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OSCAR MUÑOZ

October 21 - December 10, 2005, at Iturralde Gallery, West Hollywood

by Jody Zellen




“Proyecto para un Memorial (Project
for a Memorial),” single image
from group of nine, 2005,
photograph from video still.








“Proyecto para un Memorial (Project
for a Memorial),” single image
from group of nine, 2005,
photograph from video still
.







“Proyecto para un Memorial (Project
for a Memorial),” group of nine,
2005, photographs from video stills
.








“Proyecto para un Memorial
(Project for a Memorial),” 2005,
photographs from video stills
.








"Encouragement," 1998,
screenprint on mirror.

In Columbian artist Oscar Muñoz’ “Re/trato,” a 2003 video projection that was displayed in the Latin American exhibition at the 2005 Venice Biennial, a hand repeatedly tries to paint a portrait on the concrete sidewalk. As soon as the brush finishes one part of the painting, the other part begins to disappear. The artist paints with water, and the hot sun evaporates the image before it is completed. The portrait can never be seen as a whole. This work uses an ethereal material--water--to address the transitory nature of human existence. Munoz also uses appearing and disappearing portraits in his artworks as a metaphor for the numerous people who have mysteriously disappeared in his native country.

Muñoz has been making conceptual works for the last decade that explore how one can bring an image to life using breath, water or coal dust, and then just as quickly make it disappear. For his “Narcisos Series,” (1997-2002) he screened charcoal powder onto a tray of water, allowing the image of his own face to float on the surface. As the water evaporates the decomposed image is left on the bottom of the tray. Water was also used to dissolve his image in a work, also part of the “Narcisos Series,” where a beautifully crafted line drawing of the artist’s face is dusted onto a sink full of water. As the water slowly begins to drain out of the sink, the portrait becomes more and more distorted, until it is no longer readable as a face.

The formal impermanence of the image has been the central component of Muñoz’s work. For a series entitled “Encouragement” (1998), he screened images taken from the newspaper of people who were victims of political violence onto mirrors. At first glance it seemed as if there was nothing there, but when the viewer breathed onto the mirror, thus fogging its surface, the image would appear. The marriage of self and victim cannot be overlooked in these profound works. It is the viewer who brings the victim to life, if only for a matter of seconds.

Using the mechanical processes associated with photographic reproduction, Muñoz has created a body of political as well as visually seductive works. As awe inspiring as the process may be, it is the way the message is communicated that sets Muñoz apart. The works speak to memory and remembrance. They are simultaneously intimately personal and scathingly topical. While they hover between alchemy and magic, the facile nature of the artist’s hand cannot be denied.

For the current exhibition, Muñoz has created a new work consisting of five single channel videos. This work uses the “Re/trato” video as its point of departure, but rather than paint his own image Munoz fights against time to record the faces of others, of those who have disappeared. As quick as his hand may be, it can never complete the portrait. In the installation the hand moves from screen to screen, racing against time to record and preserve the image. For “Proyecto para un Memorial / Project for a Memorial” five video monitors are installed just below eye level in a row along the wall. Each video displays the artist sketching a portrait on a slab of stone. Using a brush moistened with water, the artist moves swiftly to complete the drawing before it evaporates in the hot sun. As in previous works Muñoz uses natural elements to explore the vulnerability of both the image and the human being associated with it—as recorder and as subject.