The image of others: voyeurisms of reception

The image of others: voyeurisms of reception
By Hamlet Fernández
February, 2018

A collective but silent interaction; museums are par excellence spaces of silence, spaces in which a certain solemnity is breathed, even in contemporary art museums. In the experience within the museum the relationship with the works is not usually conditioned by a collective dialogue, as could happen in a debate or other type of activity. But it could be asserted that inside the museum we experience the influence of the behaviour of others. How do other spectators relate to the works, how fast do they look, how long are they absorbed by a sensory stimulus charged with expressiveness; what is reflected in the faces, in the contortions of the body, how are the works wandered around or ignored? In short, close behaviors are a silent presence most of the time, but one that interferes with our effort to understand.
For an attentive, curious receiver of human behavior, this spontaneous collective performance is diagrammed before the eye as a dynamic of great cultural expressiveness. An expressiveness that is profoundly constitutive of the "art world", by the basic fact that at each historical moment the forms of reception are co-determined both by the forms of production and by the social frameworks in which the cultural practice of art unfolds as a public event. And reception would become precisely the moment of consummation of art as a public event; it does not matter whether the public presence in front of the work is made up of a narrow circle of privileged, or broader sectors of society.
Therefore, to attend to this diffuse - because it is difficult to document - phenomenon of artistic reception in spaces such as museums and galleries, means to focus our gaze and reflection on the process in which art materializes as a living fact, that is, as an intersubjective current of experience.
And will there be anything more complex and rich in human content than a flow of communication not regulated beforehand, communication stimulated by the energy produced by sensory excitation and expanding into the most unsuspected mental hallucubrations? Thus, if for theoretical, aesthetic, sociological research, etc., it should be a phenomenon of vital interest, for artistic research for creative purposes it should be to the same extent. Hence my satisfaction at knowing the most recent pictorial series by Marlon Portales, Museum; a project with which this young artist begins to develop a line of aesthetic reflection and pictorial experimentation practically unexplored in the tradition of Cuban art.
That Marlon's interest in this series is constituted by the phenomenon of reception is corroborated by the way in which museum visitors become the protagonists of the works; to the point that it could be said, although without interest in establishing catalogues, that these are collective and individual portraits of anonymous people. The presence of these people in different rooms of internationally renowned museums was removed from the temporal continuum by the artist's photographic record; a gesture of documentation that turned these beings and their attitudes into study material, an object of scrutiny for the creator's gaze. Therefore, there is something indexical in the resulting pictorial work, even if it is only a metamorphosed trace of human activity that converged in those space-times. When Marlon recreates his photographic sources in pictorial narratives, he strips the gallery spaces of the works they treasure or once exhibited, the walls become diffuse surfaces, and the artist concentrates all his work on the representation of the spectators and the atmosphere they create in the space. In choosing this focus motif, our young painter takes on a great challenge: to weave nothing more and nothing less than a hermeneutic of the behaviour of contemporary subjects in the temples of art, as well as of their concrete interaction with the works.
The singularity of this process, unlike the sociological research that analyzes empirical data in order to propose theoretical readings, is that the hermeneutic process of comprehension through which the artist questions the phenomenon of reception is carried out and concretized in the materialization of an aesthetic reality that is in turn open to the comprehension of its potential receivers. In this way, Marlon's works place a mirror in front of the spectator, they function as an invitation for the latter to get involved in a process of recognition and self-understanding of the way in which it relates to art.
Looking at the works in this Museum series, we can recognize several characteristic features, apparently behavioral matrices of a globalized contemporaneity. The ubiquitous presence of cell phones, the vision mediated by digital screens, the obsession with documenting the instant; the light, casual clothing, the quasi-tourist image of the spectators; the dynamics of leisure, the indifferent wandering of many individuals; the crossing of glances in all directions; people who converse and others who take a minute on a bench to make a call or take a breath and continue the cultural marathon; and some absorbed faces, possessed by the experience that isolates them towards an intimacy with the work.
Those faces are the most difficult to represent. How to express pictorially what a person is feeling or thinking in front of a work of art? In that effort of pictorial comprehension to give us faces through which we can imagine a foreign aesthetic experience, Marlon has found a representational grammar of great effectiveness. In those works where the spectators look towards an imaginary point of the fourth wall, the imaginary wall of the theatre stage, the faces and the corporal expression, everything remains in a frontal way before our sight; and we are the ones who occupy the subjective space of the work that hypothetically is looked at from inside the painting. This representational artifice creates a dialectic of the gaze that, while converting us into subjects of perception, also places us in the subjective position of object of the gaze of the characters represented by Marlon. We scrutinize their attitudes, we interrogate their gazes, we imagine what they are experiencing before those iconic works referenced by the titles; and they look at us and place us in front of the mirror of self-understanding.