Mexico City

“Chronicles of Absence”

Crónicas de la ausencia (Chronicles of Absence) presents works by Rosângela Rennó and Óscar Muñoz, artists (from Brazil and Columbia, respectively) who appropriate images from newspapers, archives, photography studios, and albums. Most of the works shown (installation, photography, and video) have an open, transparent quality to them. This may be due to the fact that the artists lend a material quality to everyday relationships, gestures, attitudes, and social dynamics without worrying about historical accuracy. They are, rather, concerned with making visible the general desire to register and store particular moments. Time plays an important role—via the psychic distance between memory and its subsequent representation, but also in the sensitive materials the artists have chosen to work with. Rennó uses photographs from old archives and albums sometimes damaged by humidity or dry weather. Muñoz uses water to deform an image or heat to puncture paper. The results are decaying entities that reveal their disempowerment, the alterations they have suffered, and their new state of existence as recontextualized in art.

Rennó’s Cerimônia do Adeus (Farewell Ceremony), 1997–2003, consists of thirty-nine black-and-white photographs that portray anonymous couples taking leave of their weddings, intimate moments that also render the vulnerability of the image itself as a material trace. Her Bibliotheca (Library), 2002, comprises a series of albums encased in separate glass cabinets. The viewer is frustrated since only one of the many images contained
in each album can be seen through the painted glass surface. On the walls are maps indicating where the albums come from: Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Cuba, Germany, Spain, and so on. Another table holds an index card box. The cards describe the albums—their size, color, number of pages, type of paper, and subject. We read the characteristics of the image but do not have access to it. Next to the box, a last album, this one open to the viewer, contains a selection of images—historical, political, celebratory—from among the photographs hidden away in the vitrines.

Muñoz’s Paístiempo, 2007, is a suite of eight front pages and eight spreads taken from two Colombian newspapers, El País and El Tiempo, presented on four rectangular tables. The artist has transformed the diaries by burning tiny holes in the pages that simulate offset printing and give a tactile dimension to the work, a precarious quality that reminds us of how information may or may not become part of archival memory. Simulacrums #1, #2, #3, 1999, are three photographs of the artist’s hands, torso, and feet, respectively, set in light boxes. Muñoz first allowed drops of water to fall on the negatives, distorting the images, then printed them, introducing a gulf between the image and its source.

Memories are built collectively as well as privately. In either case, “Chronicles of Absence” reminds us, invisible operations are at work; images mark absences that have emotional impact. What has been lost or forgotten may be recovered in order to question the way we have held onto or discarded narratives that continue to resonate.

Jessica Berlanga Taylor