SEBASTIÁN GORDÍN work texts work contact logofb


Everything in life is a question of scale.
Chester Gould

I wouldn't say that they're dioramas or models, because both formats are purely illustrative, and it's fairly obvious that Gordin is conceptualizing. An installation, then? Perhaps, but one mould have to be speaking in terms of the original installation of the world, the possibility of relating the two things.
César Aira

When he was 20 years old, at the end of the 80s, Sebastián Gordín gave up painting in order to rebuild his nightmares in small and mid-scale models -small especially- and the occasional drawing and tempera. He didn't take long to explain his reasoning: "With the construction of objects, I opened the doors to the chance interactions that occur as I find the materials and combine them in unexpected ways. It's related to the amazing and the fantastic: the things that can surprise you in your own working method."
His fantastic, terrifying, absurd scenes, created through the scrupulous reworking of styles taken from science fiction, old popular crime and mystery magazines, the creative vision of the filmmaker Jacques Tati, classic comics such as Dick Tracy and Little Nemo and also board games, scale model kits, a devotion to collectible supplements about the history of museums and illustrations from old books of fables, invariably coagulate to create climactic moments of intense drama, solitude and death. In his works, scale and detail are placed centre stage, becoming key to rebuilding a secret narrative in which viewers -who are turned into voyeurs or peeping toms- only see a few of the material details.
Gordín invites us to look at his scenes as though we were detectives trying to unravel a mystery.
The work of Sebastián Gordín, which is made up of paintings, models, drawings, sculptures and optical sculptures (the Gordinoscopios), presents certain recurring themes that are both ways of approaching an understanding of his creations and also unavoidable references that the artist has made use of over a quarter of a century. What is it that makes Gordín's work so distinctive? To answer that question, one needs to go through the basic elements that make up his planning and style. The following notes are simply a means of reorganizing much of what has been said and written about these worlds.

Gordín once said: "There's something about looking at objects that makes me think of deformation. When I wander around the city to buy materials, objects appear to me through this distorted lens, as if they were reflections in fairground mirrors." However, free association and deformation of materials is always governed by a strict relationship between the construction of the defining details and the scale on which they were presented.v
After a brief stage dedicated to graphics and painting (during the years he spent as part of the group Mariscosen tu Calipso), Gordín focused, from 1992 onwards, on the production of miniature objects, especially after the watershed piece: El libro de Oro de Scoop (Scoop's Golden Book, 1993). Occasionally he creates mid-scale objects, but the spectator still has the impression that these are synthetic expansions of the miniatures. In one of the quotes that open these notes, writer Cesar Aira asks whether Gordín's works can be described as installations and the truth is that each of these scenes is built around the symbolism of a defined circumstance (the detail) that the scale makes impossible to ignore. The scale suggests a different approach, making the piece habitable and immediately relatable. As the artist and sociologist Roberto Jacoby said "In Gordín's work, the poetry arises from the encounter between the concept of the 'model world' and the child's gaze. Children's fascination with doll houses or toy cars is founded in their notion of the habitable simulacrum: the invention of a double world, a universe that one knows is make-believe but that you can enter into and enjoy. This is implicit in the concept of the 'toy' and also the concept of'art'."
We have said that the miniature scale invites the spectator to focus their attention on the details. So, it is in the recurrence of details that we must seek the key points of the scenes. Essential examples include Vavonia, from 1999, and Dante's Inferno, from 1993. The critic Graciela Speranza says: "If art is a synthetic version of the world ('art works on a reduced scale', says Levi-Strauss) the miniature is the most literal example of this synoptic correspondence. Hence its stated theatricality. Nothing occurs in the static micro-scenes of the miniature, but everything suggests a use and a contextualization that invites us to set them in motion and project actions via associations or memories of other uses. Reduced in scale, contained in a still frame, things seem to open up to reveal their secrets according to the same logic as the microscope that finds life within life, meaning within meaning." Building to scale involves, as we have seen, redeveloping the world, rethinking it and reformulating it with other materials. To make models like this, Gordín had to become a specialist in several extremely diverse disciplines and crafts and also, in his own words, "head of purchasing at his own company", a special kind of work with particular links to the city of Buenos Aires. As he said a few years ago to the journalist Maria Moreno: "My radius runs from Avenida Callao to Avenida 9 de Julio and Avenida Independencia to Avenida Santa Fe, which encompasses everything. Doing what I do outside Buenos Aires would take years. La Casa del Celuloide (The Home of Celluloid), La Casa del Transformador (The Home of the Transformer). Everything starts at the 'The Home of...' I also do my own ironwork and spots."

It doesn't take much time to realize that Gordín's work is full of scenes that reveal an imminent threat, an absurd motif that immediately immerses itself in the sinister, resulting in a nightmarish climate hardly eased, as we shall see, by the choice and reworking of dazzling vintage styles. Imaginative scenes made up basically of pulp quotes from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s: the golden age for this form of popular culture. This stylistic revisionism (reminiscent of artists such as Edward Gorey, one of Gordin's professed favourites) at first involved exercises that contained the promise of a narrative that was not always fulfilled.
The critic Daniel Molina wrote: "Gordín freezes stories. He presents scenes in isolation from a story that, at first sight, is assumed to be more grandiose or complex. There is a passion for the fragment: these works encourage the spectator, to try to put together the impossible puzzle of which they seem to be a part." What is left from this puzzle -all we know of it- is a snapshot of a nightmarish vision. An instant that looks as though it has been taken from a dream "What I do is anti-comic. There's no narrative progression. It's like opening a book for children during a cinematic sequence, a dusty copy that the camera focuses on at a specific point and that's where the story begins," says Gordín. One simply needs to examine the marquetry scenes such as the series Sea Stories, Ghost Stories and Strange Tales, or the larger pieces such as Cuesta abajo (Downhill) and Justine (both from 2003). In many cases, the simple extrapolation of a scene is enough to create an atmosphere of strangeness and unease, giving the spectator the sensation that something bad has either just happened or is just about to happen. An example of this is Prepar?ndose para el ataque (Preparing for the Attack), from 2008: we know nothing or almost nothing about these characters, whose existence is limited to and concentrated in eternal suspense.

Gordín does not just freeze tales and suspenseful situations, he also specializes in presenting iconic constructions of the 2oth Century together with other less celebrated and even imaginary ones (the Gran Rex Theatre, Ciudad Evita and Luna Park, and even the Piscina de la Calle Pontoise (Swimming Pool at Pontoise street) and the Instituto Oceanogr?fico Miguel Harte (Miguel Harte Oceanographic Institute). Sometimes these come in miniature versions, as was the case with the Odeon cinemas (from 1995), and on others they are seen through the lenses of his Gordinoscopios (Gordinoscopes, 1996).
Referring to the latter series, the critic and curator Eva Grinstein suggested: "The position that Gordin arranges for the gaze -insisting on a species of voyeurism if one wants to see the work- establishes a perverse-ludic dimension that can be met with a smile. But given the stillness of these hyper-realistic reconstructions of desolate, habitable but bare territory, the smile freezes into a grimace and the imagination goes into hyperdrive: how strange and sad public spaces can be when they're empty..." These constructions do not just reveal architectures, but also atmospheres: as if they couldn't exist without a tenacious gaze to take them in. Once more, the effect of scale is the driver, but the detail seems to have expanded -isn't that a contradiction?-and the urgency of the threat dissolves into the dark atmosphere. This intensity is common to all the Gordinoscopes. Without the lens, when the architectural models can be observed without mediation, the choice of the constructions would seem to suggest other states.
The critic and writer Maria Gainza says: "His images retain something of the world that might have been and wasn't: like the British cinema chain Odeon, which in its glory years opened a new theatre a week. Gordín decided to immortalize them in scale constructions that are reminiscent of abandoned giants, and he did the same with his reconstruction of 2001, A Space Odyssey with those ghostly plaster characters operating machines that we know can't be controlled." The choice of the quote is not incidental as it demonstrates the two kinds of very different themes: one is realist, the Odeon cinema series, the other is more freely suggestive (Procyon, from 2001, inspired by the science fiction novel by Arthur Clarke and the film by Stanley Kubrick).

If a celebrated theoretician such as Rosalind Krauss can define the background of modern art and historical avant garde movements from the perspective of an "optical unconscious", Gordín seems to be exploring a wide range of fears and nightmares by reusing the resources of anonymous illustrators of the ominous tales of authors such as Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft, who were contemporaries to canonical artists such as Max Ernst, Bellmer, Giocometti and Dali.
Gordín admits that an interest in his student years was the work of the American draughtsman and comic book illustrator Mark Beyer. This is a good example, as he found an attractive tension between Beyer's work and art historical references -specifically, certain forms of expressionism- clearly seen from the perspective of the more sophisticated comics of the 8os and 905. This is key to examining the artist's early work. Gordín progressively started to add even earlier imaginative work; the images that provided the backbone for science fiction, terror and fantasy magazines and pamphlets known as pulp fiction or literature, referring to the wood pulp used to make the rough paper on which these kinds of publications were printed. Furthermore, Gordín's delicate execution of these motifs -his stylized palette and drawings- refer to gazes other than the imaginative world that inspired them.
"The time equation also feeds on a dissonant mixture of influences, from compositional themes similar to oriental landscapes -a natural extension of a dark grain on a long cutting of wood is applied gently, like a painted cloud- war scenes, or anomalously intimate ones, including bizarre interiors, perspectives of battlefields, refugee caravans, and Brueghelian forests. These settings house characters of uncertain provenance that Gordín summons with the ease and conviction of a freakish demiurge, like a cast of actors pushed into the inhospitable climate of a drama that is too much for them, among whom the nameless ghost, with a heroin addict's eyes and boneless body reappears on several occasions," says the painter Eduardo Stupfa. This quote is also important because it precisely describes the transformation of marquetry images that, with one foot in pulp aesthetics, move on to something more uncertain, more contaminated and ambiguous which, closing the circle, seem to be approaching the ccepts that guided Gordín's first steps: aposition spread equally between classical traditions and a bygone age of entertainment culture.

Let's imagine for a moment repeated vignettes about a football team -an international team- in which the players have names like Gordic, Gordinho, O'Gordin, Gordignoni, Gordinez, Gordinsen, Gordotand Gordinescu. Gordín would have a part in all and none of them, giving the sensation that the world has finally became gordinized and all footballers form part of this universe. We are talking about characters portrayed in some of his works about football, playful portraits for imaginary watercolour magazine covers with titles such as Amazing Football, Gordín cited himself in these works, offering a new aspect to the methods that make up his style: including himself in his extraordinary episodes, merging himself with them, abandoning himself to their laws. The critic Fabian Lebenglik offered some clues as to the nature of his self-references: "His shift-something close to a provisory key to his work- is the transformation of the extraordinary to the infraordinary. His works condense into miniature format something that in so-called 'reality' -in the artist's eyes- would be spectacular, exciting, historic, enigmatic or even epic."
From the extraordinary to the infraordinary and viceversa: Gordín is, above all, a builder of scenes in which the extraordinary occurs according to laws that we can only intuit or imagine, and of which we only know his preoccupations and preferences, which we have just outlined. In which the amazing, to our delight, is always growing.

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