Essay by Luis Camnitzer, from Alejandro Cesarco: Marguerite Duras' India Song
, Volume IX of the Art in General New Commissions Book series (2006).
Alejandro Cesarco: Inventories, Influences and Identities
Luis Camnitzer Alejandro Cesarco arrived in New York in 1998 as an accomplished, albeit traditional photographer. His work was naturalist (if that would make any sense in photo-language), remarkable in that it captured a certain melancholy typical of his native Montevideo. Very soon after, an aesthetic break took place. His concerns shifted from atmosphere to concept. After the normal and expected tautological games of initial conceptualism, Cesarco took deconstruction and reconstruction steps that slowly evolved into his present production.
One of the interesting aspects in Cesarco’s work asa whole is that, retrospectively, what seemed a normal evolution in a career (the one expected from modernist progression: from naturalism to abstraction to concept), turns out to be a very consistent research of a creator’s identity. In Cesarco’s case, this takes the shape of a focus on influences. It is not influences on his work. Instead, the influences are the work.
From this point of view, photo-graphic naturalism, the same as documentarism at large, can be interpreted as the influence being both the cause and the effect. In a deceptive way, since he does not really erase his decision-making, Cesarco presents different forms of an inventory that explains why he presents the inventories. The index (Index, 2000), an inventory of references in a book, stands to take the place of an unwritten book, a device he returned to in 2003 and 2007 (Index (a novel, and Index (a reading)). The book only occurs in the reconstruction that takes place in the reader’s mind. The reader is transformed into a paleontologist of meaning. The bones are provided, the flesh is imagined. But the listing is not just a skeleton; it is also a careful record of authors and data relevant to Cesarco’s way of seeing, thinking and understanding. It provides an intellectual portrait of Cesarco in its purest form, unhampered by any superfluous narrative. Cesarco approaches his own identity with the paradoxical device of removing (or at least hiding) authorship. Ideas in Index are continued in Scrabble (2001), a video of the game played with the rule that only the names of the authors in Index can be formed as valid words.
The process of the emergence of identity is pursued further in the construction of fake track-records of exhibitions: those shows in which his work could have been represented style and content-wise, but wasn’t. If Boetti, Halley, Tuttle and others can cohabit the space of Sperone Westwater in a show titled Cosmogonies, why not Cesarco? If Anne Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman among others can show together in On Language at Sean Kelly’s, why not Cesarco? The fake invitations including his name could be misconstrued as an exercise in arrogance or envy, but in truth it only is one in credibility. The events chosen are ones where much later only detailed a historical research could and would prove his absence. And, the colleagues invoked are not only established mainstream artists; they also count among his references. Biography here becomes an index of influences and admirations. It is a dedication; a process he explores in another book in which he only compiles the dedications in all the books he owned at the time of his publication. It also bears truth to a quote by Ad Reinhardt chosen by Cesarco: “…artists come from artists, art forms come from art forms, and painting comes from painting.”1
In reference to Index, Cesarco once described his work as: “an index of a book I didn’t write and that I probably never will write. I am interested in the idea of doing work about not doing work. To walk on the surface of things. Index is extremely personal and at the same time plagued by clichés. I also like the ambiguity of my opinion in relation to each of the references.”2
More than his professed connection with mainstream post-conceptualism, Cesarco follows the legacy of Borges in his “Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote.” Written in 1939, Menard tries to write Cervantes’s novel from scratch attempting at reaching the identical result. Borges portrays the colonial writer who uses metropolitan models as standards of perfection as well as he has false nostalgias. With his sense of irony he also parodied and placed himself in an unstably defined colonial culture that was never able to fit into its own geography and locality. Cesarco faces the same dilemma, but rather than attempting his own narrative or a critique to solve it, he goes to the core of the mechanisms that in their own way reflect the lack of roots. Cesarco’s dislocation, like that of most émigrés, is even more acute than Borges’ since it includes geographic uprootedness as well. It is the identity that emerges through his way of working and that is revealing as much to himself as to others, that gives him an anchor.
In a more recent piece, perhaps even closer to the Menard of Borges, Cesarco translated the love poems by Uruguayan poet Idea Vilariño.3 With this work, Cesarco declared the act of translation to be an active art, one in which he explores the already mentioned “ambiguity of my opinion in relation to each of the references.” And yet, the reader is faced with Vilariño like Menard’s reader is faced with Cervantes.
Marguerite Duras’ India Song (2006), a piece based on Marguerite Duras’ film, is probably Cesarco’s most complex artwork to date. A two-screen video installation using the film India Song (1975), it shows a slow panning of a grand mansionlike living room to replicate the feeling of early twentieth century wealthy European bourgeoisie. The placement of slowly rotating ceiling fans and the sound track written by Cesarco displace the scene into the warm and oppressive climate associated with colonialism. Some shots of buildings, in fact, could also belong to affluent neighborhoods in Montevideo or Buenos Aires (the film was shot in the outskirts of Paris trying to simulate the French embassy in Calcutta, playing with imperialism and translation). The installation as a whole surprisingly shares the Montevidean melancholy of Cesarco’s early photographs.
There is a morose objectivity that slowly peaks into an emotional density of unexpected dimensions. Here, Cesarco reached an assuredness about what is a precise location in the amorphous mass of displacement. In the quicksand of nostalgia, his deconstructions turn out to be an effective way to create a foundation. Or, in any case, he found himself.
1. Colección Engelman-Ost, Montevideo, 2001
2. Letter to the author, 08/01/2000
3. Alejandro Cesarco, Idea Vilariño, LOVE POEMS, testside, Austin, 2004. Her 1959 four verse poem “Aquí/lejos /te borro./Estás borrado.” (Here/from afar/I erase you./You are erased.) is close in feeling to Cesarco’s 2000 post-it piece “Ya no te espero” (I am not waiting for you any more)