Alí González - The Artist
Space, Trace, and Face: Alí González
Alí González creates multifaceted works that explore the political, spatial, and art historical dimensions of contemporary Venezuelan society. His works are palimpsests of references, polyvalent and difficult to reduce to one meaning only.
His series Archivologias is typically dense with meaning. It evolved from one original work, titled Archivologia, in which Gonzalez displayed the clay imprints of the insides of peoples' fists in a grid pattern on the wall, with a cabinet below them that had pages from the Venezuelan penal code laid out on its narrow glass shelves. The fist prints in the work invite comparison with the fingerprinting and archiving of criminals, especially since the legal documents in the cabinet cases also reference criminality. The regular, gridded patterns of the prints both recall the serial and geometric nature of Minimalist sculpture and refuse regularity, each remaining idiosyncratic and individual. This specter of Minimalism is present in many of González's works. For González, the print is a political as well as an indexical figure; not only does it announce the presence of an individual, but that the individual has been cataloged and classified. The unique (the imprint of the palm and the fingerprints) struggles with the generic (each fist print is similar to the others) in his works the same way that people struggle with individual versus collective identity in society. Archivologia led to a series of works on space, collectively titled Archivologias , that introduced elements of chance, entropy, and re-workings of modern art.
The expanded series has three parts: Movilidades (Mobile Furniture), Manchas en el Espacio (Spots in Space), and Trampas (Traps or Tricks). Trampas uses dots and dominoes set against panes of glass, with the domino spots migrating and multiplying all over the work, making constellations of black spots. Movilidades are canvases on wheels, transportable but never fully at home in any location. The works speak to the escapist quality of art that offers to transport the viewer to a different state, but also to the itinerant nature of contemporary life. Instead of being rooted in a culture or a place, we are increasingly faced with globalization, delocalization, life with no real homeland. In their portability, the Movilidades encourage and critique this instability of place.
The Manchas en el espacio draw on González's heritage as a Venezuelan artist, combining elements of such previous greats as Jesús Rafael Soto and Gego, along with the theories of Claudio Perna. Soto's geometric shapes and the sense of being inside a work common to kinetic art have translated to González's work, where he introduces the notion of geometric regularity only to deny it. The influence of Gego's reticulated shapes and her notion of drawing in three dimensions using rope and other materials can be seen in the Manchas en el espacio series, in which González takes various frames of cubes or old steel-tube furniture and uses these skeletons as an armature for creating a chaotic, webbed network of ropes reminiscent of Gego's 3-D drawings and Eva Hesse's later rope works (see Espacio Color , 2000). Rather than the exterior exploration of space in Kinetic art, González turns inward. His spaces are more private, less expansive and sprawling than those of his predecessors. They call to mind the spaces of thee body and connective tissue, as well as more domestic spaces and interiors. However, González's work is most indebted to the theories and body of work of Claudio Perna. Perna's "converging contemporaneity" used the potential of different forms of knowledge, communication, and representation to create works with a richness and diversity of meanings that were socially committed but not in the least dogmatic.
González's new series, Cabezas Tejidas (Woven Heads, 2001-2006), draws on the same inspirations and influences of seriality, randomness, the print, and space but with very different results. The heads are not quite portraits, yet neither are they abstract or universal. The pieces are made of white painted Masonite. On the Masonite, black dots are painted in a grid. In a central square, the dots multiply, accumulating into larger configurations that can be read as features of a face. Each Cabeza is different, showing an individual, yet the features of each face are not rendered in enough detail to make it a recognizable portrait of an individual. Over each face a veil of chicken wire is attached, and in some larger gauge bent wires or scraps of wire mesh are also adhered to the Masonite ground. Despite their simplicity and uniformity of design, each head is unique, and gives an individual impression. Viewing the works feels like trying to make out the details in a fuzzy slide or photograph--certain emotions and personalities emerge, but the specifics cannot be divined.
The dot technique González uses has deep art historical roots, stretching all the way back to the 19 th century Impressionist painters who first began using a short, choppy brushstroke over their entire works. Roy Lichtenstein later popularized the ben-day dot technique of book illustrations in his works, using half- and full-tone dot screens to mimic the comic books he parodied. However, González's dots are more haphazard than either of these sources, calling to mind more recent artists such as Chuck Close and Vik Muniz. Muniz's unconventional materials and graduated dots are closest in spirit to González's works, and the two artists seem to share a precise yet abstracted approach.
These works are deeply moving, all the more so because details of expression and physiognomy have been erased. The faces fix the viewer with an eyeless gaze from behind their layer of chicken wire that seems in some cases a jail and in others a veil. There is a quality of the vintage photograph or daguerreotype about them, yet they are also modern in their materials and technique. Somehow, they are ineffably sad.
Alí González's diverse and fascinating body of work proves him an artist of immense talent, sensitivity, and soul. His works are commentaries on the state of contemporary art, dispatches on Venezuelan culture, screeds of individualism, and homilies of form. The amazing thing about González is that each work contains all these.