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The Skates e Mezala/Mixed media installation

Libido/Mixed media

Untitled/Mixed media

Freeway/Mixed media

Happy Birthday to you/Mixed media

The Golden Calf/Mixed media installation

Dario Escobar
fin'amors for objects

ArtNexus #38 - Arte en Colombia #84
Nov - Jan 2001

Rosina Cazali

Fin¿amors for Objects

Dario Escobar¿s work plays on the edge of anecdotes and the range of nothingness. He tries to spark off reflections without giving preference to hypocritical, false morals. Hence the hope of life in his objects depends more on their ability to seduce us and, with no turning back, to thrust us into a declared game of appearances.

By Rosina Cazali

There are artists who insist on turning the object into a place without repose. One of them is the Guatemalan artist Dario Escobar, who displays an astonishing ability to generate and regenerate contents and reflections through things, as well as assuring critical postures before the surroundings and the society in which he lives. And let us not even mention how, through objects, he approaches the play of cynicism, which is nothing less than the ability to laugh at oneself.

Describing and analyzing his works, pausing in the different moments of his production, like a retrospective, could seem an easy task. However, the author of Fin¿amors attempts to take us along a path that strays from chronological order. He insists on the review of certain objects that inhabit this planet, such as places that reveal the evolution of the human being and his spectacle, and whose essence is to recognize them in their dailiness and in their ability to chameleonize themselves. In this sense, the author unfurls reelaborations that, in turn, weave a strange aura of complicity that moves silently between rough criticism and a negation of the same. The general image of Fin¿amors thus becomes something amorphous, as seductive as it is full of traps. It evokes the image of someone who will not risk his neck for any obligation, for anyone, or for anything, in order to make such a need more evident.

The primacy of noncommitment, of the duality of values, is a generalized qualification that has been applied as a label to the generation of the artist that concerns us. This generation grew up among a staggering respect for the national hymn, and in front of the reality of a TV screen with Batman and Chapulín Colorado. Many coincide with calling it the ¿postwar¿ generation, thus freeing it of any discourse engaged with society. But the repetition of that sentence has become a stigma and has cornered its actors into explaining themselves as a product of disenchantment. As an incapacitated group that enjoys the plastic invasion and cable culture. In its attempt to become visible and to forget the past that does not correspond to it, this generation aims at a development fashioned after the big cities that it has come to know through the television set, through precarious references to an Eden called Miami, or through its direct involvement in the north as wetbacks. It is, as the author of Fin¿amors himself would say, the generation that did not hear the bombs of the battle because the noise of consumerism was louder.
With full conscience of their background, Dario Escobar¿s objects construct and reflect this society without memory and its anxiety for consuming.

In reality, it seems contradictory that, before such a perspective, the author should choose the term Fin¿amors to articulate the concept of a show. In order to understand the relationships, I must explain that Fin¿amors is an equivalent of courtly love. It emerged in the beginning of the eleventh century and was coined thanks to the songs of the troubadours and the ballads called ¿courtly.¿ It determines a moment in which man becomes aware of woman, he allows her to come out of the shadow of male dominance and to play a lead role in stories from Provencal literature. This importance of the female figure is granted in the degree to which woman is heir to great fortunes and a participant in social, political, and economical decision-making. In sum, Fin¿amors is the rhetoric of the amorous emotion that one feels without expecting something in return. It is a Platonic love whose goal is not sexual consummation. In order to close the circle of the plot, Darío Escobar creates an interesting analogy between the times of globalization and the immediate meaning of fin¿amors. He says: Fin¿amors refers to a current consumption that experiences a sensation of courtly love. Today, a phenomenon similar to that of fin¿amors occurs,for we develop a courtly love toward the things that surround us. We recently discovered that we live with new objects and we overdimension them. Our desire is to possess in order to be possessed. We know that they (the objects) can never come to love us, but it doesn¿t matter, we are theirs. We live in a beautiful moment of new and different love
Within this new amorous discourse of things, Darío Escobar has laid claim to preexisting things and has taken advantage of their specificity. He has added elements antagonistic to the nature of objects, and he has determined a careful reordering of functions and meanings. The clearest example was the stationary bicycle that he presented at the last IberoAmerican Biennial of Lima, titled El becerro de oro (The golden calf), and his personal interpretation of a disposable McDonald¿s cup. These objects, common in their dailiness and objectives, were treated by the artist with fake-gold laminas and decorated with ornamental borders that recall the intricate decorations of the important saints created in the colonial period. In countries like Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru, there were magnificent artisanal guilds that supplied other regions, and even Spain itself, on account of the quality of their craftsmanship. In the course of this glorious past, the idea of the artist has been to resemanticize meanings as current images overlap them. A new code is produced in that juxtaposition that stimulates possible processes of decolonization and recolonization. But there is also a vain appreciation for artificial, instant, and disposable cultural values that hang on mass production, plastic, and fast culture.

In Darío Escobar¿s work, we also find objects that reinterpret the icons of military culture. We must recall that, in Guatemala, these icons were established as equivalents of terror. But through the artist¿s pieces, all hints of psychological threat are minimized. In any case, the trivialization denounces one of the most horrific effects of this chapter of history, namely, the one that refers to the attitude of a sector of the population that did not realize anything, or that adopted an attitude of avoiding obvious facts. In this sense, and fully aware, the artist¿s work divests itself of any critical purpose. Regarding the military aspect, he dissipates fears and substitutes them with less pernicious images. He does not seek to criticize from a frontal position. On the contrary, he shows a tactic that we recognize through triviality. This can be found in objects such as a hat that children wear at parties, where the classic children¿s design is substituted for a camouflage uniform. The same strategy appears in a jewelry box that has substituted precious stone earrings for small weapons, and in a cheap plastic music box made in Hong Kong, where the tutu doll has been substituted for a plastic soldier with a rifle on his shoulder. He has also put a lace skirt on the soldier and rearranged his feet from a battle position to a delicate bend typical of classical ballerinas.

The artist has also created objects that go beyond questioning the importance of patriotic values. These are pieces that fall into the sardonic. They laugh at everything and with everything, recognizing the pretensions of the Guatemalan middle class and its irremediable ambitions of climbing the social ladder. Two pieces have thus emerged which open an inexhaustible vein for exploration, not in the anthropological sense, but rather in the course of dismantling the class-conscious codes inherited by the colonial mentality of yesteryear and rooted in the life of Guatemalans. The first of these pieces is titled Libido. It consists of the recovery of an architectural detail of physical space where the exhibition is held. The art gallery, located in a typical American house, constructed between the ¿40s and ¿50s, has a fireplace. The artist takes advantage of this. In front of a completely empty room, and with a gesture of apparent hospitality, he lights a fire. The act is definitely Duchampian inasmuch as it establishes a readymade. However, more than provoking a different reading of the object as it is inserted into a place antagonistic to its nature, it emphasizes the recovery of a fragment of the original space in order to magnify its meanings of prosperity. The game lies in its obviousness. The idea of a fireplace in the main hall, around which the family gathers, is probably one of the principal bastions adopted and imported from the northern Anglo-Saxon culture. The fireplace, as a piece of great irony in a tropical country, counterbalances the hidden desires of coming together on holidays like Thanksgiving and the forms in which the climatic and cultural differences are neutralized. The clearest example is the use of fake snow at New Year¿s parties. The thing is, in Libido, the private fuses with the unfinished desire of approaching the American way of life, which is so highly marketed in architecture magazines sold in the supermarket racks. Also, they reveal a taste for objects which lie halfway between everything: between the acceptable and the ordinary, neither expensive nor cheap, neither ugly nor completely beautiful, half-false but not completely genuine, useful but not sublime. In general, it is kitsch, but filtered through the goodness of refined industry. But above all else, it is a symptom of the ploys used by the middle class to enter into a social hierarchy of legitimate nobility.

However, the redigestion of these architectural details is a strategy that tries to encourage the viewer to reach his or her own conclusions. This is because in Darío Escobar¿s objects there is an interaction between the visual image and the material one, and they find their complements in those images produced by the messages implicit in the titles of the works themselves. They tend to pro-yoke criticism, but from an apparently inoffensive stance. Their objects do not seek to pester good consciences. Within a halo of elegance, subversion comes alone. It is when the works themselves recall the existence of a reality as brutal as the local one that the climbing aspirations and the hidden desire to remain colonized unfold.

The work that closes the exhibition is a puzzle that drags us through the ludic and toward forgotten desires, for it consists of an enormous trampoline titled Free way. Nonetheless, the impulse to use it as a toy disappears when we notice that a white, fragmented line that recalls those of the highways appears on its canvas. The riddle of the trampoline opens into different paths and, due to the proximity of the events, it makes connections with anecdotes related to national life. In fact, this piece could set out from a concrete event. In Guatemala, one of the most important goals of the outgoing government was the construction of highways. The upholding of its good image depended on stimulating advance and progress, just as the sheets of pavement did. One of the principal networks of roads was the one constructed toward the coast of the Pacific Ocean. On the day of its inauguration, the President rode across it on a Harley Davidson. The irony is that the official photograph, reproduced in several of the country¿s newspapers, evoked an unexpected analogy. It immediately brought to mind the image of the dictator Jorge Ubico, widely known for his passion for rides on these kinds of vehicles. But this trampoline, as an object that produces its own system of visual meaning, is not restricted to the simple anecdote. The trampoline with broken lines becomes a sign of all those dreams that were frustrated by the eternal political abuses. At the same time, the image assumes that we are not serious. And with this type of curse hanging over our heads, there is nothing left to do but to jump, to dodge, to play, and to assume our thirdworldness as anonymous heroes. Before the loss of credibility of the institutions and governments that manage them, the idea is to reflect how these public spaces become something vacuous, and how massive spaces¿like the ¿Cristina¿ show¿are outlined as new representatives of citizens¿ rights(l).

This is how Dario Escobar¿s work plays on the edge of anecdotes and the range of nothingness. He tries to spark off reflections without giving preference to hypocritical, false morals. Hence the hope of life in his objects depends more on their ability to seduce us and, with no turning back, to thrust us into a declared game of appearances.

Photographs: Courtesy, Galeria Sol del Rio, Guatemala.

1. This idea stems from the theories put forward in N~stor Garcia Canclini¿s book Consumidores y ciudadanos [Consumers and citizens] (Mexico City: Grijalbo, 1995). The author analyzes cultural changes and how they have affected all spheres of daily life developed in the big cities.

Rosina Cazaliy ciudadanos [Consumers and citizens] (Mexico City: Grijalbo, 1995). The author analyzes cultural changes and how they have affected all spheres of daily life developed in the big cities.

Rosina Cazali



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