In “Soleil Noir: Víctor Vázquez,” Lilliana Ramos-Collado reviews the latest exhibition by the artist, “No vamos a llegar, pero vamos a ir” [We will not get there, but we’re going], held at Arsenal de la Puntilla and at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Here are excerpts:
When Víctor Vázquez choses photography to explore “ruins,” he does so through a surreptitious redundancy: the certainty that one type of ruin is needed to discuss another.
In his exhibition entitled “No vamos a llegar, pero vamos a ir,” Vázquez lay hold of a phrase from a Federico García Lorca play entitled “El público” [The Public]. It is from the standpoint of Lorca’s willful stubbornness that the artist confronts us with a series of photographs and installations that go to the core of memory: bricks ripped from a dilapidated, abandoned building in Old San Juan—owned by Nick Quijano, also an artist—boxes that seem to be holding key moments of Puerto Rican history, stacks of clean clothes belonging to an old woman who has just died, a bed that is both a table and a shelter, and a clothesline that waits for those freshly washed clothes to be soiled, to need to be washed again and hung in the sun. The photos and other items in this exhibition, carefully placed in the space of the galleries, are installed in a literally ruined domesticity that gathers, perhaps, the symptoms or traces of those who inhabited it. A long expanse: the ruin Vázquez chose is a colonial building in Old San Juan with at least 350 years of history.
At first glance, the photos of this ruin exhibit both the ravages of time and the elements that remind us of that domesticity accumulated for centuries and macerated to the point of leaving us only its essences: the crust of human nature on the grease of the walls, the erosion of the steps, the palimpsest formed by layers of paint raised like my lady the onion, the ceiling of a bedroom crumbling into the living room, and everywhere, tears through which one may catch a glimpse of the blue sky of San Juan.
The use of a young model whose body confronts the erosion of the ruinous environment is essential: the trauma of time reveals a reality plagued by decay. The fact that the model holds in his hands the letters of the phrase “I am” takes us back to the notion that in this deterioration, identity wells up, constructed by time. Both the building and its residents assume their identity directly on its structure and on its skin, closing this two-headed symbol that Honoré de Balzac had already proposed in Le père Goriot: the building denotes the inhabitant as the inhabitant explains the building.
Hence, for Vázquez, to bring to the gallery uninhabitable debris—bricks, trash, dust—is so appropriate: contrary to the life of the inhabitant, Virilio explains, the life of the building precedes its construction, and it languishes for centuries after the ruins themselves have become invisible. The imprint of human occupation remains in the terrain, on the environmental impact, and the documentary memory of that occupation. One detail seems fundamental: there is no better witness to the occupation and the development of that mutual identity than the bodies themselves, each in its particular matter. The ruin of the dweller belongs to the ruin of the house.
Arguably, in this exhibition, the proposal is simple: the mutual reflection of the terms ruin/inhabitant. And more than a simple inhabitant, a succession of inhabitants, tract, human cadastre. An intuition that Vázquez rescues here seems fundamental: a ruin is not only one thing, but rather, it always presents an anthology of moments, an account of experiences that gives us the notion that the past is always richer than we think, too multiple to be fixed in a single one of its successive surfaces.
[Photo of Víctor Vázquez above by Neysa Jordán.]
For the full article (in Spanish), see http://visiondoble.net/num1a/2013/03/15/soleil-noir/ and http://bodegonconteclado.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/soleil-noir-Víctor-Vázquez/