Madrid

Carlos Amorales

Casa de América

“¿Por qué tener miedo al futuro?” (Why Fear the Future?) is the titular question that animated this exhibition. By way of an answer, Carlos Amorales transformed a collection of 428 images into simple black-and-white vectorial representations—computer-generated images made with vectors, not pixels. Printed on photographic paper and hung in neat rows, these images in Liquid Archive (Photographic Version), 1999–2004, range from the deathly to the lively (skulls, a nude); from nature to technology (flying birds, ascending airplanes); and from myth to history (Mexican wrestlers’ masks, Osama bin Laden’s face crossed with Che Guevara’s). The inclusion of letters of the alphabet among the images on the wall may give the impression of a cataloguing system, but instead, the artist uses his images as letters are used to create words. The nude woman appears in different guises—wearing a mask, with a bird on her head—and may be repeated identically, like a doubled letter in a word, or mirrored, like a palindrome. Such endless combinations seem to constitute a secret code in which icons from the “axis of evil” meet other omens both ancient and modern.

Far from keeping secrets, Amorales used his archive as the basis for three collaborations, which crystallized into DVD projections. In Why Fear the Future, 2005, three tarot-card readers from Madrid interpret the fate behind fifty-four images from the archive printed on playing cards. Only the readers’ hands appear, repeatedly caressing or tapping the surface of the cards like charms, as if touch could extract more meaning from them. Graphic designer André Pahl added seeping red to Amorales’s stark black-and-white palette to create an animation that pits a wrestling figure from the artist’s past performances against a storm of airplanes, monkeys, and shattered glass. Finally, composer José María Serralde made a dramatic sound track, played by a lone piano player whose reflection is captured in the shiny black lacquer of an adjacent baby grand piano fabricated by Bösendorfer (which sounds like “evil villages” in German). The projection of the pianist—shown on the back of the screen featuring Pahl’s animation—gives the screen the reversibility of a coin and proves that the animation is, in fact, a silent film.

Reflection—both a semblance produced by a mirrored surface and a vision delivered by a clairvoyant—is indeed at the heart of this show. A room designed for a fortunetelling session and a DVD projection displaying Rorschach blots each underscore how the interpretation of images has been linked to personal fate. While perhaps poking fun at the art critic—yet another profane interpreter of iconography—Amorales suggests that images must become abstract before everyone can employ them for individual ends. His decision to use silhouettes of flying birds—those black decals that are stuck on big picture windows to prevent birds from crashing into them—as a wallpaper print is telling: Surfaces can serve blindness and vision; images, decoration and destiny.

While linking clairvoyants, psychologists, and art critics as interpreters, Amorales also levels the hierarchy between artists, whose creations are generally treated as singular, and actors or even musicians, who often interpret works that have already been produced or performed by others. In the era of postproduction—where images tend to be ready-made—the artist is simply a point of distribution, not the origin of images. Since Amorales’s playing cards double as an artist’s book, visitors are encouraged to become another point of distribution; the cards’ intimate size facilitates carrying, handling, and sharing. Pick a card, any card: You will find a rich history along with an invitation to imagine your own future.

Jennifer Allen