"The Unseen" Edgar Serrano Solo Exhibition
City: Shanghai
Duration: 2017-12-08 ~ 2018-01-12
Opening: 2017.12.08,18:00-21:00
Venue: Art & Zimt
Participating Artist(s): Edgar Serrano

We like to think that our things—our books, our pictures, our furniture—reflect who we are. We like to think that we are our collections. This may have been true, at one point in history. Walter Benjamin may have been right when, in his famous essay on collecting he declared that “ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects.” But almost one hundred years have passed since Benjamin wrote those words, and in those hundred years, our things—our books, our pictures, even our furniture—have changed.

Today we live in a hybrid reality—part physical, part virtual. These two worlds are different, but not quite separate. We are our things and our collection, but we are also our screens and our surfaces—and, crucially, our things are also on screens and surfaces. We are objects and surfaces and objects in surfaces—we are, as David Joselit says, “a play of surfaces.”

This play of surfaces is the subject of my solo exhibition at Art & Zimt, The Unseen. The Unseen will combine paintings and video into a unique viewing experience that shows how unclear the boundaries are between the material and the immaterial, the physical and the digital. For example, I base my paintings on images from animation, newspaper, and Instagram; I edit these images in Photoshop and then painted on canvas working in a post-analog mode. The paintings thus show both the physical and virtual at once; like our own selves, they are on a surface and in the world, manipulated by multiple fileds and amplified by mass circulation. The paintings and video of The Unseen work in similar ways—conflating various media to show the ways that we conflate our selves, our stuff, and our screens.

Beyond personal identity, The Unseen will also carry on a conversation with art history. For thousands of years, the great metaphor of art has been the window. The window is framed transparency, clear glass through which to see the world. Rather than rejecting this metaphor—as many modern and contemporary artists have done— I want to take it seriously. The works in The Unseen will attempt to embody transparency itself, to understand the ways in which art can and cannot be transparent.

The concerns of my project are universal, which marks me as part of a new generation of Latin American artist. The Latin American artist should not be limited to issues of Latin American identity. When I make work about personal identity, I mean not only my own identity as a Latin American, but also my more universal identity as a worker, a user of digital media, and an artist. My art thus must concern itself with the invisible labor of post-industrial economies, the impalpable forms of digital media, and the instability of art historical categories and explores important universal concerns—our selves, our stuff, and our screens.

These recent paintings, Candid Camera, I am An Enigma, Even To Myself, and In My Life morph the language of visual culture, inciting the viewer to reconsider the meanings that are usually attached to images. I composed these paintings from an atlas of thousands of appropriated images from various cartoons, reproductions of existing artworks, newspaper clippings, and the Internet. Long attracted to cartoons, I borrow from illustration as a way to deflate painting’s historical pretensions and to speak in a more direct language; and yet, despite my use of vernacular imagery, what these works ultimately communicate might only be personally understood.

Candid Camera has an incongruous and open-ended quality to it, and as if trying to fit pieces of a puzzle together that just don’t quite connect. Candid Camera deals with the relationship between cartoons and trauma directly. Cartoons are a medium through which childhood trauma and violence can be dealt with. Candid Camera plays into the major themes of the repression of childhood memory, the way trauma surfaces and over again, and the anxious desires to both conceal and expose it. The resulting painting is an anxiety filled image that is simultaneously prosaic and surreal.

I am An Enigma, Even To Myself is a self-portrait as Frankenstein, whom suffers from a complex identity, isolated in his environment, felt misunderstood, caused fear due to his appearance, and that same fear made him afraid. The pair of dice in the composition illustrates how that the game is rigged, while the coins symbolizes change. On the right there is a piece of paper that says, “Lo Que Se Ve No Se Pregunta.” Meaning, what is seen is not to be asked. There are other personal symbols ciphers throughout I am An Enigma, Even To Myself that act as a cryptographic exercise.

In My Life refers to The Beatles song, “In My Life (I Love You More).” This image started from a newspaper clipping of a severed leg placed on a tree. These kinds of tabloid images are very common in Mexico but what drew me into the image was its reference to Goya’s Great Deeds Done Against the Dead. The idea that these kind of savage acts were still occurring 200 years later was rather disheartening. Goya made the prints in response to the Peninsular War with the French. In My Life comes as the result on the war against drugs and the effects on the Mexican psychology and bodies.

Soft Wet Epic, for example, has a cartoon fish transposed onto a female body disrupting the submerged portrayal, Shadows of the Past assemblage use of a tribal wooden mask to sheep wool collaged in Broken Mirror. These tactics creates obstacles that prevents the viewer from wholly focusing on or grasping the details of the images behind it. The interplay between the representational imagery and the visual obstacles creates energetic compositions, engaging the viewer with an active visual experience and inviting them to question the face of reality.

The Gift and the Retribution’s right panel is based on Gilbert Stuart s Major- General Henry Dearborn, 1812 an idealized portrayal of an aging leader invigorated by power and the challenges of war, which is then grotesquely transformed by a malignant gemstone and minerals. The left panel mirrors the current turmoil of politics and shares a dialogue with the process orientated monochrome abstractions of Gerhard Richter, Christopher Wool, and David Hammons. The Gift and the Retribution is then literally surrounded on all four corners by totemic animal hooves and crucified with discarded wood on the rear.


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