Oscar Murillo, Catalyst, 2015, clay, C-print, wood, 31 1⁄2 × 12 5⁄8 × 5 1⁄2".

Oscar Murillo, Catalyst, 2015, clay, C-print, wood, 31 1⁄2 × 12 5⁄8 × 5 1⁄2".

Wilson Díaz and Oscar Murillo

The book Parque Industrial (Industrial Park, 1933) by Brazilian writer Patrícia Galvão—better known as Pagu (1910–1962)—is considered the first “proletarian novel” in Latin American literature. It confronts uncomfortable subjects tied to the oppression and exploitation of the working class, especially women, and provided the evocative trail—or, better, the metatext—for Wilson Díaz and Oscar Murillo’s intriguing exhibition, “Paradoxon Spirituale” (Spiritual Paradox). While they have different sensibilities and poetics, and are from different generations—Díaz was born in 1963, Murillo twenty-three years later—the two Colombian artists have a similar approach, based on an open-minded stylistic eclecticism and the use of multiple media as well as a marked interest in social issues. Díaz, who grew up during the most violent years of Colombia’s armed conflict, evokes the past to investigate the present, concentrating on phenomena such as media representations and interpretations of violence, drug trafficking, and corruption. Murillo’s work is more introspective, marked by his own experience as an emigrant: Recurring themes include his separation from his homeland and concepts of community and passage.

For the works in this show, Díaz painted scenes inspired by two comic strips that the Colombian army produced between the 1970s and the 1990s for recruiting purposes, whereas Murillo used his auto-biography as a point of departure, finding a parallel between the harsh working conditions his mother was subjected to and those of the women described in Galvão’s novel. The “spiritual paradox” activated by the short circuit between the work of these two artists began with a complex environmental installation encompassing drawing, painting (in this particular case by both artists), sculpture, and performance—specifically a series of readings from Galvão’s novel. A monumental black monochrome canvas hanging from the ceiling functioned as a backdrop for the performance, which was acted out on Murillo’s sculpture Parque Industrial, 2018, a worn-out chaise longue whose surface had been gouged open to reveal its stuffing of clay elements kneaded with corn, an emblematic food used to make Colombian arepas. Installed nearby was Catalyst, 2015, a framed photograph of the artist’s mother obscured by a protruding mass of clay that covers the central portion, hiding her identity.

The nervous expressive tension of the abstract drawings that Murillo creates while flying (which comprise his “Flight” series, 2011–) here established a dialogue with Díaz’s canvases, which incorporate photographs, text, and gestural painting, as well as wide-ranging imagery that is sometimes realistic, sometimes Pop-inflected. A similar heterogeneity characterized their mode of presentation: With apparent non-chalance, works by Díaz and Murillo were variously suspended from the ceiling, affixed to poles like advertising posters, or placed on the walls. Overall, the dialogue between the two artists raised more questions than it provided answers. Their works might have appeared to have been mixed together randomly, but each individual element was in fact skillfully balanced by another, on the one hand emphasizing the ambiguity between image, support, and language—in other words, between visual information and its material reality—and on the other exposing the complexity of the ways we relate to images, their significance, and their stories.

Eugenio Viola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore