MADRAGOA, at Art|Basel Statements, presents a new project by Mexican-born, Lisbon-based, Rodrigo Hernández which represents a development of his recent production experience in Portugal.

In 2017 the artist focused on a new kind of production using for the first time a thin sheet of steel, that was hand-hammered in collaboration with a local Portuguese artisan in order to emboss a number of figures and shapes on the material’s surface, leading to the creation of the installation Plasma, presented in May 2017 at Madragoa. Each embossed metal panel, floating on a colored wooden grid on the floor, was the piece of a large puzzle that composed the image of a human figure walking up a step. Through the rearrangement of each metal panel on the wooden grid every day, this image was reconfigured and gained the potential of becoming completely abstract.

For this presentation, the artist has conceived The Shadow of a Tank, an installation that occupies the entirety of the walls of the booth with a monumental yet temporary composition in the form of a frieze. It is realized with the same technique of Plasma, but with a new, different material: a thin brass sheet, traditionally used by the same local artisans with whom Rodrigo Hernández collaborated. Each metal panel composing the frieze is installed on a pine wooden structure that will remind of a construction or architectural site. Each piece has the potential of being moved along the grid, therefore transforming the composition every time their position changes.

The frieze depicts scenes of The Shadow of a Tank, a visual narrative created by Rodrigo Hernández for this occasion. This “history” draws inspiration from Dario Gamboni’s book Potential Images (2001): a systematic and chronological exploration of ambiguity, understood as an inherent quality to images. In the book, Gamboni defines visual perception as an interpretative act involving memory and imagination. The images embossed in the frieze belong to a shared iconography, coming from different sources: art history, design, archeology, philosophy and psychology tests, among others.

The installation intends to create a contrast between this indeterminacy essential to images with the historical, monumental weight of a frieze; reflecting on how it has been used to present a narrative and on its architectural presence. Created in a commonly decorative, precious-looking material, this installation stands on a temporary structure, where the frieze becomes a fluid, movable composition, detached from a defined architectural space, and depicting an ambiguous timeline. The technique employed to create the images emphasizes their ambivalent nature: each of them is a bas-relief, halfway between a two-dimensional pictorial representation and an all-round sculpture.

This new work constitutes a further expansion and evolution of an ongoing research on the broader subject of the production and perception of images, which the artist has brought on throughout his practice. Moreover, this project aims to look at Mexican Muralism -which strongly influenced Hernández visual culture- from a new perspective: rather than seeing it as a seamless artistic movement in terms of style or subject matter, the artist seeks to understand a mural as an image created through a series of juxtapositions drawing from a vast range of sources, such as the use of montage, cubist composition, social realism and the “intuitiveness” of Meso-American sculpture, among others.

Rodrigo Hernández, “The Shadow of a Tank”, 2018. Hand-hammered brass, wood, goldener screws; dimensions variable; metal frieze 180 x 144 cm overall. Photographs by: Sebastiano Pellion. Courtesy of the artist and Madragoa, Lisbon.