Buenos Aires Herald Sunday, November 23, 2003
By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald
Liliana Porter /Fotografía y Ficción, the show that opened last Tuesday at the Recoleta Cultural Centre in Cronopius, is a powerful statement on what an intelligent artist does with what is at hand. Her highly poetical and understated work is a power station of contemporary multi disciplinarian aesthetics that works on several layers of perception: visual, literary, psychological, aesthetic and intellectual, far from your trodden conventional political correctness.
Porter (1941, Buenos Aires), a gifted draughtsman from childhood, attended the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes from the age of 12 in Buenos Aires, and in 1958 traveled to Mexico to attend the Universidad Iberoamericana, where she became intensely involved with print techniques. In 1964 she arrived in New York for what she had planned as a short stay, but quickly came to terms with how much the city could afford her in terms of material and aesthetic opportunities and stayed on. Grasping the current contemporary mood, she realized that her expressionist and ultra elaborate technical background were excessive and cumbersome. So she went back to basics starting with what was closest at hand: a sheet of white paper.
If a rose by any other name smells the same, in Wrinkle/Arruga, 1968, a sheet of white paper treated as medium for a work of art is still to a point a sheet of white paper, and yet in the progressive treatment of a crease on it Porter created an elliptical and substantial essay on meaning and matter. The original sheet of paper, support or medium became a rite of passage from elaborate technique and expression to intuition, and from description to suggestion, beyond anything the artist had done before.
A nail, the shadow of a nail, a piece of string in Nail, 1972, or a hand pointing to a line in The line, 1973, are minimal metaphors on content and technique, on an elusive representation of a pragmatic reality, backed by what runs all through the show, a highly developed sense of humour linked to a poetical vision of the world at large.
In The Square, the 1973 series, the artist has drawn in pencil a square on its own, or this same square over the finger or fingers, or on the palm of the hand. She is introducing us into a virtual reality in the same way a writer uses words to tell a story or write a poem. Porter “wrote” square for us to read it. In Untitled, the 1973 series, a hand holds a geometrical volume in one hand, while the lines of this same object are outlined on the other hand. These sensual representations illustrate the gap as well as the link between the physical perception of reality and the knowledge of this perception. We know that we know how it feels though we are not touching it.
Porter works tongue in cheek, playing games with herself and with us, her audience. Porter’s Picasso was prompted by her desire to put her finger under the master’s drawing. So she drew her own Picasso to be able to put her finger under the drawing by running a line in pencil over it. This intention of turning the world into her playground explains much of her work.
She takes images from literature, popular culture, politics, the bric-a-brac of daily life, draws them or sticks them on a canvas or on a sheet of paper, stands them on a shelf, draws lines to and from them, stands them next to or against totally irrelevant figures to create rare and awkward meetings. We see how they look into each other’s eyes in a pensive mood establishing what we imagine are unusual dialogues. What does Pinocchio say to the man in a dark suit and hat? Or the man in a suit and hat to the chicken? A rather dark skinned Che looks up into the sky from a canvas while a rabbit looks at him from outside the canvas.
Is it the spirit of Alice in Wonderland running amok that sets up these impossible meetings and describes a reality beyond the real world we know? Porter has chosen to translate illusion into a visual scenario, playing games of hide and seek, of exquisite vitality to illustrate her perception of culture and of contemporary life.
Two films by Porter: “For You” and “Drum Solo” are shown in the context of this retrospective in two small rooms off the main exhibition premises. The “action” into which the endearing inanimate characters are drawn illustrates the dramatic content of much of Porter’s work. It is in these films that we grasp the anguish and despair that is not that obvious in her visual art. In a sort of staccato mood the defenseless small toy figures lose their heads, they are ludicrously overfed to the point of engorgement or jump into an abyss.
Inés Katzenstein, the curator of this exhibition, looked conscientiously into Porter’s archives and body of work to design the show. Her conclusion was that what underlined the whole of her production was the use of photography, a medium Porter first used to record her work in other media and then developed into a discipline per se.
A well-illustrated catalogue published by the Centro Cultural Recoleta together with Malba/Colección Constantini is an updated textual story that runs through the whole of Liliana Porter’s career. Essays by Inés Katzenstein, Mercedes Mac Donnell, Gabriel Rangel, Ana Tiscornia, Shifra Goldman, Ricardo Martín-Crosa, Miguel Briante, Pedro Cuperman, Florencia Bazzano-Nelson, Mari Carmen Ramírez, Charles Merewhether, Gerardo Mosquera, Gabriel Peluffo and Alberto Martín discuss every aspect of her work.
(Liliana Porter /Fotografía y Ficción, Centro Cultural Recoleta, Sala Cronopius, Junín 1930. Until February 29).