«Reverso»: Ruins, Memory and Reconstruction

Michael Dear

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Fig. 1: Invitación a "Reverso", exposición de Lorena Pérez Leighton.

Fig. 1: «Reverso», exhibition flyer.

Chilean art and culture has long found global audiences through (for example) the novels of Roberto Bolaño, the photography of Luis Ladrón de Guevara, and the poetry of the incomparable Neruda. The 2014 Academy Award nomination of the Chilean film Pablo Larraín’s No in the category of Best Foreign Language Film drew international attention to contemporary art and artists in Chile. Furthermore, the films by Patricio Guzman (most famously, The Battle of Chile) are well-known throughout the world.

But younger artists are also part of a vibrant emerging art scene in Chile, and onto this stage has now stepped the restoration architect and artist Lorena Pérez Leighton. In her first solo show, she presents works on canvas and paper, varying in scale and medium and in texture and color. She offers a way of seeing and remembering Chile that is both enchanting and striking.

The smaller works in this exhibition possess an intimacy that immediately engages the viewer. Human figures are rare in Pérez’s works, so are all the more striking when they – or their traces – appear. Yet the human presence is universal in her works, especially because most are composed as abstract collages using fragments of paper recovered from walls in streets and buildings stripped of their exterior shell after the earthquake occurred in Talca on February 27, 2010. There are deep grooves of memory and time in these fragments, even as their mostly monochromatic tones convey a powerful sense of isolation, even alienation. Some works display an almost forensic precision, akin to geological specimens pinned under high magnification.

Fig. 2: Imágenes parte de la serie Grilla, técnica mixta sobre tela 30x40 cm (de izquierda a derecha “Grilla 02”, “Grilla 01” y “Grilla 07”).

Fig. 2: Images of the «Grilla» series.

Pérez’s use of color comes then as a surprise (and a pleasure) in the Grilla series, which emerge like a fresh beginning. The boldness of these mid-sized paintings evokes the spirit of Richard Diebenkorn, a late 20th-century abstract expressionist renowned for his color-saturated representations of natural and urban landscapes in the Western USA, especially California. Pérez’s kaleidoscopic palette is more restrained, however, emphasizing the gritty side of Chile’s cities and their vulnerability to natural forces.

The largest works in the show are cartographic in scale, inviting the viewer to a wider architecture of exploration. Echoing the Situationists of Paris in the 1960s – who deliberately lost themselves in the city in order to rediscover it – Pérez offers multiple ways of navigating the urban landscape. Despite the ubiquity of a rigorous grid-like structure, she declines to identify a path through these mappings, preferring that the viewer simply surrenders to the urge for exploration via myriad channels made available on the canvas.

Lorena Pérez offers us works to live by, to carry on our journey. Their mixture of surprise and stillness in landscapes vast and miniature inevitably prompts memories to sprout unexpectedly among the cracked archeologies of human experience. The careful framings by the artist are at once delicate and unobtrusive but also robust and deliberate, adding a solid physicality (however fleetingly) to the narratives invoked by her fragmentary collages.

“Reverso” by Lorena Pérez Leighton is an exhibit worth seeing.

Fig. 3: Imágenes parte de la serie Fragmentos, técnica mixta sobre cartón tela 12x15 cm (“Grises”, composición de 5 piezas).

Fig. 3: Images of the «Fragments» series.

Fig. 4: Parte de la serie Cuidad, técnica mixta sobre tela , 50x50 cm (Arriba, “5 oriente” y “Barrido 02”. Abajo “2 Sur” y “6 Oriente”).

Fig. 4: Images of the «Ciudad» series.

Fig. 5: Imágenes de la exposición .

Fig. 5: Images of the exhibition.

Fig. 7: ”Relay”, arte de la serie Ensayos, técnica mixta sobre cartón tela , 20x25 cm.

Fig. 6: ”Relay”, part of the «Essay» series.

* Michael Dear in a key author of the Los Angeles School of Urbanism and currently works at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design. E-mail: m.dear@berkeley.edu

** Review also available in Spanish at: http://www.bifurcaciones.cl/2014/05/reverso/

*** Lorena Pérez portfolio: http://www.reverso.foliohd.com