Buenos Aires

Luis F. Benedit

Ruth Benzacar Galeria De Arte

At first glance, the group of objects and installations presented by Luis F. Benedit seems to be a disordered catalogue of Argentinean vices and virtues: busts of famous Indians, made of enameled resin, which have an astonishing resemblance to mud handicrafts; citations from Jorge Luis Borges; and images of constellations representing the vast firmament of the Pampas. There are cattle brands and brutal work tools, carefully chrome-plated and placed with meticulous consistency in beautiful wooden boxes. Images of gauchos and facones (gaucho knives) abound. With the apparent indifference of Conceptualism, Benedit examines the typical clothing of the ancient criollos (native sons of European descent) and the diverse material and sections of their rudimentary dwellings. Benedit also subjects the constellations of the southern sky and even one of the indigenous languages, Yamana, to an identical analysis.

Little by little, the artist’s creative process is revealed: Yamana is analyzed by means of a dictionary prepared in English by Reverend Thomas Bridges. A projection of the constellations of the southern sky extracted from some encyclopedia, also in English, was superimposed on the images of constellations that were nailed onto the wall of the gallery with sharpened knife blades. This is not a chaotic and picturesque proliferation of telluric images, but, rather, the staging of a critical examination of the identity these images propose, and thus, of any procedure for constructing something like a “national identity.” In these pieces, that supposed “identity” is presented as the product of a game of reflections in which those images that claim to be essential, part of the tradition and heritage of a country, are revealed to be mere exterior projections that have been assimilated as characteristic. If Benedit’s work (because of his own skill as an artisan) is momentarily confused with what he ironizes, if it temporarily loses its critical edge, ultimately he reaches his difficult goal: a return of the familiar, through excess, a revival in the very heart of identity of the skids and folds that conceal a radical strangeness, an irrevocable absence. The cattle brands are, to be sure, a symbol of progress in Argentinean history, of the taming of wandering cattle for husbandry. But they also represent the allegorical traces of barbarity, torture, and repression, fatally recurrent themes in the life of the country.

The cure, the discovery of a longed-for “national identity,” is, according to Benedit, a hypnotic process of self-deceit that does nothing more than deepen the pain of the wound. In his Basilisco (Basilisk, 1991), in which a figure, immobile and stray, contemplates a mirror in a ranch constructed of Plexiglas, Benedit synthesizes, with a disenchanted and bitter humor, the ambiguity of the situation. According to legend, to cure oneself of the curse provoked by the glance of the basilisk—a fantastic animal that, according to the Vocabulario y Refranero Criollo (Dictionary of indigenous words and proverbs, 1943), is born from a cock’s egg and looks like a one-eyed serpent—the person “affronted” must contemplate through a mirror, many hours per day, many days per week, for a period of months, the reflection of the nest out of which the basilisk supposedly sprang, the probable place of the origin of his misfortune. The one bewitched is cured through self-deceit, sinking further and further into the reflection of a false image in which he thinks he finds the origin of his curse and thus his destiny. Benedit’s piece, by restoring to seemingly familiar images the breath of profound strangeness that informs them, reveals the falseness of such a mechanism in the construction of an Argentinean identity.

Carlos Basualdo

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martins.