Estructuras, simulacros, 2006
0. Here is the scene: an unfinished boat made of scraps, of chairs cut with the ax. A fake adobe house, with large papier mache bricks made from yesterday's saved newspapers. A greenhouse of translucent plastic water bottles from recycling. Corrugated cardboard trees - a small papier-mâché forest, a brief rebirth. An iron wagon, a hybrid railway with a pure wagon or a design exercise with a quote from nineteenth-century industrialism in an improved version. Zero comfort and zero travel, as well as Progreso –the artist seems to say– is also, or always was, little more than an equation for zero.
Through the elements of this heterogeneous installation, Ishmael Randall-Weeks (IRW) inaugurates a tension between the reflection on the depletion of the world as a single resource and an allegory on what remains of the future at the hands of instrumental development. On the margins of his landscape and his plot, the silhouettes of a longing appear and also those of the memory of a childhood in the Andes (yes, the same Andean countryside that cannot be seen through the opaque prism of the logic of late capitalism) : an old memory of the future, in the post and pre-industrial contour, in irony as an ancillary virtue of recycling and, to that extent, a certain posthumous thing too, like that almost artificial grass that grows in the cracks of certain pieces of his, or in the deliberate resemblance between the unproductive factory and the abandonment of poverty itself, in its future backwardness and precariousness. Perhaps, the scene is in essence primordial, in the sense that it summarizes a series of intuitions and reflections of the artist. But also in the sense that it is the product of a certain shock or encounter, through which the artist has been decanting his own avatar in the continuity of his work.
1. In various ways, IRW's work always refers to the origins, or if you prefer, to the origins that begin to disappear behind a certain course towards which the planet is heading - and which is not always the best - and of the tangles of a certain contemporary complexity. That contemporaneity that the artist does not see as something always kind to the past (or at least not to all the pasts, or to all versions of history), nor perhaps to any plausible future. Undoubtedly, there is also something of this as a comment in his previous work, in which boats, boats and nets occupy a privileged place in his reflection. Some of them, however, also belong to a recurring image, which involves the sea and, more than the sea, perhaps the very idea of travel and travel, and what the sea itself has as a source of history for societies. .
In a way, in this perspective, a certain biblical halo also makes its appearance: something more or less present in the motif of the boats, in the proverbial walkable surface of the sea, or in the multiplication of fishing there implicit - when not in a certain tone redemptive with which IRW closely takes up certain themes about a dive into the depths of its own subjectivity, in its own personal becoming, and in the keys that go from the shadow of Ezekiel and Job, to Ishmael himself (the son of Hagar), as an inescapable allegory here. Not that IRW is an artist steeped in religion or messianism, but an artist attentive to the cultural crossover implied by the beliefs, customs and realities that have begun to tread on the heels of the global flattening.
But, on the other hand, it is above all in the use of recycling that is also involved a metaphor about an argument about the decline of the world, about its indiscriminate use as a resource and the place that large portions of its life occupy in that decline. population, out there under the marginalized sun. And perhaps that is why, here his quotes from the artisanal and old and gray industrialism also function as quotes from a more remote origin in the domestication and transformation of the elements, or as a quote about a time in its utopian and arcadian way, some day to recover.
Likewise, the historical profile of this work is in a way part of a peculiar tension that the mere material suggests, but does not exhaust, and that it is not in its mission to exhaust, perhaps because, deep down, it is inexhaustible through the twist that the metaphor itself impresses by indicating the wear and tear of that process, a process that for this purpose involves history and sensitivity.
2. It is a process in which wear is constantly alluded to in the use of recycling: a way in which the artist proceeds to multiply all symbolicity of the material and its formulation, in pieces that are always resolved and that build his meaning, despite the symbolic and material scraps of which they are made. Through this formal approach –a personal way of recovery and also a declaration of principle by the artist–, IRW re-elaborates its images of the collapse and contemporary redemption, with the materials that emerged from the waste of the globalized consumer culture. In this way, the waste thus acquires the place of a restitution and a reorientation of the material for the benefit of a redirection in history. Thus, for example, the plastic bottles of purified water that tourists leave on their way through the Andes are recovered and cut for the recreation of a greenhouse, a place designed to withstand changes and times. Hence, it is a piece that, in those precise coordinates, seems to want to symbolically stop the aforementioned wear and tear and the extreme use of resources, the same ones that in the elaboration of IRW's work always imply a look at the material itself as a point of encounter between history and its possible reformulation.
In a similar way, here the presence of nature is a ghost constantly alluded to in the recesses of his current work, occupying the space of reflection in a similar way to the escape routes that emerge from visionary science fiction stories. Paths that always imply utopian exits and rapid escapes from imbalance. An imbalance where nature is the alternative world and not integrated into instrumental development, and is, therefore, that desire that grows with the grass in pieces such as a Monument and in the scant green suspended in Invernadero.
But if both pieces synthesize the utopian yearning in the artist's gaze, the option to recycle and reuse what has been discarded in societies implies, in turn, a critical look at their transformations. Faced with this imbalance, plundering and the respective concentration of resources in only one end of the planet, the material carries in itself the symbolic charge of this entire process. His choice for corrugated cardboard, for example, as a symbolic restitution of the felling of large areas of forests on the planet, is part of a reflection in which wood and its derivatives still bear certain traces of their origin. In the same way that the pulp of the newspaper turned into the adobe of the construction and in the mantle made of the headbands with the dates of the daily press that seems to float like another network above the construction (Campamento no. 5), they are almost the announcement of a certain certainty in the irreducible essence of the elements, a kind of absolute whole, which does not dissolve and which remains beyond its transformation into parts.
At times it seems that the distant echo of the plot seems to be felt according to which, eventually one day, all nature will have to be replaced by artifice, be it genetic, electronic or plastic. But in its own way, IRW rebuilds that essential world linked to nature, in the same way that it returns the pulp of the paper to the count of the days spent under the ax of journalistic reading and in which it converts corrugated cardboard into virtual forest, in virtuous material effort of something that was ancestral, never completely lost.
3. In IRW this recycling is part of a discourse in which instrumental development bites its tail. Not something that is necessarily due to the green concerns about pollution and waste of the planet (although it is not necessarily distant either), but perhaps to a look in which the world is almost systemically trapped and condemned in its relationships and imbalances between its centers. and its peripheries.
The disenchantment at IRW is not, however, apocalyptic - or not quite. In fact, one of his major pieces, Cápsula, in which in a way he quotes a metal construction in a nineteenth-century design, is almost an irony about this limiting condition of global growth, and above all a look at its impossible escape route in a piece that, in a peculiar way, cannot be completely resolved between a time machine, a primitive railway and a carousel. And, seen in another way, the capsule in question is also an appointment of the average technology of a country like Peru, whose always endless travel in time, with its vast underprivileged sectors and in misery, still relies mostly on a elemental mechanical technology. At that level, the omnipresent image and the massive use of the wheelbarrow, the most widespread commercial and cargo transport vehicle among a former peasant population remade based on ambulatory commerce, is an unbeatable image of the subject, which illuminates an angle about of the same population with whose tools, waste and products the artist has made his work.
Balances y tensiones is the title of the piece made from a real wheelbarrow, almost ritually taken from scrap metal and rebuilt with large suspended river stones and a symbolic gestural lever. Through this piece, the artist re-elaborates a notion of balance and precariousness, a difficult harmony that, from his perspective, summarizes a mixed and heterogeneous life, the vivid product of an Andean and peasant experience in its insertion into the urban process. local. The explicit detail in the use of the stones from the Vilcanota River, located in the Sacred Valley of Cusco, aims to feed that balance with a specific symbolic weight, autobiographical on the one hand, but above all wanting to be historical on the other. A weight that, however, in certain cases is also a difficult weight to evaluate, since among the structures that IRW composes, it is always possible to read between the lines about the limits of this insertion and about the pragmatic coordinates that feed the aid resources and the inventiveness of a population whose recycling techniques the artist himself cites and observes in his work.
In terms of assemblages, part of IRW's work is the clear image of what are the edges of a culture of precariousness and waste that surrounds a culture like the current Peruvian. And from this perspective, a fundamental piece like Progreso, whose reading is manifest within the almost clearly abstract and forceful volume that it possesses, would almost seem to be lacking only the image of the local rickshaw, the dead weight of that cheap and wasted labor, and from his wheelbarrow, traversing the streets of a city waiting for his own, longed-for recycling. At a similar level, Campamento no. 5, with the truncated tips of its iron columns pointing skyward, is almost an allegory of the massive popular self-construction of contemporary Peru. A look at the abandonment and the impossibility of an always unfinished model, which has long erected a melancholic parallel with that of an unattainable local modernity or, if you prefer, constantly interrupted, a project that is always permanently unfinished.
4. Perhaps the balances and tensions of a work created on the edge of the two cultures that feed the artist's subjectivity are oriented to that horizon of melancholy. Growing up between the Andes of southern Peru and various North American cities where he received his higher education, the origin of IRW's work seems to rest on the idea of a constant metaphorization of the current critical conditions of the world and its history. From there, Isla de Pascua is the detained gaze of a limit in these conditions, in which the non-Western model lyrically resolves itself into a static rhythm of floating and suspense; an image whose reverse appears to be that of a collapse in the growth and expansion of a supposedly manifest Euro-North American destiny.
Almost taking this foundational idea to the extreme, in the mid-twentieth century, in his long essay "Call Me Ishmael", the American poet Charles Olson saw in Moby Dick and part of Melville's work a permanent need for a collective and personal search in American culture. A necessity that historically implied territorial expansion in the vast prairies at first and later in the Pacific seas; first in the spirit of vagrancy and personal discovery and in that of industrialization and growth involving an entire community later. In both cases –in Olson's gaze–, part of the construction of a democratic nation, blinded by an announced destiny or by a revelation in constant persecution, whose specific literary emblem is that elusive whale and a ship of abandoned and heterogeneous beings, somewhat unresolved in their impossible capture.
In the reflection promoted by IRW, perhaps it is clear that today the fetishes of this democratization and its instrumental contours, called modern, have found their own limit in the brutal concentration of resources at the world level and in their plundering at the planetary level. For IRW, emotionally and symbolically involved in Melville's own founding narrative - the direct origin of his first name is due to the main character of The White Whale - these are permanent themes on the agenda of his work and of his experience to both sides of that historical expansion of the West. In a way summarized in the general title of this exhibition, IRW's work alludes to this limit of contemporary experience and perception: a simple turn of fate (manifesto) whose crisis heralds problems in the lands of Utopia –or if you prefer , in what of utopian had an enlightened expansion project and its representational parallels. Starting from that reflective matrix, IRW's auscultation of the structures and symbolic materials of his work carries the announcement of a transformation, of which perhaps these pieces are the best snapshot of him. Imagined and constructed from the abandoned pieces of a specific history and society, they rise up upon themselves, like the projection of a constant illusion, here not even threatened by their own well-known failures. In those contours, in the silhouettes that emerge behind that illusion, you can see the marks of a longing past and in its shadows, the stubborn scenes of the future about to vanish.