Buenos Aires

Eduardo Basualdo

As in a Shakespearean tragedy, atmosphere plays an unusual role in Eduardo Basualdo’s exhibitions. The scenes unfold in faint light: The vision of the dagger, the witches’ dance, the sleepwalking lady, the glimmerings of the sky, occur at the hour when “night’s black agents to their prey do rouse.” We could be describing Macbeth, but we are not; rather, this was Basualdo’s latest and eeriest exhibition, “Todo lo contrario” (Quite the Opposite).

Here, a story about necromancy and witchery was conjured out of scenes that occurred simultaneously around the space. Light was the focus of the show, a medium to ignite the action; shadows, reflections, and sparkles told the rest. Basualdo’s drawings on copper depict strange events that were made even more elusive by quivering light reflections bouncing off the metal: A woman jumps from a precipice, her long, rootlike hair covering her face; a bunch of heads carry horrid expressions that recall Goya’s nightmares; a man pulls something that looks like a spirit from another man’s mouth, as if in some obscure medical procedure recalling Hieronymus Bosch’s Cure of Folly. Wire silhouettes of heads lay randomly on the floor; Nordau and Lombroso would immediately have classified them as the heads of criminals. Medieval-looking machinery made of wood and stones moved to a slow tempo. A wooden plank came and went in circles; if you got too close it could have chopped your head off—that’s Zeus (Júpiter), 2009. A drawing of a lady, Acá estoy (I’m Here), 2009, when lit from behind, revealed the presence of a hidden figure, making manifest the double-sided nature of existence. The medieval imagery, combined with the dramatic lighting and the use of metals, imbued these artifacts with a sense of doom.

This fascination with the symbolic properties of light is not new to Basualdo’s work. Last summer, he held a residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Every night the students had to walk across the woods from the studios to their rooms. Basualdo designed a long aluminum stick that held a powerful light at one end. The last person to leave the studios was asked to place it on his or her back. It would shine brightly over the trees above, leaving the road ahead in darkness. The student would have to follow his or her own shadow home. The stick functioned as something like a psychopomp, a guide that escorts souls to the afterlife—in Jungian psychology, a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms.

Basualdo is part of an artist collective called Provisorio-Permanente (Provisional-Permanent) that created a brilliant performance titled Visitas a la Casa del Coleccionista (Visits to the Collector’s House), 2005–2007, which resonates with the shadowy intrigue of Basualdo’s other works. To see it, a viewer had to make an appointment. A time and date were appointed for him or her to stand at a street corner at night alone. An unknown man would appear and guide the viewer to a house where something occurred—we are not told what. The house soon became an urban myth. Now working on his own but still obsessed with tropes of suspense and fear, Basualdo seems to distill dark impulses, dreams, and nightmares from mundane materials, in which forms flicker and mutate before our eyes.

María Gainza