Quintín Rivera Toro’s most recent exhibition titled Allafuera, currently on view at METRO:plataformaorganizada in San Juan, is comprised of a general survey of new works and a presentation of several ongoing series that the artist has been working on for several years. Although the works are presented devoid of curatorial strategies, through them, the viewer can sense a personal approach consequent to the artist’s immediate environment, that combined with political proclamations seems to evoke a sense of agitation and unrest. Ideas related to hopelessness, desire and futility prevail as relevant themes to explore within the context of Rivera Toro’s recent artistic production.
On the roof of the main entrance of the space, much like an omen or a publicity stunt, a sign that reads Batista Presidente, referring to Fidel Castro’s predecessor Fulgencio Batista (overthrown by the Cuban Revolution in 1959), greeted visitors. This overt and subversive political declaration or perhaps a sarcastic remark referencing the local political climate, resonates through various works that address political concerns. But once inside, Rivera Toro’s recent works, ranging from video, photography, painting and drawing, waver from political declarations to domestic and very personal performances. The politically motivated works comment on recent as well as relevant social and political events within the local and international arena. The Top One Hundred, 2011, is a photographic documentation of an installation of 100 hanging ropes at one of the exhibition halls of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MAC). According to the work’s description, the artist is alluding to “the strangulation of the 100 best students at the Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR);” a comment on the metaphorical asphyxiation, physical and intellectual, of students at the UPR by the local authorities. The UPR, an institution currently facing economic and social hardships, has been the violent stage of consistent student protests since the late 1960’s. Another politically charged work is the video Forgiveness, 2010, where Rivera Toro appropriates and edits a speech given by Adolf Hitler during the Third Reich to repeat the words on a loop “I am so sorry, forgive me, please forgive me.” And although these words were pronounced by Hitler himself, here, recontextualized and edited, they come to represent an absolution that never came to fruition, a desire that never existed to begin with. Employing a historical revisionist technique to his work, the artist manages to express an uncanny and highly improbable pardon; a wishful parody of a typical Hitlerian conference.
In an adjoining room, a group of photographs pertaining to the series Discarded Ideas that bear the words ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,’ the optimistic motto of the French Revolution of 1789. The photographs display a top view of a waste basket where these ideas are crumpled and unfortunately thrown away. This phrase, currently used as the slogan for the French Republic, is now tainted with the nation’s increasing racism and xenophobia vis-à-vis immigrant communities from its former colonies. By contrast, About Domesticity, 2011, comprised of the videos To Love, To Work and To Play displays a more personal approach to art making. Here, Rivera Toro performs a series of domestic tasks that are seemingly never ending, such as cleaning and organizing his immediate private environment; an exercise in repetition, discipline and ultimately futility.
Continuing to explore ideas related to hopelessness and desire, a photograph of the installation The grass was greener, 2010, displays a visual representation of the popular aphorism. The installation takes place on a green lawn where a white picket fence forms a square and encloses a small space where the grass is visibly greener. When we say that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ we evoke our sense of perception that tells us that things look better ‘on the other side’ compared to our own surroundings. However, we are advised that it might not be so, and this is ultimately the way this aphorism is commonly used, to underline the ways we should appreciate what we have. In Rivera Toro’s work, however, the phrase holds true, as ‘the grass was greener,’ but it is also completely enclosed and inaccessible. This work can also be interpreted taking into consideration the artist’s personal condition as an immigrant in the US; a ‘land of opportunities’ that might not be readily available to everyone. Looking on from Puerto Rico, from afar and over the fence, the grass looks greener in the US. And although it might be true to a certain degree, the fence could represent insurmountable hurdles that challenge an immigrant’s cultural assimilation. In all, Rivera Toro’s work forces us to contemplate the diverse manifestations of contemporary practice. The works speak of the immediacy and fragility of the times we are currently living, times of hardship and political turmoil, but also of great hopes, dreams and desires.