'New Photographs' | Gonzalo Rodrígez Reyes
October 22 - December 19, 2021 (extended date 31st Dec)
Exhibition Organized by Luther Konadu
Artist Presentation & Discussion:
Saturday, October 23rd, 7 PM; on-site in the gallery
Associated Screening: Friday, December 17th, 2021
It is with such great pleasure to present Gonzalo Reyes Rodríguez's solo exhibition, 'New Photographs' at Blinkers Art and Project Space. This is Rodríguez's first time showing in Winnipeg or in Canada. He is coming to us from New York where he has an adjunct teaching position at Parson's The New School. Prior to that, he was based in Chicago where he received his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also holds an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania and was also a participant at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture.
As a visual artist, Rodríguez's work employs archival material, often image-based, as starting points for further inquiry. For him, they are sites for inferring how they become positioned as instruments of historical artifacts. He writes, “my work draws on conceptual and documentary practices to examine the inherent ambiguities in the historicization of images. I create works in photography and video that interrogate archival media from the recent past and their relationships to hegemony, colonial amnesia, and cultural representation.”
In this exhibition, 'New Photographs', Rodríguez continues this manner of thinking through images. The basis for the works in the exhibition starts with a set of found pictures new to Rodríguez. The images are known to have been captured and printed roughly between the late 80s and early 90s. It becomes a point of speculation, analysis, and projection for the artist as he investigates the particularities of the subject depicted in the images. Over a long period of ruminating, researching, and maintaining possession of the pictures, his perspective on them remains shifting. The images continue to become new to him. The collection of photographs grows even more complicated when he invites friends and image analysis professionals to provide their varying insights. Any decisive narrative Rodríguez ascertains around the group of images comes up as insufficient. The work nudges us to ask; how much can we really know, with certainty, about someone or their life through photographs? Can we trust what we piece together? How much of this knowledge is merely our own projection or mixed with our own proclivities? Rodríguez began his treatment of the images from an analytical distance and through an evenhanded curiosity; deciphering the contents of the images without much personal attachment. But the longer he kept them his relationship with them evolved. Strands of his own personal narrative became inescapably tangled. The exhibition consists of a series of collaged images, fragments of the found photos in his studio space, and a video diptych of colleagues trying to provide their professional takes of the found photographs. 'New Photographs' toggles between an objective interpretation and an acceptance of the limits of this very means of discernment.
Rodríguez's recent projects include solo exhibitions at Terremoto/La Postal, Mexico City, Roots & Culture, Chicago, and the Windor Contemporáneo in Madrid. His work has been featured in Hyperallergic, Contemporary Art Daily, Public Parking, and the Daily Lazy. His work has been supported by the Illinois Arts Council, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. He was recently a visiting artist and lecturer at Minneapolis College of Art and Design as well as an artist in residence at MassMoCA.
"[The] images left behind by Felix Gonzales Torres – one a snapshot encountered in someone’s living room, the other a billboard on a city street – give me an opportunity to occupy [them], to become their protagonist. The images beckon me to do this in their very ordinariness, to project myself into the scenes that they picture and the social and discursive exchanges that they mobilize, as if they are, or could be, pictures of love and loss from my own life. Yet FGT’s images also resist such projections, too, not allowing me to imagine away my position of alterity to the specific intimacies that they relay. No matter how familiar or intense the quality of feelings the images evoke – of solitude, of tenderness, of longing and loss – they somehow do not belong to me in any secure way in the end. These are not scenes from my life after all."
Miwon Kwon (2006), 'The Becoming of a Work of Art: FGT and a Possibility of Renewal, a Chance to Share, a Fragile Truce.'
A Reflection on 'New Photographs'
The pleasure of projecting—of allowing personal experiences to seep into interpretations of another’s story—can be irresistible. It’s impossibly human, that desire to see or feel someone else’s world, to construct an imaginary for that world with one’s own private building blocks. Memory and curiosity can strike recognition, recognition can entangle with empathy, and from that entanglement can spring the satisfaction of understanding.
But this satisfaction is laden with pitfalls. It demands access to kernels of truth, but these are so often illusory, contingent, shapeshifting. Their ethics are exceedingly thorny, inevitably tinged by degrees of fantasy, narcissism, entitlement, or privilege embedded in the gaze. Even when it’s bridged by acts of projection, that gulph between one person’s world and another’s still remains.
The works in “New Photographs” dive, swim, and soak in this gulph. They absorb and emit acts of projection, demonstrating how the camera has always been a conduit for these acts and how photographs have always been exceptionally good at eliciting them. When Rodríguez told me about the trove of personal snapshots he bought at Librería Jorge Cuesta in Mexico City, we spoke of how we’re implicated in our wishes to connect with strangers, especially those across timescales and sociopolitical milieux. Those whose worlds we’re tempted to imagine, but which we can never really know.
“Archive” feels surprisingly insufficient in characterizing these found photos. The term becomes instantly clinical, stodgy, fixed. It belies the achingly casual elegance with which the images’ subjects choose to embody or not embody queerness, slipping in and out of registers of gender, class, and kinship formations, performing for the camera, each other, and themselves. Rodríguez extends these effortless slippages by framing, collaging, and juxtaposing some of the found photos with a selection of his own. In these groupings, intimacy isn’t something arrived at, but rather constituted along a vector of infinite approach. The accompanying video intersperses two divergent methods of interpreting the photo collection. As the artist’s collaborators speak, their poetics of speculation and logics of fact-finding collapse into each other. Both commentators offer rich insights, but the more skillfully the photos are scrutinized, the more resistive to legibility they become.
At every turn, Rodríguez indulges us in the pleasures of visual resonance: curtains echo shadows of window blinds, doorways rhyme with archways, a menagerie of poses enacts a gestural call and response. Any conclusive associations linger just out of reach, but we’re drawn in all the more. In all their complexities, contradictions, and coincidences, it’s our acts of projection that rebuild the worlds of these photographs, making them new, over and over.
Jeanne Dreskin is an art historian, curator, and writer based in Los Angeles. She is currently a Senior Researcher at the Berggruen Institute, the Writer in Residence at Monument Lab, and recently served as Editor of the Joan Jonas Knowledge Base.