Magazine article Artforum International

Javier Tellez

Magazine article Artforum International

Javier Tellez

Article excerpt

GALERIE PETER KILCHMANN

One of the guiding images that drives his practice, Javier Tellez has said, is a memory from childhood. As a kid in Venezuela, Tellez would visit his psychiatrist father at the hospital where he worked. During carnival, when the world turns upside down, the mental patients would trade their uniforms for the doctors' sterile white coats. In that strange, mutable moment, the paternalistic binaries of doctor and patient, normative and pathological, broke down. And so, eventually, Tellez's videos and films--with their carnivalesque admixture of fiction and document, fantasia and poetic plainness--were born. As I write this review, the medieval carnival of Basel, called Fasnacht, rages outside. It seems no coincidence that my first experience of it conjured Diane Arbus's infamous images of institutionalized mental patients. The sheer transgressiveness--a spell in which the constitutive order of society is overturned was all there.

This vision of society's upending, wherein the "insane" become the "sane" and vice versa, was everywhere in Tellez's recent film installation Rotations (Prometheus and Zwitter), 2011, with its two silent 35-mm films projected side by side. In each, a figurative sculpture slowly rotates at the same speed but in opposite directions, each turning toward the center, as if mirroring the other--yet they are not identical. On the left is Arno Breker's Prometheus, 1936, a dully heroic bronze commissioned by Joseph Goebbels. On the right is a wooden figure with engorged sexual organs entitled Zwitter (Hermaphrodite), 1920, its maker one Karl Genzel, a schizophrenic outsider artist.

Instructively, this is not the first time the two works have been posited in opposition. In 1937, they figured in Hitler's dueling exhibitions delineating National Socialist art and its "degenerate" counterpart. …

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