about the exhibition
New Works 04.2
El Paso, TX
July 08–September 12, 2004about the artist
Since the 1970s Willie Varela has worked with photography, film, and video, using source material found in popular culture to recontextualize personal histories. The resulting works convey a sense of emptiness by exposing the overabundance of media images and the potential of consumerism to misdirect human desires.
Recently Varela has turned toward investigations of the moving image and its profound effect on the public. In Detritus, the Remix (1989/2002) viewers are forced to reckon with their intimate relationship to television. The installation requires them to look through a pair of peepholes in order to see Varela’s 1989 film Detritus. The struggle to gain access to the images—which depict death, fire-eaters, wrestlers, violent sections of cartoons, and gruesome scenes from Hollywood movies—symbolizes the consumer’s struggle to escape loneliness, as well as the futile search for fulfillment in goods and services. In this work, as in others, Varela implicates both the consumer and the media industry in perpetuating a system of empty promises.
Willie Varela was born in 1950 in El Paso, TX, where he currently lives and works. He earned a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in 1996 from The University of Texas at El Paso, where he presently serves as Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and Film. Solo exhibitions include a mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (1994) and Crossing Over which originated as a collaborative project between the El Paso Museum of Art, TX and the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at El Paso and traveled to Artpace and Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, San Antonio, TX (2003). Group exhibitions include The Perfect World: Contemporary Texas Artists, San Antonio Museum of Art, TX (1991); Whitney Biennial, New York, NY (1993, 1995); and Big as Life: An American History of 8mm Film, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1998).
about the project
In Juxtapositions, Willie Varela focuses on advertising strategies employed by the mass media. Culling footage from cities such as Las Vegas, NV and Los Angeles, CA, he exposes the quotidian nature of iconic figures in public spaces through individual, diptych, and triptych photographs. A video projection, single channel video, and pervasive sound piece complete the installation. The project suggests that consumer culture, and those who buy into it, has turned imagery that was once sacred into products to be bought, sold, and consumed.
Advertising’s aggressive tactics are reflected in Varela’s photographic works. Hypnotic in their intense, television-like technicolor, the images march across two walls of the gallery. Photographs of a crucifix are juxtaposed with billboards of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez. The critique erupts in an ironic photograph of the Hulk’s giant green fist coming down on the awning of a movie theater, threatening to crush the massive artifice that is Hollywood.
On the opposite wall a looped video, Made in San Antonio, projects clips from television news broadcasts, streamed Internet videos, pornographic scenes, and voyeuristic documentations of public spaces. A separate soundtrack samples random splices of popular movies and commercials.
Amidst this chaotic assembly of consumer media, the presence of several slower images offers redemptive power. The Waters, a film showing the ebb and flow of natural water, is situated at the central axis of the space. This video, coupled with similarly contemplative photographs (a lone man standing on the street, an empty cemetery against a pristine sky), acts as a signifier of the human condition in its most natural and vulnerable state.
Juxtapositions adopts mass media tactics to expose the industry’s marketing strategy of manufacturing desire where none intrinsically exists. It hawks goods and services as fulfilling, but, paradoxically, the more we consume, the emptier we feel.
Previous Artpace Exhibitions
Apr 15, 2003 Willie Varela: Crossing Over: New Video Installations