On ViewThe Bass Museum Of Art
Adrián Villar Rojas & Mariana Telleria: El fin de la imaginación
November 27, 2022–May 14, 2023
The feet of a fallen David face me as I experience a sensory shift that feels mystical. Minutes earlier I was under the glaring sun, next to the churning sea. Now, in a cool and reverentially quiet gallery in The Bass Museum of Art I stand before Adrián Villar Rojas’s exhibit with Mariana Telleria, El fin de la imaginación, and consider what new beginnings arrive at the end of imagination.
Unlike Michelangelo’s David, Rojas’s is not slick, smooth, or towering. Instead of marble, he is sculpted from clay—the oldest known ceramic material, a common substance that evokes pre-urban civilization. He does not stand as a triumphant hero. Rather, Rojas’s David, Two Suns I (2015–22), lies as if toppled onto a gray, pitted Moon-like surface.
There is violence inherent in the downed monument but not destruction. I am reminded of the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, of the ensuing protests which surrounded Confederate memorials in the United States, of how the defacing and tearing down of those monuments demonstrated the power of the American collective uniting in opposition to the hateful ideologies the statues stood for. To preserve such monuments would preserve their power and perpetuate the destruction of the collective. In downing David, Rojas shows us that in this future world he has built, the killer of Goliath, the long lauded symbol of the strong Renaissance man, should not be memorialized.
Rojas’s David’s eyes are closed, his genitals obscured between his legs, a flag, dirty and tattered, draped over his knees as if it too had fallen. Under him the detritus of society’s recent history is scattered—rifles, grenades, astronaut helmets, 16 mm and 70 mm cameras. The tracks of lunar roving vehicles and the steps of astronaut boots have left impressions, proof of former life, behind. Along one side of the installation, large, flat-screen monitors climb at an angle and meet more monitors which hang above the scene. Shown on most are the tell-tale color stripes of a broken screen. On some, squiggly numbers and letters cycle. The juxtaposition of the stillness of the sculpture and the motion and color on the screens is jarring, creating a feeling as if past, present, and future have collapsed. Timelines have folded into each other.
Through the exhibit’s brochure I learn the cycling numbers and letters show the year, season, month, day, hour, minute, second, and millisecond in the French Republican Calendar—a decimal system which had only ten hours per day. Implemented by Napoleon in October of 1793, its start date—the origin of the French Republic—was conceived as a new beginning of time. The symbols of the First Republic glitching above the fallen, famous artistic marker of the Renaissance, and the relics from the Space Race and modern warfare, create an eerie portrait of earlier civilizations and current culture now both dead and left to be forgotten.
Nearby, fellow Argentinian artist Mariana Telleria joins Rojas with two works. In red dust, like the surface of Mars, Telleria’s Tumba del soldado desconocido is displayed. First fabricated in Buenos Aires in 2015, the sculpture is a replica of the Eternal Flame located at the National Flag Memorial which commemorates the site where the Argentine flag was created and first raised in Rosari during the wars of independence. True to the original, “AQUÍ REPOSAN LOS RESTOS DEL SOLDADO ARGENTINO MUERTO POR LA LIBERTAD DE LA PATRIA” (“HERE LIE THE REMAINS OF AN ARGENTINE SOLDIER WHO DIED FOR THE FREEDOM OF THE HOMELAND”) is embossed around the octagonal work’s base. Telleria adds her own mark to the replica with Untitled (2021–22), a bronze memorial plaque which reads “YA MUERTA Y PERDIDA EN LA HISTORIA POR FAVOR NO ME RESCATEN” (“ALREADY DEAD AND LOST IN HISTORY PLEASE DON’T RESCUE ME”).
Alone in the gallery, I reflect on how the violence of war and battles both large and small is often memorialized as heroism. I consider how the preservation of these monuments preserves the power of violence and how through this preservation the destruction of the collective is glorified. Perhaps at the end of imagination our new beginning will bloom not from what we remember but rather from what we leave behind, dead and unrescued.