The Life of Meanings: An Archive Without Documents

Elvia Rosa Castro

Carlos Estévez learned to live outside of time, at least outside of linear time. If his name had appeared as art director in the credits of the German series Dark, it would not be surprising. As in the excellent TV show, the figure of the cabinet, chamber of curiosities, or wunderkammer is, without a doubt, in Estévez's work an essential space for the intersection of memories, whose primary function would be to reveal to us that every attempt to travel through time responds to an interest that is often not explicit but key: the fascination for re-writing history.

Perhaps the most conclusive evidence of what has been said is his own installation work The True Universal History, an iconic piece that earned him the Prize of the Contemporary Cuban Art Hall in 1995 and which belongs to the permanent collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. .

If in Dark Tannhaus he wants to go back in order to avoid a family accident, Estévez's work, for his part, is structured as an inexhaustible exercise in the reorganization of knowledge. This is, as an artistic practice that questions, ash, and diversifies the official history. The Life of Meanings, an exhibition of a compilation nature of his work (installations, paintings and videos) at the Pan American Art Projects gallery in Miami, summed up in a sentence could be read as follows: it is a visual maneuver against the total and monolithic narratives that are opposes power without being a tacit manifesto. It could also be said dryly that The Life of Meanings is an aesthetic reorganization of the pre-existence.

Fascinated with the symbolic production of the Middle Ages, Estévez has not only become a student of that historical period but also an inveterate collector of its material culture. So, those fragmented glass-like objects and cabinets that we see in his exhibition are an extension of his workshop, a refined and clean version of his own creative environment. All of them have memories and previous histories that are altered according to the relationship order that Estévez gives them in a staging that is never definitive. Then, each piece is a micro-archive where memory and "memory itself, living or spontaneous memory" flow without hierarchical moods. Each object is a zone of intersections, a reservoir of layers of affections, humors, knowledge, loops, and rings of meanings of an infinite nature that contain various information.

This means that each object, which is basically an anthropologically charged objet trouvé, is a knowledge device that can be navigated and read in this instance that is The Life of Meanings, where Estévez once again shows off his inveterate detail and the good do technically speaking.

In the history of contemporary art, approaches to memory and the archive have come, in general, from the hand of conceptualism with political inspiration, collecting in such cases, documents (photos, dates, texts) fundamentally. These would be the examples of Christian Boltanski, On Kawara, and Voluspa Jarpa, to name just three artists. However, Estévez's entry into the neo-historicist production of art is not determined by political violence and oblivion but by the perpetual search for it that would explain the place of man in the universe, ultimately, of the subject in the environment. culture of him.

His work is another proposal for rewriting history, either in a retro-vintage key (installations) or gothic-futuristic (paintings). There is no verification in them but announcements of possibilities, rehearsals of encounters. Tension between free will and determinism. Between fragment and totality.

Historically, cabinets are enigmatic, exciting, fantastic, wonderful, sinister, and even theatrical, where baroque lighting plays its role. Estévez's work, although it bears a similar aura, constitutes a dystopian revival full of refined symbolism, between archaic, decorative, and sophisticated, of those scenarios where part of the knowledge that has come down to us until today was fused and protected, and from which we are heirs In it, the accumulation is dosed, the drawings and paintings, for example, seem vector. The figure of the woman is vindicated in the foreground, not in the form of a dark and sinister doll, but in the style in which the Chilean writer Lucía Guerra encapsulated her: “brava doll”, axis, nucleus, protagonist in the story.

In terms of artistic jargon, it is often said that Carlos Estévez's exhibitions are surreal environments, when the truth is that operations made by Duchamp and Magritte are not his thing. His work, and within it The Life of Meanings, is translating his current world view of the world with the philosophical and cultural interface in which a considerable percentage of his production is anchored: that great hybrid that is traversed, like the figure of Paracelsus, by humanistic science, philosophy, theology, superstition, and mysticism expressed in the forms of esotericism, cabals, philosopher's stone, and the divine ciborium. But above all, they are marked by that belief in a world that works like a clock mechanism: precise and perfect (note that the wheel-circle is central in his work, specifically in his neo-gothic paintings).

Carlos Estévez is not alone in this company. His work is part of a fascinating trend. Beyond the aesthetic presence, there is a whole context of cultural sensitivity in which his work is inserted. If we examine the apotheosis of the Antique Shops in our days, we see that it can be explained by the public's desire to find a unique anthropological experience outside of standardization and contemporary corporatism. This leads us to presume that both Estévez's work and this trend respond to a certain type of tiredness or discomfort with respect to the present. Beyond consumption, the main attraction of these stores would be the option of cross-navigating different eras in the same space, although the public is not aware of it. Like Estévez, curiosity about the distribution of knowledge in the Middle Ages reached Umberto Eco and Dan Brown, whose popular books (The Name of the Rose and The Da Vinci Code, respectively) and their bestsellers "massified" knowledge until their time. considered elitist. This month Guillermo del Toro premieres his horror series Cabinet of Curiosities, so the timing of The Life of Meanings could not be more timely.

Octubre 19, 2022