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Deriving from a labor-intensiveness (…) are Mónica Bengoa’s large photographic murals. Constructed out of thousands of hand-colored cocktail napkins, her murals are meticulously assembled on a grid on the wall. The overall compositions of her works bring to mind David Hockney’s large-scale photo-collages, though the intimacy of her subject matter –which includes domestic interiors, her children’s toys, and household items– contrasts with her works’ scale. The conflation of her identity as both a mother and an artist, and the quotidian aspects of these roles, provides Bengoa her main inspiration.

Bengoa’s recent work 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], 2006-07) covers an entire wall and exhibits what critic Julia Herzberg described as “labor intensive, ephemeral, and personal” qualities.[i] W, Así lo veo yo depicts the section of the artist’s library that contains a selection of her favorite books. Deriving its title from a sort of wordplay formed by stringing together the titles of some of the books, the work, which mines her own life for inspiration, offers an intimate view into the artist’s personality and intellect. Deciphering the title, “W” stands for W, ou le souvenir d’enfance (W, or the memory of childhood, 1975), a memoir by French writer Gorges Perec.[ii] “Así lo veo yo” refers to the second part of David Hockney’s autobiography That’s the way I see it, published in 1993. “El gran cuaderno” refers to Agota Kristof’s first novel Le grand cahier (The notebook, 1986), the first book in a trilogy that includes La preuve (The proof, 1988) and La troisième mensonge (The third lie, 1991).[iii] The phrase “de uso” comes from the name of Perec’s best-known book, La vie, mode d’emploi(Life: A user’s manual, 1978). The word “aficionado” also refers to a title by Perec, Un cabinet d’amateur (A gallery portrait, 1979); “clasificar” is from his Penser, classer (1985) and “las cosas” from his first novel Les Choses: Une histoire des années soixante (Things: A story of the sixties, 1965). Imitating Perec’s love of palindromes, acrostics, and anagrams, Bengoa offers us through her title not only an appreciation for reading, but also the rare possibility of delving deeper into her life –the stories referenced are autobiographical in nature and/or involve children, subjects of great interest to Bengoa; most of her work to date is based on one or the other, or both.

Explaining the nature of her work, Bengoa modestly asserted that she aims to “record situations that aren’t memorable, that do not stand out in a family’s history; rather, they take hold because they are not distinctive but just normal.”[iv] Writing about Bengoa’s 2004 exhibition at latincollector art center in New York, Herzberg noted that Bengoa, like artists including Duchamp and Andy Warhol, has “made us think anew of the importance of the ordinary as a defining element of art”.[v] Bengoa’s library piece seems to reinforce this notion. In discussing her attraction to the writings of Perec and Kristof, Bengoa explained that “their writing styles seem to transmit a manner of doing things that I am very interested in having reflected in my own work. I am referring to a certain emotional distance (not too much) that allows one to avoid being dramatic when one utilizes one’s own private space to work, and on the other hand, I am also very interested in how Perec pays attention to banal things, I truly identify with that.”[vi] It is obvious that Bengoa understands, in the words of critic Yu Yeon Kim, “the powerful resonance of small actions”[vii] and their iterative strength; the physical limits of her studio and her home provide sufficient inspiration for her work.

Alma Ruiz

[i] Julia Herzberg, “Mónica Bengoa: The Color of the Garden,” in Mónica Bengoa: The Color of the Garden, exh. brochure (New York: Latincollector art center, 2004), n.p.

[ii] Georges Perec was known for his fascination with palindromes, anagrams, wordplay, and word games, which he used in many of his novels.

[iii] After fleeing Hungary in 1956, Agota Kristof and her husband settled in Geneva. While living in Switzerland, Kristof taught herself French and began to write in that language. In addition to novels, Kristof has also written novels and plays.

[iv] Bengoa, email to the author, 3 May 2006. This and all subsequent translations of email correspondence with the artist are mine.

[v] Herzberg, “Mónica Bengoa: The Color of the Garden.”

[vi] Bengoa, email to the author.

[vii] Yu Yeon Kim, “Monumental Fragility: The Work of Mónica Bengoa”, in Mónica Bengoa: Cuaderno en Mano (Santiago: self-published, 2004), n.p.

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