Gustavo Buntinx, "Infografías. Ejercicios de fisiocromía y reportes de derechos humanos". 2004.

Aunque nacido en Cuba en 1967, David Palacios radica desde 1991 en Venezuela, país del que ahora (noviembre 2007) parte para reubicarse en Europa. En Caracas deja, no obstante, una secuencia incisiva de intervenciones artísticas cuyo tenor último podría verse resumido en este dramático y al mismo tiempo conceptual video. Una ironía sobre el formalismo extremo del cinetismo que es también, sin embargo, un homenaje sesgado a ese logro mayor de la estética modernista --en el momento de su crisis definitiva.

Una crisis política tanto como cultural, anunciada incluso por ese impresionante lema oficialista que al proclamar una "nueva geometría del poder" pervierte e instrumentaliza las formulaciones cinéticas. Así parece entender --y subvertir-- Palacios, cuyo comentario artístico se articula desde la inquietud cívica. Para ello resignifica radicalmente la teoría y la práctica de Carlos Cruz Diez, trasmutando la pura vibración retiniana de sus fisiocromías en pruebas de color televisivas que a su vez se reconfiguran en campos estadísticos de violaciones a los derechos humanos bajo el actual régimen venezolano --en particular las detenciones arbitrarias practicadas por organismos de seguridad del Estado.

Mención aparte merece la aguda precisión de las citas, cuya escogencia y despliegue otorgan sutiles connotaciones críticas a las abstractas formulaciones verbales de Cruz Diez. Un logrado paralelo textual a la compleja operación icónica que el video además exalta mediante la gravedad de su banda sonora. Ese dramático fondo musical nos reubica en el (melo)drama y la tristeza de nuestros opacos tiempos, amagados por el oscurantismo y la malversación simbólica con que antiguas retóricas de liberación son utilizadas para justificar nuevas opresiones. Apenas uno de los varios complejos sentidos que el curador venezolano Jesús Fuenmayor ha tan acertadamente articulado bajo la categoría de "políticas de la sinestesia".

No es un dato menor el que alguna de las fisiocromías aludidas por este video (como la obra pública denominada Andrés Bello) haya sido en los últimos años víctima ella también de la intolerancia y de la violencia, expresadas por una vandalización continua. Un sensible donativo del crítico Gerardo Zavarce me permitió incorporar varios de sus fragmentos al acervo de MICROMUSEO. Es una de nuestras más preciadas, más dolidas, piezas. Las ruinas del modernismo. (Gustavo Buntinx).


Infografía No. 2072
(Derecho a la vida)

Infografía No. 3294
Venezolanos en el exterior

Infografía No. 3478
(Derecho a la integridad personal)

Infografía No. 2389
(Víctimas de tortura)

Infografía No. 2070
(Derecho a la vida)

Infografía No. 2392
(Víctimas de tortura)

The Politics of Synesthesia

by Jesús Fuenmayor

A bit of the same old story

In the breakdown of ideologies of large sectors of modern life furthered by advanced capitalism, modernist art has provided one of the most illustrious chapters. Néstor García Canclini affirms that “art contributes to doubly reinforcing the oppressive structure of capitalist societies; besides communicating ideological representation that legitimizes the division of society in classes, it metacommunicates, as it were, in the way the message is fashioned, what the relations of the classes ought to be, who makes history and who suffers because of it.”

If nowadays one still tends to think of advertising as ideologically innocuous, despite the fact that it is one of the activities where we can observe with greatest clarity how the promotion of consumerism works, being the sector the majority of people turn to when looking at the innards of capitalism, then we will have to make an extra effort not to minimize the crucial role of latter-day modern art in the predominant social relations, because in it there are not many clear solutions to those attempts at ideological destabilization.

One of the models with this ideological background against which the high art of modernism reacted most frequently and which continues to be the target of criticism today – like that expressed by so-called cultural studies – is the Greenbergian. For Clement Greenberg, the American critic who embodied the modern ideal of creating a historic continuum according to which an authentic, perceptive eye could judge both a Chinese vase and an aerosol painting – an indictment of all human artistic achievement in a quick look out of the corner of one’s eye – what the true work of art had to reveal was only the work itself. This model, which served and serves to sum up American Abstract Expressionism and which gave it its preeminent place in the history of art, overshadowed somewhat another model no less ambitious and purist.

It is a well-known fact that, following the heyday of Abstract Expressionism in the fifties, other movements, such as Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptualism, for the most part based in New York, from the start of the sixties held in check other movements that were being acclaimed. At that time the new figurative art, informalism, the new realism, arte povera were the center of attention, as well as a group of artists interested in incorporating this last movement’s ideas into their own work – called kinetic art, in a undertaking that concerns us here because of it is bound up with the theories of relativity, the uncertainty principle and the scientific concepts dealing with quantum mechanics and particle physics.
Summed up crudely but succinctly, the leading story that still prevails devised an Anglo-American genealogy for art, which was pushing aside the story of the movement of European-based artists and soon displaced it. According to Mark Nash, among the group of artists who we tend to identify as kinetic there were some who were very interested in conducting scientific research, especially in the area of “cosmic speculation,” or, to put it another way, in cosmogony, given that they shared an interest in the exact and natural sciences as they searched for an explanation of the laws that govern the physical world.

This interest is expressed in passionate words that from the start attempt to equate art with science. In what is considered to be the first kinetic manifesto, “The Realist Manifesto” of 1920, for example, Gabo and Pevsner already employed this language: “We create our works like the universe creates itself, like the engineer builds bridges, like the mathematician his orbital formulas.” So, on reaching the summit of their art, it was practically impossible to be a kinetic artist and not having put forward a methodology equating creative with scientific work. What these artists tended to push into the background were the advances made in the other sciences, those not concerned with the world in its infinite and unfathomable, but rather in the deep muddle of social concerns, which we know as the social sciences.
These works, with their focus on the optical instead of the retinal, had to be addressed to a viewer capable of suppressing any anecdotal content and thus realize the dream of making it comprehensible, regardless of the personal experience of that viewer.

Very little specific criticism that deals with the ideological sources of those artists who are members of the movements eclipsed by the mainstream has been directed at them, perhaps because, in an ironic turn, in recent years we have seen how, with the introduction of a multicultural spin in curatorial discourse and consequently the inclusion of the other (that is, that which is different), the kinetic artists have come to form part of the group that composes the so-called peripheral movements.

Resounding solitude, loud green
Visual symphonies, musical theater, abstract film, concerts in images, verbal geometries, choreographic architecture – these could be the art forms that make up the discourse that is not just an alternative to colorfully complement the correspondence of science and art. One could make out in this language an intention to overcome an approach to the study of art according to the differences existing in that world. To follow the Romantics, the arts would have to be defined according to what the art of painting lacks in poetry, or what poetry lacks in music, and what the last lacks in order to be dance or theater, that is, according to the specificity of the medium; at last we would have a methodological tool to arrive at a self-sufficiency of art, And on this point concerning autonomy, no matter how hard the avant-garde artists try to set themselves apart from the modernists, they basically aspire to the same thing.

The cross in art forms is a cross in the sense of perception, explicit in the aspiration of the modernists associated with integrating the movement into the artwork, which is what I venture to call “the politics of synesthesia” – to give a name to this search for a synthesis of the arts, in which the kinetic artists have been the promoters and protagonists.
David Palacios’ recent work also could be included in this politics of synesthesia. Only that the word “politics” possesses in the context of this exhibition a very special resonance, and the “synesthesia” is more than the transfer of the modalities of the senses. He calls them Infographs and they are works that, besides following the methodology that Carlos Cruz Díez invented for producing his series of “physiochromes” (and other works related to the perception of color), at that same time exhibit the statistical results of the state of human rights in Venezuela, according to reports published by the Venezuelan Program for Education-Action for Human Rights (PROVEA), one of the organizations that, in this field, has tremendous credibility in our country.

“Politically correct kinetic art?” could be the first question that comes to the mind of the viewer of these recent works by Palacios. So that what the politics of synesthesia assume in this context is not only a form of naming and promoting a cross of art forms but also underline in the discourse of scientific kineticism an absence of another order of things. Without putting aside the associations that anyone could make about Venezuela’s current situation, the political commentary in “The Politics of Synesthesia,” to say it as it is, suggests that Palacios’ work is immersed in a scrutiny of the forms in which the everyday or one’s immediate surroundings – the world that’s out there beyond the world of art – is transformed into symbolic material.

Let’s take it one by one. Politics, beyond indicating given power relationships, denotes the city, the public realm. To practice politics employing synesthesia would not only imply, then, an understanding of what the relationships are that determine the cross between the different art forms (in the case of Infographs, the cross between graphic and kinetic art, representing a historical contradiction between mass and cult art) but would also demand an understanding of the relationships that this mixture of art forms has in the social sphere in which it was created.

In a previous exhibition of Palacios’ work, Zona de distensión, (Neutral Zone, Sala Rómulo Gallegos, 2002), we can see a development of this idea that gives us a better understanding of his work. According to Felix Suazo, in both Neutral Zone and other works, there is a common denominator of the “parallel between the symbolic world and the material universe.” . On that occasion, Palacios worked with a group of laborers, technicians, and managers employed in a brick factory on the outskirts of Caracas. The installation in the exhibition hall consisted of a kind of reports on the workings of the factory, where one could study, by way of an statistical analysis of the use of bricks in artworks, the different ways the factory’s products are used, now symbolically and in contrast to its value as a practical object, its value, as Suazo says, “in depreciation of the normative esthetic.”

In Infographs, one can also find a contradiction of this kind, when statistics on human rights are used in the service of a strictly personal experience of perception of pure art. To this material universe of the violation of rights, the Infographs add the artistic delight of the symbolic world.

Perhaps here we should note the most significant feature that distinguishes Palacios’ latest work from his previous efforts. Although both deal with a series of works in which statistics are the element that invests them ultimately with meaning, in Infographs the artist fuses his own artistic concepts with those of Cruz-Díez’s physiochromes, effecting a radical change because, to use Palacios’ own words: the use of statistics, instead of “complementing other mechanisms, are here used to develop their own language that attempts to put greater emphasis on the contrast of a formal nature and that of the content of the work of art.”

That is to say, the statistics are crossed synesthetically with the kinetic operation and generate a short circuit. The Spanish Dictionary of the Royal Academy defines synesthesia as “1. Physiol. Secondary sensation or an associated one that is produced in one part of the body as a result of a stimulus applied on another part of it. 2. Psychol. Images or subjective sensation produced in one modality, or sense, when a stimulus is applied to another modality. 3. Rhet. Trope that consists in uniting two images or sensations originating from different sensory organs. Resounding solitude, loud green.”

If in order to appreciate the kinetic art of Cruz-Díez we have to change positions before the artwork, so that by our movement the desired mutation, or change, and associated explosion of colors is produced, so the statistics on human rights cited in Infographs don’t change: the stats on repression of street demonstrations, on the violations regarding personal safety, on the death of police and civilians in shootouts; the numbers on police involved in homicides, on the deaths by torture, on the excessive or indiscriminate use of force, on deaths through negligence or the victims of executions; figures on the number of oil spills or the responsibility of the security forces in cases of violations of the right to life or the growth of the prison population. The statistics remain, for all the viewer’s esthetic delight in the kinetic experience, fixed and monolithic. Resounding solitudes, a loud green color.

There is another significant difference. In her text on Neutral Zone, Carmen Hernández says that “this project attempts to activate this Neutral Zone – or an area that represents flexibility – that is situated between “art” and the social fabric ... and that functions more like a metaphor of the inner workings of the system because, in practice, it maintains a uncompromising tension between the artistic and the extra-artistic.”

So that there is a body of work that goes from contemplation to reception, which in the series of Infographs that comprise this exhibition is reiterated, but instead of representing a solution (artistically), this body of work is produced in two senses at once. Therefore the world of art is recognized as a social phenomenon in itself. The idea of a critique of the realm of institutions is given priority (the “normative esthetic”), above that of a work that considers the validity of the differences between the world outside and the inner world of art. It is a double sieve where the critical eye attempts to find a solution to the trap of going on producing institutional art as something separate from the social sphere.

NASH, Mark, “The Art of Movement,” in the catalog of the exhibition Force Fields, Phases of the kinetic art, Hayward Gallery, London and Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, 2000, p. 313.

SUAZO, Félix, “Territorios en Reclamación, Sobre la obra de David Palacios”, in the exhibition catalog of David Palacios’ Inventory and Statistics of an Exhibition in Experiences in Dialogue, Sala RG, Fundación Celarg, Caracas, 2003, p. 6.

Taken from the artist’s project for the exhibition “Infographs, Exercises in Physiochromes and Reports on Human Rights,” prepared by the artist, David Palacios.

HERNÁNDEZ, Carmen, “Some Notes on Neutral Zone,” in the exhibition catalog of David Palacios’ Neutral Zone, Inventory and Statistics of an Exhibition in Experiences in Dialogue, Sala RG, Fundación Celarg, Caracas, 2003, p. 24.