sofía de Grenade and Adolfo Bimer. The concrete space of this definition doesn’t suppose any transcendental ambition with respect to the totality of art, but a category susceptible to being articulated in the development of the same practices that it serves and about which it’s possible to think. A fundamental part of the diagnosis about the extension of resources, and the expansion that demands this consciousness of exhaustion, is that we are predisposed to understand that we are facing a temporal material and subjective phenomenon. It’s a way to think about how the consciousness of exhaustion is presented as a way to enter into a philosophical way of comprehending history and contemporary art criticism. It’s a scenario that marries the displacement of limits with the configuration of new productive syntheses of materials and resources.