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Issue 130

Rodrigo Hernández: every forest madly in love with the moon has a highway crossing it from one side to the other
by Xenia Benivolski

The sun’s light undergoes a profound change when it reflects off the moon’s cool surface to reach our planet. Mixed with ambient starlight and the light reflected by the Earth itself, its speed is measured in years. Over the course of each day, the moon surveys our entire Earth, both past and future bouncing off its surface. In countless books and movies, characters wax poetic about looking at the same moon at the same time, as if the celestial body is a mirror where time is of no particular consequence, a fictional portal to another. The sentimental phrase, “When I am looking at the moon, I imagine you looking at the same moon and somehow we are together,” is simultaneously proclaimed by a chorus of many through a long history of fictions, displaced from the real flow of time. It was thus a happy coincidence to find Rodrigo Hernández’ 2014 publication, What is the moon?1 resting on the counter at the entrance to his solo project exhibition curated by Chris Sharp, an American curator who relocated in 2012 from Paris to Mexico City, where he co-directs the small but influential gallery Lulu.

Hernández’s commitment to ambiguity is guided by a sense of responsibility to show his subject from all sides. In his work, he provides a lyrical reading of history as a series of non-linear aesthetic and ideological junctures of time and space, seeking to elaborate on a set of dichotomous assumptions that are inherent to his historical subject. Painted paper sculptures appear to be intricately etched metal plates, flattened by a hammer and covered in silver paint; however, the etched marks turn out to be fingerprints. Resting against the brightly coloured walls, the glimmering pieces depict vague scenes from pre-colonial Mexico. The images directly reference the anthropological illustrations of indigenous, pre-Columbian life that have become the celebrated domain of Mexico City-born artist Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957).2 In the framework of these small, silvery sculptures, figurative elements from Covarrubias’ book, Indian Art of Mexico and Centroamerica (1957), have been conflated with formal aesthetic elements of Italian Futurism, in particular the polemical 1915 text by Italian Futurist poet Marinetti War, the World’s Only Hygiene [3] from which the artist borrowed the title of this exhibition: Every forest madly in love with the moon has a highway crossing it from one side to the other.

Rejecting the virtues of the Italian Renaissance, Marinetti announces the arrival of aesthetic liberty, a construct utilized in Hernández’s retrofuturistic reconstruction of the historical visual element “Let the tiresome memory of Roman greatness be cancelled by an Italian greatness a hundred times greater… [sic] there is nothing for us to admire today but the dreadful symphonies of the shrapnels and the mad sculptures that our inspired artillery molds among the masses of the enemy.” According to Hernández, Covarrubias similarly quotes a progressive visual ideology that promotes “simplicity and sensual realism in the shapes: vigorous and original concepts” in opposition to the “formalized and rigorous art from the highlands, and the baroque, unbounded art of the lowlands of the classic period, both impregnated with symbolism and ceremonial functionalism.”4 This sets up an oppositional premise between ontologies of the tenses, across continents. But the opposite of the moon is neither the sun, nor the Earth. A true dichotomy does not necessarily dictate a common ground. This exhibition conflates radical scenarios perched on the edge of a collective consciousness, only to collapse back into fiction. If both past and future have a historical potential, then the contemporary must lie at their intersection, one that clearly no longer needs to take place in the present tense. A tropic of contemporaneity turns out to be where such radicality is asserted through fictions. Both risking and resisting a nostalgia for an ideological now, the work addresses the contemporary historical subject in a nuanced way, propelling the geodesic spacetime dynamic into an aesthetic that hosts a life of its own.

This combination is arresting in its flattening of not only the physical sculptural form but also of perspective and history itself. Citing a bird’s-eye view of pre-hispanic Mexican depictions of Indigenous living, seen through the lens of divisionist cubist perspectives that were prominent in post-World War I Europe, the aesthetic is obtained through the mechanization of production and the influence of photography. The meeting of these visual forms sets up a strange epistemological ground, breeding a serendipitous dynamic of human history through time: a history repeating variations on the manifestation of radical language and symbolism. Within this landscape, Hernández is a witness to a vastly different array of characters all singing the same song.

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