Magazine article Artforum International

Oscar Munoz: Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art

Magazine article Artforum International

Oscar Munoz: Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art

Article excerpt

"Imprints for a Fleeting Memorial," an exhibition of installations, videos, and works on paper by the Colombian artist Oscar Mufioz, haunts the viewer with images that evaporate, disintegrate, or in some other way vanish before our eyes. These ingenious portraits and self-portraits, rendered in a variety of formats, emphasize the fluidity and instability of the self, showing it to be a never-solid, ever-dissolving entity that requires constant management in order to appear whole. It's a figuration of self-erosion that speaks to the universal human problems of aging, decay, and death while expanding the discourses of portraiture and the monument too.

Munoz's works are also implicitly political, alluding visually and conceptually (but never didactically) to the human-rights violation known as "forced disappearance." Government-sanctioned removal of political opponents without trial is a global problem, from China, with its summary detention of activist artists and dissident intellectuals, such as Ai Weiwei and Hu Jia, to Colombia, where Munoz lives, and where roughly 30,000 (if not 140,000, as some accounts attest) citizens were "disappeared" during decades of civil strife between insurgent and paramilitary forces.

In the exhibition's opening piece, Re/tralo, 2003 (the Spanish term means both "portrait" and "I try again"), a wall-size video installation shows the hurried hand of the artist using a brush dipped in water to "paint" a self-portrait on a concrete slab that is directly exposed to the sun. As he works to finish one feature of the face, another disappears through evaporation, so he draws the first again--only to have the other fade into oblivion just as quickly. The necessity of ever shoring up the self as it continually dissolves seems here to be a matter both tragic (alluding to the myth of Sisyphus) and comic (reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin on the assembly line). And it calls to mind, too, the Marxian formulation that in capitalist modernity "all that is solid melts into air."

Similar in form, Project for a Memorial, 2004-2005, features five videos aligned side by side showing a hand quickly sketching water portraits on concrete, but never quickly enough for all the heads to be simultaneously intact. Faces in flux also emerge from Pixels, 1999-2000, a three-dimensional wall hanging made of white sugar cubes variously toned brown by immersion in coffee and arranged in gridded patterns that cohere into elemental portraits, a la Chuck Close. …

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