Darío Escobar


Vivianne Loría

The work of Darío Escobar presents a critical interpretation -although far from corrosion and the tremendous- on specific aspects that denounce the character of contemporary Guatemalan society. The heritage of grandiloquent religious and nationalistic talks, as well as the uneasy and active legacy of war go through in the mix of visual kitsch referents that Escobar extracts from the repertoire of clerical propaganda, from the images of temporal powers and from the aesthetics spread out by the commercial apparatus of large transnational businesses. Belonging to a generation of Central American artists who have renewed the local visual arts scene, Escobar¿s work is inscribed within the objectual practices that fall outside of sculpture and which had great circulation in the region during the nineties. Central American artists who turned twenty during that decade found a local arts scene that was little varied, in which the artists that were already locally known were mostly working in traditional media ¿painting, sculpture and printing techniques on wood or metal -, and whose success among the public and influence in the young local market inspired schools of imitators who - since the eighties- resisted openly to the definitive introduction of new media. In spite of the persistence of conservatism in specialized circuits, during the nineties non traditional languages and media started to be used with profusion, many times replying to the influence of local precedents ¿those few artists who in the seventies and eighties pioneered in assemblage, installation and objects. The discourses got more and more sophisticated, incorporating the influence of a growing number of local exhibitions of international art, as well as the influx of philosophical and socio cultural reflection about the end of modernity.
The Central American object fever then took the road of appropriation and pastiche as fortunate legacies of the discursive postmodernist currents that had great impact in the isthmus in the beginning of the last decade of the XX century. The typified conceptual vacuity of postmodernism, the increasing seduction of pure visual impact, the cynic praising of the rhetoric contortions of images and the opportunistic use of irony as a strategy went on to conform an aesthetic modus operandi of artists who adhered to the enthroning of the object, both in its postminimal, postconceptual versions or in the attractive mix of those stylistic currents with the marvelous lightness of aesthetic taste that belonged to the "X Generation".
The objectual practice in Central America still shows little diversity in tendencies, exposing a more or less constant fidelity to the principle of postmodern vacuity. Nevertheless, that same dynamics of the pastiche and multireferenciality houses the possibility of certain deepening into a symbolic unusual character that may be reconstructed from the indiscriminate mix of signs. An operation of that kind is the one suggested by the work of Darío Escobar.
Presenting a succession of objects of emblematic character, of an accentuated plasticity, Escobar points to the possible symbiosis of the different propagandistic mechanisms used by those in power ¿religious or secular, historic and contemporary-. With subtle burlesque turns, the artist intertwines general referents of sanctity, masculinity and purchasing power that arise from the different symbolic systems of the ecclesiastic, military and socioeconomic powers. Starting from the grandiloquence of such referents, he proposes minimal objects that are suspiciously harmless, almost elegantly candid.
In his disposable McDonalds cup (1998) and the Kellogg¿s cereal box (1999) mediated with gold leaf and floral motifs in a colonial baroque manner, Escobar elaborates a synthesis of two power aesthetics whose anachronistic alliance reveals itself in an enigmatic and efficient way as a visual claim. Escobar finds a morbid interchangeability between the colonial baroque aesthetic of the church -persistent even today in the megalomaniac tinsel of neoclassical Latin American churches- and marketing strategies of fast food chains, with their pseudo-scientific formal and chromatic projection of signs.
Embroidered underwear is used by Escobar to transform his observations into evidence of the subtle cheesyness of masculine symbols. Military referents as symbols of virility are impregnated with the feminine gloss to which kitsch is many times associated with. This is what happens in The Music Box (1999) in which a plastic soldier with a tutu substitutes the traditional ballerina that goes around on a mirror while the melody is heard. In Elegant Fantasy (1999), bellicose emblems inspire the design of a bijoutery in which there is an abundance of weapons, soldiers in attack position, medals and the particular fusion of religious and military symbols that refer to the use of a religious discourse in favor of war propaganda. As an underlying matter in those ironic considerations about the schematic keys of the "macho man", a hint of war may be found. Still foreign to and denied by the official State discourse, reduced to foggy referents of armed revolts in the mountains, far from the capital city, the war reveals itself as an anguishing reminiscence, as the certainty of an unresolved conflict, of an illusion of strange distant places and of a potentially fatal unconsciousness if the miseries of many, the absurdities of the accommodated classes and the corruption of a militaristic state that are getting larger and larger. Happy birthday to you (1999), a party hat decorated with a camouflage motif, refers to a possible state of unconscious tension and to the trivialization of the experience of war as well as to the attitude of not belonging to the conflict adopted by the high and middle Guatemalan classes.
On the other hand, the eagerness to become American includes a certain concept of comfort, an image world, in the end, of "the civilized" that generates absurdities and suffers grotesque paradoxes in the context of an impoverished country that has been long violated by a civil conflict. In this sense the ironic act of lighting a fire in a fire place ¿absurd architectonic element given the Guatemalan climate- in the action Libido (2000), is similar in spirit to the piece Freeway (2000), a springboard whose canvas represents the asphalt on a highway. Useless in its inconsistency, Freeway suggests with its title the freedom of traveling, the agility of progress towards a specific point, the promise of evolution. Escobar confronts this notion of movement and progress with the continuity of failure in the modern urban project as a symbol of development and prosperity. Freeway is the materialization of an impossible highway, a point of ever return from which there is no other tentative than the foolish one of jumping up to ever fall, without the option of getting further. It is the sarcastic metaphor of the failures suffered by the Guatemalan versions of modernity and at the same time the subtly anguished signaling to the absence of exit from the spiral of cheap copies of what is supposedly "modern" and "hot". Elements associated with sports have served Escobar to deepen into these allusions.
The gym is one of the temples most visited by the current bourgeoisie. The gym and the recreational sports club express the concept of wellbeing and leisure cultivated by the accommodated Latin American classes. Escobar uses a sports shoe, ping-pong rackets, basketball baskets, and other elements as referents to that world in which there rules a wish of exclusiveness. The solitary exercise chair The Golden Calf (2000) reveals itself as a sacerdotal tinsel destined to contemplative adoration. Escobar makes fun of the idols that the favored classes place on the monstrous pedestals on which they intermix insolently useless objects. The Golden Calf points to the nonsense of consumerist alienation, given its own practical uselessness, that condition of untouched object that relates it with the many electric gadgets and comfort machines that rest with little or no use in the many rooms of those proud bourgeois homes. As in The Golden Calf, the battle tent in Eucharistic Allegory (Project for a Camping site I) (2001) and the sleeping bag Sleeping Bag (2001) also refer with their images of angels and baroque virgins, to those distinctive signs that are praised by high society classes. They recall those collections of colonial antiques and local avant-garde arts -usually of noted irregularity- that conform the representational apparatus of wealthy Central Americans. In the same manner, in Obverse and Reverse (2001) two angels in the style of the eighteen hundreds each show baseball hats, taking to an extreme the artist¿s gag about the curious and classy cheesyness that nurture the spread fashion of angels¿ images throughout Latin America.
From the pristine McDonalds cup ¿ irreducible in its simplicity ¿ to the recent tin repoussages and paintings done in the baroque style of the XVII century, Escobar¿s argumental plot stays on the problematics of representation and its artifices ¿not visual representation but social representation. His works are inspired in the chimera of a parasitic modernity, in the absurdities of the official history and in its own submission to the web of incongruities of the pretentious Guatemalan middle class.