ARTURO BERNED: POETRY AND THIRST FOR FORM
Alfonso de la Torre
LEAVE ME ALONE!
Only inexhaustible vision
A sense of restlessness and imagination define this artist, sculptor and poet of form, Arturo Berned (Madrid, 1966). And this imagination could be considered somewhat introverted, like Palazuelo’s poetic world, since we are dealing with the development of a truly thinking vision, based on restless and tenacious investigation, which has led to an extraordinarily compact body of sculptural work throughout the artist’s long career. His fervent geometry is frequently played out in forms sketched in space or volumes nervously deployed – in an incessant state of exploration, in the words of another fabulist sculptor who worked with iron, Martín Chirino-, to the point in which he emerges as an artist enlightened by tension, one that exudes a veritable thirst for infinity.
By creating a need, in the artist’s own words, he is faced with the problems of space, effectively elevating forms into that extensive multidimensional nothingness imposed by the world, without ignoring his search for emotion or the idea that the void of space can be populated with diverse ideas and possibilities. Berned delves into the question of structure and formal problems as part of a restless journey that never ends, with his sculptures very often taking on a kind of inner monologue. In this respect, it is not, perhaps, surprising that various of his creations have titles such as “Head” or “Mask,” which make reference not only to the purity of forms, but also images associated with the face or the mind. These Heads evoke the sculptural reflections of Pablo Gargallo and Julio González, Spanish heads, which are, rather, representations of that magic chest, that last refuge, in the words of Beckett. These heads are legacies of the twentieth century, either sculpted or painted: Baumeister, Dalí, De Chirico, Giacometti, Klee and Picasso, among many others. Art is populated with heads, featuring diverse and evocative representations of that “container for precious objects”. Berned, rather than representing something, poses questions regarding form as deployed in space, furthering his personal development in the shadows in multiple directions and, as described by that other geometrist, our sculptor undertakes the process of constructing his forms, which always have a touch of monumentality, even in the smallest formats, the same monumentality he has created in his numerous and mostly international projects, all of which makes him undoubtedly one of the most important and significant Spanish sculptors abroad.
And, at the same time as this monumentality occupies the public realm, in different settings, Berned can return to a profound reflection, one in which he is able to promote a certain formal deconstruction, a multi-directional endeavour that emerges after an analysis of the extremely wide-ranging scope of what we might call a field of possibilities. In this respect, I also believe that our artist falls within the extraordinary context of revisionism regarding the rhetorical concepts of cutting-edge sculpture, a fertile perspective that we could call Post-Modernist, given that it takes on this uninhibited formal revision, based on textual exercises in which he resorts to a wide-ranging reworking of ideas associated with representation: formal variations, revised forms and inter-forms, mirrors and resemblances, expansion versus concentration, reflections, duplicities and differences. Featuring a sense of astonishment and paradox in the slight changes that upset resemblance, all of this means that the beautiful alchemy of his creations is able to generate new models for depicting space, in an ongoing manner, including – why not? – the idea of recollection, as part of his overwhelming and ever-searching imagination.
AN IMAGINING DRIFT
Embarked within a reverie of mystery and estrangement, his is an imagining drift, as revealed in the variation of a poetic otherness, an exploration based on reason, but one that also goes beyond it. And, in this manner, based on an apparently simple approach, Berned leads the observer towards the limits of what is real. As if he had encountered mysterious images lost in the labyrinth of the world, he raises questions as if he were calling for another imagination, that of the observer, effectively inquiring into the dimensions of space, formal displacements and constructive elements, raising the possibility that creation might not only occur in one direction, but by means of explorations, negations and – why not? – in the exercise of what we might call inverse movements. As part of a shift from normal vision to the sensitive thing, Berned seems to be proposing that his observer should evolve into another poet, so that he might understand his work, given that he must transform into the protagonist of an encounter imbued with creation and invention, someone who is able to see, a resonant subject of that intersection between time and boundaries, which concludes by referring to the passing of the hours, but also to timelessness. Materialising and dematerialising, being capable of sculpting with the void or concentrating form into intersections, as in the case of “Cabeza XVII-Mecano” (2018), he always seeks to achieve energetic weightlessness, to the extent that his sculptures could even be susceptible of being considered vertical, as occurs in his extremely beautiful cycle, “Soldados”. This mystery of the silent monolith, a negative evocation of that mysterious stone that envelops All, as created by Kubrick, would also seem to be a legacy of the questions raised by Brancusi and other sculptors of our time such as Joel Shapiro and Ronald Bladen. And I believe that, like Shapiro, Berned has explored new paths in terms of his sets of raised planes, surfaces that are subject to slight warping, surfaces that become plane and volume, airy and light like the leaf that falls. These mysterious planes are now suspended in the heights of his studio and, in this respect, they recall the works of Alexander Calder in the Aula Magna at Universidad Central de Caracas (1953). Furthermore, with these pieces that force us to look upwards, Berned is undertaking a somewhat risky venture, one that promises new directions in his restless explorations and that the artist considers to be a logical development of Malevitchian derivations, which have been suspended since that moving and fertile utopia.
At the same time, our artist can return to the horizontal that sustains us, attempting forms that evoke a sense of the natural kingdom or that might perhaps revolve around the solar plane. This has occurred in some of his projects linked to what is known as the integration of the arts, including his collaborations in different architectural settings, such as the beautiful sculpture he designed for the Warsaw Brewery in 2015, almost a hymn to the scriptural. Or, as another example, we can see how he combines both proposals, as in the beautiful “Artz” (2017), which evokes the markers of time, being almost igneous with its red lacquer, which rises in so far as it recalls the horizontal plane that inhabits the landscape, as if alluding to the hope of an intermediate kingdom between heaven and earth. Thus, he moves amongst different forms, very often in praise of the oblique, as the artist himself has explained, in order to set volumes and their diagonals against the rectilinear world of architecture in this manner. His works very often set up an intense dialogue with nature, with the colour of corten steel providing a beautiful imitation of the amber shades of autumn leaves, or with his sculptural web evoking beautiful reflections in the proximity of sheets of water.
Planeland: this is the name of the inner terrain inhabited by Berned’s sculptural forms, a territory made up of planes and lines, creations that are sometimes flatter and sometimes more linear. In fact, some of his sculptures practically draw the space, evoking those palaces constructed by Giacometti. Some of his sculptures are lessons in transparency, with the ribs of his planes seeming to raise them from a void, destined, no doubt, to set up a dialogue with the shadows, the load-bearing shadows – a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Le Grand Verre (1912) – projected in the exhibition hall, evoking the glass created by prodigious Nature as described by Novalis, an exercise in creation based on a sensation of uniting the visible and the invisible, a hymn to being, conscience and sentiment. This is void and fullness, mimicking François Cheng, the place (or non-place) of transformations, given that, in Berned’s words, “the line is pure art and, at the same time, mathematics; it separates light from shadow, north from south, good from evil, what is yours from what is mine …, and when it’s straight it’s clearly deliberate, a proposition. In our imagination, we perfectly understand the horizontal line (a lying man) and the vertical line (a standing man), it’s objective, it’s just one. In contrast, there are an infinite number of different diagonal lines, each interpreting the diagonal in a different and personal manner”. Like the world described by Edwin Abbott, Planeland is the place where his universe develops: “Imagine a vast sheet of paper in which a series of straight lines, triangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons and other shapes, instead of remaining fixed in their places, move freely, on or over the surface, but without the capacity to rise above nor sink below it, in a very similar way to shadows (although these are hard shadows and they have bright edges) and then you would have a fairly accurate idea of my country and my compatriots. A few years ago, I would have said «my universe,” but now my mind has opened up to a higher vision of things”. Naturally, there are other inhabitants in Berned’s Planeland, since our sculptor is the logical heir to certain sculptural legacies of the twentieth century which, in Spain, would be represented by Chillida, Oteiza and Palazuelo. And, internationally, his work, this personal Planeland, is inhabited by creators who are frequently mentioned by Berned, such as Carl André, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Walter de Maria, Robert Morris and Richard Serra, although we could also add other interesting propositions such as those of Ligya Clark. Neither should we overlook the artists that Berned has highlighted in a Latin American context: Amilcar Castro, Joaquín Torres García and Franz Weissman.
THE VIGOROUS VOID
As we mentioned above, to this wide-ranging review of his sculptural recollection we must add the declared influences of Oriental origin and of its empty space. This is a “void,” I might add, that I regard as being not so much extinct, but vigorous, summoning the act of appearance of form as an attempt at achieving true vision. The cycle known as “Disyuntiva” evokes the rumour of boundaries and the spirit of Oteiza. The spirit of this clamouring silence can be seen in the previously mentioned works by Berned, such as the cycles known as “Amistad,” “Vacío” and “Caja”. Examples include “Vacío III” (2012) and “Vacío IV” (2016), in white or chrome, and, of course, the beautiful “Caja XLVII” (2018). The latter work is an active box due to the conjunction of planes, evoking an energising receptacle that reveals an obsession for the void that grows inside it, planes unfolding to describe space, forms that appear to be in the process of growing, folding and unfolding, exteriorisation and entropy. These material forms also reveal a stealthy advance, such is the obsession of his vision, given that it also invokes a process of reimagining space, inexhaustibly created by being crossed by light, ever new, another space reverberating in that symbolic setting of planes, a true revelation of the suspension – or perhaps immobility – of time. This displacement of the void is not to so much nothingness as a symbolic place, a convulsive space for imagination. Berned’s creations constitute a journey of form, but also a voyage towards knowledge through the questions it poses. His sculptural work becomes another writing to be deciphered, an apparatus for meaning, recalling the birth and culmination of the arts in what Octavio Paz called an invisible zone.
Berned incorporates colour into his sculptures by studying the effects of dynamic colour saturation, invasions that colour procures in the spaces that make up the sculpture, along its planes or on its edges, or in its gaps, in such a manner that it directs his work towards certain explorations of the kinetic world. His sculptures are either bathed in changing colour, “chameleon-like” as he describes some of these pieces, which exist in one way or another in relation to the onlooker’s position, or the colour is strategically placed on certain planes or edges of his sculptures, so that the result requires an observer who must be active. The silence of the observer is now transformed, in search of other explorations regarding form. It’s as if, for his work to make sense, this were broken up into multiple directions, all reflections of the initial direction, so that the onlooker shares the journey and the speculation regarding the developments that emerge in his formal proposals. This seems to suggest an attempt to abolish any distance with regard to the work of art, thus creating a paradoxical and poetic dimension. Yes, these sculptures by Berned would seem to fulfil the emblem of the MADÍ, as embodied in Gyula Kósice: “Volumes of light! Colours of light!” In this sense, “Máscara V rosa,” “Máscara VI rojo” and “Máscara VII” would also provide examples. This application of colour entails the possibility of finding another perspective of the sculpture, one that involves a disembodiment of the metal, its beautiful secrecy, in such a way that only the movement of the observer produces a mysterious revelation of colour states. And that metal could be polished or monochrome and without colour variation, or it may contain remnants of the artist’s struggle with the material, so a drawing would consist of the areas marked by the artist’s polishing or working of the piece, like splinters that recall the sculptor’s human presence, his feverous activity in the studio.
As we can see, Berned’s creations constitute an art of complexities covered by an air of stripped simplicity, sculptures like infinite variations on the fertility of chaos. When contemplating his work as a whole, I have thought that, over and above the associations we have mentioned, his creations are far removed from anything we have ever known. By restoring a sense of dream to sculpture, his works confront us with unpredictable spaces created by an artist who is subject to the titanic task of creating a new world. Form is the intermediary of force or energy, “which is, in a certain sense, that energy embodied”. Advancing through the shadows in multiple directions constitutes Palazuelian knowledge, I told him, and he replied in reference to a conversation he had had with Chillida, quoting Char, in one of their early meetings: “Les vraies victoires ne se remportent qu’à long terme et le front contre la nuit”.
This expressiveness does not preclude a certain self-demanding contention and introspection, not to mention a stripping and elevation of captive energy, a discipline that makes the artist another chevalier de la solitude, confining him in the studio for a good part of the day, until evening falls. This discipline returns a certain concentrated expansion to the world, given that, for Berned, knowledge is an unavoidable necessity that derives from a desire to penetrate profound reality, and in this sense he tirelessly questions, alongside the hermetic and the revealed, the extension of form. This preoccupation for understanding form constitutes the energetic core of his work: signs, mysteries and questions regarding the boundaries, the place where a plane ends. In short, it generates a certain sensorial tension, given that since his sculptures carry a persistent force they would seem to contain an ecstatic tension, one that is truly beautiful, effectively leading the onlooker towards questions about space, about what is real and the possible plenitude therein.
By contemplating the sculptures of this artist, we take breath and we breathe. That is sufficient. Let us leave Berned in transfigured space. He desires this kingdom.
Thirst reigns supreme, in that living space torn from time, given that his work seems to contradict the space we perceive, in which respect he populates it with sculptures that make up, rather, a space of exceptions. They are strange geometries, an example of a revealed path through that intermediate space between silencing and creation, extraordinary manifestations of a fertile disorientation.
‘Beware!’ Berned tells us. ‘Move away from the Earth! We are surrounded by a golden world’.
 DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Pablo Palazuelo. Poemas. Madrid: Ediciones del Umbral. Colección Invisible. 2015-2016, p.13. Author’s translation.
 NOVALIS, Poesías completas. Los discípulos en Sais. Barcelona: DVD Ediciones, 2004, p.21 (“Himnos a la noche-Hymnen an die nacht”).
 “(…) A special, intimate poetry”. BONET, Juan Manuel. Apasionado por el rigor (Divagaciones sobre las esculturas recientes de Arturo Berned). Madrid, 2011, p.17.
 THARRATS, Juan José. Artistas de hoy. Pablo Palazuelo, Barcelona: “Revista”, XII/1958.
 This was also the view of the fabulist iron sculptor: “Berned is guided by an incessant exploration of new artistic territories”. CHIRINO, Martín. Arturo Berned. Madrid: Estudio Lamela, 2018.
 BERNED, Arturo. De arquitecto a escultor. Conversations with the artist, October 2019. The artist expressed the same sentiment in: BERNED, Arturo-PITA, Elena. Entrevista. Valencia: IVAM, 2012, p. 188: “sculpture emerged as an inner need; it just appeared, and I simply didn’t repress it (…)”.
 “The purpose of my work is the same as that of any artist: to move the soul”. Ibid.
 Galería Estampa, Juan Bordes. Cabezas muy españolas, Madrid, 1990.
 BECKETT, Samuel. Poèmes. Taken from DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Être crâne. Lieu, contact, pensée, sculpture. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2009, p.7. These Spanish heads could be illustrated with other examples: Eduardo Arroyo, Alberto Bañuelos, Juan Bordes, Rafael Canogar, Martín Chirino, Carmen Otero, Jaume Plensa and Manolo Valdés.
 Heads like stones that Brassaï photographed in Picasso’s studio (recalling the vanitas that he also searched for on the walls). Brancusi’s muse sleeps, listening to the rumour of the world with her large eyes, Miss Margit Pogany, the artist, reflects. Wooden mechanical head-assemblage by Raoul Hausmann or Dada heads by Sophie Taeuber-Arp.
 DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. Op. cit. p.13.
 DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Pablo Palazuelo. Poemas. Op. cit. “Después de la noche, al alba, lentamente, los ángulos se modificaron. Entonces, avancé por la penumbra, en múltiples direcciones. Allí donde la forma declina como sol poniente al occidente de la materia (…)”. PALAZUELO, Pablo. Jardin (1961). Paris: “Chroniques de l’Art Vivant”, nº 10, Editions Maeght, 1970.
 “I’m obsessed by scale, which has a lot to do with space and, therefore, with time (…) then other concepts come into play: proportion, light, shadow, material and the significant void (…) that which material does not occupy I find highly suggestive. Movement is another aspect that obsesses me, the idea of manifesting it through balance, the static nature of the sculpture, the tension of forms, the play of light and volumes. Yes, this is my alphabet”. BERNED, Arturo-PITA, Elena. Op. cit., p.187.
 Stanley Kubrick, “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968).
 I am referring, for example, to “Le Palais à 4 heures du matin” (1932), MoMA, New York.
 An allusion to works such as “Vacío III” and “Vacío IV” (2016), the text continues with a reflection on these sculptures.
 In a recent version: CHENG, François. Vacío y plenitud. Madrid: Ediciones Siruela, 2016.
 BERNED, Arturo. De arquitecto a escultor. Op. cit.
 ABBOTT, Edwin. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884).
 With the latter he also shares his training in architecture. With regard to Palazuelo’s architecture studies at Oxford, see DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Un retrato de Mr. Paul Palazuelo en Oxford (1933-1936). Madrid-Barcelona: Fundación Azcona and MACBA, 2015.
 “During my second year at Architecture School I began, in a casual manner, to spend hours in the library studying the Russian avant-garde, Constructivism, Neo-plasticism .., Malevitch, Popova, Mondrian, Moholy Nagy … and I discovered a veritable passion, one that bound me! Spanish reference-points: Chillida, Oteiza, Palazuelo. International: Richard Serra, Carl Andre, Sol Lewitt, Walter de Maria (…)”. BERNED, Arturo. De arquitecto a escultor. Op. cit. Also see: BERNED, Arturo-PITA, Elena. Entrevista. Op. cit., p.187.
 BERNED, Arturo. Cuando espacio y tiempo crean forma. In “Arturo Berned. Mu”. Madrid: La Fábrica, 2014, p.7.
 “Concepts as habitual as balance, stability, precision, light, void, proportion, rhythm, composition, tension, relationship, size, mass, weight …, and, sometimes, quite the opposite, are the characteristics that I pursue in my work”. Ibid.
 DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Jorge Oteiza. Dados penetran en los ojos. Bilbao-Madrid: Galería Michel Mejuto and Galería Guillermo de Osma, 2018.
 KÓSICE, Gyula. Esencialidad de Madí. Buenos Aires: “Arte Madí Universal”, Nº 3, 1949, s/p.
 Pablo Palazuelo. Paris: “Derrière le Miroir”, nº 184, Galerie Maeght, 1980.
 DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Pablo Palazuelo. Poemas. Op. cit., in the poem “Stir”.
 CHAR, René. Le terme épars. Dans la pluie giboyeuse (1969). In: Le Nu perdu. Œuvres complètes, présentées par Jean Roudaut. Paris: Gallimard, Biblioteca de la Pléiade, 1983, p. 451. This thought was the core of Chillida’s work, and he would repeat it frequently. For example: “When I was making those early sculptures in plaster (…) I noted, I felt that I was going somewhere, but I didn’t know where (…) it was a first radical step towards the unknown; as René Char has written: ‘il faut marcher le front contre la nuit’ (…) a pre-knowledge that guided me in the darkness, in the unknown (…) a premonition that emerged in some mysterious way”. UGALDE, Martín de. Hablando con Chillida, escultor vasco. San Sebastián: Editorial Txertoa, 1975, p.73. Our artist would also recall him in: BERNED, Arturo-PITA, Elena. Entrevista. Op. cit., p.188: “you have to understand a path and you don’t know where that path leads. This was something I often discussed with Chillida: the search for art is a search in the darkness, in the unknown, and this in itself produces terror and fear”.
 FAVRE, Louis-Paul. Palazuelo. Chevalier de la solitude. Paris: “Combat-Le journal de Paris”, nº 3327, 14/III/1955, p. 7. This was the title of the text written by this author to mark a Palazuelo exhibition at the Fernández-Braso Gallery: Pinturas abstractas del tiempo de París, 1949 – 1950 (2016-2017).
 Jorge Oteiza. Correspondence with Juan-Eduardo Cirlot (I/IV/1959). Archivo Museo Oteiza.
 “De même que la terre devient plus brillante quand nous passons du pôle obscur au pays du soleil, ainsi une beauté semblable commence à briller sur nos pas au cours de notre voyage vers la divinité. Je voudrais crier à notre humanité qui s’enfonce de plus en plus dans l’âge de fer que le « monde d’or » nous entoure, que la beauté est ouverte à tout le monde et qu’aucun de ceux qui se tournent vers elle et la recherchent n’en est exclu”. RUSSELL, George William. L’architecture du rêve. Paris: “Derrière le miroir”, nº 104, Maeght Éditeur, 1958.