In his solo exhibition at Participant Inc., Alejandro Vidal addresses the behavioral and aesthetic manifestations of violence and conflict in different cultures. As menacing sounds of explosions billow throughout the gallery and dark photographs command a wall from ceiling to floor, we sense the uncomfortable presence of chaos. While the video and sculpture in the front of the gallery appear somewhat unrelated to the overall concept of the exhibition, each of the three main projects installed in the interior of the gallery consistently inform and disrupt our perception of the depicted reality.
The series of twenty small and pixilated screenshots Somewhere In A Great Country (2010) appear upon cursory look as snapshots from the heart of an urban war zone. Devoid of any human presence, the photographs document explosions in buildings and street intersections. Only when we read the accompanying exhibition essay do we realize that in fact these are images of national celebrations and political rallies. A similar confusion of reality occurs with the five-minute video Firestorm (2009) that is installed in an adjacent room. With its soundtrack of gunshots and bombardments echoing in the main space, we expect to view violent footage when entering the projection room, yet instead we are faced merely with a continuous display of festive fireworks. Viewed on its own, Firestorm is a one-liner that leaves little lasting effect; though placed in conjunction with the screenshots, it takes on a similar commentary on public power display. In both works, Vidal conflates the romanticism of explosives with the reality of war. In presenting violent acts through the lens of entertainment and spectacle, he ultimately addresses society’s fetishization of force.
The final series, When It Rains, All Shines Black (2009) includes eight large photographs that were taken by the artist at nighttime through the windshield of a vehicle. Conjuring a distinct feeling of disarray, we can discern images of a girl holding up an unidentifiable wet flag and blurry figures carrying flashlights. In this series, Vidal recreates a common act of dissent in Latin America, where protestors wash the national flag in front of government buildings. Thus, while in the other projects Vidal confuses reality, here he attempts to recreate it. Seen within the exhibition’s context, these photographs evoke a sense of fear, turmoil and uncertainty—even though it is essentially the most straightforward representation of reality. While somewhat incoherent, the exhibition presents a distinct perspective on culture’s aestheticization of aggression, and our disconcerting indifference to its consequences.
Images: Still from Firestorm (2009), Single Channel DVD; Falling from trees (2009), Lambda print; The sun is an acid eye (2009), Lambda print. Courtesy of Participant Inc.
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