London

View of “Fernanda Laguna,” 2018. From left: 56, 2013; 57, 2013.

View of “Fernanda Laguna,” 2018. From left: 56, 2013; 57, 2013.

Fernanda Laguna

Fernanda Laguna is an inspirational figure to many in Buenos Aires, where she was born in 1972. Though she is an artist, curator, activist, poet, and writer, her direct influence has come above all through the various project spaces she’s run there since 1999. Among them is Belleza y Felicidad (Beauty and Happiness), a space she cofounded with the poets and writers Cecilia Pavón and Gabriela Bejerman, which existed from 1999 to 2007 before morphing into a publishing house still active today. Laguna’s first solo show in the UK, divided into two separately titled parts, displayed some of the various forms of the artist’s activity. First, we were greeted by “High on the Tide,” curated by Laguna and Cecilia Palmeiro, an archive of witty objects, documentation, and memorabilia from various actions and protests connected to the Latin American feminist collective Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less), renowned for its 2016 women’s strike. Next, “I want to be an International Artist,” organized by Argentine curator Ines Dahn and comprising twenty-one objects spanning the years 1999 to 2018, provided a mini survey of Laguna’s work.

As an artist, Laguna works in painting, relief, collage, and video, and she displays a healthy kleptomania and a love of bricolage. She cleverly weaves together craft, art-historical savvy, and a playfully cute way with popular culture. Volcan (Volcano), 2000, is a box turned into a collaged relief depicting an erupting volcano within a frame with a doily-like lace edging. A lyrical brown line in ink defines the silhouette of the volcanic mountain range over a pink ground, and an attached pink ribbon embodies its eruption. A sticker of a teddy bear appears to leap away from the lava while three pink painted hearts pop out above its head. As if to reinforce Volcan’s little picture-box world, Laguna drew a lacy ring on the wall around the object.

Another series of paintings, “Mimbres” (Willows), 2010–, involves thick woven frames created by local craftsmen. These instantly suggest wicker furniture, but nestled within them are abstract paintings. One pair of them—56 and 57, both 2013, with palettes of pinkish purple and baby blue, respectively—were connected by a wall drawing of a chain and locket. Both compositions imply an underlying rectilinear structure hinting at Cubism or the modernist grid. It is as if the artist were inverting Picasso’s 1912 Still Life with Chair Caning by pushing Picasso’s collaged cane out to the edge. Matching ribbon bows and small necklaces attached to the painted surface contrast with variously shaped cuts into it. Laguna refers to the cuttings as “windows in painting.”

Despite Laguna’s feminist activism as shown in “High on the Tide,” her art is not overtly didactic; in fact she often seems to be walking a thin line between creating and defeating her own seriousness, hence the play between kitsch and fine art, and the slippages among different genres and roles. The two-part show itself was punctuated by fresh interventions from the artist, mostly in the form of drawings and comments on the wall, but also by two large white-paper cutouts suggesting pulled-back curtains and a door with an eight-paneled window. Laguna’s project spaces always have big windows, I’ve heard; perhaps this work was her whimsical way of bringing Buenos Aires to London. What Laguna offers is a nonhierarchical form of playful improvisation. Nowhere was this more evident than in Video Presentation I, 2012, in which she gives a tour of her studio. The work plays like an amateur home movie. And that may well be Laguna’s point: “Welcome to my world,” she seems to say, “and let’s try making art like this, or this, or this. . . .”