Billboard Series #18:
Rodrigo Hernández (MX)
21/12/2019 — 21/03/2020
Rodrigo Hernández (°1983, Mexico – lives in Lisbon) is interested in simple materials such as paper, copper, wood, and steel; and in manual and artisanal ways of processing them. At first glance the works he makes may seem simple, but they all carry complex questions about the world around us. Hernández constantly refers to art history and to elements of literature to explore a number of man-made concepts – such as the idea of time, for example, or what makes us human. With works that can take very different forms, such as papier-mâché sculptures; copper bas-reliefs; paintings, and space-filling installations, Hernández explores utopian ideas, and how these ideas can recur in other ways in art and literature.
For his exhibition in the Swiss art space SALTS, Hernández based himself on a 15th century Zen painting from a temple in Kyoto. This painting depicts a koan; a dialogue that concisely tells an aspect of Buddhist doctrine. Koans are tools for meditation, and often deal with existential questions. The work that Rodrigo Hernández made on the basis of the Zen painting consists of two mirrored spaces with vibrating murals. The main character in the 15th century painting translates Hernández as a shadow captured in polyutheran, and his action as colourful wall sculptures into papier-mâché. Another example is Hernández’ exhibition J’aime Eva in Berlin’s Chert Lüdde. The starting point for this exhibition was a collage-porter that Pablo Picasso made of his beloved at the time in 1912. Here, too, Hernández made a number of papier-mâché objects that combine painting, drawing and collage into a 3D wall sculpture.
Rodrigo Hernández – The Gourd & the Fish, exhibition view at SALTS, Birsfelden in 2018
Rodrigo Hernández – Dampcloot, exhibition view at Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam in 2020
Rodrigo Hernández – Plasma, installation view at Galeria Madragoa, Lisbon in 2017
Rodrigo Hernández – Go, Gentle Scorpio (Detail), 2014
For the latest Billboard Series, entitled Briefly There, Hernández isolates one detail from an installation he made for the Brazilian exhibition space Pivô in São Paulo. The title of the project in Brazil (The real world does not take flight) refers to the first line of a poem by the Polish writer Wislawa Szymborska. Rodrigo Hernández departed from the relationship between dream and reality to create an installation of geometric patterns and papier-mâché sculptures. The geometric background, which we also see on the billboard, is a pattern of blue and white rectangles that refers both to textile patterns from fashion and to Op Art – an art movement from the sixties and seventies in which optical illusions played a prominent role. In the centre of the image, a colourful element breaks through the blue-white motif: an abstract butterfly.
The choice for a butterfly is not accidental – it is a powerful and symbolically charged image. During their lifetime, butterflies transform from unsightly crawling caterpillars to beautiful, elegant animals with sophisticated patterns on their wings. However, their beauty is fragile, and often very short in duration. Some butterfly species, for example, have a severely underdeveloped mouth, cannot eat and only live for a few days.
The butterfly as a symbol for the process of change also has sexual connotations. Some species – such as the Papilio Glaucus – are hermaphroditic, and therefore have both male and female genitalia. This is also reflected culturally: in Spanish, Rodrigo Hernández‘ mother tongue, butterfly (‘marisposa’) is a curse name – at the same time adopted as a badge of pride – for homosexual men.
In this case, however, Hernández uses the butterfly mainly as a substitute to think about migration. He is particularly interested in the idea of butterfly migration – a phenomenon similar to bird migration, in which birds fly back and forth several times during their lives to hibernate. But butterflies only travel once, in one direction. Therefore, two generations of butterflies are needed to make the migration back and forth. The butterfly has a very short and vulnerable life, it is only here for a short time – ‘briefly’ – but because of this migration over several generations it gets a kind of immortality. In this context, Hernández himself refers to the debut novel by poet Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which appeared last year:
“Autumn. Somewhere over Michigan, a colony of monarch butterflies, numbering more than fifteen thousand, are beginning their yearly migration south. In the span of two months, from September to November, they will move, one wing beat at a time, from southern Canada and the United States to portions of Central Mexico, where they will spend the winter.
It only takes a single night of frost to kill off a generation. To live, then, is a matter of time, of timing.
Migration can be triggered by the angle of sunlight, indicating a change in season, temperature, plant life and food supply. Female monarchs lay eggs along the route. Every history has more than one thread, each thread a story of division. The journey takes four thousand eight hundred and thirty miles, more than the length of this country. The monarchs that fly south will not make it back north. Each departure, then, is final. Only their children return; only the future revisits the past. What is a country but a borderless sentence, a life?”
All images courtesy of the artist
Installation photography: Michiel De Cleene
Billboard Series is a long-term art project in public space, for which every three months an artist is invited to create a new, site-specific work for a 50 m2 billboard on Dok Noord, Ghent. Through changing presentations, Billboard Series wants to build a sustainable and productive dialogue with the surrounding neighbourhood and urban landscape, reflect on the changes that this neighbourhood is currently undergoing, and introduce a broad audience to different visual languages and ways of looking at the world.
Billboard Series is a project of artlead, together with 019. Billboard Series is curated by Thomas Caron, takes place within a scenography by architect Olivier Goethals, and is being developed with the support of the City of Ghent and the Flemish Community.