I Won’t Recommend a Lamp, But I Will Redo the Entire Room




José Luis Falconi



For being such a sparse artistic school, driven by a hyper-rationalistic agenda and an insatiable/irrational desire for universalism, twentieth-century (architectural) modernism seems to have/exhibit an almost baroque history just underneath some of its most crowning achievements.


Although it might come up as surprise to some—not without a small doses of irony or poetic justice for such militant clean-cut ethos always ended up looking more suspicious than anything—for those who have followed (Mexican) Edgar Orlaineta’s body of work this seemly contradiction between the principles of modernism and the actual way they unfolded in history is hardly news. The truth is that things were never so shinny nor straight as they appear in the glossy magazines of the time, and it is this critical distance between fact and ethos that serves as the very foundation for Orlaineta’s art: if there is an aspect/angle which distinguishes his work from the many other artist investigations on modernism in Latin America has been precisely that his continued engagement with the material has always pointed out the numerous inherent contradictions over which it has been built. It is there, in the treacherous terrain of contradictions, where almost everyone fumbles and falls, where Orlaineta not just survives, but actually thrives in/on it.


Of course, Orlaineta had what it could be considered the most hardcore training in learning how seemly contradictions end up becoming, suddenly, a coherent, legitimate totality—one which might even work at the highest national levels—as he has been a meticulous researcher of perhaps the biggest mirage of all in this part of the world over the last century: Latin American Modernism.   That is: he knows, intimately, that between what is proposed in the abstract (in the ideal plane) and what actually ends up happening (the factual results), there is a large and critical gulf that can not be breached and which has ended up defining our (jaded) experience and understanding of these type of projects. Indeed, if there is something that defines the landscape of our meager version of modernity is precisely this chiasm between the ideal and the concrete, and for which it shouldn’t come up as a surprise that most of his body of work that he is known for in the last few years stages in one way or the other this perennial conflict between the ideal plane and the crude, organic reality. Works such as Giuseppe and Maria (2006-2007) or Spirits or even Karl (2006-2007) they all stem from choreographing the conjunction (clash? overlap?) between the perfect ideal shape and the organic imperfect reality. All of these works acquire depth by positioning in precisely the center of this truncated, complicated relation between these two plains, represented by the organic (plants, cacti) and the steel that swirls around it.


The same could be said of his remarkable XXX –a series of “tables” that stage this same conflict through the texture and the forms given to the material: the very piece is a choreographed landscape of this very tension, this time embodied in the relation between the terseness of the polishing of the material, and the bumpy forms it suddenly takes across its length. It is the relation between texture and shape which ends up positing the ultimate dictum: after all, Modernism might not be as straight laced, as it was once thought –especially in the tropics (Machado de Assis, dixit).


For such reason, and if seen as a whole, we can probably appreciate the delicate contours of the paradox that Orlaineta might have been trying to delineate all along in his career: underneath the terse cleanness of modernism there might be a much more murkier history–one that might actually border the embrace of its very antithesis, or the irrationality it tried to leave behind.  In fact, if there is a particular quality of his latest suite of works centered on the figure of the great designer Alvin Lustig–renowned for his design of the legendary New Direction’s New Classic literary collection in the United States–is that it confronts head-on such paradox, by dwelling into his story. Consider, for example, Una Vida [A Life] were he subjected the palm of Lustig captured in a photograph to the interpretation of a palm reader: the work acquires its density through the (comical) dislocation of discourses. It is the designer hand’s were ultimately his talent and skills end up performing what it seem to have already been written in the stars since day one.


At the end, it seems, it was not a matter of Lustig upbringing, his training, his program or even the way modernism as a whole unfolded. In fact, the whole thing was already a given outcome–at least that is the unsettling feeling we ended up with. And thus, the absurd dislocation –who in the world really fully believes in a palm reader?—ends up opening the possibility that, ultimately, it is just mere chance which is at play here. In other words: a small suspicion of absurdity is implanted at the very core of our interpretation, as if history (personal, social) might just be first and foremost a result of chance.