Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The fragments of desire in Rafael López-Ramos' recent works

"Producing machines, desiring machines, everywhere schizophrenic machines, all species of life: the self and the non self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever".
                        - Gilles Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus 
The city as the utopian and phantasmagorical axis space of Modernity, finds itself in a crisis that, although taking into account both, the moral and economical crisis of the West, has altered its hegemonic and monumental contours in order to become a space for the fragmentary discourses of cultural differences within our own global culture.
When referring to cities today, we do not tend to allude to an urban site as such –centers with common structures, multiple spaces, and recurrent social actors– but to the city as a metaphor of globalization, that is, as a fragment which the art critic Gerardo Mosquera has conceptualized in the paradigm of the "post-spherical" age(1). Therefore, cities today are spaces of contradictions: if a city does not participate or claim its place in the global order, it becomes all of a sudden, a postmodern marginal space which, although surviving politically, enters a crisis at least at two different levels: in respect the global space in which subsists, and against its topographical existence. Miami fits one of these typologies, and what better way to corroborate this theory, than to venture oneself around the city while driving a car. From the suburb of "shadows and lights", as Juan Ramon Jimenez once called his residence in Coral Gables, to the skyscrapers in Key Biscayne, one can smell the fresh ocean air, the comfort, and the wealth. On the other hand, Flagler Street not only divides the North and South sides of the city, but also isolates two ways of life and two symbolic realities. Similarly, the cars passing by in this neighborhood are the synecdoche of the crisis itself: the megalomaniac Hummer with chromed rims, more than hiding the poverty of the city, accentuates and makes it more visible through its antinomy. All these images of social differences are the evidence that a city, far from being the space for the apprehension of dreams, is rather the space where dreams and nightmares can happily coexist with each other.
Lopez-Ramos' aesthetics, beyond its own fragmentary representation, also inscribes itself as a synecdoche in the tradition of Modern art's fascination with the machine as an object. Indeed, Modernity could be read as a history of several machines' accidents in space: starting with the carriage accident that enlightened Martin Luther to Protestantism, and ending with Marinetti's abrupt slip and slide in a road granting him the importance of speed. Modern commuting is a transformation of historical time and knowledge.
Nevertheless, the tradition in which Rafael Lopez-Ramos inserted his work is not that Futuristic one, which promoted the ideals of belligerent velocity and wars, but a counter-tradition that is more critical of machines, as the artist's social context is dominated by a hegemonic element directed towards consumerism. Lopez-Ramos' critique is analogous, in a more direct gesture, to the Latin-American discourses on the emergence of machines, which throughout the twentieth century were linked to the absence of Modern foundations and the rise of a city driven by new technological complexes. When approaching these artworks, we have no doubt that we are in front of a critical aesthetics of our present time, of the excess of hipper-consumerism, and the social inequalities, ideologically invisible from the voluptuous visibility of the automobile industry. This counterpoint between consumption and technology implies a new shaping of society, and a new role of the viewer as a subject who lives in that society. Not coincidentally, the birth of Henry Ford's mass production assembly lines, have a parallel with another unique social structure, although more intangible, which is the rise of Hollywood's cinematic image production.
Following Bernard Stiegler’s philosophical thought, we can say that both processes (assembly lines and the stream of cinematic stills) symmetrically relates to a similar axiological structure: if mass production of cars aimed at restructuring labor and alienating man from the product, likewise the cinematic image restructured and conquered the consumer's libido(2). Artworks like Embodied Dream and Self-Portrait & Garden on Headlights similarly correspond to Stiegler analysis; in other words, to the fragmentation of the artist’s city (Miami) whose metaphor lays precisely on the objects depicted as reflections on automobiles. Unlike the idea of desire as a proliferation of aggregates, as Gilles Deleuze would put it, Lopez-Ramos representations are in constant search of the fragmentary origin, or the quantified proliferation of their consumer/viewer's desire. Rafael’s fragments are raised to a metonymical ground, as they are part of the system's productivity that invests its power to obtain a flow of desire. No one has stated this better than Deleuze and Guattari: "Every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the other machine to which it is connected, but at the same time it is flow itself, or the production of a flow…this is the law of production of production" (3).
Under this philosophical-aesthetic framework of reproduction, Lopez-Ramos' automobiles are really fractures or social discontinuities which, precisely because of their own ruptures, should not be read as exception places of the system, but as zones that structure the system's necessity to keep perpetually rolling its power. Whether it is a showcase or a fender, the productivity of that fragmentary representation functions as a metonymical codification, not only in relation to the whole (the automobile), which is its most immediate reality, but to the complex historical and social matrix of production of desire by the system. When fragmenting the aggregate into parts, suggesting a semantic dislocation with nature, the artist is deconstructing the system of desire production, or at least, we can detect two discursive levels in this structure: i. representing how the system operates in its most ambiguous and selective reality, ii. representing how the system applies its own ideological signification of material production linked to desire and moral subjectivity, as we perceive that Lopez-Ramos is conscious of when citing the art critic Dave Hickey and his assessment of the American Dream –signifiers of happiness, of the future, of patriotism, and the democratic life. The artist, one more time, frames his aesthetics within the old dialectical strategy that intertwines technological progress and temporal fluidity as a new system's mystification.
The production of desire in Lopez-Ramos' latest works is not only achieved through the mirroring effects of the body cars, as the projection of nature's image assaulted by fetishism, but also from the internal structure of the production of commodities that is sustained by the subject, whose ontology exist only to control the culture field of desiring.
As we have already said, this new "Mirroring Nature" series configure several polysemic levels of a critique directed to the cultural industry as well as to global capitalism, to the North American values and its own ideological daydreamings, to the appearances of happiness in the post-industrialized context and the manufacturing of desire in the age of the image. Even though the artist has achieved a very personal expression, these artworks give us the impression that he has found his space between the static pictorial presence of David Hockney and the hyperrealist paintings of Richard Estes. Like in these two artists, the space in Rafael painting is always geographical (something, by the way, that has been present throughout his early works in Cuba during the 1980s): a return to the city and the fragments that withhold it.
Some last words must be said about these works in relation to the art of photography. If it is true that in this series there is an apparent dialogue with photographical representations, one must also critically note that Rafael has been able to displace the degree zero of photography, I mean the absence of the aura, and continued through the path of pictorial expression, which favors ambiguity rather than the aloofness of the photographs' enclosed space. Photography, one could speculate, is another of Rafael's ironic gestures in his multiple critique of the libido's reproduction and the fragmentation of the city space. Well-informed in the ambit of his city, Rafael Lopez-Ramos has accomplished, following the words of Hegel, the task of representing the universality of our social problems from within the semantic field of his own particular aesthetic. One must recognize that the radiant images of this series, more than a mirror of the city’s particularities, are also a synecdoche of the current state of our culture and the multiple contradictions of capitalism. Through its rare painterly minimalism and polychromatic allegories, these works have been able to elucidate with great profoundness how aware we should be of new cultural spaces of contention, also dominated by political instrumentation.
Gerardo Muñoz
M.A Student of Aesthetics Philosophy and Literature
University of Florida
1- Mosquera, Gerardo. "Esferas, ciudades, transiciones". ArtNexus, No. 54 Octubre 2004.
2- See Alexandre, Olivier. Utopia: à la recherche d'un cinéma alternatif 2007 o, Stiegler, Bernard. Echographies of television: Filmed interviews with Jacques Derrida. Polity 2002.
3- Deleuze Gilles & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. p.234.

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