By Sol Astrid Giraldo E.
Red sky, red earth. Armies of skeletons, rampant and triumphant. Vanquished kings stripped of color and time. Masses of intertwined corpses: the upended world of Pieter Bruegel’s painting “The Triumph of Death” (1562). A thread runs through the history of Western art, making it possible to trace a genre of representations —such as this famous and heartrending painting— of the many plagues that have devastated the world. Theatricality, pain, suffering, and devastation are amplified in these paintings.
Carlos Arango (Medellín, Colombia). “Our place became our entire world.” Margarita Rosa de Francisco
Can we also speak of a pandemic aesthetic in this coronavirus age? Perhaps, even though the drama of previous centuries is lacking. This new aesthetic presents muffled and mundane images, without expressiveness or pus. While the theatrical portraits of previous plagues were set outdoors, those of our time look indoors to portray the global lockdown. And while the great painters of the past opted for large formats to portray the torment of the plague, contemporary artists express themselves through austere photographs exchanged on social media.
Fernando Cano Busquets (Bogotá, Colombia). “The body confirms that everything is in its place.”Néstor Casanova.
Today’s artists recognize that the modern pandemic is more than just a serious public health problem. It is also a socio-political event of unknown dimensions, whose principal challenges have been isolation and inactivity imposed on societies that are normally characterized by crowds and frenzied activity.
Faced with this crisis, people were forced into an unprecedented situation: on the one hand, their physical bodies were restricted in a way they had not experienced during the previous century; on the other, the possibilities of virtual life —likewise unprecedented— permitted people to enjoy an essentially unlimited global connectivity that was unimaginable just a few years ago.
Gianluca Ceccarini, Arash (Tarquinia, Italia). “The house of our dream-memory gets lost in the shadows of our true past.” Bachelard
All these perceptions, contradictions, and challenges are expressed in the lockdown diaries being kept by people around the world during this time. Some of these diaries have been brought together in the exhibit, “Through Lockdown Eyes,” which is part of Photo Circuit 2020 (Medellín, Colombia). The diaries reflect precarious situations in which the creators engage photography as a survival strategy, a protest, and a refuge.
Confinado, fotografía, 2020. Bairo Martínez, (Medellín, Colombia). How do we make places today?
The images speak of specific individual lives. During the strictest months of lockdown, we could not fly, walk the streets, or discover landscapes by moving our bodies. The sea no longer filled our urban windows.
Diana Molina (Bogotá, Colombia). “The thing rears its head.” Mitchell.
The horizon shrunk to a view of our possessions. We exchanged mountains for mounds of blankets, tablelands for dining tables littered with scraps of food. At the same time, all our real and physical contacts were replaced by telecommunications, and our flesh and blood connections were replaced by virtual phantoms; the infinite grid of streets was replaced by the geometry of screens, and sunlight was replaced by the blue light emanating from our smartphones.
Decxy Andrade Cucaita (Bogotá, Colombia). “Carrying our homes on our backs, we seem to be snails. Assailed by a virus, fearful, confined to their homes: snails.” Mónica Erazo
In these photographs, we see beings under strict lockdown exposed by this recalibration of their space. A sort of choreographed domestic dance reveals a gallery of refuges, both vast and minute, overstuffed and minimalist; we see spaces that are not only physical, but psychological as well. Exiled from the outdoors, the castaways of the lockdown assiduously seek to recreate themselves in the indoor realm. The great escape from lockdown was the photographic exchange of loneliness. And if the price to be paid was the vulnerability of intimacy, that was also its reward. In frank transactions, people handed over the unfiltered minutiae of their private realms, while shamelessly raking their eyes over the inner spaces of others.
Suwon Lee (artista coreano-venezolana residente en Madrid, España). / “The reflecting glass IV”, 2020.“Cats are more at home in houses than people: in dreadfully square spaces, they know where to find the hideaways.” Georges Perec.
We have witnessed the emergence of images tied to a specific time and place, conditioned by new technologies, novel photographic devices, and new patterns of dissemination and consumption enabled by social media. These images form part of an aesthetic that is light-years from those apocalyptic oil paintings by Bruegel or Poussin. Perhaps we can begin to see the pandemic as a new and distinct aesthetic and visual event, one that we are just beginning to process.
Jean-Christophe Legendre (París, Francia).“Time ceased to exist, as if the numbers had been erased from the face of the clock.”Margaret Yourcenar.
The “Lockdown Portraits” presented here are a graphic chronicle of our time and of the human will to resist and create a new geographies amidst the complex circumstances of the day. They affirm our place in the world even as the earth seems to be shifting beneath our feet. They are logbooks that record meetings and separations in the personal poetics of each artist. They are small visual poems, repeated from Paris to Bogotá, from Tarquinia to Madrid.
Inma Liñana (Madrid, España) “Occupying a place makes it the center of a world.” Néstor Casanova.
The pandemic has globalized us in surprising ways. And, as Italian photographer Gianluca Ceccarini notes, it has shown us that today, everything is connected to everything else, which is certainly true in the fluid medium of social media.
“La mirada confinada”
Fundación Universitaria Bellas Artes
Sol Astrid Giraldo
Art and culture grant from the Medellín Office of Civic Culture.
(December 2020 – February 2021).