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on the preposition ‘on’ times three and one parentheses



Published in m. [una tentativa de inventario exhaustivo, aunque siempre inconcluso], Santiago, Chile. Ed EUONIA, p. 105-110. 2017.



“There are two contradictory temptations in any act of enumeration: the first is to cover EVERYTHING, the second is to leave something out all the same; the first temptation would seek to close the question forever, the second would leave it open; between the exhaustive and the incomplete, enumeration seems to me to be, prior to any sort of thought, the intrinsic mark of our need to name and to collect without which the world would be unmappable…”

Georges Perec, Thoughts of Sorts

On enumeration and the act of naming something

Regarding Tentativa de Inventario[1] (Attempt at an Inventory), someone recently asked me how many works I have produced. It is usual for people to ask me how long it has taken me to make this piece or the other, how many daily hours I have dedicated to it, or how big the largest one is; but among the numerous quantitative inquiries, this was curiously something no one had asked me before. In that moment I doubted and just said: “I don’t know, I haven’t counted them… I imagine there to be over one hundred…” The person who asked was a young girl, eyes wide open, surprised at a number that to her must have seemed immense.

Yesterday, as I avoided the uncomfortable moment at which I had to begin writing this text, I remembered that short conversation and decided to procrastinate by reviewing my archive of works[2], which contains their objective information: year of production, title, technique, year and place of exhibition, among various other data that have added up during this review process. I added a new column to my sheet and began counting the works…

But what was supposed to be a simple exercise quickly became a new internal debate, which, again, has reminded me of that lucid Thoughts of Sorts text by my dear Perec, with which it was impossible not to start this presentation with. Thus, this attempt at an exhaustive exercise, has inevitably remained unfinished, because it is not about counting simple produced objects –since I have conceived several works as part of a greater series–, but I have also not been able to ignore the fact that certain works achieve their total independence despite having imagined and exhibited them accompanied by their pair[3].

That text now reminds me of The Photo Came Out Blurred, a short story by Julio Cortázar included in Cronopios and Famas, published in 1962. In it, a Cronopio (a type of fictional person appearing in works by the Argentine writer), absorbed in simple and everyday situations in which what was supposed to happen doesn’t, he concludes the world must have suddenly displaced, creating a series of unexpected mismatches. Thinking about it, I therefore suspect that perhaps there had been a time lag in me during the act of naming the exhibition that motivated the publication of this book, because I confirm that entre lo exhaustivo y lo inconcluso (between the exhaustive and the inconclusive) is the exercise that has accompanied me for ever (I say time lag because that was the title of an exhibition I had at Sala Gasco in Santiago several years before, in 2009; I believe it could also have been an appropriate name for Tentativa de Inventario today).

Beyond these digressions, the title of this retrospective exhibition emerged from a chance encounter. In early 2014 I obtained a book I ignored even existed: Pere(t)c Tentativa de inventario[4]. It was a book-catalog published for the occasion of the exhibition of the same name, held at the Luis Seoane de A Coruña foundation (Spain) between October 29, 2010 and January 16, 2011. In it, a series of works, films and documentation were included, both of Perec himself as by other scholars and artists, who gave account of the undeniable and persistent relations between literature and the image in his work.

Inversely –and at the same time in a supplementary manner–, the presence of literature in general, and of Perec’s work in particular, has been a constant in my own visual research. His writings have been a valuable referent for the study of the image in my work, thematic in first term –approaching issues related to what he called the infra-ordinary–, but also specially methodologically, since, coincidentally with the OuLiPo group, I too have always worked under a series of restrictions or hindrances[5].

So, as many times before, I have recurred to the simple and harmless theft of that title in order to name the new exercise in which I decide to submerge in: Tentativa de Inventario is, above all, an exercise in observation, but not of any observation, but the one granted by distance, the sedimentation of time. Reviewing the body of works I have selected for this exhibition, made between 1992 and 2017, has allowed me not only to revisit the purposes that motivated certain issue, material and procedure related choices, but also put them into conversation hoping for a new, different dialogue to emerge between them, since they coexist in the same space for the first time.


On the selection and classification

I have to confess that the curatorial exercise was not simple. But it seems important to me to conduct the selection of works myself, convinced that work in and from art is deeply reflexive and nobody better than the artist him/herself to give account of his/her glance and purposes and in a review such as this one, it fundamentally seems to me a gesture of honesty.

It was necessary to invest a lot of time in testing different possibilities of selection and distribution of the works that will make up the exhibition[6]. The first difficulty was, no doubt, the large scale: how to show twenty-five years of work if I could only exhibit a little over twenty works? The second one was giving account of a relative temporal organization: this was not easy, since the different research processes have not succeeded themselves in an orderly manner, but have been juxtaposed, pushed forwards one and a thousand times to then get back on track.

Tentativa de Inventario has sought to transit from a first period marked by the direct use of the photographic support, towards another one fundamentally centered in the temporal registry of minute, always meaningless, domestic situations.

Thus, between 1992 and 1996, with an interest in connecting terrestrial geography with the corporeal one, I executed a series of photographic works that showed different “geographic features” of my body: all of my moles, scars, folds, followed then by the bodies of other close relatives[7]. By means of the accumulation of all the previously discarded photographs, an archive of those topographies began to be built, which led to 203 fotografías in 1998. In this installation the images were displayed making up a map, a small body atlas, at the time allowing me to review everything I had done so far: an incipient exercise of a retrospective glance[8].

During those early years and until the first decade of the millennium, the direct work with the photographic medium, documenting geographical features of my own body and of others’ gave way to a temporal registry of situations that are usually overlooked. In 1999 I began a project for which I set out to photograph several everyday and meaningless domestic activities, those that are repeated in the same manner, over and over again. En vigilia (Vigilant) was the first of this series and in it I photographed my children sleeping every night for seven months. Later, for En vigilia 4, I began to photograph them every day as they brushed their teeth, so that after some six months of work I had an archive of close to seven hundred photographs (from that register, the idea of realizing SobrevigilanciaOver-vigilance– would emerge later on).

From this project, works like ejercicios de fortalecimiento del cuerpo: distensión (exercises for the strengthening of the body: relax), ejercicios de fortalecimiento del cuerpo: flexible (exercises for the strengthening of the body: flexible) or Tríptico en Santiago (Triptych in Santiago) would also emerge, in which, taking advantage of the technique usually only reserved for memorable events, I photographed those moments that become invisible to our eyes due to their constant reiteration, which, nonetheless, turn those same activities into the safe limits of our transit, without whom we would lack references to inhabit the present.

A second moment in my research –starting in 2001– is marked by the translation of photographic images to other materialities and scales. From the direct use of photography and an interest in everyday and domestic matters, my work turned toward issues linked to the infra-ordinary, that which usually goes unnoticed. It is then when my first large scale works come to be, which without neglecting the reference to the photographic image, assume their reproducibility by means of materialities from diverse media, opening new technical possibilities in my artistic work. From that process, works such as Sobrevigilancia (2001)[9] emerge, a piece that for the first time allowed me to bring together large scale work with a marked interest in color, with a photographic image as reference. 

The incorporation of new methodologies and production systems forced me to work starting from an ordering and classification system to allow realizing the chromatic translations of the referential photographic images. Following the restrictions proper of a concise palette, for example, of the pencils and embroidering thread available commercially, the challenge has been finding the color that would come the closest to the one present on the computer screen and not on the original model, always procuring to work with what I see and not with what I know. Thus, for example, the color of the garden seeks to reproduce the particular difficulty of an against the backlight luminal exposure, in which part of the chromatic information of the represented plants is lost, the ones that are left veiled and whose color presents a considerable de-saturation in segments. Those plants and trees, which at first sight were possible to be observed through the glass window, tend to disappear in a pastel-like palette diluting all of its outlines. 

The review of these years of production has allowed me to, once again, confirm that literature has been present in my work for a long time –if not since the beginning–. That is why, even if it does not seem totally appropriate to me to say this is a third “moment”, I wanted to underline its relevance identifying it as such in the curatorship.

Already since I was a student, books such as Lumpérica, by Diamela Eltit, or Purgatorio (Purgatory) by Raúl Zurita became important references when realizing my first exercises. For years it went rather unnoticed, contributing tones, glances, allowing me to discover in between its lines words or sentences that have become in many of my work titles, but, probably since 2004, it begins to emerge more clearly. First, from its formal aspects, by means of the image of the object-book, such as in Ejercicios de traslado (Transfer exercises) or W, Así lo veo yo (o el gran cuaderno de instrucciones de uso de un aficionado a clasificar las cosas) (W, that’s the way I see it, or the notebook, a user’s manual of an amateur who classifies things), and then from its themes. And more recently, the incorporation of text as a central issue in the image has originated a series of works in which their content is what configures the work in methodological terms. Thus, Ejercicios de Estilo (Exercises in Style), for example, is a project in which I have wanted to deepen the use of text as image in particular, in a similar way than Raymond Queneau uses language in diverse modes in order to narrate his story, in my exercises I present different approximations to the images of crumpled pages of a book; and each material and technical variation makes a new reading possible, ultimately, the shape is always content.


On the invitation to write

The capacity to retain an image is limited: anyone of us can quickly recognize a dear one in the midst of a crowd in a photograph, but if we do not have them in front of us, it would not be that easy to accurately describe, for example, the shape of his/her eyebrows or nostrils.

For the same reason, documentation constitutes a fundamental tool for the memory of the work, valuable not only for historians, but in particular for those who realize works which are concluded in the exhibition space itself, remaining hidden, or at least veiled during the production process and later storage. Thus, this book is more than a mere promotion support of the work, useful by showing the body of works that make up Tentativa de Inventario. It is, above all, a way of telling its story and to retain it, in an attempt of rebuilding its image within memory.

But the image alone is not enough: in order to clarify it, words are necessary, much more efficient in their capacity of locating an adequate space for each thing. I have thus wanted to invite others to tell this story, which should never be only one, but the summary of subjective, partial glances, potentially contradicting, which are juxtaposed in narratives elaborated with a generosity I appreciate deeply.

I have invited four writers to write on four issues I consider fundamental in my work[10]. It is necessary to clarify that, even if this invitation had concrete reflection-related purposes, the truth is that it was also conceived with a margin of liberty to allow the appearance of unexpected issues, from the diverse interest of each of them.

Thus, María José Delpiano was commissioned to refer to the work production processes, specifically including the translation of the photographic image. I never met anybody who, at first sight, and without even knowing me in person, would have been able to elucidate the image construction process used in Algunas consideraciones sobre las flores silvestres… (Some considerations on wild flowers: Bee Orchid –Ophrys apifera– and Chess Flower –Fritillaria meleagris–), which due to its complexity was even time consuming for me to explain to my assistants at the time. That capacity of observation is not usual among those who venture into theorizing on art. Her text approaches that issue, but also includes a thorough review of earlier photographic works.

At the same time, it seemed important to me to include a text dealing with the issue of color, a central axis in my work. And even if art aesthetics and theory have approached its study from numerous points of view, let us remember Secret Knowledge by David Hockney[11], I thought a reflection on part of someone who also works with color as an issue in his/her work could be so much more interesting. Thus, Paula Dittborn proposes a glance only possible for someone for whom color is deeply linked to matter and her own procedures.

I have known Fernando Pérez Villalón for several years and he has discussed my work quite often. Sometimes in spontaneous comments presented after going to art exhibitions and others in relation to his participation at some project in particular. Being that literature is his field of origin, he has contributed references which have seemed fundamental for me to include in this book, reflecting on the thematic axes my visual research has covered. But today his text surprises me with more than a little modesty: his eye has left me more exposed than what I had imagined –which is no small feat if we think about the numerous portraits this exhibition includes–. But I have fallen into my own trap, since he has been able to read between the lines, folds, stitches and fly wings, and has gone far beyond – or perhaps has come far closer– the commissioned assignment.

Finally, writing a text on the photographic image has been the commission for Christian Viveros-Fauné. His global glance creates crossings and relations not only within particular readings of certain works, but also in relation to the situation of the contemporary photographic phenomenon and the way in which this image is constituted in a questioning of the medium and the qualities attributed to it in my work.

Thus, from this invitation to write much more than four reflections on the issues surrounding my work have emerged; much more than four subjective, partial, potentially contradicting glances. This juxtaposed narratives add up to histories of my works and surprising me while going far beyond what was expected, they today find their place among the pages of this book.



I have always thought that working in art is solitary, or at least mine has been for much of the way. I imagine the months of so many hours at the workshop have strengthened that idea, but also the long set up processes accompanying each exhibition.

But the set up for Tentativa de Inventario has been a little different from so many others realized before because it has been a long distance race, in which it has been necessary to carefully plan the work, saving energy for the end, for the unexpected events, but also because it has allowed me to reencounter something like old friends, works which, due to their scale and modular construction have remained in storage and which I had not seen for twelve, fifteen or more years.

During the hours and days it took to install each work, it was impossible not to remember the history behind each one: from their diverse production processes, those who collaborated in them, even the places and circumstances surrounding the different exhibitions of which they were part. But beyond that, it has allowed me to review not only my artistic production, but also realizing that, despite having always considered that working in art is solitary, it apparently isn’t. Because, no matter how much I tried separating my everyday space from my work, worried about too much attention was put on my private life and not to the procedures and reflections I was interested in proposing, I realize this has been an impossible exercise, because not only a great deal of my artistic production of the last twenty five years is shown in Tentativa de Inventario, but also of my life, deeply linked and dedicated to my work.


Santiago, January 2018

[1] A retrospective exhibition held at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago de Chile between December 6, 2017 and March 11, 2018.

[2] The same archive that allowed building the attempt at the timeline that accompanies Tentativa de Inventario.

[3] As anecdotal information for the curious reader, I have to say that the aforementioned exercise at least allowed me to conclude that, so far, there are over two hundred produced works, counted using any of the counting systems I tested.

[4] Published by Alberto Ruiz de Samaniego, 2011.

[5] “Hindrance” or “obstacle” in reference to the system of rules of textual creation used by OuLiPo, acronym for “Ouvroir de literature potentielle” (workshop of potential literature), a group mainly consisting of writers and mathematicians founded by, among others, Raymond Queneau in Paris in 1960.

[6] I performed this trial the old fashioned way: using a scale model of the south wing of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, I went on to test small photographs of my works on its “walls”, realizing different combinations until being sufficiently satisfied with the selection and the relations that emerged. I sincerely thank Nelson Hernández for his collaboration during this important process.

[7] I have to clarify that during those years, I made a series of works in parallel, using the climate chart in my old Brockhaus Atlas; starting from chromatic representation and diverse maps, I produced a series of mural and graphic works which due to their dimensions it was not possible to include them in this retrospective.

[8] Then a second, similar exercise would follow, transmobile (2005), a work that gives account of all of those elements –thematic and material– that were present in my works from the late nineteen nineties to the first decade in the new millennium.

[9] A mural in which I reproduced the blown up image of a family household bathroom sink using nine thousand one hundred sixty natural dyed thistles.

[10] I say writers for lack of a better word to convey all of heir work.

[11] In Secret Knowledge, Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, Hockney discovers small traces of the use of optics in the production of works that had been thought to be painted naturally only by observation; this is without a doubt only possible for someone who, the same as the masters studied, is a painter as well.

related exhibitions

Tentativa de Inventario

06 December - 11 March 2018

Exposición retrospectiva en el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes MNBA.

  1. © 2018 monica bengoa