TECTONIC EXPERIENCES AND THE EXPERIENCE OF TECTONICS

A Project at the Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência in Lisbon, Portugal.

Sofia Marçal

Museums Curator

Lisboa, 2020

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Gustavo Mendez-Liska Venezuelan artist, lives and works in Vienna. He develops his artistic practice in concrete and neo-concrete art that has its roots in South America, particularly in Brazil. His work acts as an appreciation of meaning and in a pure way with a strong presence of what marks are, the affirmation of one’s own materiality and forms as consciousness from the most conceptual point of view and language.

The Tectonic experiences and the experience of the tectonics were thought for this room, the Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry. The exhibition is constructed horizontally and vertically creating a movement that suggests tensions on the surface of the laboratory floor with the intention of making a geometric abstraction, preventing the grid as a definition of superficies and the procuration of a rational and mathematical order, but does not replace the composition, the experience with a contemporary look. The exhibition allows the mediation between the sky and the earth, between the ceiling and the floor and the way of connecting them ephemerally.

Gustavo Mendez-Liska intends that his works have a relationship with space, that the viewer can circulate around them and that the perspective of the piece varies according to its location, as something dynamic that is suggested as the movement is organized. Space does not exist as something pre-conceived and pre-organized, but is the fruit of the dynamic relationship with the place. The dimension is something very important in this artist’s work, the works are not contained in the museum space, and there is a clear dilatation of space and time.

The city and its architecture are a reference in the creation of the artist’s work. In the exhibition, Gustavo Mendez-Liska has a clear notion that there is a variety of points and also how the space is going to be organized in the formal or spatial relationship, is a continuous and organic action. „If I say that the city to which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time, sometimes more sparse, sometimes more dense, you should not believe that you can stop looking for it. It may be that as we speak it is emerging scattered within the confines of your empire; it is possible to find it, but in the way I said.“ (Italo Calvino in: The Invisible Cities). When we enter the exhibition space we stop being in the room to be taken to the city, our imaginary city.

 

 

 

 

LEGACY OF A NEOCONCRETE

Luiz Martins

Artist

Sao Paulo, 2018

LEGACY OF A NEOCONCRETE

When one writes and reflects about concrete art, Latin American geometric art, always comes to mind the heritage of artists like Jesus Soto, Torres Garcia, Hélio Oiticica, Cruz-Diez and many others. Concrete art, for us Latin American artists, is not only a reference of aesthetics inherited from the Russian constructivists, it is a reflection on life, on the senses and concepts such as inside and outside, emptiness and fullness.

In these works by the artist Gustavo Mendez-Liska a great influence of his country’s art can be felt, even though he gained wings so long ago, like several artists of his generation. In these 25 years in Austria, Gustavo has been developing his ideas without losing sight of his origins. I have followed the development of his work since his wood reliefs, when he draws not with pencil and paper but with machine and wood – transmitting with great Strength the Western way of thinking, acting and transforming.

Living since childhood with Geometrism in art, the artist explores geometric combinations in recycled wooden works, assemblages that recall the graphic structures of his masters from the Stijl movement, the embryo of Neoplasticismand the Bauhaus School. It is not by chance that in this series of monochrome drawings we see a work with direct references to Mondrian’s grid compositions, the constructivist matrix has always guided Gustavo’s work. The support has changed, but the body of the work has not disappeared. Monochrome drawings, in which the artist shows us total freedom with the line, with space. In these flat sculptural forms, their context, their palpable physicality and function operate as a permanent reminder of the body – which confirms in many ways the artist’s presence in its evident absence.

Gustavo approaches his current understanding of the body of his work by dematerialising it, something rare to see in an artist who transits from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional. Materiality, due to its interchange ability, becomes secondary, reinforcing the artist’s perception of society, or of this society – so different from his habitat and which, partly through stubbornness and partly through gratitude and persistence has become a reference. In this project Gustavo seeks the evident primacy of a heritage that appears here levelled with other elements, through compositional strategies, inversions and repetitions that suggest an interchangeable identity.

I would like to end by underlining the cultural and social contemporaneity present in this set of works by Gustavo Mendez-Liska. His works reflect his personal and collective condition, they question the different, the other, the limits of his relations with this society, rethinking at the same time the concept of limit, returning to the root of the word Heritage, as something concrete that influences, transforms and strengthens. From an immigrant’s point of view, heritage particularises and enriches, characterises the parties and enables a rich dialogue, open and in solidarity.

Tectonic experiences and spatial relations in the work of Gustavo Mendez-Liska

Miroslava Urbanová

Curator

Vienna, 2018

Throughout the years of his artistic practice Gustavo Mendez-Liska has gradually reduced his means of expression to basic geometrical forms. That is how he can deliberately convey his fascination with the tectonic experiences – with the structures of all kinds, their interplay and tensions.

The diasporic background of the artist has undoubtedly a great impact on his searching for the geometrical forms, which come to him as a part of universal language. At the same time, he is aware of their particularity concerning different cultural backgrounds and sensibilities. He focuses his attention on the gaps and niches, on the things, that remain unsaid, on the pause or breathing in in-between the composition. Such structural experiences are in general common for everyone.

On the first sight, his compositions on paper remind of the architectural sketches. The architecture of the city, its spatial relations in the matter and its lack, the play of light and shadow between them, were in fact a crucial starting point of Mendez-Liskaʼs dealing with the tectonics of the (spatial) experience. However, while looking at his latest series, as well as artist´s oeuvre as such, one cannot oversee the overlaps with the forms and structures, that can be found in the musical scores or visual poetry as well. Such reading opens the further levels of the multilayered experience, which although it is exclusively visual, remains definitely not quiet.

Moreover, his drawings are often one of the stages for the further development of his sculptural artworks. By the latter, he prefers to use natural materials, prevalently wood and natural pigments. The natural structure of the wood with all its imperfections and scratches becomes a pattern, an aesthetical quality, that simultaneously refers to the history of the region from which the material came from. The pigments that he uses for his paintings, as well as for the objects he creates, bear a certain reference to the Austrian millieu. The yellowishness of the carpenter’s white that he uses in his series Viennese delicacies and Windows is such case, that oscillates between homage and inner joke of the artist, who became a trained carpenter as well.

Movements create free space

Thomas Mark

Artmark Galerie

Vienna, 2008

From a very young age Gustavo Mendez-Liska perceived the world around him in a bi-polar way. He grew up in South America, in the City of Caracas, Venezuela. Today he lives and works in Europe in the city of Vienna, Austria. He knows the beauty of the Amazon forest and the laws of nature that at some times might appear cruel. This is why Mendez is aware not only of isolation but also of the communicative life in a city with all its job and leisure opportunities. He knows how to survive in nature and in a city; he loves the forest and appreciates the urban jungle.

One can observe this bi-polarity in Gustavo Mendez’s artwork as well. Today he works as an artist but has also cared a lot about music since his childhood. Music runs through his veins and those of his family; his sister is a well-known jazz singer. If melody gives music its spirit, it is due to the division into measures that creates its individual form, its dynamic and its rhythm. Both the musician and the singer can interpret the music and give it its own form, making it his or her own by shortening or prolonging the notes.

In Japanese Zen philosophy the MA has an eminent meaning: it lies between two worlds with no beginning nor end, the brake that is crucial to so many things. In music, the moment or duration of what is in-between, the pause, is what brings it to life and gives it rhythm. The succession of sound and silence or non-sounds builds up the tension in music, its ups and downs. If the rhythm of music succeeds in moving the audience willingly to give in or go with the acoustic flow, this can result in an inner movement. In common language one could say: music moves me. While in jazz music one would say: this music swings. If this interaction between sound and pauses is written down, a graphic piece with a highly aesthetic sound, a score of movements, a back and forth, a build-up and build-down of amplitude and emptiness is created.

Greatly influenced by the sound patterns and rhythm of Latin-American music, Mendez began sensitively transmitting this succession of peace and activity – so very well known to him – into his artwork. He almost always chooses for wood as an image carrier. Due to his experience in the restoration of antique furniture, Mendez has a manual and technical aptitude and know-how of this material. He uses pieces of old closets, cases or boxes that can no longer be restored. He grinds or cuts some parts, grounds them, sometimes creating collages with peaces of textiles, grinds the pieces again, applies cold encaustic wax, lets them dry, polishes them, shapes them again until parts of the wood texture re-emerge, scratches, cuts, paints, dyes, waxes, polishes, …His work is a time-consuming process.

The colors Mendez uses are colors of nature such as brown and beige, earth or mud colors, green and ochre in grass and plant shades, puce and light-grey in bark shades; in his recent works white is the predominant color, held in stone-, mist-, froth- and cloud shades. The material, the wood structure, and the colors create a melody. The measures and therefore the rhythm are transcribed into visual objects through his graphic composition. The woods of the rain forests are his favorite subject. Gustavo Mendez initially takes a very naturalistic approach at the beginning. The good relationship with his family and the rain forest is reflected in titles such as “father-woods, brother-woods and the Amazon virgin forest”.

The trees of the rain forest stand beside each other, dance with the light winds, are bent by the strong winds, but always leave enough space to the neighboring tree by appearing to sway to Latin-American music. The density of the woods creates volume, different levels that build up consecutively and create depth. The spaces between his “trees” are not “planted” continuously like in nurseries or orchards, no – the distances vary highly. Short distances, nearly unified trees, larger distances, almost resembling glades, create his images of spaces, his own stage for displaying his tangible objects in space. The trunks appear as supporting columns to him and to human kind. The horizontal plant arrangements sometimes seem like a healing cicatrization that guarantees further mobility, sometime similar to a human column, which is shown in one of his pictures titled “rip and column”.

The lines of the log are seldom drawn parallel, instead they head in different directions, change and curl around something, cut through other image layers further in the back, create different spaces, cover, rebuild, dissolve, and yet leave spaces to be shared between each other and for themselves. For Gustavo Mendez, trees are a symbol of human beings living together. His message is to be more tolerant. As trees – even in strong winds – leave enough space between them by bending into one direction and cushioning the gusts, Mendez invites us humans to give each other more space and support. By being a bit more flexible like trees, we can step up to one another and let go, thereby avoiding or resolving confrontations and disputes. In other words, he invites us to approach each other without consuming or crowding one another, for the freedom of each person ends where the freedom of another is hampered.

Mendez demonstrates his philosophy through his way of communicating with all social classes as well as through his artistic installations of huge old cases cut into trunks hanging freely in space by ropes. With different distances to one another these trunks not only divide the space but also invite the observer to find his or her way – and not merely a gap. He wants him to look behind the bulky façade for whatever reason and to discover new horizons. In his recent images, Mendez reduces his artwork to only a few lines, to the structure of the material, and to pure white. It seems he has found his own personal free space; he is approaching something different now, something bigger. He is heading from an archaic, down-to-earth foundation towards a meditative, tangible, cosmic space.