Review : Por El Río del Tiempo 2012
Christin J. Mamiya, Hixson-Lied Professor of Art History | April 22 - May 27, 2011
FRANCISCO SOUTO: POR EL RÍO DEL TIEMPO
Kiechel Fine Art
April 22 – May 27, 2011
Sometimes meandering, sometimes focused and directed, our lives, like rivers, unfold as a flow of experiences. These experiences exist both in a particular space and time as well as in our memories. In “Por El Río del Tiempo (Through the River of Time),” Francisco Souto entices viewers with a range of images, each of which captures not only a moment of lived experience, but the artist’s processing of that experience as well. Each softly blurred graphite drawing, digital print, or photograph suggests a passing moment or perhaps a fleeting memory, and encourages each of us to navigate our own journey as we encounter and explore this body of work.
The title of the show references a novel, El Río del Tiempo (The River of Time) (1999) that Souto was reading while working on these pieces. Written by Colombian novelist Fernando Vallejo (b. 1942), El Río del Tiempo comprises five novels individually published between 1985 and 1993. Each novel is an amalgam of autobiography and fiction, and veers between the present and past. Although El Río del Tiempo did not serve as a specific literary referent for the works in this exhibition, it did suggest a useful conceptual framework for Souto. The notion that an image, like this novel, can be both autobiographical AND fictitious—depict a lived moment but remain obscure or mysterious to the viewer—appealed to Souto.
But this exhibition is emphatically rooted in the visual, rather than literary, realm. Souto’s presentation of the title—with which the viewer is greeted upon entering the gallery—announces the visual basis of this show. The series of digital prints of hands signing each letter of the title transforms the expected verbal language into a visual language, and sets the stage for the array of engaging drawings, prints, and photographs.
For the artist, this body of work celebrates his experiences in Mexico, where he spent his fall semester sabbatical in 2010. Rather than plan his sabbatical project in advance, he allowed his experiences while in Mexico to direct his work. The resulting artworks, which he found surprising, are presented in this exhibition. All of these images are based on photographs he took, which he then translated into graphite drawings, digital prints, or manipulated photographs. What particularly captivated Souto was the feeling of comfortable displacement; because of his Venezulean heritage and fluency in Spanish, Mexico represented a new cultural context without the anxiety of complete alienation. This liminal space—in between the reassuringly familiar and the utterly foreign—provided the artist with both a conceptual and physical space in which to roam. His work thus deals with the dynamics of space—physical space, mental space, and cultural space. For example, some of the prints depict hazy figures seen through a frosted glass door. There is a defined physical space—the artist and we viewers on one side of the muntined door and the blurred figures on the other. However, for Souto, there is also an emotional resonance to the image. Because those figures are, in fact, his son and daughter, the memory of that experience, prompted by the photographs, echoes in his mind. Even his working process emphasizes these spatial relationships. When working on the graphite drawings, rather than place the photograph next to the sheet of paper on which he was drawing, Souto placed it on a wall behind him, so that he had to stop drawing, turn around, and look at the photographic referent. This gave Souto an opportunity to process the residual memories that, for him, accompanied the photographs. In this manner, the physical space between the drawing on the drafting table and the photograph on the wall parallels the mental space in which memory is processed.
For the viewer, these works also provide comfortable displacement. We encounter blurry, vague, fragmentary images that supply us with enough information to get our bearings, but yet are sufficiently vague that we are allowed to construct our own narratives or derive our own meaning. The artist carefully avoids spelling out each experience, thereby encouraging each viewer to find his or her way through the images. That journey is made much easier by the aesthetic allure of the images. The smooth graphite surfaces of the drawings, for example, captivate the viewer with their soft seductiveness. That sensual materiality is important to Souto, as it provides the initial hook—the first enticement for viewers to engage with the drawings and work to make sense of the hazy forms and veiled referents.
In the end, for both the artist and the viewer, these works operate as metaphors—for artistic vision and process, for the way we experience and process new cultures and places, and for how we encounter and understand works of art. As impressive artworks do, Souto’s images provide viewers with both visual pleasure and conceptual engagement and invite repeated interaction and reflection.
Christin J. Mamiya
Hixson-Lied Professor of Art History