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Immediacy
by Harper Montgomery


About ten years ago Felipe Dulzaides started making videos as a peripheral activity, an experiment neither as visible nor as tangible as the installations he typically makes for gallery spaces and public sites. Video and performance, however, has always played a key role in his work, and exhibiting his videos together as they are at Sala Diaz shows how Dulzaides has managed to accomplish the difficult task of inserting himself as a fully embodied subject into a global circuit of objects and environments. By making short videos of his surroundings—the mundane objects and landscapes that comprise the shifting context of a life lived among San Francisco, Havana, and most recently Rome—Dulzaides reinvests subjectivity into the paradigm of the artist-nomad. Instead of a global circuit of equivalent objects and experiences, Dulzaides offers us glimpses of a body navigating scenarios where the specificities of the tangible, sensorial world persist.

He often does this by staging relationships between objects and his body in two to three minute videos. Many capture Dulzaides breathing on, blowing over, running after, and pushing or rubbing up against objects. In On the ball (2000),he points the video camera at his own head and mouth. We watch him rhythmically chant the phrase “arriba de la bola(on the ball)” as he bobs and sways in front of the stationary camera, moving in so closely that at one point his open mouth kisses the camera’s glass lens. Throughout, his hot breath fogs the lens until his face is obscured by condensation that eventually drips down the glass, revealing his head anew. Dulzaides frequently portrays the breath’s power to effect objects in ways that are very funny. In Blowing Things Away (2001), he videotapes himself blowing, in rapid succession, an array of objects: feathers, candles, bottle caps, trash and a ballpoint pen he has to precariously place onto a computer keyboard in order for it to be blown away. In Between (2011), entertains the viewer with footage of the artist blowing into child’s noisemaker. His exhales are in sync with drops of water falling from a faucet in the artist’s studio.

Dulzaides’s videos of his breath are part of a larger pursuit: to create and capture a host immaterial and largely invisible forces, such as gravity, light, fog, steam, and exhaust. In Following an Orange (1999), Dulzaides, camera-in-hand, chases an orange as it rolls off a ledge, down a gray cement sidewalk, into a street gutter, and across an intersection where he finally lets it go. In Breaking a window (2001), Dulzaides hurls a rock through a pane of glass, rendering the result of the invisible thrown object dramatically tangible. Gravity and momentum unfurl a roll of toilet paper in Unwind (2003). The roll, which reappears as a kind of personal emblem in many of his videos, tumbles towards the horizon line, dramatizing perspective and the vast grandeur of the landscape. While literally delineating the landscape by “drawing” a white line through it, the bathroom tissue is also tainted with the unclean connotations of the bodily and base.

The autobiographical nature of these videos is more apparent when viewing the artist’s short videos alongside Scratching the Surface (2006-2011). Dulzaides began work on Scratching the Surface, a seventeen-minute video in 2006, when he started making regular trips to Havana. His skill at locating memory in the body’s senses reveals itself when we view Scratching the Surface alongside Welcome to the other side (2007) and As Time Goes by (2009), videos also about his returns to Cuba. In all three, Dulzaides shows us how sound can evoke bodily memories and sensations. Ambient noises, such as the groan of a rusty children’s merry-go-round or the roar of a worn-out muffler, envelope us, affecting us with such force that we find ourselves imagining what it must have felt like for Dulzaides to ride through the streets of Havana or wander through a playground. He show us clips of his father, an accomplished jazz musician, in As Time Goes by, using music to link his personal memories with historical nostalgia. And, in a scene in Scratching the Surface, where he asks his grandmother to “twist my arm,” Dulzaides render’s language’s literal meaning superfluous. Instead it is poetry and what draws bodies into physical contact.

Dulzaides has spoken of the influence exerted on his work by conceptual artists in San Francisco, where Dulzaides studied performance in the late 1990s and artists were keenly interested in art povera. (He has cited David Ireland, Paul Kos, and Tony Labat, among others as influenced.) It is indisputable that Dulzaides engages in the widely practiced art of collecting and reframing the aesthetics of the everyday, a method of making art that emerged in Havana during the mid-1990s in the work of the Gabinete Ordo Amoris around the time Gabriel Orozco made it so visible. In trying to locate him among his peers and historically it is perhaps most helpful, however, to consider how Dulzaides’s work emerged from the experimental theater he studied in Havana during the 1980s. There he immersed himself in “poor theater,” developed by the polish theorist Jerzy Grotowski in the ‘60s and widely practiced in Latin America, which encouraged performers to conceive of theater as a seamless collaboration with spectators.

Dulzaides represents a global existence in ways quite different from his contemporaries because bodies—both his and ours—play such a pivotal role in his videos. By putting himself in the artwork, Dulzaides raises the stakes. Instead of anonymous views of the details of the objects of daily life across the globe, he presents a sensing body negotiating these objects with enormous attention and openness. Utilizing the full range of video’s expressive capacity, its textures and visual forms, Dulzaides invites us to experience with him the tension-filled experience of moving in his world. It is one marked by anguish, anticipation, political conflict, intimacy, and pleasure, where memories, objects and spaces are at turns revealed and obscured.

 

Exhibition brochure, Sala Díaz, San Antonio, TX.

 

Harper Montgomery is a specialist in modern and contemporary Latin American art with focuses on Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, and the Latino U.S. during the early twentieth-century and the contemporary moment. She has written essays and entries for catalogs for the Museum of Modern Art, El Museo del Barrio, and Real Artways, and has curated numerous exhibitions, including the Trienal Poli/Gráfica de San Juan (as the North American curator) and solo shows of the work of Francis Alÿs and Felipe Dulzaides.