Fillip 5 — Spring 2007

Having Hired a Design Team, the Bad Slept Well
Liz Bruchet

The Bad Sleep Well (2003), an installation by Mexican-born, Amsterdam-based artist Carlos Amorales, was the principal work in a small, self-titled solo exhibition recently shown at Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA). Amorales’ work pestered me: I felt I’d been seduced by its graphic confidence and haunting soundtrack. It was as if the artist had been trying to recreate the seediness of fear without its ugly connotations. Viewing it seemed all too pleasurable.

The work comprised a sequence of pseudo-gothic digital drawings projected onto three large screens in a darkened room and was accompanied by an ominous electronic soundtrack akin to a subdued version of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) score. The images, depicting skulls, planes, crows, and hybrid monkey-men, were pulled and adapted from the artist’s “liquid archive”—a thematic collection of newspaper clippings, personal photographs, posters, and advertisements gathered in his native Mexico City. Using a vector-based design process, Amorales condensed the photo-based images into a series of silhouettes using a vivid palette of red, black, blue, and yellow, resulting in a seductive aesthetic that lies somewhere between the smooth graphic designs of Saul Bass and an illustrated Wallpaper magazine spread circa 2001.

The Bad Sleep Well marks a shift away from Amorales’ earlier performance works that took the tradition of lucha libre—a form of freestyle wrestling popular in Mexico—as its point of departure. For his series Los Amorales (2001), the artist created a wrestling persona in his own likeness who, in keeping with the rituals of lucha libre, donned a stylized mask, hosted symposia, and staged wrestling matches against an alter ego in various international museums.1 These events fell within the trajectory of avant-garde performance: they highlighted a regional phenomenon, disrupted the conventional terms of engagement, and stirred up cultural clichés using a documentary methodology, intervention techniques, and political and social subject matters that have come to characterize much of the Mexican art produced in the 1990s and early 2000s. As Amorales and others have since noted, such strategies resulted in overused formulas which ultimately reiterate existing stereotypes, in this instance, the contemporary Latin American artist as “unpolished political activist, provocateur, naughty child ...a postmodern Che Guevara that travels in planes every three days to subvert his favorite museum.”2

Amorales’ recent use of multi-media techniques and sparse but sophisticated visuals can be understood as a conscious move away from the well-worn expectation that Latin American art is best produced and understood as an explicit political statement. While some of the same themes are at work (such as the local versus global, the heroic and exotic, and notions of narrative and mythmaking), the artist’s carefully considered use of media in The Bad Sleep Well results in a circular play of these dialectics that undermines any prescribed response.

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About the Author

Liz Bruchet is a curator, writer, and arts administrator based in Vancouver. She is currently developing a series of projects that explore the capacity of objects to carry vulnerability.

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