New York

Jacobo Borges

CDS Gallery

Jacobo Borges is an illusionist; like a magician, he makes us see things we don’t believe are the case. In Portrait with Tiger, 1986, painterly ripples of water cut a figure in half. Each half seems to have a life of its own, a life only nominally—magically—connected to the other. The water has created the illusion, but in a sense it is only the instrument of the illusion—that is, of the imaginative moment in which we recognize the doubleness of our being. Borges pursues this moment relentlessly, reconstituting it in picture after picture, as though it were the only moment that matters in art, and that makes it matter for life. He articulates this doubleness by splitting or doubling the figure and then connecting the two parts via the reflected image—i.e., our perception of ourselves. In this attempt to reconcile the “real” and the “reflected,” the question is, Which of these nominal opposites is signified by the other? Which takes priority? The power of Borges’ art comes from the fact that he doesn’t know; the elusiveness of his painterliness signals the fact that he isn’t sure. He generates a double sense of vacancy: in Photographer, 1986, the seemingly solid figure is as “absent” as its diluted mirror image, if in a different way. A deluded sense of self is implied, seemingly indistinguishable from ordinary self-awareness. Indeed, the tiger in Portrait with Tiger suggests the full insanity of the delusion created by the imaginative doubling: the self’s split-off, “irreal” part is imagined as bestial, which is nothing new, but the bestiality implies omnipotence, the grandest infantile illusion haunting the adult self.

The same problem emerges in Mirror of Waters, 1986, where a solid, worldly figure is played off against a vague, haunting, watery female figure. Is it the artist’s muse, who has power over him, or rather gives him the illusion—such as only a mother can give—of his absolute power? Indeed, these pictures can be understood as an allegory of the artist before the mirror of his work, as suggested by Camerata and Mirror and It Is Not a Matter of Matter, both 1986. In these works, the ghosts—internal objects—in the mirror have the appearance of the externally real. Borges is obsessed by this “borderline” situation. He distinguishes clearly between what is inside and outside the mirror, as if to suggest that the artist’s task is to experience fantasy without getting lost in it, but what is in the mirror often has a more urgent presence than what is outside it. The artist is seriously haunted but not quite insane.

Yet Borges’ pictures are “insane” in their ambivalence, for by perching on the borderline between dream and reality, and giving dream the substance of reality and reality the substance of dream, he suggests his fixation on contradiction, which is a neurotic symptom. These pictures are examples not of what I have elsewhere called “psychotic realism” but of “neurotic realism.” They convey an almost unbearable sense of anxiety about reality—an anxiety that is a heightened form of awareness and articulation of the split between the inner and outer reality of things. To articulate that split, which is usually blurred over or left unconscious, is to be at least temporarily insane. Perhaps this is why Borges is tempted to take the fantasy within the mirror as the real reality.

Donald Kuspit