Milan

Alejandro Vidal

Galeria Artra

In 2000, the Colectivo Sociedad Civil, a group of Peruvian artists and activists, organized a public action of protest and civil resistance in Plaza Mayor in Lima, Peru. Alluding to the reigning regime’s corruption, their symbolic action Lava la Bandera consisted of the washing of the national flag. In A Song Before Sunset, 2009, Alejandro Vidal presents a restaging of this rite in ten photographs. Some people, faces unseen, intently soak flags of different nations. Yet the images are not a commentary on current or historic events, and, indeed, the event that precipitated the work fades behind the image. Vidal has always worked with the representation of urban rituals, including the violent practices of youth subcultures and metropolitan “tribes,” but his art maintains a distance from any documentary form. Instead, he is interested in understanding codes, in the grammar of signs and stereotyped gestures, produced or reinforced by their representation in the media. As evinced in this recent exhibition, “Hell Is a Place Where Memory Is Dead,” the artist isolates and abstracts these elements from their contexts, then restages them in detailed, artificial form.

In Vidal’s photographs, then, he treats reality as an interloper that lurks in the background. This strategy was already clear in the artist’s earlier works, also on view: the video Tactical Disorder, 2006, and the photographs The Line Between the Devil’s Teeth, 2007, and Sabbatique, 2007. In the photographs of A Song Before Sunset, the flags are difficult to recognize, any references to a specific national context faded. But the scenes are reconstructed with maniacal attention to detail, which seems accurate, though one cannot be sure, and the reality effect is powerful. Just as in his earlier photographic or video works, the artist has created a perfect theatrical set where nothing is left to chance. Vidal analyzes the gesture of the washing of the flag with cold precision. He also investigates its aftermath: In the middle of the gallery there hung an Italian flag that had been washed repeatedly until it was partially faded (History Is Hoping for Tomorrow, 2009). The flag was large and perspicaciously occupied the space, but in its discolored and weakened state it could not help but bring to mind that country’s current condition, and perhaps the broader erosion of the nation-state generally.

A different kind of artifice appears in the video Firestorm, 2009. This work is a montage of shots of fireworks, splendid explosions of flowery forms set as decorations against the nighttime sky. Here Vidal does not reconstruct a set but uses found footage. He abolishes people and action. He does not use multiple framings but favors a single, frontal view, albeit edited with a syncopated rhythm. The emotional aspect of sound becomes responsible for the construction of meaning; the violent noise of a bombardment overtakes the sound track, suggesting a scene of aggression. This state of tension, like that of Vidal’s photographs, demands alertness to both ciphers and meanings.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.