Buenos Aires

Liliana Porter

Centro Cultural Recoleta

“For a work to be what we call a work of art, it must generate an idea, perhaps another work,” Liliana Porter once observed, thus delineating the sphere of her production as the possibility of an ever-recurring cycle: a reality that produces a fiction that produces a reality, with one work containing another, like Russian nesting dolls. Now an exquisite survey curated by Inés Katzenstein has shown the extent to which Porter’s remark has guided her voyage through the world of representation.

Born in Buenos Aires, Porter moved to New York in 1964. A year later, together with Luis Camnitzer and José Guillermo Castillo, she founded the New York Graphic Workshop. A series of photo-etchings from the ’70s based on reproductions of works by René Magritte announced two of Porter’s fundamental preoccupations: simulacrum and reproduction—basic postmodern problems. Addressing the idea of mass reproduction, Porter suggests that the boundary between image and reality has broken down, culture becoming a flux of undifferentiated images leading to a state of entropy. Often, since the early ’80s, Porter has fractured the image into bits and pieces that can be moved around easily but never successfully assembled into an integrated whole: a small canvas placed over a larger one reproducing sections of it, three-dimensional objects that repeat while moving outside the limits of the painting, a silk screen that replicates the painted motifs—all coexisting in a state of insecurity, on the brink of disintegration.

Around the mid-’90s, pristine photographs of childhood toys and other small, familiar objects became central to Porter’s work. Plastic rabbits, porcelain dolls, wooden ducks, and Chinese figurines were photographed with a precise, invigorating definition. These are not “objects” in the sense that Duchamp’s readymades were, but what might be called “subject-objects,” emotionally charged and part of Porter’s life: “I do not use in my work toys with which I have not played before.” These toys seem engaged in intimate dialogue: When Alice’s White Rabbit and a bust of Che Guevara hold a private chat, Porter is questioning not only the nature of space-time but that of memory as a vast archive where anything and everyone can hold a conversation. At other times, those same toys, once mass-produced, now stand alone, pleadingly facing us in a vast white space that recalls “the desert of the real,” as a Baudrillard-quoting Morpheus describes it in The Matrix, when what we call reality collapses. And like a modern Gepetto, Porter has brought her toys to life: Two videos capture with fixed camera shots perversely tender theatrical situations—the love between a boy and the Renaissance man in a postcard (For You, 1999) or a little boy trapped under a black shoe (Drum Solo, 2000), all instilled with that unaffected gracefulness that Heinrich von Kleist once detected in puppet shows.

For all her cleverness, Porter never yields to the temptations of didacticism. Multi-layered and at the same time apparently simple, the videos remind us that an artist plays with the seriousness only a child can achieve while playing.

Maria Gainza