SEBASTIÁN GORDÍN work texts work contact logofb

The Ghostly Spectator

I think that what most comes out in my work is one final attempt to dominate the world. Sebastián Gordín

A short while after the retrospective of Sebastián Gordín opened at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, I met the artist in a cafe to discuss the exhibition, his work and our plans for the publication that you, readers, now hold in your hands. It was a Sunday morning and the first subject to come up in the conversation was childhood. I needed to understand the essential role that Gordín's early years seem to play in his work; what Roberto Jacoby called Gordín's 'childish gaze'. It is a gaze that places the spectator in a specific spot, seducing them with a sense of complicity only to subsequently, after further observation, make them feel uncomfortable. Gordín's art sends a shiver down your spine. At the centre of his work there is a fundamental tension between language and content, between an amiable of form and a disquieting setting, between an apparent childish naivete and a keen vision of reality and its contradictions. This reality is something that Gordín returns to again and again during the conversation: "I associate imagination with the fantastic and this is why I consider myself anti-fantastic. My work attempts to reproduce reality. My worlds are very real worlds where imagination is kept in check." Let us pause for a moment. I invite the reader to flick through this book, and to linger over some of the images. Are these real worlds? What reality are we talking about when we talk about reality in Gordín's artistic practice? Gordín grew up in an environment surrounded by show business. His father, Lito Gordín, was a music lover who worked for Juventudes Musicales de Argentina (Musical Youth of Argentina) and also produced popular shows. His mother Beatriz Altare was a music teacher who loved playing the piano. During the day, Gordín accompanied his father to meetings with artists' agents on Avenida Corrientes and at night he helped out at the "La Cebolla" Musical Cafe which hosted many famous musicians including Nacha Guevara, Facundo Cabral, Pipo Pescador and Les Luthiers. When Gordín speaks about that time, one imagines a child absorbing every detail of the world of show business that, twenty years later, he'd end up capturing in his works. But Gordin stops to explain that that wasn't the case: for him show business was a breakfrom the solitary routine and hidden tensions of his childhood. These were the years of the dictatorship, when Ford Falcons patrolled the city, the words 'subversive' and 'chupado' (literally: sucked-up or disappeared) were muttered under your breath and you went to bed worried, not knowing who were your friends and who were your enemies. When he was six years old, Gordín had nightmares: someone was going to come in through the window to take him away. Outings to ItalPark and shows at Luna Park (The Moscow Circus, Holiday on Ice, 6 Days on a Bicycle) to which the family got free tickets through his father's contacts and, on another level, board games and model airplanes and warships were a respite and a refuge from those tumultuous times. "At heart, they were boring days for a child. There was so much anguish on the streets that we made the indoors very safe, very withdrawn." Cinema was another way to retreat within oneself. Gordin started to go to the neighbourhood cinemas accompanied by his father and uncles and aunts. Then, in secondary school, he be came a compulsive film aficionado, going with his friends to the cinemas at Sala Lugones, the Teatro Municipal General San Martín and the Sociedad Hebraica Argentina. Art, little by little, became both a familial imperative and a form of escape: "I saw it as an inevitable path," Gordín remembers. He started to attend diverse classes in artists' studios. At the one run by Ethel Wainer and Jorge Macario Rodriguez, Gordín began to understand the social dimension of art: art would not be just a hobby for him. When he was thirteen, Gordín went to the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Manuel Belgrano and three years later he extended his education at the comics workshop given by the Sociedad Argentina de Artistas Plasticos. Some time later, he formed a partnership with Jose Luis Meiras to publish four issues of the magazine Salchichón Primavera (Spring Sausage). In 1987, he, Esteban Page's, Emiliano Miliyo, Maximo Lutz, CAS and Coco Bedoya organized Mariscos en tu Calipso (Seafood in Your Calypso), an exhibition that gave its name to the legendary group that would later exhibit at clubs such as Palladium, Halley and Cemento. In 1989, Bedoya organized the Museo Bailable (Dancing Museum) which helped the group make contact with established artists of the time: Jorge Qumier Maier, Marcia Schwarz, Roberto Jacoby and Pablo Suarez. This experience gave rise to a collaboration between Gordín and Jacoby on various comics, as well as Gordin's first exhibition at the Centre Cultural Ricardo Rojas under the artistic director of Gumier Maier. So, when he was twenty, Gordín was drawing, working actively on comic books, painting his first large canvases (on which he created spaces conceived of more as models than paintings) and starting to build his little boxes. The boxes, which Gordin would give away as gifts to charm girls or to thank a friend, very rapidly become imaginary micro-worlds. Some of them contain fantastic scenes such as Qué cosa tan horrible y espantosa (What a Horrible and Disgusting Thing, 1992), others, such as Jamón de hormiga (Ant Ham, 1992), are little games with instructions suffused with innocence and spontaneity. They were followed by the fascinating Exposición en el Centra Cultural de la Mesa (Exhibition at the Cultural Centre of the Table, 1993) and Kit Vernissage (1992), complementary works in which the artist imagined a future exhibition that would include a curator, a photographer and a waiter. Gordín soon consolidated this path when he stood at the door of the Institute de Cooperation Iberoamericana (ICI), on Calle Florida, holding a miniature model of the ICI in his hands. In this model, Gordín imagined his first exhibition and offered passers-by guided visits of his mini-exhibition. Pedestrians on Calle Florida were enchanted. One of the people enthused by Gordín's model was the then director of the ICI, Laura Buccellato, who was quick to invite Gordín to exhibit again, but this time within the institution's walls, in 1993. Gordín started to seduce the art world with his beguiling sense of humour and these first works gave rise to what would become one of his most spectacular and complex series. These were models in which Gordín created a museum within a museum in a similar spirit to La bôite en valise by Marcel Duchamp, a work that also finds an echo in Un extraño efecto en el cielo (A Strange Effect in the Sky), the work that lends its name to our exhibition. In this work a suburban landscape and enormous blue Pampas sky appear, literally, from inside a large suitcase. Let's look carefully for a moment at Gordín's works from 1994, Concierto para flauta, violoncello y piano al revés (Concert for Flute, Violoncello and Piano in Reverse), Musica de cucharitas de Eldor (The Music of Eldor Teaspoons) and Petite suite. In each of these works, Gordín recreates a scene from a musical cafe in a miniature setting, adding a handful of simply drawn, two dimensional characters. If drawing is a discipline in which one can project a universe, several of Gordín's early works present characters that are drawn - that is, projected - but unable to become part of the real world. They exist, but as drawings in profile and thus as representations of the role of art, and possibly, of the role of the artist in society. Do they perhaps exist to signal the tensions art introduces when it infiltrates reality? And as one gets closer to what they think the meaning of a work by Gordín might be, the artist ups the ante. His works El muerto (The Dead Man, 1997) and La caída (The Fall, 1999) seem at first sight to be conventional sculptures of life-size men in improbable positions, but further examination reveals more disturbing aspects: this man, with a three dimensional, realistic body, is still a drawing. Look at his eyes: they are drawings of crosses. Look at his fingers: there are four of them instead of five, like in comics and cartoons. Look at their postures: they are unreal. They may not be sculptures at all, but three-dimensional drawings. This is one of the many breaks with convention that Gordín's work performs and I use the word perform because these are artworks that have a real effect on the spectator. With Gordín, we are not presented with a work that refers to something. We are presented with a work that does something. Just look at how the viewers in the exhibition behave. In front of Constellation -the work that opens the show - the spectator changes. When they look through the peephole and see the stairs taking them into a 19505 cinema, they become giants; their proportion and scale change. Their gaze becomes that of a monumental being who has invaded a scene that belongs to a different kind of creature; people so small they could fit in the palm of one's hand. As they continue through the exhibition, the spectator continues their metamorphosis. In a way, they become mutants. The artist joins in with the mutations when he recreates himself as a life-size figure held in the arms of a gigantic duck-billed platypus. This work inverts a smaller composition from a few years before, in which a snowman with an incriminating trail of blood dripping from its mouth, carried a seemingly dead duck-billed platypus (¿Cómo probar su inocencia?, How to Prove His Innocence? 1995). Deaths and formal references to Pietà recur in the artist's work. Do they refer to the oft-announced death of art? Are they indications of pessimism over the attempt to insert art into reality? Do they refer to the social dimension of art that the artist learned about at an early age? We must look more closely. But how does one look at a Gordín? There are two main devices by which the artist directs the spectator's gaze. The first is the peephole that allows Gordín to control the point of view, making spectators not just participants, but also accomplices of his work. One could say that Gordín builds his scenes to be seen by a single spectator who will share the artist's dreams, fascinations and fears, as filtered through their imagination. The second is the display case, the setting for many of his three-dimensional scenes and the device that allows Gordín to frame his works within a limited, manageable space. As you move through the exhibition you will probably notice that the materiality of Gordín's oeuvre changes. In his first works the construction process is more apparent, more charmingly clumsy; the artist doesn't take the trouble, for example, to hide a guideline drawn in pencil. But a few years later, that spontaneity disappears. In Siete Cines (Seven Cinemas, 1995), for example, the finish and attention to detail are far more precise. And in the works that follow, the artist's obsession challenges all material limits. With artificial, poetic regularity, the Vaseline raindrops in Aguanieves (Sleet) set the tone. The rendering of the image and its immaculate construction become inter-dependant factors, to the extent that the recent Museos (Museums) series could be regarded as a perfect image -or metaphor- for the labour of the artist. Mise-en-scene is an essential feature of Gordín's worlds. For example, we have fantastic or even surreal scenes, a group of works that includes the artist's very first boxes, Scoop, Los Muertos, and the more tragic works from his show Pequeños reinos (Little Kingdoms), in which a suspicious snowman is about to be burnt on a bonfire. One could also point to the disturbing theatrical scenes that touch the viewer's soul. This is the case with El Niño (1997) in which a boy hugs his knees on the roof of a house as he watches the waters rise slowly and regularly as a result of the EI Niño meteorological phenomenon, and Procyon (2001), where corporate man has become an automaton. Thirdly, there is a group of works in which the human being is entirely absent from the scene, where light plays a crucial role. This group includes his most recent display cases from the Museos, Bibliotecas and Nocturnes series (2008-2013) that we present in the darkness of our largest gallery, illuminated only by the light emanating from the works themselves. Here, the light seems to freeze each act, climate and catastrophe. These imaginary catastrophes come so naturally to Gordín that you end up accepting them as real. Perhaps this is what the artist means when he says that his world is "a real world where imagination is kept in check." In his recent piece El triángulo mágico (The Magic Triangle, 2013) the artist recreates a well-organized conservation lab beyond which a crowd of characters is chaotically dispersed across the floor. They are nightmarish figures reminiscent of Xul Solar's ghosts, Giorgio de Chirico's mannequins, Batlle Planas's automats or Libero Badii's robots. El triángulo mágico is a terrifyingly possible scene, an unsettling combination of fantasy and realism to which we surrender with a suspension of disbelief that never seems to end. This is why, on this Sunday morning, as I talk to Gordín in the cafe, I think that maybe what his work reveals in the end is the nature of a new spectator. Not a giant, not a miniature person, not a mutant, or a snowman; maybe the spectator that Gordin imagines for his work is a ghostly spectator, an eternally wandering soul who can tour his works irreverently, reflecting on human solitude and allowing a small flower from a Flemish tapestry to fly from its setting and freely travel through the world of artistic artifice. A world that will always allow us to imagine a different, transformed reality.

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