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Monica Bengoa’s Studiolo


Mónica Bengoa’s Studiolo. 52 Biennial of Venice. some aspects of color in general and red and black in particular catalog, p.20-22. Santiago, Chile. 2007


The work of Mónica Bengoa is a severe reflection on the power of illusion, this is, power in a strict sense. To expose her arguments she has resolved to resort to a triumphant device of the Renaissance: the studiolo model. Meaning a reduced and deceitful space at the heart of a palace, entirely covered in panels decorated with modeling work and paintings. The studiolo was used as a laboratory, refuge, withdrawal space and wunderkammer. Its decorative program was usually mannerist and the artists in charge of its deco were often experts in mimetic detail.

From a start, a building of this kind is configured as a regulated space reproducing the hierarchic distribution of social life. Mónica Bengoa’s first construction procedure rule is intrinsic because it builds “a device within a device”: A micro cosmos destined to exert the function of simulation. The second rule is extrinsic and consists of chaining the sequence between studiolo, palace and city, exposing the methodological parody that symbolically ties what is singular to with what is universal; meaning the programmatic expansion of the private space in a public one. Although this procedure operates its regression from what is public towards the private space through a representative condensation of power as well.

The result of the application of both rules is the installation of the political space as an effect of perspective. Power is at the basis of the production of a simulated space, because it organizes itself through the pre-figuration of the vanishing point.

The vanishing point is utterly reduced in Mónica Bengoa’s work, so that it eliminates the effects of perspective to allow the representations to return by the symbolic rebound they provoke. The production of visual trickery does mix itself up with what is real but stages a simulacrum being completely aware of the artifice as infrastructure of the image. This is why what is staged is the partial defeat of likeliness through a visual orthopedics that in proximity dissolves the presence of the represented images and that from a distance recompose the hierarchies of what is staged as figure.

The constructed image on the studiolo panels reproduces the amplified pictorial conquest of detail. One has to be careful with details to articulate a “politics of truth” of artistic practices! The insects represented on the walls elaborate the hypothesis formulated in the work title, providing a textual detail by Donald Judd: “Some aspects of color in general and red and black in particular”. This is how the hypertrophied cosmetics of this composition of thistles settle on two tonal scales turned chromatic, destined to fix the libidinal tension produced by the shared hairiness of combined materials of the vegetal and the animal kingdom.

In the words of Louis Marin, colors are ideological adventures in the material and cultural history of the West. The thistles, material support of this painting, have been arranged in the manner of decapitated paintbrushes. In this sense the faintness of the illusion of power, at the moment in which tincture is only the residue of a monochrome discharge that rehabilitates the phantasmagoric vibrations of a manic-depressive representation.

The ideological adventure of a southern hemisphere sensibility necessarily goes through the recuperation of the American origins of color materials. When Mónica Bengoa refers to black, she refers to the history of its contaminated determinations. Black, obtained from vegetal soot and that because of bee wax turns into basic pigment for body paintings of the Paraguay natives, to mention a case, emerges here as a cultural signifier. Red, which appears linked to the memory of industrial varnishes in minimalist histories, here returns like a memory forcefully forgotten by reductive historiographies. In the Andean space of the XVI and XVII centuries, red was used as lacquer to cover determined areas of the painting and also for the design of the carnations, as glazing. So, in our space, the position of the body defines the ubiquity of colors and their politic-cultural determinations.

From here, the Donald Judd title is re-conducted to the polluting filth of our post-bourgeois societies in which we turn deferment into a condition of progress of the material cultural signs.

To complicate things, one has to say that there is no doubt that this painting is produced in the “expanded field” of photographic hyperrealism, only to make itself noticed as an “apparatus effect”; this is, in terms of imagery reserve, of maximization of illusionist efficiency and of capitalization of low intensity chromatic reversals. What Mónica Bengoa sets up as a studiolo is the representation of a prohibition on theatrics in an architectural location, which acquires model characteristics for the history of “interiorism”. The studiolo is a placement signifier that fixes the value of private history as an account of a cabinet illustration.

The staging of this production device of illusion is what allows accessing the secret understanding of the social pact, regulated by the erotic economy of the tonal retention of tincture.

Justo Pastor Mellado

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