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Traces to an itinerary

By Jorge Reynoso Pohlenz

Just then –without warning– I disappeared. […] With each step I took, I felt myself sinking deeper into a quicksand where my identity vanished […] this wasn't me walking in the moonlight. It wasn’t me but a stand-in, fashioned out of plaster. I rubbed my hand against my face. But it wasn’t my face. And it wasn’t my hand. […] The glow of real life was missing. My makeshift, phony muscles were just going through the motions…
Man-Eating-Cats, by Haruki Murakami. Translated by Philip Gabriel

I.

Looking for a love lost in the night, the character created by Murakami decided to deviate from the set path for more thorny surroundings. Carrying some useless coins in his pocket, forgetting to wear the watch that could let know of any referential containment to his bed, an abandoned life and home he left who knows when. And just when a distant music, perceived or allegedly perceived, is interrupted, this fictional subject experiences the estrangement of his own identity. Bits and pieces of an unfamiliar and intractable reality, the dense forest and the steppe represent favorable destinations for the awesome or ecstatic ritual of depersonalization. We become immersed, a term which also applies to prolonged therapeutic dwelling. Either resulting from the search or from the flee, we throw ourselves into abandonment leading our psyche to the incline, and the sublime elation or terror resulting from the tension between the human need of configured senses, defined, and a refractory scope to the domestication of its contents and transits. Stars are not intended to arrange themselves in constellations, as well as deer tracks do not aspire to draw a trail. The deer itself ignores that it is part of a decimated species, which’s instinctive or empirical reluctance to voluntarily concur with the human milieu incites, coinciding in some cases, to be the effect of a solemn appearance. The deer ignores its incarnation as Bambi or its monstrous participation in the film Antichrist by Von Trier. Nature understood as feral is not that of a suspended time, it doesn’t represent itself as amoral cycles of birth and death: these are cultural transfigurations encrypted in the epimyth after a fable. He who delves in the forest begins to guess that the processes he senses are fragments of a vital and unconsciously inhuman conspiracy, revealing wonderful and monstrous emotions to reason, primitive feelings that our civilized shell rejects, associated as they are with panic, fear to interrupt the sleep of the God Pan, rabid, lazy, negligent and lewd disturber of the herds. In resisting the suggestion and the possibility of chaos, reason even offers a depiction of the dreadful face of Pan, proposing subtle organic fibers that reconcile the landscape based on cycles and balances, scaring ogres and offering the Illustrator the alternative of a delicate naturalistic drawing: the representation of the landscape is the tentative product of a therapy, the partial result of the attempt to seize everything that exceeds us, framing it in a maneuverable format. When seeking to surpass the picturesque texture –that which is similar to the pleasant “white noise” of fountains– the landscape might be the representation of a crisis –not necessarily traumatic or painful– of the transit state: that of a subject which, contemplating, presumes overflowing beyond the principle of individuation. Despite his notoriety in progressive societies, contemplation has never been a passive attitude.

The eastern philosopher and the western anchorite agree to identify this state as an emptying progression. Art being an act of will to be expressed, filled, transformed, and formatted, creating artificial senses for the world –significantly filling a void– its relationship with nature assembles paradoxically. Art can turn the forest into a metaphor, but it does not refer directly to the external human nature, but that which is found within us, which requires the journey, path and exploration to represent the internal story by the senses and its meanings for humanity. This is the type of forest a path is laid to with the work of Hugo Lugo.

II.

One profile of modernity is portrayed with the turbulent image of events. Paintings, photos and videos at an accelerated rate, are incorporated into the collective imagination, saturating it into vertigo and stupor with a troubled sense of reality; this iconographic turbulence has been increasing since the Napoleonic campaigns, Goya was one of its most eloquent illustrators. At both ends of the German painter’s Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) creative activities there are Napoleonic canvases –with hectic and heroic scenes– in addition to the dynamic and energetic pictorial chronicles of Delacroix. In the midst of a turbulent time, bursting with genuine or portrayed violence, the works of Friedrich –and other artists associated to the contemplative representation– might seem an evasive Act, an exercise in escapism to the realities of a vigorous new era. But we can also consider Friedrich’s confines as a legitimate and accurate alternative to the vertigo of modernity, a turning point that reaches our present senses: the solitary passerby whose faces we don’t see, the brim and branches of surly forms, ruins on the verge of collapsing or the boat (called Hope) shipwrecked and almost invisible in the middle of the ice are worthy of joining in the aesthetic itinerary that records the aftermath of the advance of progress. Under the light of warm and cold stars, the characters of the German painter discover and examine the horizon, without the ancestral auspices of fearsome or compassionate divinities; the absence of historical heroes taking on leadership or the reassuring voice of a commentator, the now popular "opinion leader”, is nowhere to be found in scenes. What defines the horizon, the past or the future, is uncertain, and that uncertainty about the path and sense of the facts is assumed by Hugo Lugo as an inheritance.

In order to give architectural drawings a proportional imaginary sense of likelihood (to simulate the inhabitable possibility of a model), “human scales” are often used, representative figures controlled by certain standards. Recurrently modeled after his own appearance, Lugo’s subjects operate in his drawings, paintings and animations in an opposite direction to human architectural and design scales –however maintaining, some generic similarity– breaking the principles of scale and representation, occasionally declaring their alienation or incompatibility with the environment and operating strange actions, or inactions, which resemble rituals without votive accessories (the fire’s light or hand lamps can be considered exceptions: metaphorical amulets following illumination). Occasionally, Lugo’s subjects are positioned close to combustion processes, whether limited to what burns in a crackling and agonizing fire, or also extending in constructions, similar to the idyllic models that are included in the scale train sets at, in the advertising for rural tourism or in the illustrations of old educational books. Nobody looks out from these burning houses: their imminent collapse is something that, on canvas or on video, is simply happening and that we witness with the similar reflective detachment we invest in contemplating a log in a fire fragmenting into burning coals. This seemingly dispassionate Pyromania made from pigments and projections resembles a secular ceremony devoted to the disaster (disjointed star, lost, disintegrated), resigned recognition that the stars are not configured in a conducive manner to positively glimpse into the future, leaving us with the present trance experience in which the past and the future become undecipherable, unrealistic: a moment of anxiety and sometimes an uncomfortable and intimate secret joy. This experience of unreality is also part of the iconography of modernity, including the Florentine “bonfires of the vanities”, the Nazi book burnings, the annihilation of New York’s World Trade Center towers, and the bursts of light and white blasts over a Baghdad night, almost invisible, transmitted in “real time” on television. Although distance communications technology allows to adjust the news of the tragic event to a uniform alignment with the present of the spectator (who is impatiently watching), the image on the screen of the subsequent tragedy brings us to the critical questioning of the conventions of reality as experience we can share, avert or reconcile. In a sense, Lugo’s airplanes and burning houses represent an update to the ruins and shipwrecks of romantic painting: all human work tends to be consumed and reincorporated to the Earth’s bosom.

Between the coal and the diamond we find graphite, a carbon manifestation named for its assistance to writing. Interestingly, the graphite is used in homeopathic medicine for the treatment of depression and anxiety. More consolidated and mineral than ashes, this material produces a particular fascination in Lugo, beyond its purpose in illustration, in which, depending on its application, creates both fine lines and dark saturated surfaces, halfway between opacity and brightness. Employing graphite powder, this artist covered (in his works Forma de correspondencia #2 y #3 – Correspondence form #2 and #3) a range of specimens, becoming a three-dimensional drawing of sort and artificially offering them a mineralized state of “suspended life”: reality that becomes artistic representation acquires something resembling a vampiric state, death in life and life in death. The relationship between the drawings and Lugo’s graphite covered specimens helps to reinforce the idea that his work obsessively revolves around the tension between perception of reality (nature) and the veracity of his logic representation (figurative art), stoking paradoxical exercises on the scale of this obsessive body, the spatiality and temporality.

III.

In Lugo’s work, the frequent hybrid and heterogeneous congregation of techniques and formats, as well as the transgression of the conventions of its presentation and representation systems, can be interpreted as a sort of critical tribute to traditions which, as mentioned, the artist recognizes as legacy, accentuating this appropriation –especially for the pictorial tradition– from multiple citations and reference signs, as the aforementioned Friedrich to the visual paradoxes of Magritte, the picturesqueness, the naturalistic flora and fauna catalogues or idle drawings on the margins of a school notebook. Few of those recently approaching art miss the fact that painting, or “the pictoric”, is receiving an extensive questioning about its legitimacy and validity as a genuine “contemporary art”. Simultaneously, at the extent that contemporary society is flooded with images, the perceptive attitude required to properly observe a painting is inhibited; on the other hand, the popularized version of the current aftermath of conceptualism poses a claim to the work of art so that it contains “ideas” that, strangely, envision tangentially or oddly to the aesthetic experience of the work, as if the spectator was invited to find the clues of a complex murder, evidence for which the terrible appearance of the body is irrelevant. Without proselytizing claims or fanfare, in a playful manner –and sometimes, even educational and historiographic– Lugo proposes to recover an attitude of observation of perspective and code imminent to “the pictorical” in an updated approach, in which often video and photo operate as auxiliaries, notes and remarks at the edge of devices that confront us with reflections on the association between image and the technique of image production, format and support, spatial representation of temporality, etc. In cases like 15 ensayos para reproducir la historia (Fifteen essays to reproduce history) or Estructura para un dilemma (Structure to a dilemma) (Friedrich) reflexive proposal extends to emphasize an objectual reality of painting, reality that projected contents and values beyond its contained image. This object is also a cultural fetish subjected to manipulation, to copy, to parody, speculation. In the first above-mentioned work, fifteen modules of a small landscape are stacked in a column, very similar to those that were mass-produced by Jacob Van Ruysdael, XVII century Dutch painter who had the opportunity, in a bourgeois and reformed nation, of painting landscapes without narrative pretexts. In the image at the top of the stack of canvases and under a tree, a tiny painter seems to render, a golden encloser instead of his surroundings. Lugo works with effective realism relentlessly when he draws and paints, but without petulant refinement, possibly suggesting that the hyper-real technical virtuosity diverts from the function of the image as an imaginary tool of figurations.

An additional resource of Lugo’s is to convene the objectual reality of paintings and photographs consisting of separating sections of the surface of an image to later relocate them. These incisions don’t bear a resemblance to the “spatial” cuts of Lucio Fontana, but similarly affirm a discontinuous, three-dimensional, and hallow reality of an image: this is not a self-absorbed world, locked within itself. In Memorial, Lugo, from an old photo, painted a group portrait that corresponds to the category of the “unknown character”, those who do not resemble celebrity or historical and social archetypes. The portraits of unknown characters highlight the strange role of the genre to bear witness and preserve the ghost of something lost: a person is not an image but something that passes by and escapes. The faces of the subjects have been separated from punctured support affirming sense of loss. In close proximity, the anonymous and detached faces resemble the sides of coins with an uncertain denomination.


Other hollows distress in Reflexion (Reflection) I, II, III (Kafka, Rilke, Machado), the opening in these three pieces being a space occupied by words: where the headings use up space on the support that contains them, filling a vacuum; the support which is also reflecting, something vague, the outline of the observer (in an exhibition space, I wouldn’t know on print). Ben Vautier presents texts on paintings to provoke ideologically and conceptually; the provocation of Richard Prince is based on displaying profane and obscene jokes on his canvases. Additionally, Lugo presents fragments, only glimpses of thoughts products of fear, war and exile; texts that derive from darkness and that the light that they reflect allows a glance to the abyss from which they emerged. As in Memorial, the sense of time’s transit is one of loss. Perhaps the art means more when it refers to the void than when it affirms some form of totality.



Form of Correspondance #2, 2011
Form of Correspondance #2, 2011

Form of Correspondance#3, 2011
Form of Correspondance#3, 2011

Reflection on Machado, 2011
Reflection on Machado, 2011

Stolen Landscape (detail), 2011
Stolen Landscape (detail), 2011

Trail, 2011
Trail, 2011