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Joshua Hagler: "Witness or pretend: Decoding materiality in southern art" at Bode Projects, Berlin

The exhibition Witness or pretend: Decoding materiality in southern art is addressing similar questions; by depicting the reference to personal as well as collective narratives, Joshua Hagler, Luis López-Chávez, Chris Watts address a fragile present, derived by an absence or 'incompleteness' of the past through lost stories and fractured histories, in land and territories, in objects, in architecture; and in embodied abstraction. 

The body of work by Joshua Hagler, is a range of abstract paintings and found objects, re-created in the artist's studio, in abandoned houses; objects and paintings, which derive from a place of investigation and analysis in the vast landscape of New Mexico. In some sense, time is frozen, but the evidence of time passing, the derelict buildings, paint peeling off, roofs caving in, billboards littered with bullet holes; is ubiquitous. To imagine these places or objects as having transcendent potential, is to ignore the isolation, grief, and outright rage that exists in America today. With the ubiquitous presence of time’s passage evident in its many abandoned towns and villages, New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the U.S. and its rural poverty seems both to reveal and keep its secrets. It is a place that neither receives much attention in national politics nor factors into narratives about American identity. Joshua Hagler depicts themes of exploration, cultural mythologies and anthropology, thereby he creates landscapes of paintings which alter over time, as he revisits the objects and paintings, which might be a work procedure of years. This organic methodology of exploration in the material, implicates a recognition of time and process. 

"It has become a part of both my work and contemplative practice to wander into the desert with its abandoned towns, prehistoric rock art, and roadside gas stations where I draw, photograph, and scavenge objects such as old rusted railroad signs and car wreckage. I feel at home among the things which are most invisible to the gaze of the outside world, probably because I never felt comfortable in that world. To move to New Mexico after fifteen years in California; felt, in part, like a kind of exile, an exit from some kind of cultural center to land in a provincial garbage heap. It is a mysterious irony that in learning to accept my own coastal irrelevance, a kind of transformation began to take shape in my work. What was once exile has become repatriation, an entrance into, a renewed awareness and acceptance of the world within my reach. To the casual observer, so much about my home might appear empty but, in fact, its resources are limitless. For one who knows firsthand what I mean, there is a tremendous energetic intensity that seduces one into a kind of artistic collaboration with the etherial spaciousness of New Mexico itself." 

Joshua Hagler is a mixed-media artist, focusing on painting, his work expands into sculpture, installation and video. Hagler’s work has ranged from socio-politics and questions of identity to religious fundamentalism in America to the history of pioneering and westward expansion in the United States. 

Cuban artist Luis López-Chávez created a new series of paintings which corresponds to a formal and thematic genealogy of paintings of common places in the colonial and republican architecture of contemporary Cuba. The works refer to the transformation of several houses, in Cuban quarters or in state institutions. Light and shadow are the fundamental pictorial motifs to describe the Hotel Series. Beyond the inhabitation and the ideology, the Hotel series encompasses each personal story, each context, adding everything to its routine and infinite narrative. “My work is motivated exclusively by the pure pictorial activity and its alchemy of colors, textures, gradients and transparencies which is created by a pictorial image from the tension between space and surface. Compressed between the canvas and the gaze. Where the technique, deployed in various modalities, gives the illusion of a certain absence, of a possible anguish.” 

This particular body of work in Cuban art addresses the discourse of loss in national Cuban architecture. Motivated by the arrangement of tiles in one of the rooms of the Grand Hotel Manzana Kempinski, framed as archaeological objects, the images are remnants of the old Manzana de Gómez. An unbridgeable aesthetic abyss opens up in the space which exhibits the works. “It is chaos between community and family groups, between unsuccessful organizations, between the touristy and the decadent of ruin.” The works by Luis López-Chávez suggest blunt visual estrangement that hides more poignant, less visible social, political and economic questions. But the principles and foundations of Cuban architecture can still be discovered in those tiles, like an encrypted project. This is the cornerstone of the Hotel series. Fragments of floors that show the deconstruction of Cuban architecture of today. 

Luis López-Chávez is a contemporary painter, exploring the visual dimensions of sculptural form and logical space. Based on the frictions between geometrical forms of representation with the socio-historical context, he proposes a visuality contained between a conceptual methodology and an unconscious pulse, between arithmetical and philosophical image. The artist's paintings address themes such as space, emptiness, and different notions of death. By repeating elementary forms, the artist emphasizes their fundamental value and, thus, their link to metaphysical concerns. Thereby, the antagonism between form and intention, matter and mind; body and soul, is dissolved and opened for a general investigation. According to the artist, a work of art is generated by the process it informs, implying a movement or even synthesis of ideas and forms.

Chris Watts seeks to revise, interrogate, and re-examine social and personal narratives through the transfiguration of painting, drawing, video, and installation. Constructed from soft and sheer textiles, poly-chiffon, silk, wood, resin; or poly blend wraps, the body is always imbricated in these paintings. Porous and breathable, light decelerates as it passes through the material, whereas the reflection signals anti- spectacle; the glossiness denies the viewer’s absorption into the painting. “The photological depiction of the figure occupies an imaginative space which resists prescribed modes of representation (where absence forms the condition of visibility) while questioning how history might be embodied, radically challenging prevailing categorizations of humanness, emancipating notions of blackness from the Western imagination. Studying and archiving public surveillance, police body cams, and pedestrian iPhone footage, led Chris Watts to create the »The Blahk on Blahk on Blak« series.

"The transparent paintings were made for, and to only be displayed, on black walls. This intent is not just to create another dimension to these already layered constructs, but to create realities that only reveal themselves in blackness. In these works I began to reconsider, not so much as to abort representation of the figure altogether, nor neglect it, but privilege the figure and re-examine our relationship to surface." Responding to this traumatic visual material through abstraction, the work resists prescribed modes of figurative representation, interrogating the ways in which history might be embodied through absence."This research further examines instances of both the figure and non-figure role of the black narrative as a way to question representation and demand that we reconsider what constitutes the terms of the visible. The work alters how we think about the effects and materiality of racialized skin on display while carving out a space that posits black subjectivity not as a given-not as primordial essence - but rather as a discursive space that is complicated, split, and fractured."

Chris Watts is an abstract painter and mixed-media artist whose work interrogates social and personal narratives around embodiment, and understandings of the visible. Within his work, the artist seeks to analyse, re-examine and revise existing conventions by means of their abstract representation, and re-evaluation.


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