PSJM is a team of creation, theory and management formed by Cynthia Viera (Las Palmas G.C., 1973) and Pablo San José (Mieres, 1969).

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Luminous Shadows

The political poetry of Luna Bengoechea



Published in the catalogue of Luna Bengoechea’s exhibition It’s alive for SAC (Gobierno de Canarias), 2016.

Merchandise hides the relationship of exploitation that makes it possible. This is a Marxian idea that only a few would be willing to refute. With “metaphysical tricks”[1], the seductive appearance of consumable products in the capitalist society hide and reveal at the same time. A condition that common merchandising shares with the artistic work –both, incidentally, aesthetic merchandising–. Within art reflections there have been those who, like Heidegger or Gadamer, understood the artistic experience as a process of awakening of the self, the truth of being. Also the critic of the ideology which Marx started, finds its artistic expression in works of art such as an inverted reflexion, as a chance of refractory realism­ that shows us the true reality —Lukács—. Now, as a counterpoint to this epistemological potentiality of art, there has also been those who have stressed the character of appearance and illusion, of hiding the true self, in other words, one that every poetical or artistic piece possesses. From Plato to Baudrillart, going through Kant and Nietzsche, a good number of philosophers highlighted this characteristic of art as appearance. Without a doubt, as Simón Marchán points out, we cannot exclude any of the two postures[2]. «The symbol makes us think», precisely because it hides the same way it shows. That is its power[3].

The project It’s alive of Luna Bengoechea, suggests a game of revelations which is as subtle as it is painful towards our society of consumption; out of consumption of subsistence, out of food in mass production, genetically modified, industrially adulterated. Through lines, volumes, time and light, Bengoechea unfolds an experienced dispositive that gives us knowledge through poetical forms. As the artist maintains, this is done with a «shadow language and an aseptic aesthetic». First referring to the visual poetry, and then the scientific rhetoric. Both dimensions converge in the work of Bengoechea creating a strange and beautiful sensation of conquer on the spectator’s side, who discovers in every step the reasons, messages and strategies the young artist gives. In a sweet and cold way, Bengoechea tells us: we are being poisoned.

In 1963, a year after the Campbell soup image consolidated its name, Andy Warhol created a series of paintings under the title of Tunafish Disaster. Quite unknown works which also show supermarket cans, but in this occasion, the contents of the can had intoxicated two women from Detroit to their deaths. The photographs of the victims could be seen repeatedly on the lethal cans[4]. This work inaugurates, in a way, the pop imagery of a postmodern society which has been baptised by Ulrich Beck as a «society of risk». Tunafish Disaster focuses on the direct poisoning, on the hidden yet visible toxicity in an immediate way. Nevertheless, within our “advanced” societies, this threat disguises itself behind ever increasing sophisticated ways. Beck manages to formulate a law, the Law of the social production of dangers and physical damage: «the stricter the field of prohibition, the wider the field of poisoning with non-toxic products, which represents a permanent threat that is invisible and out of control. The decisive point is that the official certificate of no toxicity denies the toxic character of what is toxic and becomes, this way, a visa for its free circulation to poison»[5]. An «out of control and invisible threat» to which Bengoechea, with all the art media, is willing to make visible, essential requisite to promote its control. This way, our artist sets the spotlight on the shadows, an exercise of visual attentiveness that provides a first class, aesthetic, epistemological and political experience.

In terms of the awakening of the truth, the light has always worked as a very strong metaphor. The relationship between light and knowledge follows a long occidental tradition that starts with the myth of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; it continues with Christianity in the inner light of Saint Augustine and finds its secular expression in the Scottish Enlightenment and the French Century of Lights. Maybe aware of the fact that light illuminates, discovers, but also projects shadows, that awakening with art will always go with the unavoidable condition of hiding with illusion, the poetry of Bengoechea reveals a truth —social, techno scientific and political— by means of a great paradoxical material: black light. A mural painting built with idyllic images of Botticelli becomes, with the use of black light, a scene of cold death. Several pictures, made with an extreme fineness with the style of the naturalistic illustration of botany, hide chains of modified DNA, chemical manipulation for the consumption that ultraviolet light reveals.

It is not a coincidence that the number of the object-magazine Papel Engomado (Glued Paper), directed by Bengoechea, would launch this challenge at the summoned artists: «Not all is gold». Nothing is what appears to be. There, an investigation was offered on the processes of awakening, a search behind appearances. If Ricoeur denominated the threesome Marx, Freud and Nietzsche as the «philosophers of suspicion», perhaps we will be able to say that we are today before a «front of creators», contemporary to those we could call «artists of suspicion», in which Bengoechea already has an assured position. The trajectory of this young artist follows a coherent and well defined path. From her first pictorial works gathered under the ironic title of Naturaleza muerta por asfixia (Dead nature by asphyxiation. In Spanish, naturaleza muerta is the equivalent of Still Life), showing groceries packed in a vacuum, Bengoechea has gone through a rising path, moving loosely through different disciplines, always oscillating on a central axis: the subject of nutrition as merchandise and its social, political and financial repercussions. With alfombras monetarias (currency carpets), a South American series, made with seeds and grains, Bengoechea explored the instability within production, commercialization and consumption established among poor producing countries and their exploitation by corporations from rich countries. These carpets already mark a disposition of the artistic work on the ground that has its sources, as much in traditional cultures, as in the interventions of Land Art. In It’s alive, as an infinite and aseptic industrial production, ears of maize, cucumbers, tomatoes and papayas in mass production via moulds, appear exposed on the floor of an exhibition gallery conforming an installation that takes us back to the ways of minimalism: a movement that disposed the pedestal when it exposed its volumetric shapes. However, Bengoechea concludes this installation with four plinths, over which the broken vegetables rest, showing their interior. Suddenly, the gallery is bathed with ultraviolet light and shows us fluorescent pips and grains, as if they were radioactive goods. Poison on a pedestal. Sublime metaphor of a consuming society that looks for profit through death. A group of industrial and vegetable vanitas that awakens feelings of outrage with the elegance of a clear poetry.

Ut pictura poesis, wrote Horace. A marriage between the pictorial arts and poetry that then condemned the modern aesthetics of Lessin, to which it seemed essential to respect the differences between spacious art and the art of time. Painting is the art of juxtaposed bodies and poetry is the art of the successive objects, of actions, this author assured in his Laocoonte[6]. In the mid 20th century,  Greenberg and Fried’s formalism found, precisely in the dimension of time, the basis to strike their critics against minimalism, since it incorporated the factor of time in its phenomenological experience. For Michael Fried, the biggest sin of the minimal consisted in the concupiscence between plastic and theatre, a temporary discipline that should be forbidden at an exhibition gallery[7]. These fights are already far away. Contemporary art, with minimalism and action art as a starting point, naturalises the aesthetic experience as a process in which time already constitutes another plastic element. This is how Bengoechea does it when she uses timers in the gallery, which with regular intervals turn the limpid space into a world of black light, where hidden structures of death and domination flourish, supported by an irresponsible techno science. We would say that in this project the disciplines of drawing and installation sculpture stand out, however, painting is still present here, in a subtle way. If the line is the essence of the drawing, and the space and volume are that of the sculptures’, the light and the colour are the keys of the pictorial technique. Bengoechea’s light paints the room with specific time intervals, offering a theatrical atmosphere that drowns the spectator in a secret space, where the hidden truths of our time are revealed in broad daylight.

Light and time. Anyone would say that Luna Bengoechea works with the same key concepts as Albert Einstein. And it is of no surprise, for the references of science and the use of its rhetoric trespass the whole project of It’s alive. However, if Physics was the discipline that governed within the sciences in the early 20th century, with the discovery of the DNA structure in the midst of our last century, the science of life, Biology, takes its turn[8] —in constant mediatic dispute with the progress that the new technological apparatus provide to Astrophysics—. In the entrance to Bengoechea’s exhibition, we can find a small white sculpture of peas in their pod. The informed spectator will immediately understand that the artist is receiving us this way to talk about genetics. An evocation of the peas with which Mendel the monk —father of this discipline whose name was minted by Bateson in 1902— proceeded with the experiments that would give a base to his famous laws of genetics heredity.

Science seeks the truth, but the irresponsible techno science that has been left at the service of capitalism seeks the maximum profit[9]. It is true that not all the techno science lacks the ethical regulation, but the «manufactured uncertainty»[10] reigns today under the sun of corporations. The more we advance in our capacity of scientific prediction, the more risks and uncertainties we produce due to the irresponsible application of science. The scientific community knows well that genetics is a science that is still in its early stages and therefore, its consequences are unpredictable. A warning constantly ignored by the investment sources and multinationals. Bayer has recently bought Monsanto[11]. And this will not stop being a deal of significant coherence: a devil buys another devil. For over thirty years, the Coalition against Bayer Dangers (CBG) monitors the multinational and coordinates activities against the violation of environmental and human rights by this pharmaceutical corporation[12]. In terms of Monsanto, its irregular activities with transgenic products are well known: allowed in the USA, but banned in the European Union. The signing of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between both powers  —a highly opaque process— would imply, among many other social tragedies, this permissiveness of genetical misdeed on food by businesses such as Monsanto. But luckily we have the streets, the social networks, the cultural media and the social mobilisation to practise a pressure that in Germany is already making the firm retreat from this written treaty against citizenship. If means of art, through the paradoxical awakening that implies the poetical technique —which hides as much as it shows—, can be used to stop the progress of the financial and techno scientific industry complex, we must welcome works such as Luna Bengoechea’s. Her political poetry implies an experience of aesthetic pleasure and social awakening, absolutely necessary for art and for citizenship. Let it be welcome.

[1] See: Marx, Karl, «El fetichismo de la mercancía y su secreto» in El Capital, Libro I, México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000, p. 36 y ss.

[2] See: MARCHÁN FIZ, Simón. Estética y Teoría del Arte, Madrid: UNED, 2011-2012, pp. 123-124.

[3] See: RICOEUR, Paul. Le confit des interprétations. Essais d’herméneutique. Seuil, París, 1969.

[4] See: CROW, Thomas. El arte moderno en la cultura de lo cotidiano. Madrid: Akal, 2002, p. 65.

[5] See: BECK, Ulrich. La democracia y sus enemigos. Barcelona: Paidós, 2000, p. 26.

[6] See: LESSING, G. E. Laocoonte, Madrid: Editora Nacional, 1977, p. 165.

[7] See: KRAUSS, Rosalind. «Ballets mecánicos: luz, movimiento, teatro» in Pasajes de la escultura moderna, Madrid: Akal, 2002, p. 203.

[8] See: SOLÍS, Carlos y SELLÉS, Manuel. «Genética, evolución y biología molecular» in Historia de la Ciencia. Madrid: Espasa, 2009, p. 1120.

[9] See: ECHEVARRÍA, Javier. «De la filosofía de la ciencia a la filosofía de la tecnociencia», in Daimon, nº50, 2010, pp. 31-41.

[10] See: GIDDENS, Anthony. The Consequenses of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990.

[11] See: «Bayer buys Monsanto for 66,000 millions of dollars to create a world leader in agriculture»