Adrián Villar Rojas: La fin de l’imagination
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Video by Joran Leroux-Gipouloux
Stills photographed by Jörg Baumann / baumann fotografie frankfurt a.m.
"In 2010, I proposed a hypothesis: What if, in the final moments of humanity, the last of the species decided they wanted to make an artwork? It would be the last human artwork, together with all the logical implications unfolded by this fact. The end of art, end of the world and end of language are then one and the same thing: the same end. In my fabulations, reaching the shores of art created a vacuum, a silence that gave space for me to explore nonhuman perspectives. This is when I placed a new metaphor of an alien into this terminal landscape. What I call the ‘alien gaze’ expresses this impossible paradox: a subjectivity without culture."
—Adrián Villar Rojas
Adrián Villar Rojas has built a practice working across media to create immersive environments and experiences that seem to be in a state of perpetual space-time travel.
In La fin de l’imagination, Villar Rojas asks how COVID-19 is affecting time—our human time, our language, our systems of representation. For example, if meaning is created with our imagination, a clock or a calendar is not less fantasious than a Jackson Pollock painting. Clocks and Pollocks are equally subjective. But, all fabulations are supported by a decisive amalgam: power.
The power of revolutionary France in 1793 was not enough to implement Napoléon’s newly invented decimal calendar worldwide, nor even for more than 12 years in France, but the wealth and influence of the United States after World War II was certainly enough to propose Abstract Expressionism as a canon for contemporary art. Through Villar Rojas’ world-building, echoes of these constructs, the clock and the calendar, return to Paris like ghosts in a haunted house.
“In the books we were taught to read at art school, with titles as grandiose as the universal history of art, that is, the art of the universe, we –Latin Americans– were barely mentioned. Looking at the world from the periphery has always been an interesting task. As former colonies, we sneak through the cracks of History.”
"Absolute, true, and mathematical time, on its own and from its own nature, flows equably unrelated to anything external, and it also receives the name of duration. Relative, apparent, and common time is somehow sensitive and external to duration (whether accurate or unequable) through motion, which is commonly used instead of true time; an hour, a day, a month and a year are similar measures."
—Isaac Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687)
Implemented by Napoleon on November, 24th 1793, the Republican Calendar established September, 22nd of the previous year, 1792, as the starting point of year I, the beginning of time, the origin of the Republic. There were two main reasons for choosing September, 22nd as the first day of human history. Firstly, the autumnal equinox; secondly, the fact that it was the date when the Revolutionary Assembly proclaimed the Republic after the insurrection that had taken place on September, 21st, only the day before. If we think this through, the first day should be that of the Revolution. This must have arisen several discussions amongst those who proposed the new calendar; but the tendency to align the planetary movements to social affairs prevailed over every other impulse -a certainly illustrated tendency to consider human history as a natural history.
Each day in the Republican Calendar was divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 decimal minutes, and each decimal minute into 100 decimal seconds. Mandatory use of decimal time was officially suspended 7 April 1795, although some cities continued to use decimal time as late as 1801.
The Washington Conference was held in 1884 to determine a zero meridian for international use. There were three options: Paris, Greenwich or Washington. Everyone voted in favour of England, with the exception of three countries. France and Brazil abstained in the vote; the first, because it would be a vote against its own meridian; the second, because Pedro II, monarch of the Empire of Brazil and Portugal, ordered his delegate to do the same as the French delegates. The third country was the Dominican Republic, whose delegate, Manuel de Jesús Galván, was the only one who voted against, insisting that the meridian should be at the middle of the Pacific so none of the countries could feel the egocentrism to proclaim itself as the origin of day.
Evolving over years towards the development of topography-based, mutant, organic-inorganic systems, Villar Rojas invites viewers to become explorers of an unpredictable microcosmos of his design, where the future, the past, and alternate versions of our own present interact as a constantly changing totality.
Villar Rojas proposes a fabulated mutant panhuman language that may be used in a thousand years' time, or tomorrow. This mark-making system gathers various forms with different levels of association to current and past human writing mechanisms.
At the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, with the Internet yet to come and books impossible to borrow or too expensive to buy, Villar Rojas’s generation of arts students in Rosario, Argentina, depended on booklets (cuadernillos) comprised of photocopies usually taken not from the original source (i.e., books), but other copies, always losing more information from one to the next series of copies. The distorted grainy, black and white reproductions of such artists as Rothko and Pollock were an unpredictable subversion of the “subject matter” and a silent revolution in those students’ subjectivity.
Thus, the teaching of “Art History” in the School of Fine Arts at the National University of Rosario, which in fact is Western Art History that rarely includes Latin American narratives, is turned into the barely decipherable remains of a lost visual heritage where the imagination of those young students found a fertile ground to breed their own mutants, made more of fantasy than of information: “It was almost like these photocopies were shouting: there are no hard facts, only fabulation and speculation!” says Villar Rojas, “Art Histories, or rather Art Stories, are for us students to reclaim and hack”.
New disrupting imaginations become evident in the lower gallery, where Villar Rojas introduces a sequence of site-specific murals transposing reproductions of pages from his own preserved booklets of photocopies onto an archive of posters, invitation cards and envelopes that embody a physical history of printed matter produced over the Paris gallery’s 25-year history. Here different juxtaposed layers of Capitalocene artistic heritage seem to expose a new visual genetic code resulting from the infinitely singular story of the art education of an individual coming from Rosario, Argentina, a country inscribed in a region that historian Alain Rouquie calls the Far West.
La fin de l'imagination also encompasses an exhibition of works on paper at Librairie Marian Goodman. Created using 12 designs of his own past exhibition posters from 2003 to 2020 that have been folded, creased, covered or enhanced with coloured pigments and predominantly intervened by panhuman stencils, transforming –in the artist's narration– into political propaganda or battle flags recovered from futuristic wars.
Using the same logic as for the show at the Gallery, Villar Rojas appropriated the Bookshop aiming to enhance its architectural specificities and history. More than a simple gesture or repetition of a pattern, by painting the vitrine in black the artist took the obverse of what a vitrine is supposed to be, making it partially obscured. Visitors can only see inside through the letters of La fin de l’imagination. Creating a coherent ensemble with the rest of his show at the gallery, this echoes the conditions in the last room of the exhibition, where at first glance one can’t see anything, but while staring, a vision appears.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic strongly affected Villar-Rojas' working process, obliging him to rethink his exhibition at the gallery and incorporating new constraints. So did most institutions in the art world, including the Louvre, which had to impose a new circulation within the museum while limiting access to certain rooms. This resulted in a more concise public brochure being printed to inform the audience about changes due to the health situation. Villar Rojas, noting the documentary archival value of this special printed document, marked it with the same black seal of the title of his exhibition, La fin de l'imagination, imbuing it with symbolic value - a testimony of the present situation.
"The truth is that there is no 'art' as such at all times and places. But there is human action transforming matter, scattered, simultaneous, juxtaposed action, without a name, or with names different from 'art'."
—Adrián & Sebastián Villar Rojas