London

Spread from Marie Orensanz’s Nature, energie, forcez, 1987–89, marble, water-based paint, ink, 6 x 7 x 1 1/2".

Spread from Marie Orensanz’s Nature, energie, forcez, 1987–89, marble, water-based paint, ink, 6 x 7 x 1 1/2".

Marie Orensanz

Roman Road

Spread from Marie Orensanz’s Nature, energie, forcez, 1987–89, marble, water-based paint, ink, 6 x 7 x 1 1/2".

Marie Orensanz featured recently in “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985,”a major traveling exhibition organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Her first solo show in London focused on a selection of her works made between 1974 and 2015. When I visited the exhibition, it was a sunny early-spring morning. The paper and marble pieces, exhibited in a bright space, seemed all white, some of them with hints of light blue and green, at first difficult to fully perceive. These minimal interventions required my eyes to adjust and focus. Gradually, the details became visible: lines, single words, equations, vectors, sentences. The title of the show—“Shutdown!”—referred to a formative moment of Orensanz’s practice. When her installation El pueblo de la Gallareta (The Village of Gallareta), 1969, was shown in Argentina, the show was abruptly closed by censors under Juan Carlos Onganía’s dictatorship. From that moment, Orensanz began seeking new ways to pass her views under the censors’ radar. She turned toward poetry and mathematics to express her thoughts about the nature and power of the creative act.

Among the earliest works on view in this show were Pensar y communicar producen energia (Thinking and Communicating Produce Energy) and Pensar es un hecho revolucionario (Thinking Is a Revolutionary Act), both 1974. Each title is written out in Letraset against a strip of pale-blue paint imitating a cloudy sky. Around the words we saw vector arrows, which seemed to embody the idea of the flow of energy triggered by thinking. Her manifesto “Eros,” written in October 1974, after the artist’s move to Milan, also reflects this attitude toward the power of thought. In it, she points to the earth (terra) as a source of creative force. In the video Limites, 1979—not shown here—Orensanz documented the process of unearthing pieces of marble from the quarry in Carrara, Italy. Her use of stone as a material starting in 1972 presaged this concern with the chthonic origin of marble. At Roman Road, it featured, for instance, in Nature, energie, force, 1987–89, an object that looks something like an open book. A more lighthearted salute to nature could be seen in the sketchy black silhouettes of an insect, maybe a dobsonfly or a winged termite, in the works from the series “Insecte,” 1991–94, here represented by three pieces, numbered 1, 2 and 3, all from 1992.

Orensanz has not lost sight of the political landscape around her. Toward the top of La grande confusion, 2014, multiple black lines and arrows went in all directions across a white canvas. In contrast to the works from 1974, the flow of energy represented by the vectors here seemed muddled and distracted, without any distinct direction, serving, in my mind, as a perfect illustration of the current state of global political unrest.

Sylwia Serafinowicz