Measuring the Distance (La Casa Encendida, 2015)
11 Sep., 15 - 01 Nov., 15
La Casa Encendida (Madrid, España)
X = 1N (1 + one dirty wish)
An Algorithm for Unfolding Forces in the Work of Gonzalo Lebrija
The creative output of Gonzalo Lebrija encompasses a wide range of media: drawing, video, photography, sculpture, installation art, etc. His works unfold as images in space with which spectators must establish a delicate process of interaction; the information is never fully disclosed. The relationship between the different media he uses and the speed and ease with which the artist transitions from one to the next only hints at the complexity of his production. It is important to note that Lebrija, who studied communication sciences, uses images as the source of his artistic language. In the same way, certain references related to the body or corporeality serve as a point of departure, actions such as folding, running, observing or shooting. Different textures and colours are presented together in a state of purity that intensifies the voltage inherent to their nature. Lebrija constantly uses his own body, skills and limitations as the raw material of his creative process. Behind these actions lies an intricately woven web of multiple meanings, historical references and contemporary issues that form subtle insurrections, reminiscences of the prosperity of bygone days or a fiction of some sort.
For Jacques Lacan, “the experience of temporality, human time, past, present, memory, the persistence of personal identity over months and years […] is also an effect of language. It is because language has a past and a future, because the sentence moves in time, that we can have what seems to us a concrete or lived experience of time”(1). In connection with this idea of time in language, we can assume that one of the defining features of Lebrija’s works is that they operate under the same laws of a linguistic system: we can trace their trajectory from the past, their historical baggage, their referential capacity. We can perceive them in the present, as the visual elements and physical presence of each piece creates an immediate communication. We can perceive the effect of a future time, because the expressed code creates a sense of continuity and inserts the variable of time to come.
There are two intersecting universes in Lebrija’s work. The first is the universe of certainties: everything that we can know, affirm or measure. The second consists of everything that is unknown, unfamiliar or unresolved. To explore these twin pillars, on one level the exhibition title reminds us of the basic human urge to quantify(2). The determination to establish a unit of measurement or relationships of length or quantity is comparable to the processes involved in solving mathematical equations, where conditional statements of magnitude establish a correlation or dependence between the values and equivalents of the confronted concepts. The mathematical principle of “N” is, in this case, a supposition, the logically deductible physical axes, the matter we can detect, the different ways of ordering known objects or situations with predictable limits. The “X” is uncertainty, the oneiric, unknown, unstable or absurd quantity; even so, humanity continues the tireless quest to name or explain it. The “N” and “X” are, in turn, functional abstractions of language which, given their situation in a numerical process, have an entrance, a moment of resolution and an exit. This process also implies temporality.
In Dirty Wish (2008), the image of a blonde woman posing for the camera behind a Grand Prix luxury car, whose licence plate announces the year 1963 (3), is suddenly interrupted by a splotch of black paint, presented to us as some kind of scatological accident or perhaps a disastrous pictorial ejaculation. The ironic intention behind the title Dirty Wish posits doubt about the utility (or perhaps the legitimacy) of industrialising and commercialising personal experiences as the project that the positivist capitalism of mid-20th-century America dragged in its wake. The citizen (the blonde) is presented not only as a consumer of commodities but also as part of a system where the act of consuming is not just an economic transaction; it also has to do with a regression to desire. We consume in the mere act of desiring. The blonde is at once consumption and desire. She is the embodiment of promise and frustration, representing the decline of today’s economic models (4). In Who Knows Where the Time Goes (2013), Lebrija used his marksmanship skills, tossing books into the wind and immediately blasting them out of the sky with a shotgun. We can draw two conclusions from this action.
The first is the presence of “free time”, one of the most tangible consequences of the capitalist regime for human life, and the qualities which can be developed in the gap that exists between productive time and leisure time. Sport and athletic prowess appear constantly in Lebrija’s work, drawing our attention to this residual space brought to our lives by a certain mode of production. Secondly, this attack on a specific object—a book—might be interpreted as a statement about the ontological variation it has undergone. Today, books are not just sources of enlightenment or tools for spreading knowledge; they are also goods for mass consumption and objects of desire.
In La mierda es un don del cielo [Shit Is a Gift from Above] (2001), we see the windscreen of a car in the middle of a road, splattered with bird faeces. The moment of serendipity suggested in this image confirms the contemplative attitude with which Lebrija experiences events as they unfold before his eyes. The image expresses contemporary doubts about the validity of our mythical belief in the bounty of everything that comes from on high, questioning the systems that determine value in society and how these are related to different temporalities in magical/religious thought. Desire is also a fundamental part of magical/religious thought. It is perhaps the most obvious link between the concrete and sensory realms. The black paint on the photograph, a book being blown to bits by high-velocity munitions and shit on a windscreen can be seen in light of the above observations, but they can also be interpreted in terms of a series of numerical explanations, where an analysis of matter, speed and probability would allow us to comprehend a different “nature” of forms.
The series Golden Unfolded (2015), on which Lebrija’s efforts have been focused recently, is the latest figuration of the paper planes project he has been working on for quite some time. The first stage of that project began in 2001 with the video Éxodo [Exodus]. In partnership with Fernando Palomar and José Dávila, Lebrija created a not-for-profit exhibition venue(5) inside “Condominio Guadalajara”, a towering office building that for many years was the tallest structure in the city. Lebrija, who was investigating bureaucracy at the time, invited the lawyers in the neighbouring offices to enter a paper aeroplane contest. The event was filmed from different angles. By entering into this dynamic, the lawyers were in fact violating (perhaps unwittingly) the sanctity of the most basic unit of their microcosm: the document. After that point, Lebrija returned to the paper plane on several occasions, using different approaches and media. It is important to consider the concatenation and specific moments in the project, for this genealogy of the paper aeroplane in the artist’s oeuvre can lead us to more effective conclusions, and at the same time it clearly illustrates the importance of different repetitions of the same subject in the artist’s operational strategy.
Unlike the earlier paper series, the Golden Unfolded pieces do not just reveal the creases of an unfolded plane; they actually embody an unfolding from the second to the third dimension, from the flat forms of paper to the volumes of wood. The complex planes and the gold leaf applied to the surface seem to reference the emotional architecture(6) of Mathias Goeritz and his tireless insistence on the need to return to the sacred. Thus, the primitive drive to measure is the very image of desire. The distance we attempt to measure is the distance between what it means to exist and what we do not know. Measuring the Distance is at once the fundamental effort to quantify and the inability to grasp this knowledge by logical means. Measuring the Distance is also an awareness of the different temporal phases found in social constructions: language, numbers and value.
The negotiation and representation of these processes are forces that play an active role in today’s economic and political systems. Even though it may seem like the artist is trying to escape the orbit of these complicated relationships, one gets the impression that, instead of moving away, he is actually consolidating an increasingly sophisticated critical position (or critical moment). A wave of variables spews out different results, though perhaps all are headed in the same direction: the distance between impossibility and desire is directly proportional to the acceleration from indifference to contemplation.
1 Jameson, F. (1998). “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”. In H. Foster (ed.), The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern
Culture (p. 137). New York: The New Press. 1998.
2 The British Imperial system of measurement units, still in use today, is based on the quantification of space according to anthropometric concepts (e.g. feet and hand spans) or historical and cultural precedents, many of which can be traced back through centuries of art history.
3 Just one year after this model was put on the market (1962) by Pontiac / General Motors. Production of the Grand Prix
continued until 2008.
4 Following this line of research, in 2008 Lebrija created one of his most ambitious projects, producing what would become
one of his most iconic images: Entre la vida y la muerte [Between Life and Death] captures the precise moment when an automobile plunges headlong into a lake.
5 O.P.A.: Oficina de Proyectos de Arte [Art Projects Office]
6 A case in point is the Museo Experimental El Eco (1952) in Mexico City, where Goertiz refused to use any 90-degree angles as a symbolic form of rebellion against Rationalism in architecture and as a gateway to an emotional universe.