Breve historia de un coloso
Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle, Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other. Thirty years now I have labored To dredge the silt from your throat. I am none the wiser. Sylvia plath: “The Colossus”
Se supone que el kolossós griego tiene la cualidad de doble, que representa a una divinidad o a algo que conecta con el más allá. Lo diferencian del resto de los ídolos su no portabilidad, su cualidad de monumento a la impasibilidad, de figura pétrea y fija. El coloso de Rodas , erigido en honor a Helios para conmemorar una victoria militar, mostraba al dios del sol con un pie en cada escollera del puerto y el brazo en alto sosteniendo un faro encendido. Así, las embarcaciones tenían que pasar por debajo de la efigie para ingresar al puerto más próspero del Mediterráneo Oriental del siglo III AC.
Este nuevo Coloso del Malba también interviene como un umbral a trasponer, ya que para acceder a las salas del Museo, su figura recostada y trasversal nos fuerza a pasar por debajo de sus piernas, su sexo, su torso o su cabeza. Sin embargo, contrariamente a los kolossós originales, éste pareciera no estar representando a ningún ser divino. Si Zeuz condenó a los hombres a la mortalidad, al yugo y a los esfuerzos por la supervivencia, la silueta hueca de este gimnasta ensimismado y en el momento de máxima tensión estaría “idealizando” esta condición de fragilidad no-divina, más aún cuando su dis-tensión lo haría derrumbarse por el precipicio que se abre entre sus manos y sus pies. En este caso, el kolossós sería el doble de esa condición carente, perecedera, corruptible e insegura que lo humano, a veces heroicamente, intenta trascender.
Gainza, María. “Corpus delicti”. Radar, Página12. Agosto 2004
What do Hernán Marina’s empty, impassive and antiseptic silhouettes, cut out like chalk cadaver outlines on the walls at Zavaletalab gallery say to us? Is it that modern man has been dead for some time now, even though he remains among us?
In a police squad, the person in charge of tracing the chalk line on the ground around the dead body would appear to have a relatively easy job. He or she arrives at the crime scene, takes out his or her bag of white chalk, makes their drawing following the edge of the corpse like following the outline of a hand on a sheet of paper, and then leaves. However, how does his or her drawing help to resolve the crime? One would suppose it to be a minimal contribution. And this supposition is correct: to the point that Vernon Gebreth, in his book Practical Homicide Investigation, sustains that the practice is pure fable. The chalk silhouette is an effect created by the movies for the movies, and it is highly unlikely that anyone might use it in a serious investigation because a gesture of this kind would only further muddy any crime scene. Nevertheless, at the insistence of book covers and movies, the chalk outline has become a classic: it is a symbol that operates in broad daylight, the trace of a dramatic action that has already taken place without our participation. When the cadaver has been removed the only thing left is a clumsy, rigid drawing on the pavement. In much the same way, Hernán Marina’s enormous white wooden silhouettes are installed on the wall at Zavaletalab gallery, evoking absent bodies like so many chalk drawings.
In his last show, Silencio (Silence), Hernán Marina presented the imperturbable traces of people concentrated on carrying out their sit-ups and push-ups like automatons. It’s curious. The physically demanding action is frozen in contours that show no sign of effort or exhaustion. Writing about cinematic portrayals of Romans, Barthes said that everyone sweats in Julius Caesar and that the infinite number of short shots used in the film helped to accentuate this effect. Sweat becomes a symbol, but for what? “For moral sentiment” Barthes said, “everyone sweats because they are engaged in an inner debate”. Transpiration turned into thought: each drop on every brow functions as a connotation of the inner tragedies of virtuous men like Brutus, Cassius or Casca. In Hernán Marina’s silhouettes, however, there is no sign of muscle strain, let alone transpiration. Without sweat, thought seems to have been frozen. Marina’s suspended, gravity-defying bodies are men emptied of reflection; subjugated by the discipline of modern masculinity, they are as unable to recognize pleasure as they are fatigue. It is the logic of instruction manuals for obtaining a perfect body, which is a perfect fit for an ill-fated market economy. Show me a man who sweats, a man who doubts in the face of discipline, and I’ll show you a misfit, ill-adapted in his family, business and society.
To a certain extent, Marina’s silhouettes can be read according to the same parameters promoted by 19th Century phrenology: contours then served as a key to interpreting the relationship that people established between surface appearances and the mind’s inner content. In The Image of Man, George L. Masse dates the birth of modern masculinity as occurring at the same time as the rise of bourgeois society, that is, between the second half of the 18th Century and beginning of the 19th, a moment at which aristocratic stereotypes—such as duelling—were replaced by the body itself, without external attributes. The masculine body, defined largely through allusion to Greek principles of harmony, proportion and control, not only conquered the outside world, but also within the individual: physical beauty began to guarantee moral strength, nobility and willpower. Johann Joachim Winckelman, an archaeologist, art historian and librarian, was one of the foremost proponents of this idea, and in a series of texts considered classics today he established the principles of Greek beauty, applied to his own society. Winckelman re-conceptualized modern man in terms of virility, dynamism and order. Movement, yes: passion, no; or, in the words of Walter Pater, the imperious need to achieve “rest in motion”.
The silhouette then became a man’s issue. This is why Marina’s figures are so astute in registering what happened: they delineate how gymnastics and athletics began to close in to define the idea of virility, while illness, fatigue and weakness went on to become moral categories. By the mid 19th Century, the idea of masculinity had become militarized. Masse tells that by that point, military institutions had begun to explicitly intervene in the physical training programs at British colleges and by 1920 one third of the physical education professors came from the army; the father of modern gymnastics, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, believed that it would bring Germany to achieve a triumphant masculinity.
The shift from military fields to marketing schools was done in one simple step. The model of man that business manuals showed us came into being based on concepts that arrived from the military field (even the traditional idea of factory organization took Napoleón’s army as a prototype). Efficiency, order, discipline, productivity and strategy would now make up the successful businessman’s credo. Hernán Marina returns to this point in his anonymous silhouettes: when business-barracks logic insisted on creating and promoting these aesthetic and behavioral models, the human component was irremediably driven out. In the same way, books on how to improve employee performance or how to organize time more efficiently promoted an aesthetic of alienation. These are precisely the contour-men that Marina focused on when he utilized iconography appropriated from personnel training programs some time ago in order to create images where the human element was reduced to zero and homogenized, eliminating all individual differences.
Last year at the Museo de Arte Moderno, the artist presented Men’s Health, a series inspired by pamphlets on preventing accidents and attacks where silhouettes of surgical masks, gas masks and latex gloves were installed on the walls as giant graphic prints and also as white wood [outlines], with a chillingly sterile effect. Marina gives back to a paranoid world its own prevention inventions in order to see which scares us most. To a certain extent this process was a continuation of a concern already explored by the artist years earlier, when he proposed to work with infographic representations of criminal deeds shown in newspapers. These pieces consisted of schematic diagrams showing the armature of violence in Buenos Aires to the point of making it laughable: photographic prints of a group of kids throwing stones at a bus as it passes on the highway or workers falling from one of the Catalinas buildings. Their titles recalled Hollywood banality: Escape mortal (Deadly Escape) or Tragedia en la madrugada (Tragedy at Dawn).
Hernán Marina’s perfect and unfeeling bodies are mute, solitary lines that testify to the point at which mankind finds itself at the outset of the 21st Century. The body emptied of feeling then will now have its monument. On August 26, as part of its Intervención (Interventions) program, Malba will install Hernán Marina’s Coloso (Colossus). “If Zeus condemned mankind to mortality and making an effort to survive, the empty silhouette of this self-absorbed gymnast at a moment of maximum tension will idealize this non-divine condition of fragility”, the artist explains. It is a monumental figure, ten meters long and six meters high that will bridge the museum’s central hall, obliging the public to pass under it just as embarkations had to pass under the Colussus in Rhodes during the 3rd Century BC in order to enter the East Mediterranean’s most thriving port. Perhaps this will be his monument to the fallen, an enormous sculpture that above all else speaks of a modern-[id]olatry capsized long ago.
Braga Menéndez, Florencia: “Desperation and Nostalgia for Heroism”, 2004
Desperation and Nostalgia for Heroism
Hernán Marina (Bs. As., 1967) will present Coloso (Colossus) in MALBA’s Intervención space from August 26 until the end of January, 2005.
This work is a steel figure measuring ten meters long by six meters high that would seem to be doing pushups, the strenuous exercises habitually associated with all kinds of penitence and disciplinary punishment within the gymnastic institution of masculine rigor. Aside from the artist’s proposal in relation to the aesthetic debate regarding the colossal, the “excessively large in petrified immobility”, the piece implies asking one’s self about the microscopic mechanisms of the action of citing other sources in contemporary art. How does Marina come to choose his colossus? (It is one of the figures least present in modern representation, though Goya, Dalí or some similarly dramatic painter may have occupied themselves with the iconographic topic of the Colossus.) Why?
The history of the Colossus of Rhodes is the heroic story of a small nation with vibrant commercial activity determined to resist an invasion by Macedonia at all costs. They say that Rhodian women offered their hair to make their soldiers’ bows and that the men of Rhodes promised to free their slaves if they managed to fight off the enemy. Once victorious, Rhodes celebrated its strength (their success was hardly predictable) by erecting an immense statue of a nude Helios gazing out to sea, situated at the entrance to the port. The statue represented the Sun god, but was dedicated to King Ptolemy in thanks for his support during the battle, made with bronze obtained from the weapons of the defeated invading army. The Colossus’ radiance competed with the gleam of the sun on the water, and according to some versions lifts a flaming torch in its hand.
The historical parallels proposed between it and the Statue of Liberty are pertinent. The Colossus was a statue dedicated to freedom, slightly smaller than the Hudson’s French custodian. The question that comes to mind is whether or not Marina links the content of his beautiful, ascetic, giant silhouette to the furious attitude of other emblems of social triumph, sustained in humorous or frankly melancholy terms. Who does the solitary gymnast watch over? Is the motive for this obedient colossus’ sorrow the lack of any better undertaking than the hedonism of the mirror? With no trace of ambiguity, the artist exhibits not the impossible, but an absence of heroism or social ferocity in the subject represented gazing at its surroundings. Is its egotistic solitude a statement, or a denunciation?
One discovery is that the artist does not reduce the masculine body’s representation to the muscular tension of bare legs as might be expected. Marina’s colossus wears barely stylized gym clothes, a loose pair of cotton sweat pants. The weary colossus sustains the private museum’s architecture, its body tensed in an extremely difficult position, subdued, its attitude leaving no way out.
Regarding the overall handling of the piece, Marina intensifies the figure’s passivity and subjugation by affirming the gymnast’s attitude of accepted anonymity. Like his peers Mark Kostabi (Los Angeles, 1960) and Julian Opie (London, 1958) who also cultivate a negative notion of anonymity as emptiness or a potential identity to be acquired, Marina constructs a concave sense of color: the work’s skin is the white-vacuum-cavity hollow and its areas of shadow. In addition to the lack of any partial information, texture or small marks of expression, the material’s surface plane of pure light, barely informed by the elemental cut that transforms it into a recognizable image functions like an effective application of the complete significance of the undetermined.
As opposed to the role that white plays (as the sudden suspension of elements that identify and all previously existing psychic activity) in works by George Segal (N.Y., 1924), Kostabi, Marina and Opie’s use of white is not as an annulment or suppression of anything because the subject presented never took place, its psyche never was, it isn’t a thing from the past. Its genetic structure does not enable individuation, there is no way to extract judgment or point of view, the gymnast does not transpire any formal scent of subjectivity. Its flesh is that of a transgenic social body, it is the terminal scatological materialism of man turned into a thing. It hasn’t been frozen, but was practically born that way. The mechanism that operates upon the skeleton that is what the image of man has been reduced to is so automaton-like that it would be excessive to categorize it as a golem; the oppressive shell around the molecular sexual activity of its tissue is so thick, the libidinal inactivity, frigidity and lack of participation in its representation is so great that that the colossus never looks pathetic. What we see is clearly a product, a result, a deformation that accumulated capital leaves on DNA, on its atrophied potential functions of infinite information. It is only slightly more than a robot, because it has the capacity to evoke profound sadness.
The artist makes excellent use of this economy of detail in the piece’s scale, and in this sense the “Colossal” field contributes significant elements to Hernán Marina’s body of work, in which scale might well be revised on the whole. A reiterated combination of medium-format figures in white implies a mimetic saturation, a minimal texture that does not allow one to intensify any adherence to detail. In a gigantic work, on the other hand, the need to step back in order to view it in its entirety alone annuls the non-informed effect of its texture, and the piece as a whole runs less risk of functioning as part of a pattern or situation of spillover. The non-textural nature of its texture disappears on the large scale surface. Above all, considering that a non-articulated silhouette offers very few points of view, there is always one that surpasses the rest. The gymnast is more closely related to the profile of a fuselage than it is to Mattel’s Ken; not only is it rigid, it is also a cross-section. This makes the lack of information regarding interesting details about its skin even more indispensable. The cross-section structure is the image, the verbal form of the body’s activity. The infinite amplification of its scale might perfectly be put to use in a rhetoric strategy. It is hard to avoid imagining the city traversed by gigantic actors that reveal social tensions repressing an immeasurable no man’s body.
In conclusion, it is interesting that the accepted historical account tells of an earthquake that destroyed Rhodes’ extraordinary beast, planting its gigantic pieces all around the port entrance, pieces that persisted during hundreds of years, proudly emanating a theory of defense for this nation’s identity, forged in such an outrageous manner. Even after its fall, the effort of giving meaning to the over-sized warrior protected the people. Its meaning prevailed. Even if we accept as true Philo’s account that [Chares], the sculptor who created the Colossus, committed suicide before it was finished upon discovering errors in the calculations key to the final piece’s stability.
Returning once again to a parallel theme in the face of the frustrating evidence that today, women wouldn’t give up a single hair for a warrior’s bow, and in light of the fear that has emerged in contemporary times with regard to losing modern protective emblems to bombing or implosion, traversed by airplanes and machines more efficient than modernity itself, the distance that Marina proposes by desperately sustaining the purely self-referential space of the verb that defines contemporary masculine practices for a simulated eternity is all that more violent. Until someone removes it from its desperate formal function as an absurd liaison, a bridge with non-specified architecture, the colossus will maintain its irritating passivity, doubly disturbing in the articulation proposed by its gigantic proportions. Uselessly powerful as long as it remains still, dressed in cotton, the Colossus makes the desperate nature of its strategies for a reduced survival explicit.
Florencia Braga Menendez
Montornes, Frederic. “Self-absorbed silhouettes”. (Nueveochenta, Bogotá, 2007).
It is curious, to say the least, that amidst the maelstrom of images in movement and interminable sound that incessantly arrive from every corner of the world and art’s every last hideout that someone might exist who, as if inadvertently, decides to bring such velocity to a standstill and deafen what is sometimes identified as acoustic contamination. Furthermore, when it is not just one person, but many people who opt for this path, what could easily be associated with a clearly anti-social personal decision becomes an option for analyzing reality, or at least one aspect of it that is just as legitimate as any other.
While in the traditional world solitude used to be associated with the intimate act of reading and writing, with the advent of the Modern era’s multitudes—enormous masses of anonymous beings—some of the underpinnings for enjoying a right that had been non-existent prior to that point were established. Hidden or camouflaged in the anonymity of the throng, from then on it was hardly difficult to become aware of just how alone one was. Then, with the arrival of ultra-modernity and the era of the individual par excellence, what had been recognized as the right to intimacy—and was even motive for celebration among its most fervent advocates—gradually became a situation that was, in some cases, imposed. As such, the solitude that had been so vindicated in other eras went on to become an invisible set of bars that would slowly but surely isolate individuals.
Some of the consequences of this new solitude that continue to hang in the air in our times and that have left their mark in numerous artistic expressions might include hedonism, introspection and Narcissism: three possibilities for shutting one’s self off from the outside to search within a sea of doubts for the identity that supposedly pertains to us. It is a search that, on the other hand, winds up being a practically interminable task due to the changeability and constant transformation experienced by any individual who takes on the challenge.
With the gradual disappearance of happy or desperate endings in film, video clips have seen an intrusion of incomprehensible misfits, first-person accounts and intimate diaries of photographic genres, in addition to the appearance of the absurd in artistic narratives, an increase in melancholy advertising spots or an exaltation of sadness as one of the most interesting human poses. It would seem that contemporary creation is dedicating itself to the new solitude with what would be in grammatical terms an ellipsis: a state of transit or suspended action condemned to await the arrival of someone who might complete the unfinished.
Through the use of different characters’ silhouettes, condemned ad eternum to the routine of a particular exercise that appears to viewers as the paradigmatic essence of self-absorption and solitude, Hernán Marina sends us on the trail of what might be one possible ending: alienation as a state of no return. In other words, another ellipsis condemned to perpetuate itself by way of repetition, in an invariable line of bodies that are almost always perfect, endlessly chained to obligatory exercise, a freefall into the void between two non-existent points and the recreation of unblemished scenarios where any representation of our contemporary tragedy would seem almost impossible.
Unable to locate each fragment within the ideal parameters of a beginning and an ending—and in such a way that they are contemplated as visual narratives—the sequences of movement that Marina works with bring Muybridge’s inventions to mind and they are shown to us as isolated notes along the assumed limits of a mural-size pentagram. It is the silent music of an isolated reality, condemned to remain alone within the limits of the self.
Lost amidst the infinite lines of a self-absorbed silhouette.
Frederic Montornés is Curator at the Centre Santa Mónica (Barcelona). He is currently curator of the upcoming Bienal de Sitges (2007). He has curated exhibitions at the Palau de la Virreina (Barcelona) and co-curated Espai 13, held by the Fundación Miró (Barcelona).