Nº 64 Volume 6, 2007
Benjamín Torres recent solo exhibition titled, Contenido neto y sus derivados, was a deft exploration of what can be called the culture of complacency and the complacency of culture. The sociological catchphrases refer to the status quo’s neutralization of criticality by, as Malcom X said in another context, any means necessary. In this instance nullification manifested via the commodity object; but not so much as discerned, for example, in Andy Warhol where the signifier is concomitantly reified and emptied of its meaning. For Torres works the opposite route where signification is completely placed under erasure via an aesthetic of absent presence akin to the phantasmagoric sculptures of Rachel Whiteread or the serial surrogates of Allan McCollum. Torres cited these sources most eloquently in what made up the larger corpus of the exhibition: sculptures in various formats including unique pieces, small and unlimited editions and larger installation work.
Regardless of their size and diverse configuration the sculptures were all plaster casts of recognizable products such as plastic bags, cans, jars and other commercial repositories. As such, there was a strong undercurrent of fetishism throughout these sculptures; but, at the same time, Torres seemingly undermined this framing as well. On the one hand was the recognition of these containers as commercially generic; amidst the barrage of homogeneity difference could be detected in the emptiness displayed: this object resembled a Styrofoam container for a hamburger while that form recalled a can of soup; another appeared to be a white, cylindrical silhouette of a cleaning product bought from a store, and others still were the uncanny shapes of something familiar yet simultaneously unfamiliar. On the other hand, because the labels had been erased, their iconic associations were undermined and instead what remained was something haunting and poetic, and this emotive quality was an undercurrent discernible throughout the exhibition even in one piece of what appeared to be a cast of latex gloves. In another more formally ambitious work, objects were placed in serial form on a kind of makeshift pantry; shelf upon shelf the sculptures were meticulously situated as a dizzying array of ubiquitous objects locates somewhere between artworks, surrogates for artworks, and body doubles of commercial products. In one sense, they were auras without artworks and bodies without organs. But what elevated these works to an even more complex level was the relationship, however fleeting, between the objects as empty repository and the gallery itself which contained the works themselves. The effect was enhanced by, among other things, the relative tonalities of the hue of plaster form which the sculptures were made and the white walls of the gallery. This doubling effect raised interesting ontological issues about the nature of the art object and the sign; but because of the object’s display in an art gallery, the gallery as epistemological frame was also addressed. Equally interrogating questions about aesthetics, philosophy, and consumerism, but via a different formal approach were Torres’ two-dimensional pieces.
These works consisted of what appeared to be cardboard boxes for cereal or other types of dried food. The viewer, however, was left to guess as to whether this was, in fact, correct. For Torres did not reveal what was being appropriated, manipulated, reconfigured and then presented on the wall. The two-dimensional compositions of cardboard were laid flat and swaths of white paint covered areas where one may have recognized any commercial label. Crisscrossing de-collage, collage, and aspects Arte Povera and Richard Tuttle, these worst had an intimacy and elegance that nonetheless projected a formal and conceptual presence far beyond the simplicity of their construction and composition. And it is this sort of visual and poetic contradiction that lay at the heart of Torres’ recent show and body of work: how does an artist present the world anew that makes it seem aesthetically fresh and palpable; yet, concomitantly infuse these same works with a discourse and criticality that moves them beyond mere objects of aesthetic sedición and delectation?