The Subtle Plot

François Bucher 

A shorthand way of describing the modern work of art is to refer to it as "commentary". And that commentary is always, to some extent, on the history of art itself, or on the cultural debates that accompany it. As in contemporary thought that dialogues around the very notion of dialogue, the work cannot escape its acquired condition of art criticism. 

Beatriz Gonzalez's work is arguably one of the most timely commentaries ever made on the situation (and history) of Colombian -Latin American, if you will- art. Antonio Caro's notes on the calligraphy of Coca Cola are not far behind; nor is his witty "Todo está muy caro" (Everything is too expensive), which already in his time alluded to the very current notion of multiple signifiers. We should also include in this list the most recent Walt Disney characters in guaca by Nadín Ospina, which easily enter the dimension of the most lucid commentaries of recent times on and from Colombian art. All of these works, which undoubtedly belong to the realm of intelligible art, can be verbalized, even if their corporeality makes them more forceful.

The images can be suppressed. The work could be said over the telephone. To say 'Leonardo's last supper painted on a table with the colors of Colombian popular imagery' is almost equivalent to seeing it. This means that the objects alluded to can be read as critical works: there is a word present there; there is not only the probable sensual enjoyment of the plastic experience. Faced with Beatriz Gonzalez's approach, the observer has to follow a path in which his appreciation of the color palette will not be enough; more chips count in that game: he must allow himself to be questioned as a member of a culture; enjoy elaborated notions such as the peculiar journey of signs as they are digested by another continent.

It is also necessary to embrace and understand the geographical and historical situation in which any gesture is inscribed, to consider the complexity of the alphabet of art. Borges' idea of adulterating Don Quixote by simply changing the nationality and historical context of its author is still of immeasurable relevance. Both Caro's gaseous gesture and Nadín Ospina's fortunate forgery would have a diametrically opposite meaning if done by an American. They would go from being, among other things, insinuating statements of cultural imperialism, to being ironic notes, NewYorker jokes, already a bit shameless.

The painting is not enough. Art before modernity has, according to Kosuth, as much relation to modern art as Neanderthal man has to Homo Sappiens. Let's say that in his time we were Adam and Eve, we lived in the Garden of Eden -which for the purposes of this analogy is the terrain delimited by the frame of the work-. And the forbidden fruit of the tree of good and evil was tasted - the concept, the art of ideas - which revealed to us our painful nakedness: it made us self-conscious; it exiled us from the comfort of the delimited frame, from the bounded paradise. Which is to say that the landscape inside the painting ceased to be interesting, or that it became an accessory of a more comprehensive truth: it became an element of the topography of another landscape, which is notably the whole of the paintings in the gallery. Transposing this reflection to physics, it is not that gravity as a recipe ceases to function when relativity appears, but that it is no longer, relativity appears, but rather that it is no longer so necessary to speak of it, because the latter implies the truth of the former. 

When Ernesto Sábato coins the term "subtle plot" he refers to all that silent history that occurs around the blatant din of the voices of the explicit plot -the mysterious kinship of Stephen Daedalus with Homer's Odysseus in Joyce's Ulysses, for example-. Modern art can be defined as the awareness of the subtle plot, or as the realization of the inevitable need to reflect repeatedly on the work of art itself, as something that has nothing neutral about it-because it has already been eaten from the tree of good from evil. The word "art" that dwells in the work, the signature, the legitimization granted by a space we call museum, that is the subtle plot. 

Alvaro Barrios, who is so fond of resuscitating the biblical mode, poses in his recent project "ARS LONGA, VITA BREVIS" a reflection that can illustrate our exile from the paradise of the real frame. As if elaborating the beginning of a fractal structure, as if cultivating a crystal of multiple angles, Barrios takes us by the hand to the gap through which we can escape from the landscape of the frame. We access then to the dimension of the the dimension of the panorama that makes up the paintings as a whole. The painting ceases to be the whole sentence to become another letter of the alphabet -that silent alphabet that relates the plurivocal subtle plot-. If before it alluded to something external: the represented figure, the unintelligible but certain abstract sensation, now the solution is within the system itself.

Because all the elements that inhabit the gallery room are reflecting on their very condition of elements that are in a gallery room. To reproduce the same oil painting on a laser printer, to frame it in gold and to intervene it repeatedly with different comments is far from being a neutral act. First of all, the painting is crassly placed in the position of a fetish. And the fetish, as someone once said, "is a story disguised as an object". The painting is objectified, so that its second voice can speak, not the undoubted figuration, but the one that dialogues on the fugitive stage of the subtle plot.

Carlos Jacanamijoy, a new sales star, is an example of how in this whole process the market also comes into play. It goes without saying that the figures Frida Kahlo achieves at Christie's may have something to do with the price of Jacanamijoy's paintings. Not to mention our drive -which is evident in all instances- to want to be certified. Latin Americanness is valued, which in the developed world is already a consumer good, the one they can digest, the one they can relate to comfortably -which evidently makes them want to buy it-. Gringo publishers, they say, will not publish a Latin American who does not apply a good dose of magical realism to his novel. All this is also part of the silent story, but it is now indispensable for the public to overcome its subtle illiteracy, so that at least someone will read it. The interesting thing, I dare say, is not that Jacanamijoy is a good colorist, but that he is a Latin American Indian, whose status as such is still valid, and that he is painting on canvas and with the oils of the European tradition. In that decision, which, again, has nothing neutral, is the work, not necessarily inside the paintings. 

"Do it", Hans Ulrich Obrist's project that recently landed in Colombia is almost an illustration of all of the above. The mostly innocuous objects that were exhibited in one of the new rooms of the Banco de la República were nothing out of context. It did not matter whether one liked or disliked what one saw. It mattered, again, the subtle plot: that they were made from instructions by Colombian artists; that in other countries it was the public and not the "professional" artists who were chosen for the task; that some (or several) wanted to be too clever and deformed the nature of the exercise by making aberrant objects. All of that speaks. Next to it were Graciela Iturbide's photographs, with a magnificent explicit plot, full of irony, giving great satisfaction to the viewer who already has the visual weapons to discover her poetry. "Do it", on the other hand, does not promise any delight.

It is difficult to face, uncomfortable, ugly, unpleasant, but of great rewards for the one who approaches it as a reflection: it speaks of the journey of the sign; it speaks almost exclusively with its second voice, that of the subtle plot, since the sensual enjoyment of the object is almost nil. The interest is not in discovering the virtuous gesture of some heroic Colombian artist - who undoubtedly in this case fell into the most pathetic absurdity (a "bone") - but to simply state that the candies that Felix Gonzalez Torres crumbled are from the phosphorescent Zipaquireños because we are in Bogota. In the latter case, Jaime Iregui understood the legality of the game and freed himself, as the exercise suggested, from wanting to be the great author of a great work. In general, however, an ordinary citizen would have been even more apt to perform the tasks of "Do it" -precisely for having the spontaneity of the local more entrenched, and for not having those traits of egolatry that we artists sometimes endure-. Although it may not seem so, the "Do it" maneuver would have been possibly more eloquent, within its constitution, if it had been carried out by the man in the street -who also finds it easier to follow instructions-. 

All this can be concluded in the firmament of the "stone stars" -Nadin Ospina's project presented in the context of the Luis Caballero Award-. An "operation", as the artist likes to call it (very dangerous indeed), which is tremendously successful in opening the abdomen of the living matter of art. Basically, it is about making a blow-up of "all the self-taught, marginal, unknown artists" who surrender the destiny of their work to a name: Nadín Ospina. The operation is also performed on the artist's own daughter - on Mariana's fortuitous scratches that are taken to "larger than life" size. And where is the artist? The strategy to find him is simple: look for the only one in the vast community that works in this family business called Nadín Ospina who does not have his hand on the mace. That is why it is legitimate to say that if a show of integration of the arts were to be made, the contemporary plastic artist would be much closer to being the scriptwriter than the director of the scenery.

In the chain of production of the company that the artist has constituted, all the traditional notions of art are disfigured; the executor of the initial stroke -that glorious heroic gesture of the artist of yesteryear- is performed by a child, or by some candid individual from the most naïve sector of the 'artist' population, who still believes in the possibility of being discovered as a great revelation. We are in the first stage of the process, that of the raw material, that of the found object: the drawings of the anonymous artist, which some look at with great admiration as they enter the room -which is part of the joke-, are equivalent to a ready-made. Then comes the final product: the large-format canvas. Its maker, likewise, has been left naked as a technician. Everyone, even Nadín himself, has become affiliated with the name Nadín Ospina. This process of legitimized plundering, as the artist himself has defined it, quoting Carolina Ponce, requires great specialization. As who requires a Nit or a company name in other types of business, it is necessary to have a name to have a voice in the art fields. Those who do not have a name do not exist. There is even something biblical in this reflection, only that the legitimization of the name, in this case, would not be so much in the kingdom of heaven as in the Documenta in Kassel. The artist would not be able to perform this operation if his name were not Nadín Ospina.

Placing himself in the position of the traditional critic who analyzes the cleanliness of the colors in an oil painting, the only absurdity of the project is that the artist has not restrained the impulse to intervene, with images, the enlarged scribbles of his daughter. Apart from this small blunder, what is clear is that after others rescued from oblivion the drawings of mongoloids and madmen, now it is the turn of the drawings of "artists" who are not skilled enough to read the codes of their time to be rescued. The same is the case with stamp issues that acquire, due to a defect, great commercial value among philatelists: the object itself becomes significant, yes, but nobody should have any illusions, the one who made the mistake is nothing more than a careless civil servant. The artist is the one who gives value to any element, no matter how insignificant it may be. 

François Bucher. Cali 1972. Artist and filmmaker.