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23 September 2020

Sculptural speculation, narratives on the abject

An exhibition as a story in three chapters. A narrative built in three scenes. A spatial arrangement of a sculptural installation thought, somehow, through the reading registers offered by a painting: from top to bottom, diagonally, from left to right, creating accents -places of intensity-, silences. A narrative capacity, in short, that has to do with the scenographic gaze and the spatial awareness of Javier Chozas added, in this case, to La Fragua de Tabacalera, a space that facilitates this journey in three acts. In La piel construida -a title that in itself concentrates the great themes of the exhibition-, Javier Chozas constructs -once again-, from sculptural speculation, an atmosphere of science fiction in which sexuality, eroticism, lust and violence are present in an intensified way thanks to the fixation on these two aspects: spatiality and materiality.

This spatial awareness makes the place seem to be created by the work itself and to belong to it. The space becomes the medium that articulates the narrative and creates an atmosphere of intimacy perhaps, on occasion, too mediated. The show unfolds, then, as a sequence that the viewer sees as he or she moves through the different rooms. Any interrupted stroll or partial photography of the exhibition generates an impression that is certainly incomplete. The volumes, the iridescence, the flows, the vibration, the work from the presence has a very different incidence to the work in deferred or with two-dimensional surfaces. It affects the discourse and the narrative in a different way. The public’s confrontation with volume, with mass, is also different to the contemplation of a video or a painting: this is the need for displacement, for detours.

Javier Chozas’ practice is related to “sculpture” as a term that still needs to be negotiated and discussed with the will to expand it. In La piel construida there is volumetry, bodies that occupy spaces, fluids, non-visible matter. Although the legacy of a tradition is present, his practice exceeds it by integrating technology and cognitive processes from other fields. In this sense, the experience of visiting the exhibition can reactivate the concept of “expanded field”, coined by Rosalind Krauss[1] in the eighties, in which she related the tendency of some artists to, far from investigating around the essence or specificity of sculpture, explore in the opposite direction obtaining results much closer to mixification, to the hybrid.

On the other hand, the use of matter in the sculptural work of Chozas brings us closer to the limits between comfort and abjection. The transformed matter is no longer distinguished from the biotic. Porosity, water, gel-like textures and glosses, membranes and tubes bring us closer to abjection as Julia Kristeva understands it: “abject is that which disturbs an identity, a system, an order. That which does not respect the limits, the places, the rules. The complicity, the ambiguous, the mixed[2]. The works we find in the first and second rooms of the exhibition explore the limits between pleasure, violence and even death, pointing out the need to bring out our abject self in certain contexts. Both spaces function as abject places that challenge us even when we resist, that alienate and disturb us but also fill us up and lead us to a certain sense of unrest. The sculptures, conceived as living bodies, manage to create a system of correspondence based on intimacy, with the familiar, uncomfortable or modest that this entails.

The pieces in the first room, installations of sculptures that unfold on a plane, as if it were practically a forensic or anatomical investigation table, refer to forms and textures that remind us of organs, of entrails. With the difficulty of establishing correlations with the body -human or animal-, and resorting to the title of the show itself as well as to science fiction as a speculative and fable-based strategy, this non correspondence can lead us to the forceful assertion that “nature does not exist [3]”. A claim that, rather than seeking to abandon this concept, seeks to repoliticize it, to give it an elusive character.

The environment, thanks also to the lighting – an important aspect throughout the exhibition – invites to slow down the pace, to advance with prudence and to adopt, at the same time, a contemplative attitude. This fact becomes more acute in the second act of the exhibition, in which the sculptures considerably increase their scale by positioning themselves on a structure that occupies the entire room horizontally, creating a transparent space -thanks to the arrangement of a series of methacrylates that create a path- that leaves everything in view. The caution is intensified in this section, since the arrangement of the pieces in relation to the plexiglasses creates multiple reflections that make them, to a certain extent, omnipresent. Everything is seen from all points and, by moving around, we add points of view that were not possible before.

Occupying the third room we find the last piece of the sculptural story, a unicorn. Being this the most figurative work of the whole exhibition, it inevitably generates a certain discordance with what we saw before. Chozas, giving an important symbolic charge to this figure, explains, as if the whole exhibition was a reenactment of The Death of Sardanapalus(1827) by Eugène Delacroix, that if Sardanapalus lying on a bed worked as a symbol of power we should consider how we can represent it today. If the influence of Delacroix’s work can be seen in the textures, forms, as well as the representation of excess, pleasure and violence in the first two rooms, the artist intends to answer this question in the latter. Power through the figure of the unicorn, which functions as an excuse, as a renunciation of conflict and as a sign of infantilization.




[1] Krauss, Rosalind E. “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” originally published in October 8 (Spring 1979) and later in: Foster, Hal (Ed.). The Anti-Aesthetic. Essays on Postmodern Culture, Bay Press, Seattle, 1983.

[2] Kristeva, Julia. Powers on horror. An Essay on Abjection, Columbia Univeristy Press, New York, 1982

[3] Introduction by Paul B. Preciado in: Sacchi, Duen. Ficciones patógenas, Brumaria, Madrid, 2018.

Marta Sesé researches and writes abour contemporary art. She lives in Madrid and works in arts publishing. She also co-manages the project Higo Mental:

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