August 21, 2014
Beauty meets the beast in haunting exhibit
For the Herald
Chilean artists León and Cociña bring the film set at MAMBA for audiovisual extravaganzaEven though Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña were born in Chile, calling them simply Chileans feels incomplete, if only because their work has made nomads out of them. Their exhibit at Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (MAMBA), The Beauty and the Beast, is part of a project that now spans two years, and in true nomadic fashion, the artists travel from one museum to the next reinventing their sets at each new location. The MAMBA is in fact the second museum to house the video of the making of their first feature length film, La Casa Lobo (The Wolf House). The exhibit also screens the short films Los Andes (The Andes), Lucía and Luis, all made with stop motion techniques, as well as a set crowded with rather ominous figures that seem to have come out of the movies themselves.
This itinerant strategy, with live recordings from every new location being added at each venue, makes the exhibit feel dynamic and immediate. By adapting the sets they built at the MAMBA to resemble a house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, for example, the artists ensure engagement from the public’s end: every new context provides a fresh aesthetic for them to work with. Therefore, this technique makes their work honest and true to the culture they are located in at all times. When creating sets, León and Cociña choose to embrace the specificity of each city they visit over the universal, coupled with an overall disquieting mood masterfully brought to life by the lighting of the scenes.
On film, however, the themes these Chileans choose to examine (such as the mythological or the gothic) can, in fact, be considered universal. What becomes truly remarkable here is not how the exhibit is set up for each new occasion, but rather how the display of the art is so deeply intertwined with the content of it. León and Cociña’s technique of choice is, as mentioned before, stop motion.
Their films feature figures made of precarious materials such as cardboard, scotch tape and plaster, along with drawings that come to life. The short films Lucía and Luis, for instance, tell the story of children who are afraid of what the woods and old creaking houses hold for them at night when, as Luis puts it, “all the sounds are louder, and you can hear your own breath if you’re sad.”
Both of these stories are told using only animated drawings on the walls and moving furniture in the rooms. Although Los Andes tells quite a different story, one of hermaphrodite giants living in the South who “helped to shape the continents” and “hid inside mountains,” the resources used are quite similar.
To portray this myth-like tale of the coming of the Europeans to South America and the changing identity of the continent, León and Cociña choose to use not only animated drawings on the wall, but also figures like giant heads made of plaster. All these videos are narrated by Paula Florencia Navarrete, who manages to invoke the sinister whisper of a child out of a horror story for the first two films, and a strangely mischievous voice for the third.
But whether León and Cociña are depicting the abstract beast that hides under every child’s bed and haunts the four walls of his room, or a far more historical account about the founding events of Latin America as such, movement is the key element present in all their works. By using stop-motion techniques, this movement becomes more abrupt and thus more apparent, and what appears to be static is in fact dynamic: figures that shouldn’t be able to move on their own somehow do, and at an alarming speed.
When it comes to the works of these two Chilean artists, the only constant is movement, and thus change. It is contradictions like these that lie at the very core of their exhibits. Not only do the objects depicted in their art move despite their inanimate condition as objects, but the art itself moves and evolves every time it is displayed.
It is in this constant movement that we can see both the beauty of a hidden hermaphrodite giant or a frightened child, and the beast of an apparent twister that violently moves every piece of furniture at a house and haunts each of the baleful inhabitants. In these works, connotations are constantly changing, just like the sets and houses populated by the artists’ characters, becoming cells from which the protagonists cannot escape.
In any case, be it in film or sculpture, León and Cociña’s apparent stillness and actual haunting dynamism makes this an exhibit where the fascination of the beautiful meets the beastly of the frightening, and at its intersection, just like the art one is witnessing, one cannot help but be moved.
Where and when
MAMBA, San Juan 350. First floor. Tuesday to Friday from 11am to 7pm. Weekends and holidays: 11am to 8pm. Closed on Monday.