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Singular displacements


La pintura se interroga (in painting one interrogates) published in Pintura en Chile 1950-2005, Grandes temas (painting in Chile, 1950-2005, great issues), pg. 160-163, Santiago, Cecilia Valdés, publisher.


Amore recent visual artist who has questioned the issue of the consistency and presence of the painting as a support, is artist Mónica Bengoa (1969), for whom the painting is nothing but the outcome of successive displacements of previously photographed referents.

In 1999 she began an exploration on the staging of everyday family life, regularly registering obligatory domestic actions. To that end, she classified activities related with differentiated family elements (domestic tools, furniture, bedclothes) and regularly produced photographic registers, searching for the subtle differences the place had in the execution of each photograph according to the space and the specific time of each take.

The theme of her work Sobrevigilancia (Overvigilance) is the image of the sink in the family bathroom, on which there are two children’s toothbrushes, a tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap. That monumental work, of a fifty-four square meter surface, was built with hundreds of dry thistle flowers, tightly wrapped one against the other, which she affixed to the gallery wall where it was exhibited, forming a unitary surface. Onto that pointedly aggressive surface, the artist displaced the issue of the photograph of the family bathroom, which seduced the eye of the spectator through its texture and the green color that characterizes “amateur” photography, technically deficient. “From this work onwards”, the artist says, “it was possible to radicalize the work construction system, assuming significant decisions in terms of the modalities and materialities of the transference of photographic images”.

Mónica Bengoa substituted the institutionality of the plane of the canvas and the stretcher supporting it, when directly affixing the thistles onto the wall, painted and numbered according to a work plan, they would “assemble” a painting and not a picture. One has to consider the glance of the spectator, and above everything, the one on foreground, where who was looking at it was confronted with the particular texture of the dry flowers, with its interstices and “depths”, and as he or she moved away to observe the monumental work, a painting as a thematic and formal unit emerges. Due to the signifiers implied in that mural, it was an ephemeral work, since the thistle flower was not only being proposed as support, but was a constituent and meaningful part of this pictorial work. When the exhibition came to an end, the artist had to “un-mount” the painting and one by one detach the signifying thistles, which, as supports, gave the work a corpus of absolute fragility.

Bengoa investigates “bridges of material exchange” with other means, inverting formal strategies from drawing and painting, as well as including the use of objects. These objects, accumulated, redistributed, serialized and becoming a mass, allowed her to create efficient transfer devices for the production of large murals. Flowers, paper napkins and others are the support for reproducing the photographic structure of origin.

For the artist, the transference from one language to another also obeys to the elaboration of a system of color use restriction, derived from minimalist programmatic and formal practices. “The thistle flowers, for example”, she explains, “are constituted in a photographic pixel or seuratian brushstroke. This allows the incorporation of module-objects through procedures linked to post-minimalist practices, in terms of repetition and of reticular constructs, as well as the use of the photographic medium as an orthopedic system of image construction…”

Another work of hers at the Gabriela Mistral gallery is titled Enero, 7:25 (January, 7:25). In it she established a chromatic organization based on the distortions generated by digital photography transferred to the computer screen. These distortions, which were installed as chromatic referents of the image, were at the same time displaced to another support: the paper napkin. The artist reiterated the operations of transference of photographic machines to other materialities, and included procedures linked to displacements from drawing and engraving. The paper napkin served her as a module to make the image showing an unmade children’s bed visible, seen from ground level, under which there were hidden toys and clothes. She used hundreds of napkins that were colored with color pencils, keeping with the chromatic restriction photography imposes.

“It could be said that Enero, 7:25 establishes a inverse relation as far as the use of the optical instrument”, Bengoa states, “since the purpose is not based on its power of creating images as realistically accurate as possible, but on revealing the technical procedure of the elaboration of the work”. For the artist, the consistency of the image in the monumental work –produced within the distant glance– opens questions on the elimination of the picture support, as well as on the procedures the artist practices to transfer the referent of the original photographed scene, reproduced and deformed with the computer. Hundreds of napkins permanently moving at the slightest touch were the “support” on which the artist sought to translate that image as accurately as possible. The work proposed the crossing between the mechanically produced image and manual labor, which reproduced the photographic referent of the domestic stage. There was also the manual labor of the gesture, repeated insistently, and the great format.

Enero, 7:25 presented what becomes visible on a monumental scale, on the fragility of hundreds of napkins affixed to the wall. But as the spectator advanced, the module –in its fragile and useless essence on which the act of painting with color pencils was reproduced as a tiny fragment– went on to acquire meaning. The napkin assumed the double role of support and signifier; the napkins affixed on the wall organized a particular texture and conformed a fragile and ephemeral “painting”.

Gaspar Galaz

  1. © 2023 monica bengoa