Five special projects featuring Puerto Rican artists are currently on view at the Museo de Arte de Ponce. Curated by Arlette de la Serna, Cuerpo Presente presents visually engaging approaches to the body that are not only corporeal approximations, but also expand to critical interpretations of politics, culture and spirituality. The exhibition features works by Adal Maldonado, Elsa María Meléndez, Norah Hernández and Jaime and Javier Suárez.
Párpados cayendo (1979) by Adal Maldonado is comprised of a sequence of over 100 small format photographs that presents viewers with a surrealist photonovel. Here, a dissatisfied photographer questions reality to the point where fiction and reality converge and are therefore indistinguishable one from the other. The scenes, directed, written and photographed by Maldonado, show an elegant woman talking on the phone with a suitor (as viewers we deduce it is the artist and photographer), while a series of characters dressed as courtesans dance a minuet. During the narrative, the photographer questions his own existence while the woman reassures him that he is real. A meaningful moment in the narrative occurs when the viewer is confronted with his/her own existence seemingly inserted into the narrative, extending the existencial quandery outside of the photographic frame. Here, photography manifests itself not merely as a means to represent the real but as a tool with the potential to create alternate realities.
Elsa María Meléndez’s La maldición de la cotorra: los perros mágicos (2010-2011) is faintly heard in an adjoining room, where sound is intermixed with a visual exacerbation of textiles and objects. In it, the artist has created an intense material presence through sikscreens on sewn textitles, stitched and filled pieces of fabric, shoes and intervened clothes and other objects, creating and recreating real as well as fictionalized characters and situations. Upon entering the room the viewer is faced with a scene of staged and stagnant bodies, or characters, that revel in their anonymity. The irritating and obnoxious sounds of the parrot (la cotorra) aludes to the constant presence of ‘small talk’ or chatter in today’s social settings. There exists an apparent rift between the visual aspect of the work and its audible counterpoint. The visual manifestation of the installation is whimsical and palpable, while its bothersome sound is mocking and abstract. Clearly influenced by the legacy of Goya’s Caprichos, Meléndez utilizes these elements to criticize those who talk and those who keep silent, the anonymous figures as well as the key players.
A more spiritual and three dimensional rendering of the body is offered by Cuerpos de luz (2008-2011) by Norah Hernández, which consists of seven rigid standing armors illuminated from the inside. The surface is comprised of multiple layers of clothing patterns and thread made to resemble a personal and bodily cartography. Here, the body is at the same time present and absent, viewed in its hollowed form, its carcass comes to represent the dualities of life and death.
Jaime and Javier Suárez’s approach to the body is based on discarded materials but it also corporeal as well as political. In one of the main gardens at the Museo de Arte de Ponce, the Puerto Rico Garden, the Suárez brothers created a site-specific installation titled Archipiélago (2011) that interweaves locality, body and politics. To gather the materials for the installation, the artists travelled the island of Puerto Rico searching for discarded pieces of asphalt around construction sites of roads, beaches and abandoned lots. The pieces were then gathered and placed in one of the artificial ponds of the museum’s garden to compose a bodily form. Although the form constructed references the body, it is abstract enough in its composition to also be interpreted as a star. In the context of the garden, the rectangular pond and its specific placement in it, the installation resembles the Puerto Rican flag or monoestrellada. The use of asphalt to construct it comments on the island’s rapid urban sprawl and our reliance on petro products for its construction, thereby questioning the idea of progress and its promises of social and economic betterment.