Odd Jobs

Texto sobre Desaprovechamiento de 123.845.796 cm3. Málaga. 1999

Fernando Castro Flórez

«There we were, covered with ragged uniforms, premature adults among the ruins. We were sceptical and inclined to always verify every word and not to believe blindly. Every ideology bounced off us» (Günter Grass).

Niches in a wall, beams shoring two black squares, an immense wooden passageway that leads directly from the entrance to the exit, construction-site grating closing off the arches of a courtyard, a walled-in area that serves as a Monument to Private Property, a brick wall with a hole broken through, a plaster ceiling that has descended to the point of obliging you to bend over to get to the central opening, a seedy bar on the University campus where you spends what you have; these are some of Fernando Baena’s manifestly inopportune works and projects. Stylistically, due to their phenomenological force and the disdain of anecdotal or figurative elements, these proposals can be placed in the ample context of postminimalist positions. Like Rosalind Krauss, rather than a break with sculpture, we could consider minimalism as the fulfilment of the development of modern sculpture, which would coincide with the development of two currents of thought, phenomenology and structural linguistics, in both of which it is understood that significance depends on the way in which any form of being contains the underlying experience of the opposite, a simultaneity that always carries with it an implicit experience of sequence . The objectuality would substitute the transcendentality of the work of art but, at the same time, would reduce the sense to subjective drifting. It is clear that at the contemporary crossroads where we find ourselves, it is not enough to say that that’s all there is, as Serra would have it, given that the critical content of this putting things in their place can quietly slide into cynicism. The notion of aesthetic pluralism should be replaced by a more effective description of the art of the present, in accordance with the notion of index. There has been shift from the category of icon to the category of index, as well as a shift of theory, where an aesthetic of mimesis, of analogy and of resemblance gives way to an aesthetic of imprint, of contact, of referential contiguity: a transition of the metaphoric order to that of metonymy . This affects not only «the photographic» aspect; it simultaneously supposes a redefinition of the behaviour of sculpture which, as I have previously indicated, includes a biographic narrativity, this (baroque) implication of the subject in the fold of the conceived. Fernando Baena radicalises the spectator’s sensations, obliging him to explore claustrophobic enclosures, beyond the merely contemplative attitude towards the plot which, for him, acquires an architectonic, as well as a political tonality . There is a construction of places that takes on the question of entropic landscape, insomuch as we witness the accelerated imposition of the non-places . Once again there arises the question of the hic et nunc of the work of art, of the kind of presence a work of art can attain in the era of the digitalised gaze . There is no doubt that sculpture, in its wider sense, that is, subjected to all kinds of crossbreeding, is one of the possible ways out of the labyrinth of the «historic disease», avoiding cynicism as much as a self-ironising that would lead us to consider ourselves posthumous. Many are the problems that besiege us and, there may be occasions, when we think that it is enough to disentangle them. But Baena does not stop at undoing the tangle of the rope; he goes on unravelling, in a patient process that he describes as a «twist in opposite directions» . Lacan, in his analysis of the significance of delirium, recalled Abraham’s article of 1908, which described the behaviour of an early-stage mental patient and his detachment, through his relationship with objects: for months he piles stone on stone, common pebbles which, for him, have the value of an important possession. So many stones are piled on a board, that the board breaks with a deafening noise, everything is swept, and the man who seemed to give so much importance to his task of accumulation pays no attention to what is happening, does not protest before the complete evacuation of his objects of desire. He simply begins again, accumulating the stones one after another: «one would want to make this into a fable to show that we do this all the time. I would say even more: accumulating a multitude of valueless things, calculating the losses and benefits day to day, starting over, is a very good sign. Because when the subject remains attached to what is lost, and cannot stand being frustrated, is when we could really speak of overvaluing objects» . The only thing we could defend is, perhaps, one for which passion has been spent: obsessions are the matter that the artist works. Deleuze has pointed out that repetition is the power of language, implying the idea of an always excessive creation. It may be that the essential task of art is that of making all the repetitions work at once, with their different natures and rhythms, their divergence and their de-centring: «since there is no other aesthetic problem than that of the insertion of art into everyday life. The more standardised is our everyday life, the more stereotyped, the more subject to an accelerated reproduction of the objects of consumption, the more should art stick to it and extract from it the small difference which acts elsewhere and, at the same time, among other levels of repetition, and even makes the two extremes echo – those of the habitual series of consumption and the instinctive series of destruction and death – thus uniting the altarpiece of cruelty with that of imbecility» . It is in this context of repeated undoing that I think of the issues raised by Fernando Baena’s great mural made up of numerous photographs of Spanish executives as they had appeared in the business pages of a newspaper. These vip’s are transformed into a necrological accumulation, which reminds us of some of Boltanski’s works: a photomat in which any pretence of fame is destroyed. There is something in this behaviour – which could also be exemplified by the piece in which Baena recycles rubber shavings – of obsessive nominalism, that spectacle of the (geometric) irrational that was the marrow of the plastic thought of LeWitt or Judd, for whom order consisted in «putting one thing after another» . The codes of exchange, typical of the economy but also of symbolism, are subject to absolute parody in this attitude of disusing space : screens, panels, storage of junk . Guidieri has pointed out that the invasion of the world by aesthetics, radicalised by pop art and especially by Warhol, brings with it like its shadow a humour bordering on the affected that expresses a deficiency with respect to profundity, and the hypnotic dependence on the aura that society deposits on things: a sort of mystery that, today, has the role of the radical. With respect to Fernando Baena’s work, we could speak of a machinic situation, in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense: «the body without organs is the un-productive; and yet it is productive in the right place and at the right time in a connective synthesis, as the identity of producing and of the product» . It is not the testimony of an original nothingness, as if it were to do with a remainder of a lost totality, nor a projection or «image of the body»; it is the machinisation of the anti-productive. At the centre of the economy is the fetish, reification and spending, which in Fernando Baena’s codes are reduced to potlatch: to appropriate dilapidating, to utilise that which has previously lost its utility. A strange appropriation of space in which a sort of eulogy of uselessness is produced, and even a delimitation which questions those who enter this place, as occurs with the line of sulphur that makes us think of rats or roaches that are «about to descend upon us». However, Fernando Baena exhibits in his works the work, the enormity of the task he undertakes which for some will be emblematic of the «absurd». The artist is, certainly, out of joint and his proposals are to be understood, as he himself warns us, as odd jobs or excrescences . The revelations are very crude; for example, the Average of Colour in the History of Painting reminds us of the chromatism of shit, which saves the subscribers of the scatological paradigm rhetoric or syllogism. The modifications or distortions of space practised by Baena should be understood as saturated works of art . Remnants, limits, processes and insistences, maneuvers of an expert in demolitions, fine masonry.

«The true luxury and profound potlatch of our time are to be found in the miserable; that is to say, in what is thrown away and marginalised. Authentic luxury demands a complete contempt for the riches, the scorching indifference of he who refuses work and makes of his life, on the one hand an infinitely ruinous splendour and, on the other, a silent insult to the laborious lie of the rich. Beyond a military explosion, a religious mystification or a capitalist misappropriation, in the future, no one who lacks the splendour of the ragged and the sombre provocation of indifference would be able to find again the sense of wealth, which forebodes explosives, lavishness and overflow. In the end, if we like, the lie consecrates the exuberance of life to revolution» .