Diego Santomé, Vidriera #1 (Stained Glass #1), 2011, lead, glass, 33 1/2 x 23 5/8".

Diego Santomé, Vidriera #1 (Stained Glass #1), 2011, lead, glass, 33 1/2 x 23 5/8".

Diego Santomé

Parra & Romero | Madrid

Diego Santomé, Vidriera #1 (Stained Glass #1), 2011, lead, glass, 33 1/2 x 23 5/8".

Two years ago Diego Santomé curated an exhibition at Parra & Romero titled “La Importancia del Pez Cebra” (The Importance of Zebrafish), a group show exploring the pertinence of a potential connection between the art of the 1960s and contemporary sculptures based on austere and everyday materials with human scale and down-to-earth ambitions. What was particularly striking then, as it is now in his recent solo exhibition, “Nuevas visiones desde el Congo” (New Visions from Congo), was the exoticism of its title. What’s all that about? Santomé has never seemed much interested in geopolitical or anthropological issues. Yet this show opened with a small Polaroid, Kongo, 2011—an aerial view of the river—placed on a white shelf in the gallery window.

A further look revealed that the artist is interested in Congo as a metaphor for its peripheral geographical situation. In fact, the whole show revolved around the idea of periphery. Santomé was raised in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia, which has long been on the margins, yet underwent a striking development toward the end of the last century. But as we know, such bursts of economic growth often leave behind a desolate landscape of industrial relics and architectural corpses. Santomé’s interest in the remains of the recent past is closely related to his concern about materials, which, in turn, connects both to Conceptual art and to the social history of Galicia’s modernity. Consider the stained-glass works that Santomé created from broken glass taken from the demolition of buildings such as a social center, an old market, a bread factory, and a fish farm, all in small Galician villages. He was inspired in part by Gordon Matta-Clark’s legendary Window Blowout, 1976, a photograph of which hung near Santomé’s Ruinas y abstracciones de cristal (Ruins and Glass Abstractions), 2011. This slide show displays the fragments out of which the stained-glass sculptures were made, one at a time, in a slow and auratic succession that emphasizes their status as ruins.

Upstairs one saw several more works, including three diptychs of digital prints depicting abstract black forms floating in monochromatic gray fields. These forms evoke old factories, and the subtle changes in tone of their surrounding gray fields refer to each factory’s degree of deterioration. The allusion to Constructivism and thereby to the social movements attached to that movement is evident, and yet the history it addresses so strikingly is that of Galicia. Cinematógrafo (Projector), 2011, consists of a Super 8 projector showing images of another projector in a tautology that is both absurd and poetic. The looping film hung freely from the gallery ceiling, creating the sense of a tangible body. Like the artist Rosa Barba, Santomé seeks in this work to represent the magic of early film by stripping open its complex mechanisms. His is a multilayered body of work with a remarkable selection of references. He finds natural links between poor materials and collective memory, analog processes and Conceptual art, early film and industrial pro-gress. But, above all, he succeeds in merging what is now a universal perception of modernity with an intriguing perspective on the local and the biographical.

Javier Hontoria