A COSMETIQUE DECISION

I believe I am a romantic

Agility plus likeness, minus unreasonable burden, multiplied by attraction, and divided by history equals the Killer Work of Juan Camilo Guzmán

Terry R. Myers

Great outpourings of expressive feeling are not relevant to making art. Much more so is the both simple and complex fact of how you group things. —Briony Fer1

There are no necessary and binding rules of connection between conditions of existence and modes of production and effects at the level of signification—no incontrovertible laws of relation, for example between mass media’s corporate ownership, and trivialisation and depoliticisation of meaning. — John Tagg2

The concept of difference has nothing ontological about it. It is only the way that the masters interpret a historical situation of domination. The function of difference is to mask at every level the conflicts of interest, including ideological ones. —Monique Wittig3

I’ve been captivated by the idea of rearrangement as a way to resist estrangement ever since I heard it articulated in the lyrics of Depeche Mode’s “The Sun and the Rainfall” in 1982.4 Juan Camilo Guzmán has employed his version of this concept as a way of working if not a way of life for as long as I’ve known him and his work. Guzmán’s concoctions, even at their most detached, maintain crucial relationships by refusing to be fixed: some of his nimble constructions might even be about him, but that sure as hell doesn’t guarantee they are expressive. Nonetheless, his work is well on its way to building upon a life-saving trajectory in recent art that started for me with Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Kay Rosen, and Larry Johnson: three artists who among many other things picked up the Endgame pieces of the 1980s Picture and/or Neo-Geo artists and found a way to make their work all about and not about themselves all at once. In the deep waters of the identity politics of the late 80s and early 90s, Felix and Kay and Larry brought surface back to life by rearranging the look (and feel?) of the arm’s-length point of view of postmodernism, bringing it closer to home and reinvigorating the connective potential of such “simple surface manifestations” as, for example, a piece of candy melting in your mouth, the shape of a letter or word that looks as if you’re seeing it again for the first time, or a glowing Scooby Doo winter landscape deployed to impart wisdom and/or throw some serious shade.5 They are, for me, the mighty trio of what I’ve often called “formal as social artists,” makers who activate the formal properties of their work to speak to us collectively. (An example of a “social as formal” artist would be the fantastic Wolfgang Tillmans.)
I’m deeply impressed by what appears to be Guzmán’s critical knack for bringing both of these strategies together to, let’s say, reboot them in relation to current debates about identity and difference, as well as the use or alleged misuse of (source) imagery. New-Colombian Neo-concrete Ab-straction in the Era of Global Post-conceptualism. In honor of the pink dolphin of the Amazonas, for example, creates a kind of feedback loop that is set in perpetual motion from the formal to the social and back again ad infinitum. And its companion, And Child, rubs up against it with cunning (or cutting) cuteness. The depicted seriousness of the triple threat of Guzmán’s photoshoot series Tiempos difíciles (Hard Times)—seductive and contemplative displays of display (a hanging vinyl banner, and an unframed and framed photograph of different sizes), and part of what he has considered as a Political Activist art campaign that could be aestheticized, if not romanticized—is contraposed with other works like Troll (aesthetic power) and Wallpaper Pattern #9 that open up the body of Guzmán’s work to the complicated and unstable legacies of the found objects and collage of high modernism (note John Tagg’s claim above). And if by the time you are reading this Guzmán has gone ahead and called a digital print on canvas of a painting of a horse Portrait of a Young Man, we will be faced with a fourth threat to the mask of difference that actually reinforces the exponential capacity of his totally killer enterprise. I sincerely hope he did it.

Notes

1. Briony Fer, Eva Hesse: Studiowork, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 2009, p. 76.

2. John Tagg, “Introduction,” in The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1993, p.30.

3. Monique Wittig, “The Straight Mind” (1980), in The Straight Mind and Other Essays, Beacon Press, Boston, 1992, p.29.

4. In her book Eva Hesse: Studiowork (see note 1), Briony Fer brings up the French writer Georges Perec: “[He] once described his writing table as a place of constant rearrangement—and ‘a rearrangement of my territory rarely takes place at random.’ Every placement of something, he went on, is a replacement of something else that has been put somewhere else. Everything, he concludes, has been chosen, even if it is there ‘by my own negligence.’” George Perec, “Notes Concerning the Objects on my Work-Table,” in Les Nouvelles littéraires, February 1976. Reprinted in Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, Penguin Books, London, 1997, p.140.

5. The phrase “simple surface manifestations” is from Siegfried Kracauer, “The Mass Ornament” (1927), excerpted in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds., Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, p.462. The title that Guzmán has given this exhibition—A Cosmetic Decision—reflects his deep understanding of the multivalent use-value of surface, particularly by those who resist the type of masking described by Monique Wittig above.

 

1-A Cosmetic Decision5081_lo-res for web

 2017
Digital print on sticker
39 x 27.5 inches

2-A Cosmetic Decision5098_lo-res for web

From the Series Tiempos Difíciles, part of a Political Activist Art Campaign
2017
Digital print on banner
43.5 x 58.5

3-A Cosmetic Decision5109_lo-res for web

From the Series Tiempos Difíciles, part of a Political Activist Art Campaign
2017
Digital print on matte paper
19 x 29.5

4-A Cosmetic Decision5128_lo-res for web

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man)
2017
Digital print on canvas
20 x 25 inches

5-A Cosmetic Decision5159_lo-res for web

Vereda Tropical
2017
Digital print on stretched banner, acrylic and vinyl
78.75 x 78.75 inches

 6-A Cosmetic Decision5212_lo-res for web

Wellness
2017
Framed digital print
20 x14 inches

7-A Cosmetic Decision5197_lo-res for web

New-Colombian Neo-concrete Abstraction in the Times of Global Post-conceptualism. In Honor of the Pink Dolphin of the Amazonas
2017

8-A Cosmetic Decision5219_lo-res for web

From the Series Tiempos Difíciles, part of a Political Activist Art Campaign
2017
Framed digital print on matte paper
29 x 29.5

9-A Cosmetic Decision5222_lo-res for web

Dead Nature
2017
Digital matte print and Plexiglas display
33 x 39.5 inches

10-A Cosmetic Decision5257_lo-res for web

Wallpaper pattern #9
2017
Digital print on glossy paper
26 x 37 inches

11-A Cosmetic Decision5259_lo-res for web

Poster Sampler
2017
Digital print on foam board
51 x 59

A Cosmetic Decision5087_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5121_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5139_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5177_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5205_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5249_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5272_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5277_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5282_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5284_lo-res for web A Cosmetic Decision5287_lo-res for web

Installation View