Bernardo Ortiz, 12 Asuntos Abstractos (12 Abstract Matters), 2012, mixed media. Installation view.

Bernardo Ortiz, 12 Asuntos Abstractos (12 Abstract Matters), 2012, mixed media. Installation view.

Bernardo Ortiz

Galeria Casas Riegner

Bernardo Ortiz, 12 Asuntos Abstractos (12 Abstract Matters), 2012, mixed media. Installation view.

Bernardo Ortiz’s work often involves the rewriting and reconceptualization of images. Using drawing as his favorite technique, he takes existing images and pictures them anew, frequently via obsolete processes. Such transformations were showcased in the works in “Printed,” his recent show at Casas Riegner’s new project space, La Oficina del Doctor. For example, 12 Asuntos Abstractos (12 Abstract Matters), 2012, an installation that Ortiz first presented at the São Paulo Bienal that same year, departs from James Ensor’s etching Stars in the Cemetery, 1888. Ensor’s image lies at the edge of abstraction, and it was precisely the idea that its subject was on the verge of disappearance that attracted Ortiz.

Emitting from a vinyl record playing continuously in the gallery, one heard the voice of a Brazilian woman who was given the task of dividing the etching into a grid of one-centimeter squares and then verbally describing each square in turn. But from time to time, she strays from this tedious and wearisome process and begins to tell stories, twelve of them in all. Imprinted on the polyvinyl surface of a record, the aural result of this encounter between the print and the voice becomes visible again, but as an entirely inscrutable image. On the walls, Ortiz presented the text of the woman’s speech in Spanish translation, transcribed onto printed pages via TeX, a typesetting system that places each word in a box. A few drawings and photographs accompany the text, signaling, sometimes obliquely, the speaker’s twelve deviations from her task. Finally, the spiral groove of the record is translated into an imaginary line of the same length passing through the pages of a book meant to be perused while listening to the record. There the line becomes a sort of topographical map of the text, marked by the points along it where certain words were pronounced. In this work, Ortiz explores his Conceptual and Minimalist inheritance by playing with the idea of truth. The exhaustive description could suggest a desire for extreme veracity, but out of this excess ultimately emerges a fiction. As more words are used to describe the gray surface, the surface becomes more opaque and the gap between image and words widens.

Central to Ortiz’s practice is the idea of the page as an entity that sits between the materiality of the paper and its Conceptual content, a place where language and image conflict, where an interstice or a fold transgresses the sheer materiality of the support. This point is broached in Untitled, 2014, a fragment of an ongoing work, which started with a Xerox copy of the first edition of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s Le massif du Mont Blanc (1876), in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The book’s advanced degradation has caused the text to fade and the white space of the page to dominate. Playing with the idea of translating this new image, Ortiz used an obsolete digital process that renders images with letters. Instead of making the image readable and clear, the process makes it appear encrypted and impenetrable. The pages of the book are visible from afar, but up close a gibberish of seemingly random letters appears. The resulting works are pages of a book transformed into drawings transformed into concrete poetry. This poetic dimension also emerges vividly in Untitled, 2013, a drawing some six and a half feet long, which Ortiz composed via a process of association that begins with the word PAGE and ends with the phrase UPON EPITAPHS, the title of William Wordsworth’s great essay in poetic theory.

Filipa Oliveira