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30 March 2023

Underground Memories

Karlos Gil. Decline. Curated by Peio Aguirre, CA2M Madrid, until May 21.

Every three or four years, one comes across a newspaper interview with Vincent Delieuvin, curator of the Louvre, in charge of ensuring the good condition of La Gioconda. In his answers, Delieuvin uses medical language to refer to the most famous and recognizable pictorial figure in the world. Due to the layers of varnish, which the museum is reluctant to remove for fear that the face will lose its iconic aura, the Mona Lisa appears “terminally ill” or even “dead.” Like everyone else, she ages, and in this case it seems that the remedy is worse than the disease. When we talk about time in the arts, we usually do it in terms of representation, and we rarely mention the influence of “exposure time” on the works that occupy the museum space, a type of attention to detail, open perception and commitment to the surroundings that usually seem to be the work of conservators. Without a doubt, facing the sixth mass extinction, we must deactivate our stagnant, temporary prejudices, those that have engrained the dangerous identification between “progress” and “growth” in the collective imagination. In an art gallery, different vectors of temporality always intersect, but temporal potential is rarely manifested as something intrinsic to the material component of the work. The two aquariums that make up the work Anarres (Timefall) by Karlos Gil, presented for the first time in his exhibition Declive (Decline) (CA2M), point to the chrono-artistic dimension of temporal multiplicity. The work manages to dismantle the illusion of an exact present, two environments of accelerated aging, in which a series of objects suffer the violent action of chemical agents that gradually destroy (transform) their matter. The work is alive (isn’t all art work?) and the power of surprise does not end in this fact, but rather in the brilliant aesthetic configuration of an ecosystem that, in its apparent absurdity (or randomness), manages to compose an image/mirror between the past and the future of a decomposing world that, in fear and anger, we recognize.

Photography: Roberto Ruiz

When you enter the exhibition, excellently curated by Peio Aguirre, you feel that you are crossing a threshold. Two pieces of recycled neon (an endangered material that is being replaced by LED) invite you to enter a dark environment in which the lighting comes from an internal element in each piece, organized as a system. Karlos Gil continually plays with temporality. There are relics of a time that could be past or future, dying technologies (the aforementioned neon) that take on a prophetic aura, or techniques that, at heart, embrace heterochronic synthesis (tapestry created on a Jacquard mechanical loom) and which remind us that there is no possible “invention” without a reworking of chronological order. Two audiovisual pieces, Peripheral (2023) and Origin (2023), are exhibited in the exhibition. The first, a speculative vision of the life of a jellyfish created by a 3D printer, “strips” the screen as a technological artifact and the viewer is forced to discover the back side, a whole conglomeration of electronic systems and panels, before entering the world of representation. The image does not inform or expose, its meaning is purely sensory. Artistic will fights for the achievement of an impossible task, to be able to transmit, from a recreation, the experience of time and space that an organism so simple and complex manages at the same time. It no longer makes sense to talk about a division between the natural and the artificial, an antagonism already overcome. The artist himself explains in the catalog that “the notion of techno-animism is very important. I tried to create an environment of communication between a wide range of life forms, inanimate things and technologies (…) As an anthropological theory, techno-animism examines the interactions between the material and spiritual aspects of technology in relation to humans.”

Photography: Roberto Ruiz

The absence of human representation (of bodies, but also of traces, vestiges or conscious authorial marks) helps, in the wake of Bruno Latour, to rethink the social as association, inscription and agency. In Origin, which could be read as a ghost movie, Karlos Gil points to the elasticity of time in underground environments. Recorded in various underground spaces in Madrid (hidden tunnels of the M-30 or of the Metro), with only the presence of a flashing light and a dense cloud of smoke, the film is both a visual anticipation of the end of the world and an archeological exploration of the future of cities. If it is disturbing it is because it points to the unknown. We do not know if what we see is ruin, useless space, or a fundamental infrastructure element. Who owns that empty space? Whose owns the future?

Pablo Caldera (Madrid, 1997) is a PhD student in Artistic, Literary and Cultural Studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. A graduate in Philosophy, he combines academic writing with narrative and visual arts criticism.

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