The Evidence of Exile
by Elvia Rosa Castro

Consciousness around the status of painting as a medium allows an artist for of its status and to go to its reductionist limits, not as an exercise in empty rhetoric, but as the use of an agonistic[1] discourse that inquires into its responsibilities and limitations as a fictitious mode, construction, or representation. Once the “zero degree” of questioning is reached, one has no choice but to be immodest, to proclaim and promote its “symbolic status” with no other claim. Only then, in recognition of its capacity for sense and nonsense, and its autonomous nature, will it be legitimate.

This has been, in my opinion, the guiding and inherent path of the artistic career of Armando Mariño, regardless of the methodology or resources he has used, transcending visual forms in his most recent paintings, from Lack of Work (oil, 1996), to name a work from the end of the last century, through his solo exhibition Amsterdam (2005), to his current work, Recent Paintings from the Year of the Protester.

Mariño is well aware that he is trying to wrest the last minute of glory for painting from art, or rather, from creation, along with its right to belong to contemporary art practices as a legitimate subject, capable of historicizing that which historicizes us.[2] That is why the artist is always challenging painting, curiously, through itself. Belonging to a cohort of artists who chose canonical works recognized in the History of Art, appropriating fragments or operating modes of the Renaissance and the Baroque and using its symbolic legacy to deal with it as linguistic alibi and allegory in order to comment about ethno-racial issues[3] and the end of history as metanarrative, but mostly as an inquiring device to painting as efficient tool for representation, Armando Mariño had a good start by taking the first prize of the 1st Exhibition of Contemporary Cuban Art Account of 1995 with his view of utopia, a sort of postmodern pastiche which placed him in the spotlight of critics, curators and students who promptly placed him within Neohistoricist trends and the Neo-Baroque fashion of those years.

Through the act of quoting works from the canon of the Academy and treatises of Art, taking into account the pedagogy and the role of artists and the domain of the so-called “metaphor educated” (theatricality or the ambiance of set design included) this eagerness to emphasize the “tyranny of the signifier” in the works of Mariño not only challenges representation as a mode of fictitious and arbitrary architecture but above all, as a space of exclusion.

However, time and distance from the context of Havana apparently changed the focus of his work, turning less toward narrative and changing the syntax of composition in his paintings. But he continues with the recycling of visual codes embedded in the pictorial tradition in order to insist on the immanence of art, its nature and scope as efficiency. In turn, he is displacing the topic of racism towards what I call an expanded political consciousness, to include ecology, crises and wars, with their corresponding quotas of violence: reaching this point, the citation dissolves itself despite its continued existence. Of course, his approach to the issue of social unrest is not as a reporter looking for the most tragic documentation or spectacular instant. Mariño departs from these raw materials at the moment when this archive is mediatized and thus become a spectacle.

“If I transform violence into fireworks, in a spectacle, at this moment the basic and fundamental aspect of the violence that is the destructive aspect disappears and we are left in this cloak of the agitated movements of people, objects…” according to Bozal.[4] However, there is a metaphor that has stuck with me through the years and it is this phrase of Achille Bonito Oliva, that the media coverage of the war and the bombing of Baghdad was consumed by us as an innocuous “dew of war.” The ethical dilemma implied by this aestheticization or domestication of the violent event, from the moment it is made into breaking news and then into painting, as well as the competence and responsibility of painting in such cases, constitutes the axis of the recent work of Armando Mariño.

Appropriating images whose authorship and authority become less important (ordinary, everyday) and to which ordinary people have access via the web or print media, Marino introduces a new type of neohistoricism: he atomizes the quote (which is no longer sacred) evident through a procedure of pictorial distancing or distortion of the distortion in which the reference is totally alienated, hidden. In this sense we can affirm that his images are bastardized but not because we can’t recognize the provenance. And yet, they reach an auratic range because they have been converted, taken from their origins and sublimated into art works.

In a sort of covert operation Mariño manipulates the found material, creating images that verge on abstraction, altering the original literal meaning of the gaze, confusing the spectator with a beautiful image where the essential is, often, what we can’t see, leaving other senses to play this role. Thanks to the pictorial treatment, the epicness overtakes us as an evocation but not as evidence, so in perceiving the image, something tells us it is an altered collateral account. Or because the chromatic treatment — based on bright pigments and fluorescent colors in tune with these times — offers a result that continues to be hedonistic and even perverse. These are, in short, paintings that should not only be seen but felt in their fragmentation.

This conscious exclusion of the evidence or the dissolution of the referent becomes, by extension, a critique of our political apathy and indifference by dint of living with a sublimated or naturalized violence. Its everyday-ness makes it invisible. But, especially, the entire modus operandi becomes a self-reflexive exercise on painting.  Again, Armando Mariño’s discursive substance appears: the representational capacity of the pictorial, its responsibility as guarantor of tropological ambiguity, and its ability to deal in the arena of the art world and beyond. As the artist himself has said: “Once again, I am playing with the symbolic status of painting and its capacity to, at once, monumentalize and trivialize human drama.”

Translated from Spanish by Zoya Kocur.

[1] I use the term in the Greek conception of a productive dialogue that leads to a result.
[2] To paraphrase Heidegger.
[3] A topic that was not adequately addressed by Cuban art of the 1980s.
[4] “We are living a process of the aestheticization of violence.” Valeriano Bozal, interviewed by Urkiri Salaberria.