Oniria - The land of dreams

By José Jiménez

Nadín Ospina with the work Oniria. 2012.

If one word, one conceptual category, defines the work of Nadín Ospina, from the beginning of his career in the early eighties to the present, it is undoubtedly fusion. As in the music of Miles Davis, who in his time made us understand, feel, that the experience of sound is all the more intense the more it gains in complexity and superimpositions of diverse components and strata. In ethnic, anthropological plurality. As an artist, Nadín Ospina works and builds in the universe of the image: that space of sensitive representation that, as an extension of the body and language, constitutes us as human beings, to the extent that we project ourselves in it. To desire. To deny. To fix symbolic patterns of identity. Images mark the destiny of humanity, of the different cultures and human communities, from the most remote records.

In the era of cultural globalization, Nadín Ospina approaches the image from the plane of fusion and miscegenation, of mixture and appropriation. From that sense of cultural anthropophagy of which the Brazilian Oswald de Andrade spoke, or from the incorporative voracity of the American, that hunger to appropriate everything, of which the great Cuban José Lezama Lima spoke. But, in Ospina's case, with some specific features of his own.In the first place, because of the triggering role he grants to memory. From the present, from this global time in which everything appears dominated by an electronic or digital screen, Nadín Ospina dives and traces in the grooves of the image, goes back to the cultural and individual past as an archeologist of vision. Thus, the images of today merge or fuse with the images of remote cultural substrates or with those of childhood. And hence a second specific feature, of great importance: what the image of now says about us refers simultaneously to something that no longer exists, to something that we are no longer, but that is nevertheless in our interiority, in our gaze.

The consequence is that Ospina's works in no case fall into schematism or simplification. On the contrary, the strong inner density that breathes in them leads them to establish patterns of cognitive and emotional contact with very diverse levels of experience, with individual and deep cultural strata, which is ultimately its great communicative effectiveness and its intense poetic, aesthetic force. With a sense, moreover, of recognition of limits. No one is more than anyone else, and certainly the artist is no guardian or depositary of "the absolute truth": the cut between high and low culture, between elite culture and popular culture, can in no case be accepted by artists in this age of contamination and fusion, of mass production of images. What is thus achieved is a line of subversion, of questioning and interrogation of stereotypes and supposed certainties, which enriches us as human beings, to the extent that it leads us to understand and assume the complexity of experience. We are many and diverse things at the same time, not always well integrated, not always in harmonious synthesis. We are plural life.

At the beginning of his career, in the early eighties, the works of Nadín Ospina: pieces of intense color, built with acrylic paint and wire, propose a kind of chromatic minimalism that seeks, at the same time, to suggest a dynamism of the image, which favors all articulation of the figures in a series. The world is open. Almost immediately, from 1985, his attention shifts to the representation of the body: torsos of human bodies, papier-mâché sculptures and, in continuity, animal figures also appear. Thus opens the mirror of fusion: animal/human are integrated in the same plane of representation, which from that moment and until now becomes one of the distinctive features of the work of Nadín Ospina.

The prolongation of the human image in the animal image is an ancestral sign in the processes of sensitive representation of human communities, from the cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic to the aesthetic manifestations in plastic supports and ceremonial practices in the most diverse cultural traditions: Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, or the pre-Columbian cultures of America, for example. There is nothing naive about it, nor should it be associated with magic. As Claude Lévi-Strauss established, speaking of totemism , of the association of animal figures with family segments or ethnic groups, the animal/human fusion is a symbolic process of identification, which allows human beings to identify and differentiate themselves among themselves, and culturally with respect to nature. Animal figures are elements of a visual alphabet that allows us to construct a vision, a sensitive representation, of who we are, and what we expect from life.

Later on, since the early nineties, works that synthesize and contaminate archaeological images and ceremonial representations from the most diverse cultural spheres with figures and types of cartoons would follow: from Bart Simpson and other members of his family to Mickey Mouse and other characters from the Disney factory. In the 2000s, the figures of Tintin and the other characters that accompany him in his adventures, as well as others from Japanese manga, were incorporated into this repertoire. With this, Nadín Ospina allows us to appreciate the most subtle form of violence of representation: the capacity of appropriation and superimposition of the cultural heritage and traditions by the nuclei of power of the image and communication in this era of global culture. The "Disney" image, or all current forms of cartoons with their schematism and communicative efficacy, contaminate and merge with the ritual and religious universes of the image, bringing even these to a single code of representation.

Mickey Mouse is superimposed on a pre-Columbian ceremonial urn, and he himself or Goofy are transformed into the sculptural figures of the Chac Mool, characteristic of Mesoamerican cultures, particularly among the Maya, always originally associated with altars and ceremonial practices. One of the most intense achievements in that line is for me the installation "Príncipe de las flores" (Prince of Flowers) (2001), which with its camera obscura environment and a stone sculpture carved with the attributes of Mickey Mouse on a pedestal/altar, surrounded by paintings of plants from which in current times drugs are derived, shows in an exemplary way the processes of continuity, transformation and subversion of images. What was once sacred becomes close and mundane, and even a sign of traffic and violence. Prince of Flowers is also a scenography of the contaminated museum, a subversive record of the impossibility of escaping the dominion of the spectacle in our era of the mass image. Both in the form of presentation, as in the body of the image itself, everything is impregnated with the spirit of the theme park of mass entertainment. Also the museum, and even the one that seemed less contaminable because of its subject matter, the archaeological museum.

In contrast to the clichéd and ethnocentric association of Latin America, and particularly Colombia, with exoticism and violence, the pieces that make up the Colombialand series (2004-2006), built with components of lego toys that are critically and ironically subverted, show with a great intensity of plastic synthesis how simplistic and deforming ideas contaminate everything, even the supposedly most innocent: the universe of toys, in which, from childhood, a conception of the world is generated and formed. In short, it is a matter of dismantling the clichés and stereotypes that are disseminated through mass images: those of design in its various registers (including toys), advertising and the mass media, which, with their schematism and communicative efficiency, become a filter and a barrier to our vision. What is thus revealed is an implicit violence, an authentic violence of representation, which is exercised on all human beings on the planet in this era of the global image. A kind of violence that is exercised by the power centers of image and communication, through the appropriation and manipulation of the meaning-forming images in the collections and cultural traditions of the different human communities.

In 2007, Nadín Ospina began a new series of works entitled Oniria, which culminated in the exhibition of the same name presented in 2012 in Bogotá, at the Museo de Artes Visuales of the University Jorge Tadeo Lozano. The montage integrates monochromatically painted bronze sculptures with the bright colors of the rubber figurines of children's games, all accompanied by video images and music. Obviously, Oniria leads us simultaneously to the universe of dreams and the world of childhood, to the childish reveries that have always been present throughout Ospina's career.

This last point: children's daydreams, which unites cartoon figures, lego toys and rubber figurines in a single line, thus transferring the infantile experience of play to the universe of art, restates in the era of the global image what Friedrich Schiller had already formulated in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind (1794-1795). In them Schiller points to the existence of a formal impulse in human beings that would manifest itself, as children, in play. And that would later have its prolongation in art. The development of this formal impulse as aesthetic education would be, for Schiller, a necessary precondition for the advent of a moral society. In other words, aesthetics is an indispensable step in order to arrive at ethics. Or, taking the argument to today's world, education in the image: the distinction between banal, repetitive, stereotyped image and dense, singular, inquisitive image, between image as appearance and image as truth, is a fundamental step in the search for freedom and emancipation of human beings in this era of the global, massive image. What Nadín Ospina proposes with his artistic work has thus a crucial relevance not only from the point of view of plastic construction, but also from an ethical and political point of view. Instead of so many schematic and empty formulas that one finds in the so-called trend art, the works of Nadín Ospina establish a deep commitment with what most densely constitutes us as human beings in the universe of the image: the game, the ceremonial practices, the art.

For the rest, Oniria is an invented word, one more game of Nadín Ospina, in this case in the mental and linguistic terrain of representation. In Spanish, exist the adjective "onírico", -a, derived from the Greek word ὄνειρος, which means both dream and fantasy. What Ospina calls Oniria could thus be characterized as the land of dreams, that alternative universe of fantasy common to play and art, in which our desires for fulfillment are encrypted.

This oneiric universe had already made its explicit appearance in Ospina's work in 1991, in a piece entitled Los soñadores (Dreamers), made up of sixty blue human heads, sixty sculptural self-portraits. A theme that was later continued in "El sueño de Acteón" (the dream of Actaeon), 1992, an installation of four sculptural deer heads, also in blue, which refers to the classical myth of Diana and Actaeon narrated by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, and visited incisively in contemporary times by Pierre Klossowski, among others. A sort of extension of this last piece is "Delirio" (Delirium), 1992, a column of human heads culminated with a deer's head, all of them blue. I insist on the association of the color blue with dreams because we find here a relevant coincidence, in the dream of the image, between the work of Nadín Ospina and a central work by Joan Miró, [Ceci est la couleur de mes rêves] (This is the color of my dreams) (1925), in which blue is precisely identified as the color of dreams.

In an interview [conducted by Elizabeth Jiménez, ELESPECTADOR.COM, May 16, 2012], on the occasion of his exhibition in Bogota, Nadín Ospina states: "In the work, the pieces dialogue, in their fortuitous encounter. There is a strangeness, a clash, a chaos. It is a random, playful sense, there is no order, there is nothing planned. It is closer to surrealism, because of the encounter between dissimilar things and because of its unreflective and uncritical character". This closeness to surrealism, which placed in dreams the other half of our life, gives a special breath to this land of dreams of Nadín Ospina, in which we live while we sleep and when we dream awake, a land that takes us to what we always wanted to be, since we were children, but we still can't reach. Although the image is before our eyes. Drawing itself, tracing itself, with the same bright, radiant colors with which we saw it when we were children.

That's how we are: dream matter, dreams yet to be realized. As William Shakespeare wrote, in The Tempest, putting on Prospero's lips these words, these verses:

"(...) We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep."(...)

William Shakespeare: [The Tempest], IV, 1.

1 Calude Lévi-Strauss: Le Totémisme aujourd'hui; P.U.F., Paris, 1962. Tr. esp. by Francisco González Aramburo: El totemismo en la actualidad; F.C.E., Mexico, 1965.

From the "Oniria" series "The man with the pennant". 2012. 29 x 35 x 11 cm