Buenos Aires by night



Brizuela, Leopoldo "Buenos Aires by Night". Text catalog exhibit. Published at Barbaria, Buenos Aires. August 2011.

Hernán Marina’s works take a new genre as their point of departure: “infographics”, or the information relayed via graphic images that appear in certain newspapers accompanying certain news items, generally those involving “graphic” violence.

As opposed to illustration in the traditional sense, which complements written text and enriches it with the illustrator’s interpretation, “infographics” are presented as an alternative account, a different narration of the same events that readers may prefer over a written narrative if time is short or the patience of yesteryear for reading words is lacking. On the other hand, instead of enriching written accounts, infographics reduce them to very few elements, represented by icons, computer generated symbols that in this case, articulate an “infographic narrative” language; they are signifiers that refer to narrative nuclei that can be detected in all existing stories, essential elements that are common to all human experience.

It is not surprising that the most sensational sections of the newspaper go so far as to postulate that infographics are preferable to written language. Infographics allow for or even oblige one single interpretation, as opposed to words, corrupted by polysemy. In contrast to other languages in use, infographics can be deciphered universally, like divine laws for those who believe in them: nothing can take place in Buenos Aires, Rome, Kuala Lumpur or Greenland that cannot be reduced to its icons, nothing is incomprehensible for its globalized, technological wisdom.

Hernán Marina’s works are conceived to contradict these postulates, and their least expected virtue lies in that he uses the very language of infographics, exacerbated, stretched and pushed to the limit of uselessness and ridiculousness in order to refute them. He does this with a material unable to reach unsightliness and that hardly allows for demonstrations of virtuosity. The beauty of these works by Hernán Marina, like all avant garde works, emerges from a novel representation of truth, which, after an artistic experience seems all that much more mysterious and delectable.

I said that Hernán Marina exacerbates and pushes things to the limit, and this applies to what he narrates in his works as well as how it is narrated. Among many events that have actually taken place, Marina selects the ones that unmistakably reveal political systems’ brutality or the dire extent of social disintegration: an elevator full of workers falling to a crash in a building in the Catalinas Sur complex, or a group of youths along the highway to La Plata throwing stones at a luxury bus.

In order to represent these events, and just as infographics communication relies on economy in terms of color, I would say that Marina works not with black and white, but with light and darkness. He uses light to draw icons that wind up having a sinister glow, perhaps due to their habitually childish air, or reminiscent of that white from a century ago, that would appear in ghostly sheets or the bones of the dead in tales of terror. Shadows, as in other works by Marina, hide everything that the system first victimizes and then relegates to oblivion and silence. Light and darkness thus suggest our secret ongoing everyday war instead of infographics’ immobile and harmonious order.

Lastly, we could say that these works are also full of humor, a humor that comes straight out of yellow journalism and the bizarre style of certain news items. However, this humor is, as in so many other cases, the last step prior to absolute desperation. Hernán Marina elicits a laugh that is bitter and restrained, one of our last defense mechanisms against alienation, death and definitive darkness.

Leopoldo Brizuela

Montornés, Frederic. “Buenos Aires by Night” by Hernan Marina. Published in Catalog MUSAC Collection 2010

Hernán Marina

Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1967. Lives and works in Buenos Aires.

Born in Buenos Aires in July 1967, Hernan Marina trained in Sociology at the University of Buenos Aires. After a long period working in the fields of market research, public opinion and business organisation for consultancy firms and agencies he is now completely devoted to artistic research. Marina regards art and life a succession of events whose importance depends on how they affect us, and the work he has been producing since he completed the Art Direction for Advertising seminars in the United States and returned from his European travels in 1996 could be considered an X-ray of the episodes that have shaped his thinking and the reason behind his approximation to art, initially from an analytical perspective and subsequently from a more personal standpoint. While his methodical vocation is what drove him to study Sociology in the first place, the impulse that drew him to the world of art (aside from a pressing need to experiment) derived from the knowledge he acquired as his career unfolded and from the perspective that impelled him to analyse everything. Under the influence of the organisational culture conceived to improve the standards of quality and service starting from economic openness and the excessive offer of goods in Argentina, his oeuvre would begin to assume a sceptical position following the models of the language of advertising and digital culture. This is exemplified by meticulous and perfectionistic images, chiefly in flat colours, designed to challenge artistic criteria starting from an ironic vision of reality based on aesthetic and conceptual parameters of a corporate nature that call into question the link between text and image. Bearing in mind the difficulty in attaining a sensitive approach to art and the distance implied by his knowledge of management culture and marketing (acquired through courses on training, graphs, diagrams, pictograms and the abstraction governing society’s thinking since instrumental rationality), the work he produced between the mid-nineties and the second half of the following decade reflects life as it unfolds in an environment governed by market laws, where everything has a price; an environment where the subject is considered both a consumer and a worker and provider of his own goods and services—in other words, at once an actor and spectator of his own actions.

After 2003, when his working activity came to an end, Marina left the images of corporate culture to one side and explored art fields in which he could study subjectivity starting from experiences he turned into fictional tales and using video as an expressive language. Other factors that would influence his production derived from the prevailing trends in Argentinean art of the nineties; from his passion for cold synthetic images; from Pablo Siquier’s recovery of a tradition stemming from the Buenos Aires modernist movements of the forties (Concrete-Art-Invention and the Madi); from the opposition of representation in favour of abstract and experimental approaches; from Romantic tradition; and from the restrictions imposed on pictorial art by the format of painting. Marina’s oeuvre also has affinities with the heliographs made by León Ferrari during his exile in San Pablo in the seventies. In such works, Letraset figures and aerial views of town plans, architectural plans and ground plans of apartments attest to the crisis of human relations in the context of ultra-urban development and routine as a rule, denouncing mechanisation, automatism and aimless circulation as echoed by Guillermo Kuitca’s imaginary maps and chaotic diagrams and ground plans of theatres.

Buenos Aires By Night is a series of black-and-white photographic prints produced by Hernan Marina between 2001 and 2005 during the period in which he was still working almost full-time in advertising. Based on the journalistic genre of infography—the most widespread genre in the Argentinean graphic press, especially for the cold and distant depiction of accident and crime reports characterised by their brutality or violence—the series of seven images that make up this group of ‘alternative graphic stories’ emerges from an incident experienced by the artist himself and from the thought that he could in fact have been the actual person involved. Chosen perhaps precisely because they reveal the brutality of a given political system, the gravity of social disintegration, the disappointment of a human existence to the end of its days, the images that provide access to this deliberate selection of events through the universal decodification of infography reflect the artist’s interest in the contradictions often found between what actually takes place and the way in which it is told, between what should be told and how it should be told, in short, between what is going on and how it affects us.

Made after the artist’s selection from the drawing that originally appeared in the press, transferred to black and white and reproduced on a large scale on glossy photographic paper after having been redrawn, altered and enhanced on different layers and levels of transparency with light effects, unfocussed visions and that special quality that accompanies certain information, presenting it as if it were fictional, the seven works in this series are a fierce criticism of the exercises in interpretation we are subjected to in all spheres of communication. Starting from a world which, like journalism, is capable of arousing awareness among the population that consults and/or consumes it, the reality to which Marina refers after several layers of make-up is the one that nobody wants to hear a word about.

Frederic Montornés

Pérez Rubio, Augustin "An event's ironies". Text catalog exhibit Buenos Aires by Night. Doque, Barcelona


Hernán Marina’s first solo exhibition in Spain offers us the opportunity to appreciate his work in our country with the time and tranquility it deserves. He is an emerging artist with great artistic depth and a solid career, who has already been awarded prestigious prizes and participated in important events in his native Argentina. Marina has visited our country on prior occasions, at recent editions of ARCO with the galleries Gara and Luisa Pedrouzo from Buenos Aires as well as in other exhibitions and artistic events, but these have provided us with only a fleeting glance of the intelligence, irony and sociological insight this artist proposes.

I have been interested in Marina’s work for some time; what I find most notable in his work is the fusion between sociological aspects that deal with market economy, labor relations or statistical studies and design, with a sleek aesthetic and a certain cosmo-vision of contemporary man immersed in a fluctuating society where the economy is the basis of an entire way of life. These works are presented in a markedly minimal manner and have served as the basis for later works by the artist that reveal a looser approach, freed from artistic and social prejudices where sarcastic irony is unleashed in an act of artistic liberation. This leads us to our encounter with the Buenos Aires by nightseries, currently on exhibit at Barcelona’s Espacio Doque.   

What is Buenos Aires by night? By way of large format photographic prints, Hernán Marina takes up the discipline and parameters from the world of newspaper infographics as though it were a found object that he then employs to carry out a relevant and conscientious selection of some of the most horrific and tragic events to have taken place in Buenos Aires; he then puts these events on display in such a way that obliges us to see them from a different perspective. I would like to point out that in Argentina, as opposed to our country, infographics are handled with rigor, attention and a treatment apart. Media experts study all the news items covering events of a violent or dramatic nature and distill them into infographic explanations, to the point where news infographics are presented practically as a separate section or a new means of expressing information in and of itself. This enables us to better understand how Marina, mindful of these catalysts in the realm of information thanks to a passion for design and the symbolic language of icons and logos, found a great source of inspiration in these graphics. However, I would like to repeat that Marina’s labor and achievement is more of an attitude than it is a primary expression. With corrosive irony, he has selected a series of infographics that refer to violent or dramatic occurrences that have taken place at night in Buenos Aires. In this sense, behind the blackness that gives these pieces an air of elegant mystery, Marina translates via rays of light in the form of dotted lines, arrows and points the silhouettes and structures that elude to shots, crashes, falls, etc. In parallel, the title of each piece might well be a headline under which infographics might be found in newspapers: Escape mortal (Deadly Escape); El trágico final de un ídolo (An Idol’s Tragic End); Cruce fatal(Fatal Intersection); Tragedia en la madrugada (Tragedy at Dawn) or Un ataque sorpresivo (Surprise Attack). Removed from their original context within the news media and exhibited in the terrain of art, these titles ring hollow, drained of the dramatic content of the original tragic events they refer to. Instead, they sound like titles for ridiculous American action films. In the same way that this de-contextualization and translation of the titles’ text changes their meaning and significance, the drawings are similarly altered. By translating the violence, aggressiveness or drama of real events by way of such a tidy technique, based on design’s rules for elaboration and comprehension, the reality of these acts is eradicated and we see how infographics convert them into children’s drawings, absurd explanations where bullets are dotted lines, an accident is a cross or a cadaver is a silhouette with a little circle. Here the limitations of such neat, hygienic journalism are made perfectly clear. Although we are not aware of the specific events they refer to, Marina ironically reminds us that he, too, plays with the silhouettes of different characters—whether construction workers who have fallen into an elevator’s abyss or the well-known Argentinean singer who died at the wheel—to accentuate our awareness that life is, in its entirety, one tremendous and incomprehensible irony.

Agustín Pérez Rubio
Valencia, October, 2002

Agustín Pérez Rubio is Chief Curator at the MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León).  He was born in Valencia (Spain) in 1970. As an independent curator he has curated International exhibitions (“Bad Boys”, Venice Biennial) and given conferences on international art in a wide variety of international forums.