Saturday, 26 December 2009
With feet on the ground
This image always astonishes me, not only for what it shows, but because of where it is. It shows a female figure, well over life-size, her hands tied behind her back, her pants/skirt around her ankles, serving as the support for a giant pair of feet, presumably male, bearing down on her shoulders. It's called 'Con los pies en la tierra', ('With feet on the ground'). It is very prominent, permanently installed in an arch in the centre of the big opulent downtown shopping mall, the Gallerias Pacifico, surrounded by Tiffany's, Polo Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Lacoste, Hugo Boss... The Gallerias, which also houses the four extensive galleries of the Jorge Borges Cultural Centre, also has a basement, part of which was used by the military as a detention and torture centre in the late 1970s.
The painting is by Carlos Alonso, one of the most respected Argentine artists. He was in London in the early 1960s, and his drawings and paintings remind me a bit of the work of the late R.B. Kitaj. In 1976, at the beginning of the 'proceseo', his daughter was among the 'disappeared', and he fled into exile in Europe for some years.
It's a very powerful image, with the intensity and imagination of a vision by William Blake. It doesn't describe a moment, or an event, or a temporary, superficial appearance: rather, it sums up a lot of history, experience, psychology, in a terrifying and very moving image. The message is direct: it's a warning to all who see it. & it's beautifully, vigorously painted, very solid. I don't know the history of how it came to be there: I assume there's an explicit link with the missing daughter and the previous use of the building.
& it occurs to me that there's probably not a shopping shopping mall in the UK that would tolerate an image like this under any circumstances. The traders and the local council would see to that. Perhaps the fact that it is so prominent here suggests the extent to which Argentina still sees itself as a European country with an enlightened, liberal attitude to creativity, and a respect for the European tradition, it's own tradition, of the arts. Perhaps it's a country perpetually in exile. & it worries me that this liberal attitude is threatened in the UK, if not elsewhere. We need warnings, and we have to trust creative minds to deliver them.