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The neocapitalist ideology of unlimited growth and indecent profits is shaking, but I’m not sure it seems to have come to an end yet. Chris Hedges already wrote in 2009 in his biting book The Empire of Illusion that “our collapse is more than an economic and political collapse. It is a crisis of faith.” But faith can be easily engineered, because that’s what propaganda is for, and the “bewildered herd” –as Noam Chomsky would put it- has to be diverted even if the world that’s presented to the public hasn’t the remotest relation to reality.
It’s a fact that for the past 15 years there has been more political art or at least art with a political focus. But in the “Arab Spring”, the “15M indignados movement” in Spain, or at “Occupy Wall Street” there is hardly any important artistic presence. Art and artistic activism –i.e. signing a manifesto for freeing Ai Wei Wei-, speaks mainly in its own artistic realm of art galleries and museums or in the social media -posting videos on YouTube or Facebook and sending messages via Twitter. But to politicians and corporations, social media –representation- is hardly an option or a threat, as only the physical presence–reality- of the citizen out on the streets reclaiming public space is what really impresses them (as happened in Madrid at Plaza del Sol or at Zucotti Park).
So here we have the classical dilemma whether the work is autotelic (meaning that it finds its purpose in itself) or that it must promote morality. Traditionally in the USA and the North of Europe artists have been preeminently working on a more formalistic level eschewing serious political, social and moral considerations of society. Capitalism, mass media, consumer society and (popular) culture have made us more individualistic than ever. The result is that we are no longer citizens, but consumers with a total lack of ideology. Democracy or capitalism? Beauty or morality? Black or white? Representation or reality? This nexus of questions is given an enlightening perspective in the works of Colombian artist Rodrigo Echeverri (1975, Bogota).
But let’s get back to Minimalism first, because Echeverri’s work is at first sight truly minimalist. In the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s Donald Judd installed his aluminum boxes all over the world in art galleries and museums. Like performance art but without it’s political engagement, Minimalism expanded the possibilities of art; in the case of painting towards sculpture and installation. It also made art more autistic and elliptical. Actually, what it meant was that art retreated to a game of formalistic conventions. No biases, no anger, no frustrations. Rodrigo Echeverri’s drawings, paintings and sculptures on the contrary do reveal their scars and wounds communicating the psyche of our time by questioning power and its representation strategies of war, conflict, religion, immigration and democracy. And that’s what always defines a good artist: s/he is a witness of her/his time and is able of challenging and reflecting both from a formal and a conceptual point of view the social and political paradigms. Like Velazquez, Pollock, and Goya did, an artist whose series on the horrors of war have served as inspiration for his oeuvre.
Beyond forms, shapes and colors, his unpolished “box-coffins” confront the horrors of death and violence in a poetic manner. The representation of conflicts through the mass media is for the average citizen no more than a mediated “second-hand experience”; for Echeverri these images become part of a bigger archive that speaks of injustice, violence, and war, which he intuitively pours into large paralelepiped volume paintings on canvas and wall-sculptures. The traditional aseptic minimalist structures have given way to a series of chromatic compositions that reveal as much as they hide.
If the earlier series like Cajas Negras (Black Boxes, 2005) or No todo es blanco y negro (Not Everything is Black and White, 2007) were more geometrically rigid, his latest works presented at IDEOBOX belong to the ongoing series Astilla en el ojo (Splinter in the Eye, 2009) and have transmuted into fragmented, twisted bodies that represent situations of crisis and chaos. These transformations are not only indicative of the social and political transformations of society, but they are also a hint of the artist ability to shift and pivot the world at a time when the ones who confront or question power are only a few.
From his first works like Casa idea (House-idea) or Desnudo descendiendo una escalera (Nude Descending a Staircase) to this series of works presented here, Echeverri worked with the idea of a ‘death container’, id est, a politically charged idea of death versed in a minimalist vocabulary. While minimalist geometry becomes political, his paintings and wall pieces have become at the same time more architectonical and more complex leading to the actual compositions in which chaos and chance get the upper hand. Echeverri’s artistic practice has also shifted from the particular –works like Cajas Negras. No hallaron los cuerpos (Black Boxes. They Didn’t Find the Corpses) or Cajas negras. Flotaban en la orilla (Black Boxes. They were floating near the shore) to the universal with Astilla en el ojo. Disección de un cajón in which the focus is not so much on a particular, local context but more on issues that affect us as humans like destruction (be it natural or human), lack of democracy, abuse and violence.
From a formal level, Echeverri too has gone down a new road. After his sculptural three-dimensional wall pieces he envisioned the formal challenge of painting the irregular pieces on canvas by means of close ups. The images are cut out, unfinished, but expand beyond the frame. Our eye is brilliantly forced to complete the composition.
Absence becomes presence; destruction becomes construction. The relationship between these two elements becomes the absolute essence of Echeverri’s artistic practice.
The world is complex and the works of art of Rodrigo Echeverri possess the necessary engagement and talent to recreate this complexity.