Elena Oliveras

Buenos Aires, Argentina.
12 july 2014
Claudia Aranovich en el Museo Sivori
Matter and Memory

Matter has a seductive effect on Claudia Aranovich. For over thirty years she has been inspired by the deep appeal of the materials she works with, their metamorphoses, their "memory", their magic and ritual content. Roots, seeds, sprouts, shells, fossils, feathers, branches, mosses and rocks speak for themselves and even dialogue, at times, with industrial materials, such as plaster, glass, steel, fiberglass, cement, polyester rosin, acrylics, gauze, paper and LEDs. Opposites become complementary. Occasionally, harder materials, like metal, frame and embrace soft and organic-looking interiors, each material highlighting the presence of the other, creating tension.

At other times, in this game of opposites, natural forms are confronted with emerging abstract forms, like cones and spheres. The organic - revealed as free, spontaneous, unpredictable beauty - irrupts into the rigorous artificiality of the geometric figure, transforming it and being transformed. Through a play of references, one element (abstract or figurative) appeals to another, which in its extreme can be expressed as "nature imitating art". Aranovich admits that the process of creating a sculpture is a slow one, during which her expectations for reaching its final form grow and intensify. "I begin with ideas or stories I have in my head, and then I try and let them take shape using materials that reflect them. Sometimes some works lead to others in a circular narrative, so I use similar materials for them".

After experimenting with wood and metal, Aranovich felt the need to incorporate transparent materials such as resins into her work. She explains: "they allow me to evoke an organic mass resembling a sea of amniotic liquid in which memories can be found floating, or they can take on the form of vulvas or leaves with sexual connotations". The transparency of the material reflects a personal aesthetics of light, accentuating the presence of forms that eventually reach their limits and dematerialize. For example, the work Construcción sudamericana (South American Construct, 2009), made of paper, resin and LEDs, appears to dissolve into infinite nothingness. Similarly, light, an immaterial material Aranovich employs in several of her pieces, serves to highlight beautiful surfaces in relief and create brilliance, lending greater force to the natural element of the work while at the same time emphasizing its fragility. An Elegy to Manual Labor The lure of matter, of the materials themselves, comes with a need for manual labor, for a "hands-on" interaction with the elements in question. It is during this process that thoughts begin to emerge and concepts develop. Manual labor therefore goes hand-in-hand with the concept, rather than - as cold conceptualism would suggest - being its opposite. This connection between handiwork and thought reignites an ancient relationship, communicated from generation to generation. Work ceases to be something merely imposed upon nature, in the pragmatic sense that came with the advent of industrial society. Rather than an attempt to impose the most convenient forms on a material, this is a deeply respectful cultic kind of work. As Claude Lévi-Strauss once stated, "From the advent of industrial society, work has become a singular operation in which man - as the only active being - shapes an inert material, imposing whatever form on it he wishes. Societies studied by ethnologists have a very different idea of work.

They often associate it with ritual, a religious act, as if the objective were establishing a dialogue with nature in which nature and man could work together, each providing what the other needs in exchange for deep signs of respect, or even piety, by which means man commits to a reality tied to the supernatural order." In Huellas y hallazgos de la edad del trabajo manual (Traces and Discoveries of the Era of Manual Labor), an installation presented with a few minor modifications in both Escultura: 10 posiciones diferentes (Sculpture: 10 Different Positions, 1990) and in the Havana Biennial (1991), Aranovich assembled tools (pails, shovels, picks, pulleys, ropes, a wheelbarrow) and "ancient remains" in grass grown from seeds planted prior to the exhibit. The work is a commentary on labor in earlier times and its close relationship to materials. The objective is the same: the transcendence of time. And this common objective leads to a respect for natural materials, rather than a manipulation.

No one has the right to impose violence on the natural world; on the contrary, it must be approached with caution, understood and loved. Nature as an Initial Aesthetic Experience Aranovich recalls her first aesthetic experience as being tied to nature: "As part of an art workshop I attended when I was around eight, we went to the Buenos Aires Zoo and the Botanical Garden to draw. I remember experiencing the landscapes and the animals in motion. I would say that this observation of nature was my first aesthetic experience", and this experience resonated, from that point on, throughout her work. This is reflected in the work Raíces en el mar de los recuerdos (Roots in the Sea of Memories, 1993), in which old photos are placed in a sea of watery resin, suggesting a pool of memories of those who are no longer with us. The artist's personal biography, a photographic record of family intimacy, dissolves into a web of natural elements, the common depths of existence, a kind of Ur Eine (primal oneness), bringing together the vast diversity of all that exists. This reminiscence remedies forgetting, transforming death into life, past into present. The reading of these family photos from the past comes with a silent intimacy, a nostalgia that emerges from subjectivity's depths. This is in sharp contrast to the extrinsic "hatching" motion at the center of works like Levísimo (Lightness, 2007), an egg-shaped sculpture which incorporates cement, feathers and a fan, or Semilla 2 (Seed 2, 2007), carved from cedar with bronze-cast roots emerging from a crack or wound in the main structure. A similar process can be found in some of Aranovich's strictly geometrical abstract forms, as if they contained the expansive vitality of nature itself. Ruptura (Rupture, 1999/2000), fashioned from iron sheeting and polyester resin, is one such work.

We might be led to conclude that, "dressed" in different colors, life is both indestructibly diverse and powerful. Time is the main protagonist of Aranovich's work, which either delves into the past or expands out into the future, the epitome of its durability represented by the shell of chelonians or turtles, creatures of both the sea (the unknown) as well as land (the knowable). She explored this duality through shells and cones in a 1997 solo displayed at the Borges Cultural Center entitled De la tierra y del mar (From Earth and Sea). Aranovich's "archeological" inclination patiently reveals, layer by layer, what generally disappears beneath the surface. In order to shed light on the remains of individual and collective memory, we must make our way through layers of glazed opaqueness, through a tangled thicket of natural and artificial objects caught in polyester resin and floating in a sea of amniotic liquid, as if led to uncover the mystery within. Even in the artist's earliest works, her interest in recovering memories is apparent. In 1986, at the Banco Patricios Foundation, she exhibited a series of works in polyester resin and acrylic entitled Reliquias para un monasterio del próximo milenio (Relics for a Monastery in the Next Millennium). The "relics" were in the form of masks, handprints and other fragments of the body, emphasizing the impossibility of uniting the parts. The tone was dramatic, tied to the concept of the human body as a temple and the need to rescue remains - or "relics" - of our humanity.

A 1985 installation shown in Gallery 264 entitled Naturaleza muerta (Still Life) was equally dramatic, alluding to the possibility that a nuclear bomb could lead to the extinction of the human race. Birds and other animals appeared alongside a human figure, as testimonial remains. The drama and melancholy contained in this look towards the past is mitigated by the implicitly vigorous attempt to intentionally revive broken or suspended life. This is hinted at in Plantación de corazones (Field of Hearts, 1991), an installation in which seven elements are laid out in a circle of grass planted by the artist, reflecting seven different states, from purity (a germinating heart) to indignity (a heart of stone), moving from indifference (a heart of a common climbing vine) to a lack of ideals (a heart of a "mutant" climbing vine) to love (a sprouted heart). Plantación de corazones can be seen as a metaphor for the primordial heartbeat that, in one way or another, gives way to life. According to Aranovich, "The theme of life not as something lost but as something current, represents somewhat of a 'breather' in my work". In this regard, series such as Semillas (Seeds) and Raíces (Roots), that bridge different periods, symbolically highlight distress and the precariousness of human life in a world of ecological and moral disasters, while at the same time revealing hope through regeneration. "I hate the irreparable, things that cannot be remedied," comments Aranovich. We can find this same kind of "breather" in Huellas y hallazgos de la edad del trabajo manual (Traces and Discoveries of the Era of Manual Labor, 1990). Alongside the references to ancient forms of life, as mentioned above, Aranovich incorporates areas of grasses grown from seed planted prior to the installation. Other "breathers" include references to the erotic, an allusion more to life than death, and, in a more technical sense, the use of light on transparent materials that ease the density of "heavier" materials. An example of this can be found in the play of light and shadows in Futurama III and IV (2005 and 2006), two sculptures made of shattered windshield glass covered with resin.

The floating installation Esferas de luz en el fin del mundo (Spheres of Light at the End of the World, 2007), presented at the first End of the World Biennial, centered on light as a series of semitransparent spheres containing solar activated LEDs were placed in the open sea. Interacting with the landscape of the Beagle Canal, off the coast of Ushuaia, the spheres encapsulated a complementary relationship between the artificial and the natural, with energy and life on both the inside and outside. The Power of Symbols Taken as a whole, Aranovich's work encourages symbolic interpretation. The human form is central. While the cone can be interpreted as a symbol of the ascension towards the transcendent, the turtle shell represents the female uterus, a life-giving organ tied to sexuality. Like the root, the turtle is a symbol of tenacity and persistence. This extremely long-lived animal, considered to have sacred properties, has been used for magic and healing dating back to the earliest civilizations. Turtles, fossils and roots, symbols of time's persistence, are also considered "pure memory", as defined by Henri Bergson. In Matter and Memory: Essay on the Relation of Body and Spirit, Bergson distinguishes "pure memory" from "mechanical memory", inscribed in the body and related to habits, things we do automatically on a daily basis. "Pure memory", on the other hand, recovers the past based on the similarity of images. This way it represents and acknowledges the process, revealing a free spiritual nature, rather then an automatic one. Time, transformation and regeneration are conceptual constants in Aranovich's work. These elements generate the circularity in her work, and are the reason why some of the pieces from her earliest stages resemble much more recent works.

There are clearly no "closed" stages in her work, only the interweaving of different moments in time. At one of these moments, time adopted the specific form of "suggested movement". This was in the late 1990s, when Aranovich, on scholarship in England, became fascinated with the experiences of Edward Muybridge. His chronophotography inspired two series of relief prints Aranovich called Los caminos de Muybridge (Muybridge's Paths, 1999) and Los pasos de Muybridge (Muybridge's Steps, 1999), presented at Íconos para el nuevo milenio. Another of the reappearing themes in Aranovich's work is the erotic, though not in a 1960s and 70s "feminist" sense of the word. Rather than a battle between the sexes, her work reflects something much more primitive, related to biological development and sexuality. Man, rather than an enemy that must be overcome, is simply one more element in a natural, social and spiritual order. Like woman, he must overcome his common fate as a death-destined-being, dramatically reflected through the facial molds, a recreation of the ancient practice of the funeral mask. Beyond the idea of extinction, Aranovich emphasizes, as mentioned earlier, nature's vitality through forms that implacably burst forth from the bodies containing them. At a time when we are increasingly distanced from nature, Aranovich's work offers a space for critical reflection, with forms that strive to become icons for the new millennium, as expressed in the title of a major show she exhibited at the Recoleta Cultural Center in 2000. This show included sculptures, relief prints, light boxes and the installation Reflexiones desde el Cono Sur (Reflections from the Southern Cone), a work in resin polyester cones with plant components.

This series included the unexpectedly powerful Caparazones (Shells), nearly two meters tall, which appeared as imposing "shields of nature". They were featured on the cover of Sculpture magazine (May 2001, vol. 20, n. 4), which included an extensive article on the artist, emphasizing the originality of her artistic thought, one of the reasons she is among the most prestigious Argentine sculptors at the national and international levels. Aranovich's inquisitive spirit - which began to develop in the early 1980s - has always been open to new experiences, fostered by her closest guides (Ana Eckell, Leo Vinci, Emilio Renart, Jorge Gamarra). She also received support and encouragement in the form of several grants - such as the ones she was awarded from the Antorchas Foundation and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation - and residencies - at the Kent Institute of Art and Design in Canterbury, England; Villa Montalvo (a historic space located in the Silicon Valley); Sculpture Space in Utica, New York state; the Valparaíso Foundation in Spain and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California. This array of experiences outside of Argentina enriched her work and made it more diverse.

Aranovich's fictions therefore represent traces of traces, folds and detours. The use of language, another resource she incorporates into her work, far from contributing to discursive linearity, serves to weave 'mis-aligned' text-plots, avoiding uniform syntax. Aranovich also has a long-held interest in public spaces. Examples of these include the Monumento a la Humanidad (Monument to Humanity) in Resistencia, Chaco (selected through competition); the installation Esferas de luz en el Fin del mundo (Spheres of Light at the End of the World), which floated in the Beagle Canal off the coast of Ushuaia and Memorias de la naturaleza (Memories of Nature), three sculptures of wood, feathers, leaves and locally sourced materials located in the protected forest at the Djerassi Foundation, California. These and other experiences focused on open spaces were documented in the book Claudia Aranovich y el terreno de arte experimental (Claudia Aranovich and the Field of Experimental Art, 2007).

Her latest research incorporates new technology and is leading her beyond three-dimensional objects to the riskier territory of the multisensory language of combined arts. Marea alta (High Tide, 2013), product of this exploration, is a video-installation which combines Aranovich's sculptural vocabulary with a video-choreography by Margarita Bali and music by Gabriel Gendin. The work consists of images of human bodies in motion projected onto transparent resin sculptures, suggesting organic marine forms emerging from watery surfaces. Rich in meaning, Aranovich's work develops the same transmuted energy she seeks to reproduce in its dynamic and innovative reception, by transmitting the memory they contain to the spectator's personal memory. In this way, nature - which we form part of - "speaks" and now, more than ever, demands to be heard.


Chacabuco 1444, Buenos Aires, Argentina. C.P. 1140.
Tel.: (54 11) 4361-2237 / e-mail: caranovich@speedy.com.ar