Víctor Palacios

 

A sort of fantastic chronicle between the studio and exhibition hall.

According to Wikipedia, when the monarchists returned to power, the body of Oliver Cromwell was disinterred, hung in chains and beheaded. The head, it is said, was placed on view for years for public ridicule. It is impossible to say whether David Hume or Thomas Carlyle is right about the political life of Cromwell. Whether a regicide or republican hero, he reminds me of Fernando García Correa. Not because of any specific biographical detail or personal similarity. Though there is an undeniable physical resemblance, this is not the reason for my claim. What brings them together is the well known phrase spoken by the founder of the Commonwealth of England in the 17th century: “No one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going.”

In the evolution of the artistic practice that gives rise to this publication there are no goals on the horizon that announce the completion of a trajectory or the endpoint of a visual research. García Correa and Cromwell meet on the same path. The latter asks: what are all these things produced over the career of the former? Why have some of them been brought together in a circular room with a parquet floor? What is the speed of this exhibition? The first remains silent, before answering with another question: can you see the political dimension to my work? The second approaches a canvas and gazes at it intently, then steps back and closes his eyes. One of the Suculentas has settled, like a royal crown, on the least damaged part of his holed and malodorous skull. He is invaded by violent moments, he sways on a sea of doubt like a pirate in a trance. For now it is clear he will not answer the first. Fortunately other visitors can be seen arriving in the distance…

But let us keep in mind the questions of the murderous hero. The first of these in particular might offer a clue for opening up a field of discussion or, to put it better, of necessary identification. Ever since I first visited Fernando’s studio (if we may set aside the formality of surnames) I was aware of the complex task ahead. The verb “to procrastinate” resonated constantly in the space, as my host expanded on the lists of works, series, techniques, supports, dimensions and, above all, of dates that contradicted each other, that ended and started over at whim despite the minute order with which this whole universe had been classified. It was revealing to note how this chronological confusion brought a human touch to everything, when there seemed to be no space for such a thing. Somehow or other, the Gordian knot created by this temporal discordance began to loosen with the appearance of some alcohol, and the possibility of a dialogue opened up that set aside the tedious pragmatism of curating, allowing issues of shared interest to merge into the work at hand. This meeting took place in the days running up to an election, and the media and Facebook had stirred up our political spirits. A mutual outpouring of frustration at such ambidextrous stupidity proved to be a therapeutic balsam.

Following a number of studio visits with similar outcomes it became clear that Fernando works in a spiral fashion. Irregular spirals like those created by a streamer when a child blows at it without insufficient strength to make it unfurl with a single breath. The lines of investigation generated by his work come and go, appearing and disappearing with slight variations and at haphazard intervals. Although it would be absurd to deny there was a starting point, this would seem to have developed in a fragmented, concurrent fashion following Emplazamientos, the title of his individual exhibition at the Carrillo Gil Museum, held in summer 1996. The group of works shown there included the notable paintings Guías and División del norte, produced that same year. To a large extent, these two synthesize the geometrical and organic languages the artist has concerned himself with ever since. Repetition and seriality would become key to his practice, while in parallel an ambivalence between gestural work and abstraction defined his field of action. In an intermittent fashion, these latter are present in different lines of inquiry that give rise to his very extensive body of work. Yet the challenge of encompassing this in a retrospective exhibition is not a problem of quantity, but rather of a misleading homogeneity. In reality, the artist’s output is highly heterogeneous, and only shares a particular rhythm and certain indicators that betray common processes where corruption is procured. As a result, the task of reviewing, observing and distributing all of this into boxes intended to give a preliminary structure to the exhibition was a resounding failure. It was necessary to reverse the strategy and, instead of trying to embrace everything, to patiently study what in forensics is known as significant sensitive material.[1]

Back in the exhibition hall, a steward prevents Fernando from starting his tour of the works from the left. This is not a political imposition. According to this man, condemned to provide security for the art objects that fill the chilly museum halls, the show cannot be seen in reverse. The open circle is a mirage. However, while the steward is occupied with whom he assumes is just another visitor and not the Artist Himself, I slip inside and head in the prohibited direction. The hall opens up once more, surrounding me almost immediately. This time, the viewers include a woman who is staring intently at the drawing 120130GR2 (2003). Just a few centimeters separate the work and her body. Her gaze seems to pass over and react to each line, each junction and her body seems to sway in tandem with the undulations of the grid traced out in graphite. It might be said there was a strange, latent connection between the woman and the work. Immersed in my role as detective, in search of that significant sensitive material I decided to move closer, perhaps with the excuse of examining the label – only to find there were none in the exhibition. I would have to find another reason to approach… but just as I was working out how to, the woman began to speak in a low voice, but clearly enough for me to hear her from a couple of meters away. The voice said:

The formats I use are square, but the grids are never exactly square; they are rectangles that are just off-square, and thereby produce a kind of contradiction, a dissonance that I did not decide upon. When I cover the surface of the square with rectangles, this lightens the weight of the square and destroys its power.[2]

As if this were not ABSTRACT enough, the voice went on to exclaim:

And the angel said: what are we going to do with these humans, they all want the same thing but they also want this thing to change?

And God said: resolve it like this. Everything stays the same and everything changes. The world, in reality, is comprised of opposites.[3]

Leaving aside this Zen-like dialogue and the echo it generates with the unquestionable mystical bent of Fernando’s work, I focused my attention on the first remark. The frank testimony of this woman with regard to her own drawing. I chose to imitate this way of looking at one of the works on display, from just a few centimeters away. In this case, 5050COCH1 (2003). I started with something that I guessed might be the center of the work. Then I chose a line and tried to follow it from east to west. After a couple of seconds, it turned out that my eyes were unfit for the task. One line after another got in the way, making this apparently simple optical task impossible. My gaze took refuge in the blank spaces created by the oscillation of the lines. The color, intense and radiant as it is, offered a sense of calm to the gaze, and held it on its surface. Despite the vertiginous movement of the lines against the piece, I could isolate myself from the rest of the exhibition and its rhythm. Thus isolated, I recalled the name of a town, but failed to locate it on the political globe I was holding. This impossibility led me to think about the cause of the fire that in 1934 destroyed almost all the artworks produced by Julius Bissier before he had reached the age of 42. It seems that the German artist, far from regretting the loss of his work, took advantage of the catastrophe to make a major about-turn in his aesthetic concerns, and focus his efforts on producing small-format China ink wash and tempera works. Bissier, who is seen as a solitary mystic, was the first reference Fernando provided me with in order to understand the origins of his art. Still stuck in this monochromatic swamp, close to the purest Mexico pink, I heard a boxing-ring bell sound with terrifying clarity. It rang twice with its customary sound (ding-ding-ding) but once again it was impossible to work out if it was the start of a round or the end of a fight. I decided on the latter; in any case I felt my eyes were tired, and the guided visit of the exhibition still lay ahead. What could I say about a show when its very spirit rejects this pathetic exercise in education, pedagogy, communication or whatever you want to call it?

One option was the following:

Ladies and Gentlemen (there were no children present, being a visit for the museum staff and volunteers): the artistic practice of Fernando García Correa is ABNORMAL and that is why it is now on show in this Organicist temple of modern and contemporary art. Why is it abnormal? I answer the question myself, faced with the silence of the respectful audience… the reason for this adjective lies in the singularity of the work in the context within which it evolved, its response to the dense tradition of abstract art at both a local and international level, and its effort to avoid the precocious, rhetorical onanism of conceptual painting. Instead, it seeks to ask new questions about the role of art, abstraction, accident and eroticism in contemporary society, through work that places experimentation before formulae and a practice based on the diversity of artistic disciplines and techniques, though not on the profits to be made from praising and defending some of them to the hilt. To an extent, García Correa works in the manner of an artisan who trusts in the skill he has acquired over years of work, and the poetic intuition inherent in all such labor that produces objects, artifacts or things. Whether that be a fork or an altarpiece. A ring, a dress, a piano, a painting. Any resemblance to the Pre-Raphaelites and/or William Morris is no coincidence. What is on show in this hall is, to a large extent, a reflection of the work ethic cultivated by García Correa. I don’t mean the artistic work alone, but his own vision of his work, as a fascinating human activity that defines our existence. By way of a virtual parenthesis, the following extract from Michel Houellebecq’s novel The Map and the Territory appears:

“Yet Fourier’s real subject, the one that interests him above all else, isn’t sex, but the organization of production. The big question he asks is: Why does man work? What makes him occupy a determined place in the social organization and agree to stay there and carry out his task? […] Well before the appearance of capitalism, scientific research and technical progress had taken place [and] people worked hard, without being pushed by the lure of profit…”[4]

Does anyone have any questions?

Nothing, no one. Fine, I thought, we can get this Calvary over with all the sooner. The theory and practice of the guided visit is one of the most perverse and negative impediments developed and perfected by the culture industry over the 20th and 21st centuries. In brief, the visit draws a direct parallel with that most abominable aspect of the culture industry: tourism.

To return to the monologue, I continue: the abstract work of García Correa displays interesting connections with some of the questions set out or recalled by Sven Lütticken in his eloquent essay Living with Abstraction,[5] in which the art critic and historian sets out a number of ideas of the philosopher Vilém FLusser concerning the development of abstraction: “Throughout history, abstraction has been a movement away from objects and towards information.”[6] In general terms, according to Lütticken, Flusser tells us about the current dominance of programing (coded images) over traditional representation. As such “to abstract can no longer mean to abstract non-things from things, but rather to abstract Sachen from abstraction. A Sache is not some seemingly self-evident physical object, but a matter of convention, of social agreement or dissent.”[7] Is that clear? Nothing could be clearer.

Fernando cultivates – in the literal sense of the word – a degree of abstraction that is intimately connected to this brilliant analysis. It has been a revelation to hear, since the exhibition opened, comments from non-specialists that specifically highlight the importance of information in the work. The object as reference point has vanished, but the connection with this infinite everyday realm of information has gone under the magnifying glass and has multiplied exponentially. Corruption then appears in a NATURAL manner. But to go back to abstraction, I clearly remember how this became clear one morning when together with A, F and Y we went to examine and document a group of works we wanted to include in the exhibition. This group forms part of the collection of a financier – a man of feeling – who has chosen to decorate (this word is not meant to be pejorative) his offices with work by the famous artist. Within these offices the atmosphere was tense, suggesting a collapse in the stock market due to a new corruption scandal involving the European Union and rebounding on Washington and Beijing. Nothing of the sort. The day before, a Sunday, the offices had been robbed. The thieves got past security and had penetrated as far as the nerve center of operations. So far, the unofficial investigation indicated that they had “only” stolen INFORMATION. Faced with this scenario, Fernando’s work remained calm and seemed to focus on the movements of the Dow Jones and the weak IBEX 35, in order to respond to these with the expected precision. A revealing connection appeared between these contemporary works and the portraits of those at the helm of the Dutch mercantile companies in the 17th century. What significant sensitive material emerged from this crime?

Returning to FCG’s practice, the paths this follows seem to be stable and congruent only if we make room for a type of organic and geometric abstraction that, it is true, comprises the greater part of his output. However, if we expand the horizon to take in a 360-degree panorama, the diversity of the work emerges and we see that Fernando is not solely an abstract artist. Paintings like Hipo de conejo (2008), Piel de elefante (2010), Las moscas (2009) and other works and series explode onto the scene, unbalancing the stable image. Room is found for gesture among all the grids and mathematics. The games of mimesis, reference and chance begin a carnival dance. How to contain such irreverence when the intention is to bring together a retrospective exhibition that transmits the simplicity and congruence of a career? There might have been some way to camouflage these erratic excursions, but the possibility evaporated when Fernando showed me his Escenas (2012) for the first time. At that moment I had no doubt I was in the presence of an artist. I will leave out the possible adjectives: I was in the presence of an artist. This new work, imbued with libertinage, voluptuousness, explicit sex and, whether in individual portraits or orgiastic groupings, a good dose of humor, perversity and human nature, was serious, without a doubt, andoffered significant sensitive material for the retrospective. The human being revealed itself without taking the shine off the abstraction, indeed the two coexist in these viscous images.

I’ve got distracted with all this excitement. Where were we with the guided visit? What happened to the boxing ring bell? It is the longest minute’s break in the history of this fascinating sport. Before another fantasy carries us off I think I’d better set my feet on the ground and speak about certain specific aspects of the exhibition. In the first instance I would like to point out that a large amount of the significant sensitive material takes the form of a broad range of works on paper (drawings, works in ink, acrylic, frottage, lithography, digital print, and so on) and small format paintings that are gathered together on a number of irregular-shaped tables designed by the exhibition designer, Rodrigo Luna. These elements and the rest of Rodrigo’s work were key to giving the show its desired character. Thanks to these tables the difficult circular space was occupied by Fernando’s work in a somewhat informal and playful manner that, it would seem, has helped the public engage with the artistic practice on view. Meanwhile, Roger Adam also made a key contribution to the exhibition and, obviously, this publication. Roger’s proposal for how to transfer the POLITICAL and semantic implications of the title was more than exact. Breaking apart the two words and impeding a straightforward reading created a superb allusion full of references to our delightful democratic bureaucracy. He combined one of the subtexts of the title with the following paragraph from Guillermo Sheridan:

Once all the fines had been waived, Congress recalled itself to sanity and formed commissions to examine the initiative to create the Federal Institute for Political and Electoral Supervision of the IFE, the TRIFE, the FEPADE and the COFIPE  (known as the FIPESIFETRIFEFEPADECOPIFE) to be comprised of citizens[8]

Finally, I would like to give recognition to one undeniable fact. Beyond the abovementioned abnormality that gave rise to this exhibition, it was made possible thanks to the program conceived and developed by the curator Osvaldo Sánchez who was director of the Museum of Modern Art from 2006 to 2011. The program he proposed represented a brave and substantial counterweight to the inertia of the trends that, tacitly but categorically, define mainstream contemporary art.

My thanks go to Fernando for the opportunity to participate in this project and for the multiple challenges and teachings his work has offered me. This retrospective will undoubtedly provide him with an occasion for reflection and to embark upon new paths in his artistic practice. A great deal of work lies ahead.

Afterword:

Cromwell fails to recover, the Suculenta has descended from his skull and is choking him, causing fits of ticklish laughter all over his sensitive skeleton. Laughing helplessly, the former commander of the New Model Army leaves the last word to the criminologist and sociologist Gabriel Tarde:

In the case of animals it is primarily the muscle that mimics the muscle; for we humans, it is above all the nerve that mimics the nerve, one brain mimicking that of another.

Víctor Palacios.

Post scriptum: I should not say that I retreated but I did.

Eva Hesse


[1] Significant sensitive material comprises all that may be perceived by the senses. In this regard, the following article published in the newspaper La Jornada on January 28 2013 is of note: “Mexico does not have enough qualified professionals with the scientific knowledge to investigate crime. For this reason, the UNAM created the BA in Forensic Science, approved last Friday. Graduates of this career will be able to coordinate and carry out scientific investigation of crimes through the study of Significant sensitive material found at the scene in order to determine the cause, perpetrator and victim of the crime.” This may explain why the great majority of crimes in Mexico go unsolved. How is it possible that this field of study is only being professionalized today?

[2] Agnes Martin, Dia Art Foundation, New York, 2011, p. 94.

[3] Ibid., p. 185.

[4] Michel Houellebecq, The Map and the Territory, London: Vintage, 2012, p. 144.

[5]  Sven Lütticken, “Living with Abstraction”, Microhistorias y Macromundos Vol. 3. Museo Rufino Tamayo. Mexico, D.F., 2011.

[6] Ibid., p. 103.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Guillermo Sheridan, Viaje al centro de mi tierra, Ed. Almadía. Oaxaca, México, 2011. Pág. 157