The present entry reproduces our first extensive approach to the work of the Spanish artist Pepe Buitrago (Tomelloso, Ciudad Real, 1954), which was published in the catalogue Pepe Buitrago. Alcorcón, Centro Municipal de las Artes, 2004. The text, originally written in Spanish, was also published in English, translated by Paloma Gil Quindós
The murmur of writing. Pepe Buitrago’s bracing strategy
Pepe Buitrago’s work, however varied the tools, media, techniques, disciplines, supports and formats it has utilised (from painting to “manipulated book”, from mail-art to genuine development of holographic procedures), sits on a conceptual ground as solid in its relevance, as it is light and plural in appearance – never invasive, categorical, crude, univocal or absolutist. This is why claiming poetry for Buitrago’s intricate production is redundant. Developing alongside a respectful concern for the value of the work itself and its economic nature as an object, such poetics lead the artist to a conscious rejection of idle, vulgar influences or any kind of compromise with mechanics that, while outwardly mastered, ultimately undermine all possibility of resistance. For his work takes great stock of the craft side of his production, which, in the case of the holographic techniques he uses, has meant years of study that must be constantly updated and renewed; work requiring the discipline and rigour of an alchemist.
The Hungarian photographer and Bauhaus teacher, László Molohy-Nagy, developed the technique of the photogram, that is, the procedure whereby emulsified paper is not affected by a beam of light as with a photographic camera, but by the direct positioning on the paper of objects that come between light and paper. Molohy-Nagy claimed that photography and photogram allowed the modulation and configuration of light. As for holography, it could be said to be a writing of light. The term holography comes from two words of Greek origin, holo (whole), and grafía (writing). Following this etymology, holography equates with a sort of “writing of the whole”, or rather, “where everything has been or is being written”.
In fact, as is usually the case with language phenomena, this definition is too naïve, or at least can only be understood in a metaphorical or figurative sense. The holographic procedure derives from photographic techniques particularly close to the photogram with one essential difference, that laser light is needed. Any interference of this light by an object will be developed on the emulsified material – the element shown on the holograph with the tri-dimensional effect we all know. An element that has interrupted the light along several paths and not just one, as in a photogram or traditional photographic developing. To this multiplicity of views alludes the word “holography” as a “writing of the whole”. But obviously, that writing is not all-powerful, as poststructuralist thought has revealed, exposing the manipulating power of language.
If reflection on the meaning of the term holography has led us to bring up discursive strategies prone to unmasking the power structures inherent in language – a phenomenon often neglectfully taken for granted, it is remarkable that Pepe Buitrago uses the holographic procedure precisely to assert his stance in the world; one that includes condemning via art oppressive mechanics leading to the alienation of the individual. Indeed, an overview of his work reveals a favoured object of representation: human beings. Man in conflict with himself and others, in a discursive strategy conveying a lack of communication, isolation or loss of individuality, of subjectivity, a sentence served in the empire of consumerism – numbing the pain that has, in turn, caused a vicious spiral where victims are seemingly no longer counted.
If Buitrago’s work is a sort of mirror where the viewer is called upon to reflect through sensitivity, in recent years it has developed, among its different topics, a theme leading almost abysmally to a consideration of the avoidable condition of man’s exile from himself. To this end, he has employed classical sculpture and a continuing architectonic tradition: the representation of human bodies as pillars in buildings. When the character is male, this representation is known as a telamon or atlante, and as a caryatid if female. The male designation stems from Atlas, the Titan punished by the Olympian gods to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders for daring to lead his brothers’ struggle against them, the ultimate victors. The term caryatid is still familiar from the thus-named figures on the southern portico of one of the temples of the Acropolis in Athens, the Erectheion, where six of those columns with a woman’s shape are preserved. As a part of several installations, Buitrago has introduced in his holograms two friezes of atlantes that explicitly suggest they are supporting the elements above. This happens in a quasi-architectural structure, Sostenible-Insostenible [Sustainable-Unsustainable] (2004, holograms, glass and painted wood, variable sizes). In this work, a frieze of holograms with the topic of atlantes seems to go through different wood panels that form an impracticable cubicle, but whose interior can be observed through the holograms. The structure’s oppressive nature makes us reflect on the figures represented – men supporting the very same order that oppresses, constrains and imprisons them. As can be gathered even from the title of the installation, we, like modern atlantes, are supporting the prevailing order. Nonetheless, we are still able, instead of grieving for ourselves, to contemplate the possibility of its overturning.
An essential element in Buitrago’s work, and one akin to that of other current artists, is a concurrence of different aesthetics that leads to a sort of schizophrenia that strikes us as baroque in its affirmation of a calamitous phase. If holographic images are for most viewers a relatively new experience, contemplation or enjoyment of them evoking science fictions set in a misguidedly probable future, an apparently cold technological aesthetic, Buitrago inserts them in elements that are part of our everyday world or even in craft elements more commonly found in rural regions than urban landscapes. Thus, there is a sort of chronological breach that collapses expectations, prompting an emotional or discursive dizziness that can spur reflection. In one of his most disquieting works, Espejo de un mundo sin salida [Mirror of a world with no escape] (2002, wooden ladder and 8 holograms, 100 x 20 inch), Buitrago has used a wooden ladder to include in each void a hologram where we happen to see a solitary man on a ladder similar to the real one, but on a different scale, and forever uncompleted. The indefinable scenario and the imperious contour of the human figure and ladder (holography shows only outlined shapes and silhouettes, unable to detail texture, colour, etc.) hide the direction of his movement from view. Whether in his ascent or descent, he is alone, and we know not what awaits him or what he is escaping from – maybe in vain, to go by the work’s title.
The uncertain content of its scenes – since we can regard a hologram as a stage where we occupy the “fourth wall”, normally occupied by the theatre stalls – enlivens the viewer’s curiosity. And indeed Buitrago has reused the motif of the man on a ladder for another of his works, with figures caught inside shapes like big jars. This time three up-down movements unfold before us involving a total of nine male figures that do not interact. Buitrago has titled the work El sentido del ser se despierta [Awakening sense of being] (2003, holograms, paper and methacrylate, 40 x 20 inch). He seems intent through a protean work (from his heterogeneous procedures up to the fact that holographic images dance before the viewer as he or she moves and evolves in front of them), to engage the readers of his works so that they either adjust, or despair, before their loneliness, driving them to fill those gaps, forever movable, as indefinable as our own desire, faith or anger. In the quest that moves us still. And where everything is yet to be written.