Alejandro Diaz characterizes Blow, the fruition of his residency at ArtPace, as a memorial. As a visual and environmental site, Blow comes to terms with the process of how one memorializes and the means with which the memorial is made into a plastic and aesthetic entity. It brings together in a self-contained manner key aspects of Diaz’s on-going formal experimentation with thematic reduction, understated use of heterogeneous materials, and performativity. Cast and deployed in bicultural registers, and consistent with his oeuvre, Blow criss-crosses media and challenges stylistic characterization. The shifting‚ code/style-switching nature of Diaz’s work articulates his cross-disciplinary activities as an artist, curator, and critic. It expresses a self-conscious effort to resist any culturally specific framework of interpretation, which might result in closure and inscription into particular socio-aesthetic locations. Diaz’s experience of negotiation and his translation of cultures—Tejano, Mexican, Border, Anglo-European, Southern Mediterranean, as well as Queer—has allowed him to use cultural dislocation in his aesthetic favor.
Blow has a transparent and an allusive nature. Just as one is about to grasp the meaning of a sign, an image, and/or a reference in Blow, it slips from our vision and understanding. The gliding and sliding of the components of Blow do not refer back to purely minimal and linguistic undertakings. Diaz himself has enunciated that while he uses the “look” of minimalism, he has disregarded its theory. The “look” simulates art historical references and plays with them. The “look,” after all, is infused with real-world experience, whether direct or oblique. Diaz’s emphasis on particular “looks” stems from his cultural upbringing in the tradition of horror vacui, the fear of empty space, an impulse that drives the popular Mexican and Tejano baroque to vertigo-like heights. From that vantage point and through reading pop fashion magazines, Diaz conceives of the artist as a kind of editor of signs and decorator of life.
Minimalism, avant-garde pop art, and the culture industry became sources for visual editorial work in which the likes of Flavin, Duchamp, and Halston meet in the slick and conceptual undertakings of an artist formed by a San Antonio West-Side experience and vision. With its own particular language and contradictory registers, Blow operates in a seductive fashion; and, like all seduction, it attracts and repulses.
Initially, Diaz utilized the gallery space as a photo-studio, shooting some of his images for Blow. Retaining the “look” in his installation of the photographer’s studio, and recalling the scenario of Antonioni’s film, Blow Up (1968), which is loosely based on the Julio Cortazar short story, Las Babas del Diablo (The Slime of the Devil), Blow deals with traces of memory, the notion that “I have seen it before/I have been there before.” In a 1996 series, in which Diaz colored in yellow scenes of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, cinema was the subject and form of a pop-appropriated gesture. Cinema in general, and in particular glamour genre films, serve to uphold the performative dimension in Diaz’s art. Traditionally, the process of image-making is devalued to the degree that its final result is turned into a fetish and object of desire. In Blow, there is a counter-current whereby the fulfillment of desire is displaced through sublimation to all the processes involved.
Like an aesthetic operation of a Buñuel film, the process is turned into an “obscure object of desire” playing in and against the expectations of Diaz’s public. A scene where a scene is not made; photography, its studios and shoots; cinematic parallels; memories referenced through process of desire, seductive modes of attraction, and repulsion; sublimation and elegant restraint; is not all this glamorous? The ultra white gallery space, with its pair of white rectangular carpets topped with fluorescent lamps, has a sinister glow. Polaroids are strewn about the one carpet, on the other are vodka-filled martini glasses perched tenuously on a pile of potatoes. The subject of the Polaroids—a nude male in white body paint and powdered wig—is seen elsewhere, blown-up, in photo-murals. Next to the large-scale photo hangs a transparent vinyl curtain with a grid-like patterned armature of pockets made of the same material, filled with pickles in a greenish brine. The “look” conjures up contradictory as well complementary signs. The curtain, titled Seven boys for seven bachelors, even, juxtaposes and plays with both Duchamp’s The Large Glass and the Hollywood film, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In a similar vein, transparency and allusiveness are meshed at the intersection of pop and arte povera: a video camera, with neither film nor monitor, focuses on a lit candle.
To the degree that Blow is about remembering, it investigates the need and desire to master memories. To unleash all lived experiences would be to flood the present and burden it with melancholy. Discursive as well as representational endeavors—art included—can deploy memories in such a way that they enliven the object or moment rather than freeze it, creating conditions that come to terms with hyper-subjectivity in a more secure and freer environment. Preservation of a moment, a sensation, a thought, an object, may very well be the pre-condition to deal with it later on, when its full immanence may be reflected and acted upon, and possibly even be pleasurable. It frees the subject from the compulsion to react in a manner conditioned by the anxiety of immediacy. Astuteness is the prize that the subject receives from dislocation; it is what comes with the labor and love of an experience marked by code-style and cultural switching; it is what constitutes its very glamour.
Victor Zamudio-Taylor is a lecturer in the Art History Program, The University of Texas at Austin.