Certain desires have persisted all through human history: the desire to fly and the longing for gold. We know that men have lusted for gold since ancient times. The Latin word for the metal (aurum) derives from an Indo-European root (aus) that signifies the light of the rising sun. Icarus was perhaps the first human being to fly, but in doing so he defied the divine prohibition of approaching too near to the sun, bringing about his own fatal downfall.
The love for gold has existed from time immemorial, not only on account of its splendor and beauty, but also because of its incorruptible nature. It neither rusts nor corrodes, reacting only to agua regia. It is the most ductile and malleable of metals, and owing to its relative rarity it began to be used as a medium of exchange. Gold is even older than the sun: it is the result of tiny fragments of neutron stars that fused in our galaxy long before the existence of the sun. This gold from space contributed to forming the earth, the rest of the solar system, and the sun itself.
The exhibition Unfolded consists of six unfolded paper airplanes, each one attached to a square, large-format maple support and bathed in a layer of gold leaf. Each piece is made up of several individual panels, the different folds creating a surface in three dimensions. Together with the dimensions of the works themselves and the height of the ceilings of the exhibition space (eight meters), the gilding evokes a space for contemplation, for communion with the sacred. There are nods in the direction of artists such as Mark Rothko, in particular the Rothko Chapel. The gold monochrome of Unfolded also clearly alludes to works such as Yves Klein’s Saut dans le vide (1960) and specifically to the Mensajes of Mathias Goeritz, which the artist himself referred to as “visual prayers,” seeing in gold a spiritual material.
Unfolded is perhaps the last work in which Gonzalo Lebrija uses the airplane as a theme. In the video Éxodo (2001), a paper plane appears for the first time, flying from the top floor of what was then the highest building in Guadalajara, followed by others that glide down onto the sidewalk. Lebrija organized a competition among the office workers of the building for the paper plane that glided best. Condominio Guadalajara (2001) consists of photocopies of the photographs taken of each one of the paper airplanes in Éxodo. In 2005 the artist immobilized an airplane in stainless steel and created the large-scale sculpture Concorde. From the same year is Playing High, a chronological series of five photographs that allude to Franz Hals’s painting Regents of the St. Elizabeth Hospital of Haarlem (1641). In these images we find the little airplane in the hands of a figures in neckties who end up, curiously enough, distracting our attention from the books and cigars and focusing it on the toy.
There is another step before Unfolded: a sheet of paper on which we can clearly see the open folds, traces of what was once a paper airplane, now flat and rendered unfit for flight, in Unfolded Paper Plane (2012).
In the case of Unfolded, the luminous folds proposed by the artist function as religious and poetical symbols. Like the light refracted through the stained-glass windows of a church, the gilded pictures reverberate in space and recall the formal interplay of light and shadow in the work of Luis Barragán.
Among its many connotations, the notion of unfolding includes those of sequence, revelation, and the development, for example, of a narrative. In Unfolded, Gonzalo Lebrija has combined two of humankind’s most ancient yearnings: flight and gold. In doing so, he suggests a communion in the space between the account of our history, the urgency of the impossible, and the origin of life.