Under Construction
Juan Céspedes
January 21 — February 18, 2006

Conceptual art in Chile arose in direct response to a repressive political apparatus and sought to complicate dominant visual and semantic codes by producing works resistant to manipulation, censure, or the imposition of a transparent meaning. Such practices are then historically bound to a specific tradition of political resistance and concomitantly a localist paradigm that utilizes references not easily comprehensible to anything outside of its own hermetic system of meaning.

Juan Céspedes was perhaps the first artist of his generation to significantly break with the austere, dogmatic conceptualism of his mentors and his work, while highly respected in his hometown of Santiago, has repeatedly defied those rigid lines of influence and reference that create political rivalries out of distinct sets of ideologies or formal tendencies. Perhaps the only identifiably local aspect of his work is a reliance on slippery narratives and readings based on an extensive set of formal and conceptual elements that interact with one another in a constant dialectic that resists closure or complete readings.

The current exhibition consists of Céspedes’ most recent production and spans photography, video, painting, and low-fi constructions in a body of work uninterested in the autonomy of distinct media but rather obsessed with their limitations. One single channel video piece appears to record the falling of a drop of milk—an action that exceeds the technological capabilities of a video camera and is actually an animation constructed from still images, the gaps between them resembling dropped frames. Acrylic paintings seem to want to tamper with the idea of the distracted and short attention span of contemporary spectatorship while continuing to employ the saturated visual vocabulary of mass culture that is at once loaded with meaning and yet utterly flat given its global circulation. To the video games, Japanese animation and toys that inhabit previous work, he now adds an interest in fractal geometry and the repetitive, autistic, and almost erotic nature of extreme sports that mimics his own practice.

Geography is also present in this exhibition: the Santiago-Vancouver trajectory of geographical extremity is obvious and relevant. Many of the formal and conceptual references utilized by Céspedes are second-hand, downloaded off the internet and seem to make reference to the sort of belated and detached reception of cultural artifacts specific to peripheral sites: like the intervened photographs shot on a hill near the artist’s studio that so closely reproduce the Hollywood Hill backdrop of a publicity still for Ellie Parker. And yet, the manner in which information is disseminated on the web might make such geographical hierarchies increasingly irrelevant.

Juan Céspedes

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