The excellence of the sublime and the miserable …

Text on the occasion of the Talent Latent exhibition, SCAN Tarragona International Festival, 2016.

By Jesús Micó

 

 

Once again this year, Talent Latent 2016 presents us with a sophisticated exhibition of ne art photography, in which we can see outstanding works by some of the most interesting creators on the emerging international panorama. In this edition we would like to invite you on a stimulating and diverse visual and conceptual journey. In particular it will take you to two aesthetic ambiences that are as antonymous as they are attractive (no matter how opposing they are). We refer to the field of the sublime and the miserable (or, to use equivalent adjectives, the grotesque and the exalted, the common and the exquisite, the feísta or dirty and the euphuist or clean, the compulsive −voyeurist− and the contemplative, the obsessive and the distant, the intuitive and the methodical, the lightlled and the obscure, the logical/rational and the absurd, etc.).

Because, as we will explain in detail, we will see significant examples of all this in our exhibition. But we will not stop there. Between these two lines of opposites, we will see the work of ten artists who come to broach many of the thematic, formal and conceptual areas in which novel international photographic creation of today is active.

Before we set out on this journey in search of the two lines of opposites we mentioned in the first paragraph (and although it is perhaps obvious to point this out), it may be necessary to remind ourselves that the contemporary artistic act is no better when it is active in the field of the sublime than when it is in that of the miserable. The excellence of a work does not lie in the fact that its subject and its forms are exalted or grotesque, exquisite or common, dirty or clean. As we know, the value codes of a current work of art are multiple and there is no need for us to attempt to enumerate them here. Moreover, as will become obvious, some of the projects combine aspects of both lines of opposites, without creating any paradox whatsoever.

But we will see all of that in a much more elaborate form. To do that we will speak individually of each of the artists.

 

Fernando Maselli (Buenos Aires, 1978)
The work of this Argentine artist (resident in Madrid for a decade now) reflects artistically and philosophically on the concept of the sublime; on (to quote him directly) “the contained awe before the beauty of abrupt landscapes and the majesty linked to nature and the divinity”. His work is “a lone journey towards immensity, with continuous references to classical painting, literature, philosophy and aesthetics. My intention is to place the spectator before the sublime and spellbinding spectacle that leads them to question themselves about the conscience of the universe, our beliefs and our own origin. My work is a moral and sentimental reflection on nature”.

When you read what Maselli has to say, the first thing that comes to mind is the feeling that his photographic approach to the subject of nature has a more modern than a post-modern tendency (as befits a twenty-first-century artist). We are referring to the idea of conceiving, interpreting and depicting nature especially with codes of admiration and elevation (of mythification) and not of critical questioning. Just like the transcendental and heroic view of the subject of some of the purest and most transparent American authors of modern photography (the pure photograph: we are referring to photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, etc.). For this type of artist, the human being, faced with the grandeur of Mother Nature, was relegated to a state of physical and spiritual triviality. Before her we are nothing. From that came their magnanimous view of it. Only in the last quarter of the twentieth century did they begin to propose the critical idea of what is the magnificent Mother Nature we are now threatening with our unpresentable attitude as an animal species on the planet. But Maselli’s is not designed as a socio-political or ecological criticism of the relationship of man with his natural environment. That is not his interest in the subject. And that is why he resorts to that majestic celebration (in all his projects), to move us and cause us to reflect on the spatial and moral immensity, the divinity and the sublimeness of nature through those pristine and spectacular forests and mountains.

It is no coincidence that he uses the large formats in all his series. We remind ourselves that the format is never innocent and that, among other things, it establishes the separation from the viewer. Thus, a small format leads to a single, private, intimate reading of the photograph. Maselli’s formats, in contrast, have an enormous, monumental reading, overpowering, solemn, public, not private. Neither is it a coincidence that there is a predominance of black and white in his projects, to further abstract, conceptualise and symbolise the image, fleeing from any glimmer of a scientific view of the landscape. In the work we are presenting, In nito Artificial (Artificial Infinite), in which, among other things, he resorts to an elaborate digital postproduction, our artist re ects on the concept of the sublime through the ideas of the writer, philosopher and politician, Edmund Burke. Maselli seeks the sublimation in such scenic elements as the grandeur, immensity, enormity and vastness of nature, but especially in what Burke called artificial infinite. According to Maselli, “this consisted of the succession and uniformity of the parts, in other words, an element that repeats itself many times in a constant configuration and without interruptions generates a sensation of the infinite in the spectator. To achieve this effect, I spend several days bivouacking in the high mountains and photographing the mountain massif from various angles, to later, in my studio, recompose those pieces in a new, imaginary landscape, seeking, with the repetition of those pictures, to obtain the infinite artificial effect and to approach the concept of the sublime de ned by Burke”. They are large format montages in which he attempts to project the experience of the sublime based on an invented nature −artificial and infinite− that is photographed and depicted in a contemplative manner, seeking a grand aesthetic excellence on looking at it.