René Chair already warned: If the man didn’t sometimes close his eyes tightly, he’d end up not seeing what’s worth looking at. Our sleepless eyes can no longer stop looking, plunged into a kind of horror vacui.
The blindness grows in line with the overexploitation of the catastrophe. Both themes, the impossibility of seeing and the sense of bewilderment, inspire many of Carlos Aires projects while pointing to a certain stoic hedonism as the spirit of our time.
The Malaga artist has been searching in photographic archives to rescue the way in which the catastrophe has been documented in recent history. The causal linearity only exists in historiography; the real story, on the other hand, is made of instants, of ruins. And to those ruins, Walter Benjamin said, one could subtract them, review the history against the grain.
Benjamin thought that by doing so we could conjure the continuity of the catastrophe, to break the evil spell. It sounds too utopian today to think about the effectiveness of those moments of barbarism acting as a kind of enlightenment, as he intended.
But Aires finds a way to reactivate the emotional effects produced by the ruin. His soul of collagist leads him to extract figures from war photographs and stick them on butcher knives (Love is in the Air 2007), to cut out black silhouettes on vinyl records that, when reduced to their iconic essence, form contemporary tableaus (like Let’s get lost triptych 2011). The titles, as we see, often introduce an ironic counterpoint that unsettles us, leading us to the embarrassing situation of listening to pop hits inside our heads while we contemplate morbid scenes.
Formats and materials also play a role in the juxtaposition of antagonisms: paper lanterns made with photographs taken from documentary collections in their catastrophes’ section (Opening Night 2012), among which the orgasmic expressions go unnoticed, so close are the physiognomy to the extreme pleasure and pain.
But if there is a support that Carlos has made the most of it is the banknote. In Disasters series (started in 2013), he adheres press clippings on banknotes from different countries, relating catastrophic events and places, pointing out the economic interests behind all kind of conflicts.
The “sweet dreams” of the rich are made of money: in Sweet dreams (are made of this) 2015, the lyrics of Eurythmics song are patiently transcribed with cut-out bills from the most powerful countries in the world. Each letter has been pinned just as a poisonous specimen on a taxidermist’s cabinet, or perhaps with the hope of making it voodoo.
Because we can glimpse some kind of hope in Carlos Aires works, despite his corrosive humor, or rather, thanks to it. It is the individual and his disobedience, even in his apparent evasion, in his hedonistic attitude towards life…, that give rise to certain optimism.
To tear a bank note or alter it is considered an infringement because its exchange value is perverted. The subversive potential of illegality is also expressed in Sweet dreams (2016), a videoperformance where two riot police dance a tango version of the same Eurythmics theme.
The image is shocking, and more so in the sumptuous dance hall of the Cerralbo Museum (Madrid). A certain encouragement of illegal attitudes is embodied in this slum dance that on its origins was among two men. It was considered almost sinful by Buenos Aires society, although it would enter great dance halls (in hetero version, of course). At the same time, this video circumvents a Spanish law (Ley Mordaza) that forbids taking photos of police forces or wearing their uniforms.
Disasters and dreams come together in his Copenhagen solo show, in Specta gallery. One of the white walls has been covered with a multitude of illustrious characters, eminences with which each nation gives a face to its pecuniary calendar. Golden balloons welcome us to the party, inviting us to the summer relaxation. But beware, they have vigilant eyes printed on their surfaces…
Carlos Aires, Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy
Specta Gallery, Copenhague
until 22nd September 2018