Alfonso de la Torre

Translation: Manuel Castro Córdoba

Tell us about this man who could have been you.
“I will first tell you about the lie.”
Edmondd Jabès, The Book of Questions (1963).

We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We see enough already.
Robert Walser: “A Little Ramble” (1914)


As I face the works of Samuel Salcedo (Barcelona, 1975) I am reminded of André Breton’s words, “Precious, carrion,” or, in other words, beauty could be moved to the margins of the world and, from there, build a beautiful kingdom. I also thought of the gaze, as I contemplated the often-closed eyelids of his head-sculptures, which would seem to be confusing the act of dream, that clear meaning bathed in light, with that of abandonment. Or are perhaps those closed eyes a desiring mention of that lucid blindness, that thinking darkness?—ah, happy those who can retain sight with their eyes closed. But his figures still look, they would seem to set their eyes in the direction of nowhere, perhaps to a land of absent faces, a drifting gaze aimed towards the nothingness of a point in space, as the dwellers of a territory of vanishing points. Whereas those who contemplate these scenes—sometimes as attending voyeurs of what look like interruptions, fragments of a space or a different time—we feel that we are spectators of a narrative which—we half-glimpse it—we will always fail to understand. A mysticism of space, but the explanation is simple: the fixation of an instant of quietness in the sculptures of Samuel Salcedo, suspended in time and space, which moves us as we feel that we are in the proximity of incidents which we share. Exercises of the face and its masks (ghosts and laughter) , as a dapper dance of the double, since often their representations are two-fold: duos of characters, pairs of heads, bodies and masks, gravity confronting something that looks like scorn, soft or wrinkled, visages and objects, the finished related to a process of execution, totality against parts, strong or soft, hyperbolic and discreet, nakedness or cloakedness, images that seem to ponder before the vulnerable soliloquy of fictions (and secrets) of the mirrors, as contemporary tragedies of consciousness. In the catalogue of grimaces which the sculptural faces often bear, as in the perversely literal case of “Photocall” (2016), we encounter a repertoire of dazzling gestures, an exalted passivity, lamentations in ecstasys, extolled emotivities as portraits of consciousness that seem to have been gathered by a taxonomizing patient of mirrors (read: of our faces), perhaps that is why some of his head sculptures bear the title of “Topography.”

“Selected fables” (2011), title given to another of his beautiful and most complex double-portraits, allows us to observe how gravity can accompany a mocking grimace, as an apodictic light-gravity. The labile flesh bestows quietness to these sculptures which, endowed with a star-striking clarity as well as transported into a strange place, seem to drive towards consumption while reminding us—that rose-coloured skin covering many figures—that the surface can be as revealing as depth. Let us not forget that, ultimately, on the skin—this, our skin—lurks the convulsions of the desire which has trapped us in this world. Between bliss and catastrophe we witness an art of desire veiling the margins, often his sculptures remain quiet before events, an appropriate image of a tense paralysis, of a grimace, as they are of an abyss which has taken place in the instant right before narration, like an unintelligible story that could be told accurately, figures trapped by the narcosis of a torn-apart state.

His figures transported to another place, they seem, in their overflowing, to be translated into other regions of art, far from the classifications that surround the canonic history of forms. Meanwhile Salcedo dives into the pleasures of the theatricality of images which, in many occasions, are placed in art galleries as a veritable concept of totus, as an arrangement which, in the manner of an intervention in space, demands the complicit presence of a number of works of art. Or rather, the placement of these in a truly singular environment—I am thinking in particular of the vision of his sculptures embedded in his world, particularly of those books which accompany them (on the bookshelf, next to the sculpture, I read the following: “Kippenberger, “ “Gordillo,” “Baselitz,” “Juan Muñoz,” “Gilbert & Georges,” “Dokoupil,” “Galindo,” “Kiefer,” “MacCarthy,” “Kiki Smith,” “Richter” or “Gormley” which I interpret as an (infernal) community of spirit). Or equally he strolls his creations between the wreckage of the studio, troops of bodies in waiting, an imaginary court, eager between the pots of painting, the tins or the paintbrushes. Or, perhaps, as instants of the process of casting, often on the edge of the miracle of the birth of forms into the world. Or even pieces laid out in nature, among my favourites, such as “Meteorites” (2013) shown in the ruins of the Ciutatella in Menorca or other ones, growing amidst the shrubbery of the Gardens of Étretat in Normady, or the head titled “Fallen” (2016), stranded on a layer of water in the lake of Banyoles. And, said theatricality strikes me to be carrying out an unmasking of the I’s of the world, since these ecstatic figures, in such an accumulation of point of views, seem to transport us from the real to the absent, to the empty subject, to the exemption of meaning. As a technique of detachment conferred by these scenes, his figures become emotional situations, dazzling instants of an action. Roland Barthes wrote that there was no creation that didn’t touch upon a kind of theatre, an universal category through which forms it is possible, at last, to contemplate the world. Something that is shown in his various “Toy Land,” which I have seen exhibited in a serial form though in accordance to gradual modulations, as images of slow movement, which would increase, in this fashion, the intelligibility, bringing about the understanding of the act shown in an instant, thus an ecstasys, revealing the detachment. Sculptures of stillness, though seemingly populated by internal necessities, figures dwelling in bewilderment (“Bewilderment Series,” 2016, as he titled one of his series of heads) nurturing the strangeness of somebody who would bear an involuntary pathos. Figures that could be compared with others which have escaped from the frames of old paintings (my mind returns to Bosch or to Brueghel the Elder). It has made me recollect that Kuya warrior whose crystal eyes in the temple of Rokuharamitsu, created by Kosho, recites characters which he expectorates through its mouth; the talisman of the lion-demon in the Brooklyn Museum; that painting of Siqueiros, “Echo of a Scream” (1937), a head ejecting another head (echo); the beloved cyclops of Odilon Redon; Ganesha, that elephant-headed god, lord of commencements and destroyer of obstacles or—I’m reminded—of the bourgeois of Calais, of Rodin, of defenceless, erring mendicants with their capes of bituminous aspect; I also thought of the slave heads of this same sculpture, as I looked at some works of Salcedo. I have been reminded of Roland Topor, contemplating the world of an artist who has voiced his admiration for the beautiful drawing of Pat Andrea.

Caressing softness, many sculptures of Salcedo would pass as travellers between the stony aspect that some of them bear, impositions of the resins in his own words, into soft shapes, a softness that sometimes strikes as an alchemic transit, a mysterious intermediate kingdom of liquid matter in his passage towards solidity. Also as fragments of resounding remains of softness, as if he would like to ascertain the possible existence of new living forms alike the softened/hardened forms of Duchamp. Other shapes there are in the trade of Salcedo that seem to have been born in the violent commotion of the blow or the devastation—I am thinking of that skull full of cavities (“Impact V,” 2015) or of the spoiled “Bin bag” (2012) or “Meteorites” (2013), which bring me back to those “Taulua,” clay thrown and burst in space, afterwards cast in bronze, of the Basajaun Remigio Mendiburu. Salcedo executes noble sculptures of heads, often with an air of mise-en-abîme which, in their repetition, remain shackled on the ground or accumulated in heaps as if they wanted to devour the exhibiting space, rollin’ stones they are, or nests could be called, often sculptures of clustered nests, waiting for the ritual caress of the oxid, Wasteland, in his own words, a Babylon of waste.

Against fat, pompous words, such as the abused capitalized “Beauty,” Salcedo erects these sculptures which stand as true reflections of a mental environment. In these fragments of life in air, I always glimpse the mystery of a communal celebration of something at once confidential and intimate.