Isidore Lucien Ducasse, the Comte de Lautréamont, broke new ground in the definition of beauty, when he alluded to the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of an umbrella and a sewing machine.
Sigmund Freud established a conceptual framework for this new way of seeing with the invention of the Uncanny, das Unheimliche. What was familiar and recognisable became at once unknown and unsettling.
These are invasions, displacements, ruptures. Educated, as we are, in the practice of cut-and-paste, they might seem the most natural thing in the world – but imagine the impact of collage, in 1912, on the concept of art itself. The thing and the name of the thing collided on the same plane. The universe became the multiverse. There was no turning back.
Indeed, the late exhibition from Evaristo Benítez (Azuaga, Badajoz, 1957) at Contrast, bore the title Room XXIII. Collages: a series of vast, practically uninhabited spaces, filled with iconic avant-garde artworks, beheaded, scattered, shredded… but still recognisable.
Benítez returns to the fray with a new series entitled Décalage. Basically these consist of variations on a single theme: characters from pop culture –the Pink Panther or “Johnny Zipper”– in an abandoned library. Sometimes the scene is illuminated by a flaming heart, worthy of the best tattoo parlour, pierced by the obligatory dagger, or even wrapped in a crown of thorns. Nothing we haven’t seen before – separately.
“Johnny Zipper” –Juanito Cremallera– is a character so ugly no one with eyes could desire him. Which is why this latex toy, produced by The Original Cha Chá, hides his face under the leather mask associated with certain sexual practices related to submission.
What is he doing here, this character, sometimes accompanied by a dog – also masked – amidst these shabby bookcases? Perhaps he serves to establish a parallelism, to suggest that classical culture, the culture that clings on in books, covered in dust and mildew, crammed onto flimsy shelves, disembowelled on grimy pavements, is powerless before the phone screens and social networks that divulge the world one Tweet at a time.
Benítez’s palette, on this occasion, is limited to tones of watery soot, orange and, by way of contrast, fleeting notes of pink and red. It hardly matters whether the scene is painted on canvas or built as a wooden diorama. As we begin to pay closer attention, after the initial impact, the references become evident: to Joan Brossa, Benítez himself, painters like Philip Guston, linguistic games – an octopus crawling the floor, “as lost as an octopus in a garage,” as the Spanish expression goes – and the trashiest sexual clichés, in those blow-up dolls.
Will we end up tattooing our libraries onto our skin?
Let us look more closely at that heart, which appears, like a revelation, to the central character in the majority of these scenes. It’s a proletarian image, a design that prisoners and sailors tattooed themselves to mark a doomed affair or a betrayal in love, and derives from religious iconography: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Will we, too, end up tattooing our libraries onto our skin? Or, even worse, turning them into an ironic decorative anachronism?
Evaristo Benítez. Décalage is at Galeria Contrast, Barcelona, until 15 April.