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Reflections on sleep and reverie in the work of Andrés Monteagudo
In his most recent work, retroceso-el sueño dormido- [retreat-the dormant sleep-], Andrés Monteagudo has chosen to handle a complex system of markedly conceptual artistic procedures, operations and strategies in order to explore some of his most recurrent aesthetic concerns and expressive obsessions: his reflections on the complex relationship between man and space, understood as different planes of reality, where reverie and an oneiric imagination act as catalysts for the cognitive process.
The living space, the chamber, the site where human activity unfolds – the leitmotiv of the artist’s work – all appear in this new creation, projected onto three different planes that emphasize the procedural dimension of his approach. The bed, belonging to the world of objects, with its grid of lights and devoid of any human presence, seems to symbolize absence, alluding to the carryover or physical remains of an action that has already taken place. The three sequential photographs in which the bed and its sleeper appear and fade away correspond to the motionless terrain of representation. Finally, the moving images of the same piece of furniture and the figure lying on it (none other than the artist himself), which introduce the factor of time and articulate the space, are a reference to the field of action. These three planes, which could allude to parallel realities or to different states of consciousness and the experience of thought, evoke a theme that has captured the interest of a great deal of past art, that of sleep and dreaming. Sleep was a transcendental archetype in the Romantic period and acquired a reiterated spiritual connotation, identified with death and the night, in the work of the Symbolist artists.1
But the threshold that makes it possible to move from the state of wakefulness to that of sleep and vice-versa derives from the experience of reverie, related to poetic imagination and intuition. Monteagudo’s photographs and video first present a pristine, abstract and infinite space, as if awash with a resplendent, blinding white light. Progressively, this still empty space takes on an architectural configuration. Subsequently, as if materializing, an image acquires a defined form, that of a bed with a person sleeping peacefully in it, covered by a blanket of light bulbs or lamps; in other words, a blanket of light. There is a relationship, writes Gaston Bachelard, between the burning pilot light and the soul that dreams. Time is as slow for one as for the other. The same patience appears in the dream and in the glimmer of light. Time is deepened; images and memories reunite.2 In the end, the sleeper, his bed and his luminous blanket are seen under a curtain of water, which shapes its fading, its dematerialization, its fusion and integration into the whole and the return to the original empty state. This visual narrative alludes metaphorically to the oneiric experience and to perception as split off from reality and space, whether physical, mental or spiritual. The designation of water as the symbolic element of the dissolution ties in again with Bachelard’s reflections: (…) water is also a type of destiny that is no longer simply the vain destiny of fleeting images and a never-ending dream but an essential destiny that endlessly changes the substance of the being.3
The grid that appears in the artist’s installation, video and photographs is a reiterative element in his art, as evidenced by another recent work, the 50-piece polyptych entitled Fugas [Flights]. Seen from a relative distance, the set of rectangular pieces resembles incomplete boxes that asymmetrically project some of their sides towards the viewer. The work has a markedly structural dimension, a modular configuration that evokes the grammar of some of the creations found in sculptural minimalism. In turn, the apparent disorder with which each rectangle extends its perpendicular planes generates a kind of movement or visual rhythm and introduces a serial, programmatic air reminiscent of some of Sol LeWitt’s works. When seen from afar, its rational, constructivist composition seems to conceal a system of signs containing a secret language.
However, when we approach the work, we recognize the photographic image of small figures (self-portraits of the artist) printed on the perpendicular planes, represented in a variety of areas, attitudes and positions that instantly resize the space and its meaning, transforming the incomplete boxes into living spaces, cubicles animated by human life. These constructions seem to allude to housing units viewed in a series and observed from above, with a kind of labyrinthine and kaleidoscopic nature. The inhabitants here do not interact but are in solitary confinement, isolated and alone. There is something playful – but at the same time tragic – in the relationship established between the small figures and their containers that suggests a metaphor for our contemporary physical, mental and existential alienation. In this – to use Monteagudo’s expression – geometry of the habitat, the inhabited space is deconstructed, transformed into an orchestration of vertical and horizontal lines reminiscent of a neoplasticist composition, making an allusion to a reticular existence: The grid, writes Rosalind Krauss, is an introjection of the boundaries of the world into the interior of the work; it is a mapping of the space inside the frame onto itself. It is a mode of repetition, the content of which is the conventional nature of art itself. 4
Another series of works – in this instance two-dimensional – combines paint and nails on square or rectangular planes, seeming to transport us to the original empty living space in his photographs and video. However, this sphere is only slightly revealed, suggested by one of its faces (walls) projected in a marked perspective that is reminiscent of the search for systematisation in the spatial representation of the Renaissance. Consequently, the construction is more mental than visual, since the comprehensive or closed image of the space is completed by memory, in a kind of gestalt exercise. The chamber, the physical enclosure, is deconstructed here in a way that could be called programmatic, serial and sequential. These are fictitious architectures, ambiguous constructions that bring to mind Escher’s creations – utopian, ideal places that, in short, aspire to infinity and denote a vocation for transcendence that, in the personal way that they interpret the enigmas that arise from the multiple relationships between man and space, are common in the oeuvre of Andrés Monteagudo.
1. Giulio Carlos Argan et al. El pasado en el presente, Editorial Gustavo Gili, S. A., Barcelona, 1977, p. 104.
2. Gaston Bachelard. The Flame of a Candle, tr. Joni Caldwell, The Dallas Institute Publications, Dallas, 1988, p. 8.
3. Gaston Bachelard. Water and Dreams: an essay on the imagination of matter, tr. Edith Farrell, Dallas Pegasus Foundation, Dallas, 1983, p. 6.
4. Rosalind E. Krauss. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and other Modernist Myths, MIT Press, Cambridge, p. 19.