Between one singular entity and another there is contiguity, not continuity; there is proximity, not identity.
So everything takes place between us: this “between” does not have its own consistency or continuity. It does not lead from one to the other, it neither creates a fabric nor cement nor a bridge [...] it is the intersection of threads, the extremities of which remain separate even though knotted.
(J. L. Nancy, Être singulier pluriel, Paris, Galilé
ABOUT THE SHOW
The show presents a selection of recent works specifically made for the occasion based on the theme of the identity of the landscape as an intimate dimension of memory, one that is constructed through various and distant landscapes, connected by journeys and “trajectories”. For the artist, this is something that is composed and recomposed each time by personal experience, but it is also the place of identity, a line that crosses territories and collecting from them ever new visual and perceptive fragments.
From hints, drawings, and forms elaborated when travelling across her home country, Paraguay, Nélida Mendoza has developed an itinerary consisting of memories, return journeys, and meetings that, in turn, modify this trajectory. The figures derived from all this represent the relationship between the profundity of the traces left and the precariousness of movement, an unstable balance between what is remembered and what continuously changes aspect.
The show is part of the Colgando Paisajes art research project conceived by Nélida Mendoza together with the art critic and curator Costanza Meli. The project was developed in both Latin America and Europe as a dialogue and reflection on the relationship between sculpture and landscape.
Landscape is never a definition. Its richness is indeterminacy and hesitation: something that is receptive to doubts about oneself and the world. It is indecision: a state that is realised in an experience that is necessarily variable and never the same. Like every word, form, and emotion that expresses it, landscape is a continual circulation of other images, sensations, meanings, and ideas. For the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, circulation is the manifestation of being, singular and plural, in every moment; it is something that “proceeds in all senses, but it does so inasmuch as it proceeds from one point to another [...], from place to place and instant to instant, without progression, without a linear trace, blow by blow and case by case”. Just like the landscape we are observing, circulation has spacing and not continuity as its condition. “The world, each time, always arises from an exclusive, local, instantaneous trend. Its unity, uniqueness, and totality” are nothing other than “reticulated multiplicity.”1
But a landscape that can never be stopped never wholly corresponds to us. Each landscape is at the same time presence and absence, visible and invisible; it is the double movement between exploration and surrender. Each discovery of a new landscape coexists with the loss of a known space and, in this way, what is not present becomes a memory.
Colando Paisajes is also this: an archive of visions and perceptions of real, seen, heard, crossed, or distantly contemplated things. Like the ungraspable image of light that filters through the trees and the undergrowth of “mountains”, or like the figure of a washing line that does not give way under the weight of the laundry hanging on it in front of houses in the country. The light of the woods is returned to the eye through superimposed levels, radiating from the centre towards the outside, in light and dark areas, of fullness and emptiness, until it composes a suspended and vibrant landscape. The sweet and mobile cord from which the clothes are hung, curved between the posts that hold it up, opposing a necessary yet impossible resistance.
Is identity only manifested at that precarious and illusory point of tension?
In Nélida Mendoza’s work the conflict that is latent in any search for identity is resolved in a contradictory and metaphorical image. In it are condensed the opposite senses of suspension and rootedness.
Each time that the poles come near together they trace out grooves in the ground; each intervention, each attempt to distance them causes new traces and new grooves. The movement of arrastrar (dragging) is the result of a gesture; it is a necessary yet voluntary and creative action. It is a movement that draws. Like an artistic gesture, it is intentional and affirmative, but it hides a deception, a lie exposed to the eyes of the public.
In Nélida Mendoza’s choice of opening up her own research into landscape to meetings and relationships, there is an awareness that those grooves in the ground are not unique but multiple, like the visions and itineraries that make up the landscape. It is a unitary vision that is constructed thanks to the superimposition of diverse levels. So the landscape is interpreted as a place for identity, but also for inter-subjectivity; a space that is filled with presences and the “us” of experience. In this participation of each part in the whole there is a link to the shared aspect of the artist’s work, a work that is realised thanks to the contribution of the people who from time to time are involved in the Colgando Paisajes project.
In Nélida Mendoza’s recent experience during her residency at EAC in Montevideo, her award for winning the MERCOSUR de Artes Visuales prize2, this narrative was enriched by her meetings with the female former political prisoners in the prison of Punta de Rieles (Montevideo), during the last dictatorship in Uruguay. The artist’s relationship with these women came about, once again, by way of a fabric of relationships that was both concrete and metaphorical, a relationship that was to continue in time through the memory of a landscape that cannot be removed. In this case, the gift of the fabric was complicated by personal experiences, such as those of prison and life inside. In the story of one of them, Nibia, this life was told through minimal and essential symbols, such as those linked to clothing and to a dense, intimate alphabet created from the relationship between the women who shared their days in prison. Days marked out by rhythms and meetings, by the sharing of a system of communicating that was expressed through the body and clothing.
When you are in prison you must not have around you elements that mark the passing of time or that show a form of a special relationship. There are vetoes and prohibitions about the body and feelings, but also ones connected to what you wear. In the case of the prison of Punta de Rieles, it was permitted to wear coloured clothes, but not any particular designs (such as flowers or birds) associated with a “sense of freedom”.
And so a patch on a shirt would become a symbol, but also a code that the guards could not read or interpret and that contained affective meanings; this permitted a secret dialogue as well as the survival of a relationship within the group. The twelve women who made up that community of prisoners found their own system for reproducing a domestic situation, one that allowed them to keep an identity, spirit, and feelings even in that place. By introducing the clothes given by Nibia for representing this landscape, the artist has opened her eyes and those of the public to an area of relationships based on the importance of sharing, one closely connected to the social, political, and emotional context that she has journeyed through thanks to her own work.
But in terms of sculpture, to work also means contaminating the territory of sculpture and its language. Each fabric, in fact, is a word united to the others, not in order to make a phrase, but to articulate a plural narrative.
According to the philosopher Arnold Berleant, the author of the aesthetics of engagement, “the aesthetic characteristic of our age is not disinterested contemplation but engagement, a sensorial immersion in the world that has reached an experience of exceptional unity.”3 Unity and immersion are not only perceptive conditions, but they create the matrices of a complex experience that includes the activity, the implications, the “situating of oneself” of the experience and of subjectivity. Space becomes environment and territory by being multiplied. The art that develops within this landscape is imprinted with a new awareness, it is something open to the contaminations that each place might suggest.
The landscapes narrated by the artist during this journey are, then, multiple, but they do not make a system, they do not amalgamate or superimpose: they are ones-with-the-others. “it is the intersection of threads, the extremities of which remain separate even though knotted.”4
Like the trees that raise themselves towards the sky, passing through various areas of light and shade, so every landscape is composed of layers, of parallel identities, that nourish each other reciprocally to create a single itinerary. What we see at the end are the trees, the places, in a perfect image, not each individual substratum.
If the drawings in this show represent the elusive image of a suspended landscape, one in which everything holds together but nothing is united, the installations translate this visual and sensorial universe into the tactility and colours of fabric. Fabrics sewn together and that compose single visions, like prolonged gazes in which are condensed depth and light, but also the voices and sounds of a high-resolution landscape. These forms have outlines, weight, and consistency, but they can also waver, hide from each other, so exhibiting their partiality.
1 J. L. Nancy, Être singulier pluriel, It. transl. Essere singolare plurale (1996), Giulio Einaudi editore, Turin 2001.
2 The show includes two installations as well as a video made by Nélida Mendoza later on in a workshop of relational art during her residency at the Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo (EAC), Montevideo (Uruguay). The artist’s participation in this residency, her award for winning the MERCOSUR de Artes Visuales prize in 2016, was undertaken with the sponsorship of the Paraguay Republic’s Secretaría Nacional de Cultura.
3 Carlson A., Berleant A., The Aesthetics of Natural Environments, Broadview Press, 2004.
4 Nancy, op. cit.