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Beginning with the murals she created in the early 2000s, Mónica Bengoa has been revisiting a similar strategy: she takes photographs that belong to her personal life and digitally deconstructs them and then reassembles them into a monumental image—rendered with an obsessive manual dexterity that relies on objectual modules in order to repeat forms and colors registered in some sort of pixelation. She did this, for instance, in her work entitled Sobrevigilancia (Hypervigilance, 2001), with a picture of the bathroom sink of her home turned into a very large image made of 160,000 dyed thistles; in Enero, 7:25 (January, 7:25, 2005), with an image of toys scattered under a bed, recreated with 600 colored paper napkins; in Some Aspects of Color in General and Read and Black in Particular (2007), in which Bengoa once again dyed thistles to represent Chile at the 52nd Venice Biennial—the piece consisted of four large murals that filled the walls of a room with reproductions of images of insects taken from science books, rendered in various tones of red, gray, and black.

Modus Operandi is a process that repeats itself. Only the photographic referents and materials involved in the confection of the work can change to give new implications to an operation that basically addresses the following: image transfers, digital techniques, painting or the process of observation, the tensions created by the collision between private and public worlds, micro and macro dimensions, and the relationship between the body, the craft, and technology.

In 2000, with the project entitled Entre lo Exhaustivo y lo Inconcluso (Between the Exhaustive and the Unfinished), Bengoa took a different path and, through large-scale drawings, revealed the working methodology usually hidden behind her murals: without colors and only with codes to represent them —pointing to several areas of the image— the chromatic maps structure the morphology of the photographs of the insects’ origins.

In 2012, Einige Beobachtungen über Insekten und Wildblumen (Some Considerations about Insects and Wild Flowers), continued this line of work in which the artist insists on recreating images from science books as she focuses on the idea of the map, but this time around she returns to working with colors. She deconstructs the tones, lights and shadows of the photographs, and rearranges these in chromatic zones—and not the pixelation achieved earlier with the thistles and napkins. She uses pieces of felt that are cut, stamped and superimposed by hand with mathematical precision, until the original photographed image is completely reconstructed with the help of an optical effect when observed from afar.

Three murals —two in red tones and another one rendered in a range of grays— show several sections of an open book in a zoom, where it is possible to discover each detail of the texts as well as images of flowers and insects; from the letters to the veins in the petals and wings. The felt is used to recreate even the blurred sections of the original photograph. A fourth black and white mural represents a picture of Bengoa’s garden through a light and shadow treatment: It is the intense clarity of the afternoon that cuts through the forms in the foliage, with a visually cold effect that is nevertheless tangibly warm; something that was discovered upon closer inspection of the work, which gave us the opportunity to perceive the texture of the material.

Bengoa’s work pushes us to exercise the gaze in a double play that also involves the experience of the body. From afar, it confronts us to a wall with a photographed image. Closer inspection reveals a territory or geography where the different layers, reliefs and hyper-reliefs, peaks and cavities, can also be observed as layers of paint, forms of pure color bestowed with sensual, even sculptural, qualities. Between the image and the felt there is a tension that passes for the coldness of the model and the warmth of the matter. On the one hand, it is imperative to observe from a distance in order to appreciate the accurate reproduction on the mural of a small original—an intimate space that explodes into the large-scale advertising space; on the other, it is unavoidable to also be close to the image in order to satisfy the primordial curiosity of finding out about the manner in which the piece was done. Far and near, cold and warm. In the title of the work itself, there is also a distance that must be covered —namely, the distance between the original title in German and its English translation— a drastic and conceptual path that also leads us to the realm of science and technology, to the aesthetic experience and to the encounter with handcraft; but one that is rigorous and obsessive, that attempts to emulate the technological resource.

Through this map of strategies, materials, and concepts, once again the transferred photograph prevails. But this act of cutting and pasting the felt holds a unique key that takes us to the very moment of displacement: confronted with the photographic shot and the digital frame, there is a need to rely on the mastery of the artistic trade in order to successfully cut and frame the essence of the referent; to hold the immateriality of the record in a new vessel that seduces and surrounds us.

  1. © 2023 monica bengoa