COPLINGS AGAINST NATURE
[About the so strange and so beautiful scenes that Javier Riera photographs in the countryside]
Yes, imagination makes the landscape. I believe that a spirit applied to taking notes cannot leave the prodigious daydreams contained in the spectacle of present nature. But why does imagination hide from the study of landscape?
I think natural disasters have been looked upon in the wrong way […] I like natural disasters and I think they could be the highest form of art possible to experience […] But it is in the unpredictable disasters that the highest forms are realised. They are rare and we should be thankful for them
~Walter de María~
In 2008 Javier Riera was involved in a grandiose coming-out, of a dimension of his work that was practically unknown by anyone, when, at the Espacio Uno halls of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, framed in what was then known as the Productions cycle, he presented a previously unpublished series of photographs, all 70 cm x 70 cm, which were the result of different landscape interventions based on light projections – geometrical shapes – with long exposure times. It was a surprise, since until then he was mainly known as a painter, and painter-painter, even, but in the end the internal coherence of his new work moves away from the evolution of his career, as does the fascinating visual result, almost unanimously making the result of this risky commitment both convincing and plausible, in which he has been immersed since then. This exhibition is coming to Ana Serratosa, in order to shed light on the recent development of his work, thereby filling in a certain blank for the Valencian public who have directly contemplated the artist’s work at this gallery, in 2004 and 2007.
Although on the one hand the leap is notable, on the other hand there are several tacks that strongly link his former work to his current work in a clear way. This has always been true in the development of this artist. I remember how Fernando Castro Flórez, when discussing his previous work, explained exactly five years ago, that “those shapes that seduce us to the point of hypnotising us, make us think about plant matter, water plants and corral, in a materialisation of diving to find revelation”. Riera would not take long to give clearer shape to that allusive experience, by populating his immediately later paintings with figures that were completely recognisable: ice or snow stars, wings and feathers, vegetable tissue where lines and schemes vibrated over black backgrounds, reflections on the surfaces of mirrors or aquatic planes, superficially astral scenes next to a microscopic view of vitamin crystals, minerals, etc. For Riera the natural world then became a field of absolute fascination, as could be foreseen from his previous stage, still further back at the end of the nineties, when the fluidity of his pictorial matter prevailed, on each occasion leading to a type of landscape abstraction, with romantic roots, crossed by unmanageable forces that take us to the limits of a category such as the sublime.
In short, what we would like to tell you in a rather retrospective manner, which, if possible, is even more convincing, is that obsessions by artists, those real, severe fixations of their minds or their eyes, are usually few yet constant, as is the case of Javier. On one occasion concerning this matter, I heard him say: “Let’s say that my devotion is more to a personal search than to the formal aspects of my work. The word “evolution” has certain capricious connotations that do not satisfy me, I relate it more to Picasso, an artist who seemed to be able to choose his next stem. In nature things happen differently, caterpillars become butterflies and we do not call it evolution because we know there is no other possibility, the right word is “process”, it is inscribed in the dynamics of birth and death, inevitable events that are outside the control of those who cross them.”
I think that in his case what has happened is two strata that were expressed in different ways and somewhat undifferentiated in his work, geometrical shape and nature, have suddenly found a new formality, to the point of reaching a more complete compromise, by being itemised to make way for a new unison, as is true in his recent photographs and sequences. Andrés Barba detected it with acuity at the end of the text he wrote for the exhibition at Reina Sofía as mentioned previously, and I in a similar way to me in that it is the most beautiful formula I have found in critics to explain the whole process: “Intervention of the landscape here seems as natural as nature itself in its usual occurrence. Proust gave a definition of prodigious love, that applies well to the light in these photographs: living an identical time. The lights in these images, both artificial and natural, live together at the same time, they do not conjugate, they do not overlap, but rather take place at the same time. The result is an image in which nothing happens except the life revealed on the landscape.”
Compared to the classical interventions of Land Art and Earthworks, with their more or less conceptual drift, those by our protagonist reach an almost extreme thinness air, infra-lightness – inframince – that demands the logic of photography to witness its passing over the territory. The artist himself admits how his action gives body, or rather only image, to an internal revelation. We are, therefore, near to the classical aesthetic function of aletheia (with its risky etymology to lethos: “without veil”, “without latency”): revealing, uncovering that enables us to know the essence of things compared to common opinion. The truth of these landscapes is that something was inside them, coming out through light, to reveal itself as a visual reality, one that is scopic, more than tangible: “My interventions are ephemeral and do not leave their mark on the landscape, they take place and then disappear. I feel as if there is something latent in the spaces where I work that in some way are represented or happen through my work.” The compromise between the expected geometries (since the artist visualises them when wandering around the countryside in search of specific vistas to project them) and the scenes where they are placed, are not so much an effort to fit something in, to place something inside something else, but rather an attempt to bring something out that wants to show itself but is hidden by a conventional, every-day look, by habit.
Perhaps that is why it is so surprising that the most rigid and defined shapes are those that unleash this analysing process, after which what has gone before will always be something else, a displacement of feeling, an allegory (allos agoreim: “a saying, another’s discourse”): “I am impressed by the ability geometry has to describe the profound pulses of nature, and at the same time to become a symbol, a key. The design and the energetic origin of what is material are geometrical. The spiritual can be described and healed from geometry.” Those countryside scenes, which have traditionally served art and artists to recreated a wide array of aspects of picturesqueness and the sublime, are now for Riera the strange laboratory of his couplings, in principle against nature, where he forces two planes of sense to take place parallel to each other, and as you will be able to see for yourselves, they are not eventually incompatible with each other, leading to viable results, although they may initially appear to be far removed from each other.
Perhaps all this is nothing more than a natural disaster: something that is in nature and that obeys a mathematical or geometrical balance of forces, tectonics, pressure, currents… If I am to say the truth, in the midst of so much harmony and beauty, standing before Javier’s photographs, there is always an aftertaste, as if everything were about to leap into the air simply because the fantastic energy that nestles inside natural shapes have been revealed. By him converting it in figures, from the type of dodecahedron, spirals, complex prisms, etcetera, those shapes are perceived as latent and in tension at the same time – don’t you think? The same is true of x-rays, without going any further, when in the same image the body is revealed from inside, but not only there, since there is enough to see the external shape, of the common vision of the soma; it is precisely then that the bones remind us that they can be broken and fractured, when glands are infected, swelling and becoming opaque to radiation, when the functions and the organs show their complicated relationships… In fact, any dysfunctions become evident leading to this invasion of privacy, of what refuses to be seen – or understood -, with the statistics of whenever a x-ray is taken the badness in there can be seen, as suspected, that was actually sought.
I do not know if through all this we are able to deduce some ecological message from Riera’s work, a warning, an alarm from among those that are so present in our relationship today with the environment. I am rather inclined to think about an imposition on his behalf obliging the Earth and its energies to explain themselves in other ways than the usual methods in rather cunning ways. You are all aware that modernity has traditionally sustained a concept of nature in opposition to culture, with the latter having the peremptory obligation of subjecting itself to chaotic and irrational forces through technique to become a second nature. Well, precisely in the origin of aesthetic modernity, one of its most alert watchers, Baudelaire, obviously took some time to reflect on this old genre of landscape for his critic on Salon of 1859, discovering that landscape is none other than cultural construction, or, as I have just said, pure artifice; I leave you now with what he said and that so well fits in with Javier Riera’s work, in spite of the long gap between them, taking advantage to pay my farewell: “If that group of trees, of mountains, of water and houses, that we call landscape, is beautiful, it is not because of itself, but because of me, because of my own grace, because of the idea or feeling that I dedicate to it. […] Surely all that order and all that harmony do not conserve the inspiring quality that has been providentially deposited in it; but, in that case, for want of intelligence for inspiration, it would seem as if that quality were not to exist. That is how it is, and may it be like that.
Ó. A. M. [Madrid, October – November 2011]