(Notes on Antonia Valero’s work)
Only naming limit as such, placing ourselves in it, the map of confusion can be drawn in analogies’ fog. Antonio Monegal
Antonia Valero’s plastic work is ambiguous in its surface: open wounds, sawn wounds, overlapped surfaces, subtle prints, pumping volumes, austere chromatics, unreadable signs… The germ of these tensions is in the use of industrial materials (meshes, steel, glass fibre, nickel or brass) together with the addition of traditional plastic tools such as paint or paper. Now, despite the semantic connotations that these materials can provide, the last meaning of Antonia Valero’s work is in the very construction of the plastic image, understanding this as an alternative space to reality: “It is necessary –the artist has pointed– to create different spaces from the habitual”.
The wish of confronting the traditional ambition of painting for constituting a mimetic representation of reality had its main milestone in the European abstraction between wars. Either understood as the redoubt where man could shelter from a painful existence or as a transgressive salutary lesson of the dominant values, abstraction determined a new kind of self-sufficient creation of the visual world that released us from the need for being subordinated to other forms of knowledge or solutions to reality.
This tendency, which found its peak in 50’s heroic abstraction, kept a fluctuating rhythm in the ways of painting during the second part of the 20th century and was reborn with special vigour in the 90’s. The distance of this fin de siècle abstracts from previous chapters, especially with the transcendental idealism of the New York school, was determined by a heterodox character that the critics have simplified through such terms as, amongst others, “redefined abstraction”, “polluted abstraction” or “eccentric abstraction”.
Antonia Valero’s plastic work belongs to this generation, difficult to catalogue in a group, which also adds new procedures, experiments and creative contexts. In this sense, it is important to emphasize Antonia Valero’s work in the field of video and digital image, a positive diversification – when each edge is treated with the same rigor and seriousness – that also seems to characterize a great number of current creators
A first approach to Antonia Valero’s plastic work discovers the coexistence between geometrical regularity and a “subtle expressivity” of organic character. That’s right; the artist invigorates the pictorial content through stressing the emotional elements but still regularizing the composition through the grid. The sum of both modes produces a crossing of temperatures equidistant from the constructivist rigor and the lyrical suggestion. In this tectonic system we find balances, axial displacement and additional elements, in such a way that in total it is determinant the game of tensions between symmetry and deviation.
Far from constituting just a mere aesthetic option, the combination of ways Antonia Valero creates reveals a high semantic complexity and an elaborate syntax; however, this visual architecture is labyrinthine and enigmatic but always passable: The visual structure of many of Antonia Valero’s works is like a never ending crossing of paths. The spectator, transformed into a Teseo’s alter ego, tries to verify the existence of an entry and an exit, a beginning and an end, but the artist is not interested in showing the solution to the problem in an obvious way; just in activating the wish of a constant search for a productive reading. But how shall we read these images? Which concepts inhabit them? Are they simply ornamental abstractions lacking in meaning?
On the idea of limit
What is readable is what is understandable, comprehensible, that which allows itself to be read. Any declaration of legibility is a fact of collective consciousness that confirms a set of rules. To run free of said rules is a breakaway gesture that historically defines the avant-garde and founds a new act of legible statement. Contemporary art has brought unlimited freedom of choice and every proposed language initiates requests to our experience, a kind of challenge towards a change of appreciation, a new way of reading. Abstraction is representative of this, and therefore it must be read against parameters that are not those imposed for centuries by the traditional theory of ways in art.
Antonia Valero’s works accept to be read from multiple angles. However, their concept goes horizontally through any kind of interpretation that we may want to establish, meaning the idea of “limit” and its use, both in a positive or a negative way. Sometimes the line (self sufficient element that symbolizes the limit) repeats inside of the plane of representation and the grid it makes up serves as timing for space, a tempo that, because of this effect, structures image in a way close to music.
The line has always been more or less latent in plastic creation, but hidden by the narrative values of figurative art or blurred by decoration. In Antonia Valero’s work the very constitution of the line as a plastic tool conforms the core axis of image, warp and plot of a visual syntax that points up and down to be able to place ourselves in that other space different from the habitual.
But we pointed out that the limit that defines the line also acts in Antonia Valero’s work in a negative sense. In some of her creations, the line becomes invisible through the usage of overlapped grid meshes and our perception becomes, of necessity, more intuitive. Without concrete spatial references, the plastic image proves to be painfully without reference and contemplative. In this way the artist gets rid of the hierarchy imposed by geometrical signs and shows the abyss that, up until then, was vetoed by the grid.
“Words, words, words” answered Hamlet to Polonius when he asked what he was reading. Words assign existence to things. Words that, when we see them or hear them, generate an image; or images that, when we see them, we immediately translate into words.
There are incessant references to the contrast between word and visual arts in the first theoretical literary treaty, Aristotle’s Poetics, and from the second great ancient document in this science, Horace’s Poetic Art, comes the motto that has made the comparison between both par excellence artistic disciplines easier: ut pictura poesis. This factor of continuous influence between writing and plastic arts acquired a particular relevance in contemporary art with the direct presence of text in visual arts, as it was in the 20th Century when the relation between plastic and linguistic codes sprouted as the determination for exploring adjoining kingdoms and making them cooperate in a complex combination.
The complexity of the paratextual relationship between word and image presented by Antonia Valero in her series on letters between Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Ávila acts, not as a mere exchange of senses, but as a tool that allows word and image to (re)acquire a meaning, respectively. In fact, the artist changes the writings of both poets for the symbols that surround the alphabet in the keyboard of a typewriter. What is legible is not the text anymore, but the very plastic work that assumes that codified and unintelligible text as part of its composition.
Whilst paintings use juxtaposed means or signs – figures and colours spread over the canvas or space – poetry uses means or consecutive signs that articulate through time. Hence the spatial character of visual arts versus the temporary character of writing. As John Berger pointed at, static visual image denies time in itself (“the same jug pouring always the same milk, the sea with the same waves that never get to break, the invariable face and smile”).
Aware of the mechanisms that build in an efficient manner an image, Antonia Valero eliminates the temporality of text, its reading possibility, through a non transferable stenography. On the other hand the artist avoids calligrams and keeps the rectangular structure of the canvas-letter and the lineal order of the content. Dispossessed of its temporal dimension and cross-dressed with the spatial character of plastic resources, the text becomes a subtle trace that hides as much as it reveals. That’s how Antonia Valero builds evocative pieces, where the cultural reference fades to raise a beautiful reflection on ways of communicating, the pass of time and the persistence of memory.