Buenos Aires

Miguel Angel Ríos

Museo de Arte Moderno / Galería der Brücke

Miguel Angel Ríos is an Argentinean artist born in Catamarca, a province at the extreme north of the country, as culturally far away from the capital, Buenos Aires, as it is geographically. Throughout Argentina’s short history, those in Beunos Aires have used the phrase el interior (the interior) to refer to the rest of the country. El interior, which makes up nearly all of the nation’s territory, paradoxically faces Buenos Aires, a city that has always thought of itself as a European metropolis tragically exiled in South America—the place of the strange or remote, of the marginal, that Other before which the capital builds its identity, and by extension, the identity of the entire republic.

In the first show in Buenos Aires—after a career which he had developed primarily in countries of the northern hemispherethis artist from the interior presented a series of paintings, objects, and installations, which unfolded as a reflection on his identity as a Latin American, carried out with the unmistakable tools, both analytic and conceptual, of the art work of northern countries. The hybrid products of his work came to be doubly revealing when exhibited in the capital: the search for an interior in a space in which the idea of interior as a privileged topos of identity is itself foreign, with the foreign tools of a foreign culture.

The paradox is evident in Linea de Nazca (Nazca line, 1992), an installation that Ríos brought to light in the Museo de Arte Moderno. The mysterious lines traced over the surface of the earth—on Peruvian, not Argentinean,through a group of 1320 “seeds”—as he himself calls these ovoid and hollow objects—made with mud from the Calchequies vaIley, the artist’s birthplace. In order to be able to contemplate the installation in its entirety-in order to accede to the theatrical horizon of the imposing painted mural and to the ocher tonalities of the mosaic that made up the “seeds”—it was necessary to risk ascending the wooden steps of a precarious perron (painted with the peeled-off colors of the Argentinean flag) that led to a fragile balcony, also made of wood and hollow metal pipes. This balcony, almost identical to those normally used for political acts in the country, allowed the spectators to look out upon a disquieting view. Seen from above, Rios’ “seeds” were emptied of all symbolic content, of all reference to past cultures, in order to represent the frightening landscape of a multitude of dark heads, bodiless, opaque traces of an obedient and resigned population. The controlled vision thought to be achieved from the balcony was, however, profoundly disturbed by the sense of danger that the extreme precariousness of the balcony itself provoked in the spectator. The mural in the background then became an absurd curtain, imposing and disconnected, in front of a search that was simultaneously an attempt at control and a substantiation of the irrevocable impossibility of attaining that control.

Like Linea de Nazca, Rios’ production seemed to slide down from that search for identity to a paradoxical theatricalization of origins. What it found, perhaps, was the startled look of one who, in searching for himself in the impossible scene of a foreverdistanced “interior,” encountered a different person each time.

Carlos Basualdo