Fernando Bryce

Fernando Bryce is driven by an archaeological interest. The artist, who was born in Lima, Peru, in 1965 and has lived in Berlin since the late ’80s, has amassed an archive of drawing series—some comprising nearly five hundred pieces, all on standard-format paper—that include among their subjects individual historical figures as well as complex phenomena such as the Spanish Civil War, the Cuban revolution, and general political developments in South America after World War II. In them, Bryce pursues the strategy Walter Benjamin ascribed to the chronicler in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History”; that is, the artist narrates without differentiating between major and minor events. In this stringing-together, which from a later, historical point of view must seem a random approach, there lies a political expectation: that nothing that happens is ever lost for history. Every new arrangement and selection is an interpretation of the facts that, in turn, is constantly being revised by history.

In this Benjaminian sense, then, Bryce reveals himself as a materialist. His Atlas Peru, 2001, exhibited at the 2003 Istanbul Biennial, was based in part on ’30s tourist brochures meant to show how the country was prospering at the time. Bryce takes their propagandistic pictures of joyous Indian farmers and the architectural highlights of Lima and transfers them in reduced black-and-white drawings to cream paper left over from discontinued East German stocks: He refers to this process as “mimetic analysis.” From this chronological stringing, though, a comprehensive context emerges that reveals the South American idyll as a colonialist construct. It is not for nothing that there is a drawing in Bryce’s cycle Mexico, 2002, that, in the style of old Reader’s Digest cartoons, advertises land by touting the favorable exchange rate at the time.

Bryce’s method of reconstruction and artistic appropriation of history has by now taken on encyclopedic dimensions. For the 219-piece Revolución, 2004, shown here, he sifted through a wide span of ’60sera documents: This cornucopia of found footage ranges from Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba to the student uprisings of 1968 by way of seductive film posters of Marilyn Monroe, statistics of industrial production, scenes of striking workers, and caricatures of US imperialism: an iconography of social relations, politics in the mirror of the mass media.

As he works, Bryce always ensures that the origins of the materials he uses remain traceable; sometimes he copies out whole newspaper pages in order to keep the formal and journalistic context of the specific news piece visible. For the forty-four-piece Americas, 2005, he used the front pages of the eponymous newspaper, an organ of the Organization of American States, the progression of which literally and aesthetically “pages through” the ideology of the Cold War. One cover from 1959 uses the portrait of Oscar Niemeyer to celebrate Brazil’s urbanistic progressiveness, while another from 1953 shows a portrait of a South American Indian adorned with a short text: YOU CAN NOW MOTOR THROUGH HIS COUNTRY ON THE PAN AMERICAN HIGHWAY. At such moments, Bryce lets his irony show, unmasking the flyover mentality of the West: South America as a mere backdrop to a speedy road trip. Nonetheless it is striking how the individual pages, apart from all conceptual interest, follow a particular drawing style: For the most part, objects and persons are reduced to outlines and heavy shadows, in order to thematize the transformation of mainly photographic originals into the medium of drawing. And so what becomes clear in Bryce’s work is not only the influence of comics from the ’20s and ’30s, but also a sharply contoured realism that itself belongs to the tradition of political art.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.

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