THE PHANTASMAGORIA OF THE NON-PLACE (or 5 notes on Atopias)
“it is reality itself that is at stake.”
I / Since prehistoric times, when the fascination with iconographic representation of animals evidently captured the primitive imagination of human nature (Werner Herzog addressed this representative abyss in his 2010 film Cave of Forgotten Dreams), to representation in medieval miniatures or in the apocalyptic painting of Hieronymus Bosch, or more recently, in the translation of more modern bestiaries, such as Goya, Max Ernst, Wilma Martins, Nelson Leirner, Regina Silveira, Damien Hirst, Nadir Ospina or Sidney Philocreon, history
and symbology have borne witness to this attraction to/mutation by animals, and their projection so bound to our most atavistic artistic perspective. This dedication often responded to allegoric impulses, that prior to the contemporary outlook, and to being figured by Craig Owens as postmodern characteristics, pervaded other eras, especially the already transcendental variations of the baroque. La alegoría no es más / que un espejo que traslada / lo que es con lo que no es (...), says one of Calderón de la Barca’s poems.
At a time when space is given increasingly less value, devoured by time, which, in turn is swallowed up by speed – so readily converting all into temporal scrap – these landscape atopias by Thereza Salazar are presented as spatial paradoxes, scenic designs of other “non-places”, rather different to those designated by Marc Augé as emblematic of our time – as populous and urban as they are anonymous or without identity - even though those by the artist also draw on distinct fictionality.
With her atopias we are in a paradise of uncertainty, in the phantasmagoria of the non-place, in other settings, as legendary as they are futuristic. Not in vain, the procedure used by the artist here, both in relation to the material and the strategy stems from collage and photomontage, which resources have always known how to turn everything upside down, especially the most standardised of certainties, subverting the doctrine of the surface and bestowing an ontological strangeness on the reconfigured place, and its back-to-front
II / What we see and anticipate here are second generation, derived landscapes, borne of diverse graphic and editorial representations (of various cultures and destinations), and in which, symptomatically, the absence of human kind is featured. Landscapes, in themselves strange, obscure or hermetic, abandoned of life but also landscapes in an effervescent state of nature (smoke or lava from a volcano, territories in space, between planets...) that have surprisingly been afforded an element from the animal kingdom, to amplify the
paradoxical dimension of the works. The choice of an uncanny bestiary, of creatures from different species, is already an ingredient of the artist’s work, and they report to an imaginary cartography whose signs seem loaded with the suspicious, with a disturbing, even sinister air, as if the images were about to announce something not so comfortable. There is a deaf noise in this silence that seems to be announced as a catastrophe, as in the imminence of a forthcoming happening. The images, the creatures chosen in concrete fashion, the series of reptiles, birds, mammals, crustaceans, insects... it’s a beastly creature that has been far from paradise for a long time – just like us. Thus, these announced backlights are an anti-publicity
iconography, the critique of which formulates a classic question: Where are we? In which world are we living? (apparently hiding the others, from where have we come, where are we going...)
III / The visual anomaly of these atopias generates this disturbing uncanniness, as their ambiguity is generated by the suspicion that we are faced with something altered. Thus, the artist’s iconographic images are highly suspicious, semantically, seemingly aimed at producing uncanniness. Therefore, Umberto Eco's analysis of the uncanny is directed at diving into the uncertain or the ugliness of the situation: “Freud agreed with Jensch that the uncanny was the antithesis of all that is comfortable and tranquil, but remarked that not everything that
is unusual is uncanny. Referring to Schelling, he observed that what strikes us as uncanny constitutes a return of the repressed, i.e. of something forgotten that crops up again, and hence an unusual thing that reappears after the erasure of something that was known, something that had troubled both our individual childhood and the childhood of humanity (like the return of primitive fantasies about ghosts and other supernatural phenomena).
IV / Hence, far from the consented civilization as illustrated, there has always existed nature with its promising zero state of the landscape, of the idealised natural world - something that, as we know, leads to the theme park dome – just as the anthromorphic animal kingdom existed (omnipresent since ancient cultures to the cartoons or tattoos of today). In literature it has always been a primary source of mythology: Aesop, La Fontaine, Borges, Monterroso, classics of an imaginary literature, ciphered this genre as prodigious for intercultural, inter-worldly paraphrases. There is, therefore, a biting irony in these visual fables of Thereza Salazar that have inherited the spirit of a hybrid nature, that seems to conjure the undeniable, terrible side of the fable (so often dressed in a child's skin in such tales). There is a horror on the verge of being announced, or some supernatural, pulsating event around ... in which the fictional landscape and emblematic, sombre animals will also witness some likely happening on the way.
In this context, the degree of fabulation contained in the artist's work is also a symptom of the images, as this relationship can also be seen in her itinerary2 dimension populated by fantastical beings, characters from fables, mythical figures, especially animal figures, forms my repertoire to build them".3 as a poetic, semantic metaphor has always permeated the graphic adventures that Thereza Salazar has developed and extended through different media and prints. On this occasion her graphic images have been worked photographically and digitally, undergoing a backlights treatment to give another visual impression of the era.
V / On the other hand, the multiple historical sources of the images, whether from albums, compendiums of various subjects, atlases and encyclopedias, many containing the formation and evolution of the planets and the different animal life forms, amplify the artist’s gesture, in keeping with the culture of the image that cuts across eras (as understood by Aby Warburg, Wlademir Dias-Pino) and, above all, draw on this Benjaminian temporal porosity that prevents the reification of history, continuity as an age-old model. Each isolated backlight of the
Atopias, even with its illuminated irony (with its light support), is an “object of barbarism” (W. Benjamin), a visual malice that plays with the timeless, with the out of time historicity and a symptomatic meaning, as Georges Didi-Huberman points out: “this dual-faced temporality was given by Warborg, and then by Benjamin – each with his own vocabulary – as a minimum condition to not reduce image to a mere document of history and, symmetrically, to not idealise artwork in a pure moment of the absolute."4 pictures – more against the grain – to recognising this dialectic, ambiguous time and unusual logic within them, where times gone by and now meet in her undefined time crystal. To close these notes, the repercussion produced by the word atopia cannot be denied, the tuned echo that it has with utopia, despite its rotund difference. And this flip side engages in an operative manner, as a conceptual diversion beyond its home territory 5 often happens, the meanings defined in the dictionary make it a transversal, if not poetic tool; in this case, the first definition of Atopias, as out of place and displaced, suggesting a rarefied situation, spatially strange and confused, and there also follows a second which is also instigating for Thereza Salazar’s work, as it is the allergy and skin disease, something that can be inferred in this images, even more so as they draw on collage and photomontage - two
artistic strands that erode and pound the surface of what we see with other tumultuous views and that maintain their the potential state of language in our contemporary world, perhaps because they shelter a certain visual discomfort, the cultural provocation of an allergy against certain latent things (stipulated, submersed, categorised), which also has its humanist echo.
Adolfo Montejo Navas
1 Umberto Eco, “The Uncanny”, in the A historia da feiúra [On Ugliness], Record, Rio de Janeiro, 2007, p. 312
2 A minimal inventory would show several examples, even if dissimilar in their aesthetic arrangement: Série
Sortilégios (2012) which brings an unusual analogous meeting between human and animal forms, Gestos (2012), in which the often-fragmented bestiary speaks to geometric or fractal structures of nature, or previously, suchas Aventuras dos corpos (2011), in which the world of the circus gathers human and animal figures in visual choreography.
3 Email from the artist, 2 April 2014. “the use of an imaginary
4 Georges Didi-Huberman, Antes del tiempo, Adriana Hidalgo editora, Buenos Aires, 2008, p.143. This vocation of considering the bestiary
5 Just as the utopia has been displaced, maybe because it was previously resigned to reductionist political
operations, or for being overtaken, unfortunately, by the immediatist lack of ontological spirit in contemporary life, art cannot be anything but utopia, chimera, atopia. Matrix of “Enchantment/disenchantment” that Angélica de Moraes was able to see in the artist’s production (Fabulações, Smith Galeria, São Paulo, 2012, p. 6).
(ou 5 notas sobre Atopias), Adolfo Montejo Navas