Arancha Goyeneche. When the image overflows

Arancha Goyeneche. When the image overflows.

David Barro

Understanding the painting of Arancha Goyeneche and, by extension, that of many other artists who paint using light as a material, is surely as easy as investigating the figure of the peacock: its colours do not originate from the pigments of its feathers but from light interference phenomena; it is a fine, regular structure that amplifies or extinguishes light waves according to their frequencies. The rest is a question of rhythm. Or, in the case of painting, of assuming that it is something other than a material value.

Arancha Goyeneche works with fragments as triggers for each new image, thereby moving forward from serendipitous findings. Employing adhesive vinyl as a palate of colours, she manages to achieve pictorial effects, until removing the initial painting and even the vinyl itself to enjoy its photographic simulacrum. Later on light arrives as a pictorial effect or gesture; therein the use of coloured fluorescent tubes. There also exists the intention to create painting with actual movement beyond the virtual movement of the painting from its perspective effects. Her strategy is thus one of unfolding or propagating a reconstructed and hence fictitious reality that is born of the most traditional of media –painting–, from which it inherits its greatest historical load and which, at the same time, apparently processes a weaker or, perhaps, more questioned contemporaneity, the mood of which is continuously under debate. Painting is today, more than ever before, an attitude. As Thierry de Duve has pointed out, painting is no longer a technique, but a tradition. An idea or way of thinking, surely, about painting itself in its possibility to apprehend the world.

More than ten years ago, in the former Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art (MEAC), Arancha Goyeneche presented two works that already provided a clear idea of her pictorial intentions. She did so within the framework of the Young Art Show, in which she was represented by two works that sought –in both their structure and resolution– to expand the traditional values of painting. The rhythm and tension of these initial pictorial exercises were significant of the attitude she has maintained years later. At that time, Félix Guisasola pointed out in the catalogue for the show the commonplace origins of these pictorial values. Later, the titles of subsequent works by Arancha (My Illusion; Notes for today; The Joy of Living; A Wonderful Day; Beautiful Illusions and For Lucia) effectively indicated this tense contemplation of day-to-day work.

It is curious to verify how those first works were hugely similar to some pieces by the Portuguese artist, Pedro Calapez, for whom the image is always born from another image, the product of a prior seduction. Although for Calapez this capturing of the image is never complete or direct, but rather diffuse, distorted, like a misty vision, the product of groping the virtual result in an almost blind act, playing with changes of scale to arrive at the final surprise and crossing dimensions to embrace the distortion that is born from experience rather than imitation. As space is loaded and full of mannerist exercises in Arancha Goyeneche’s current works, with plays of rhythm and blank window stains that present themselves like a collage of landscapes that allows no projection, but rather density. The fruit of suggesting the margin by valuing the edges of the painting is a type of painting capable of prolonging itself beyond itself, one that is expanded in its contention, scenographic even. And it is in this sense, rather than in that specific formal coincidence, that we may find the work of both artists. 

What is certain is that Arancha Goyeneche has known how to choose and distil her references very well, while bestowing her own personality and autonomy on her painting; which is easy to recognise for those who have seen one or more of her works. The choice of these references and the sense of rigorous investigation present in each step forward, which is almost always slow, unhurried, as well as her fidelity to the discourse of painting even when this discourse is celebrated on the basis of extra-pictorial materials, allows us to speak of her work in the same way we would of a traditional form of painting, speaking of how she presents a pictorial language by speaking of colour, of self-referencing, of the relation between art and its contexts, of structures, rhythm, composition… But above all, of contemporaneity, of a series of ideas that indicate an attitude of the kind that leads to wondering almost daily as to the why of painting and, above all, whether it is still correct to use the term ‘painting’ when classifying a work or, more concretely, an attitude of indisputably pictorial origin. In this respect, each painting by Arancha Goyeneche is not only a painting but also a representation of an idea on painting and this is precisely what leads her to continue painting as if she did so on canvas.

One year later, this scenographic contention exploded in a collection of small pieces that allude to the sea and the sky. The installation, made up of pieces of adhesive vinyl, graphic techniques, polyurethane or photographic paper, among other materials, was significantly titled El puente de la vision [The Bridge of Vision]. As a whole, a fractal intention could be intuited that was not to take place until the individual exhibition Para Lucía [For Lucia] held in Siboney in 1998. In this exhibition, photographic collages stood out that approached Gordillism, but above all a work titled Espejismo [Mirage] that announced her subsequent works and which is realized in adhesive vinyl on wood. I am unaware of the state that this painting is in nowadays, but the cold aspect of its cracks and the pulchritude of its finishes will surely have been ravaged by time, as occurs with so many of Piet Mondrain’s worked, cracked by time and with the adhesive strips vanquished by what Yourcenar called the great sculptor. André Kertesz saw landscapes in Mondrain’s works. That does not seem difficult today. Neither does that initial hermetic tension seem cold once the strips allow one to appreciate the prior drawing on the canvas. The same would surely occur with many of Arancha Goyeneche’s works, because, like landscapes, they are always different depending on our gaze and although her materials are cold and untainted, certain imperfections and their manual execution mitigate this sensation.

Her second appearance at the Youth Institute of Asturias Show (INJUVE ), in which she presented a huge mural painting based on photographic cuttings and ironically titled “El jardín de las delicias” [The Garden of Delights], was to foster her emphasis on the expansion of painting. In this abyssal work woven from fragments, Arancha Goyeneche displays what was to be her split logic, going beyond the usual linearity of pictorial writing to trace or draw a panoply of folds, cracks and parallel worlds that manage to explore her poetics in a more conspiratorial way. It definitively produces a fractal explosion. It is reality as a collage, inside and outside of the ‘painting’, thus reclaiming the importance of the context, which supports art as a wall does a painting. Because if we have to find similarities with one or other contemporary pictorial trend, we would define the work of Arancha Goyeneche as expanded painting, like reality that allows itself to be penetrated, inhabited or –at least– traversed; painting as an example of expansion towards sculpture or architecture and towards a species of fractal made up of forms that seem to overflow all. All this results even clearer in this latest exhibition held in the Trinity Chapel of the Barjola Museum under the title of “Flying to the Moon”, where she extinguishes the architectural elements of stone that refer to worship with strips of plastic similar to those usually employed to cordon off areas. The 7-metre-high (pictorial) intervention plays with the annulment of religious symbolism in a kind of iconoclastic decontextualisation. Colour and volume, in symbiosis with the architecture, generate another, grafted skin, like the deconstructivist writing of Jacques Derrida. Arancha Goyeneche works with the profiles of things to swiftly spit out their forms as if they blossomed with the mere intention of fracturing the pictorial plane. Like the reverse of that “other” enigmatic zone proposed by Lucio Fontana, Arancha’s intention is for her geometric vinyl drawings to explode and occupy, I would even say to violate and impose themselves on, the physical space. They are forms that advance, that overflow from inside outwards.

We could think here of the theories of Michel Serres, for whom the history of science is subject to turbulence; i.e., it is subject to random connections of all types among different areas. Serres highlights how science advances from that which is unpredictable to that which is unexpected. Standing before the works of Arancha Goyeneche, the viewer is also, in some ways, adrift. Perhaps for all these reasons there is no centre to her works; all angles and directions are valid when addressing the exegesis of her works. The thing is that Arancha contracts that which is directed, hinders the easy viewing [of her works] and multiplies the possibilities of what, in principle, should be familiar to us.

In some ways, I understand her works as sites or landscapes without an actual location that maintain a relation of analogy with real landscape. They would be like a converse counterpoint, a reverse, though always unreal, or rather virtual –from the Latin virtus–, only existing in potential and never in fact. But Arancha Goyeneche attempts to go further with proposals like the one here, converting everything into an effective, real place, with the shape of a counter-site. Something like a place outside of the place. The painting in this chapel acts like a tattoo that is born from a previous decontextualization.
We might thus speak of the heterotopias defined by Foucault, divided by the mirror: “I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which would be the mirror. The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there”. Arancha Goyeneche’s enveloping landscape would thus be the Alice on the other side of the mirror of real space, with its own spatial identity while at the same time within this space, although with another time.
What Arancha Goyeneche proposes falls within and outside of the painting; it is an unfolding of times in accordance with a pictorial tradition that tells us that, as modernity comes of age, the context becomes the content. In a peculiar inversion, the object introduced into the chapel ‘frames’ the chapel and its rules. We refer here to art as a participative experience of the viewer, who in many cases penetrates the work; of a form of painting that increasingly renounces its margins so as to afford importance to the context. Because it is not necessary today to express oneself in paintings and I inevitably think of Rosalind Krauss when she states that as the frontier between what is within (the painting) and what is outside (the frame) begins to fade and fall apart, the possibility exists of perceiving up to what point ‘painting as a unit’ is an artificial category, built on the foundations of desire, very similar to the ‘original edition’. In this indefinite terrain and subject to this degree of imprecision, we move to address proposals like that of Arancha Goyeneche; proposals that attempt to construct a new gaze based on spatial speculation.

As in Maurice Blanchot’s short stories, Arancha Goyeneche’s works perplex us in their geometric variability because they accommodate another time, one that is not fictional, but rather that of painted narration, or, if you prefer, that of the experience of giving shape to these forms cast onto the unknown. It is the time of Blanchot’s writing; the time of Goyeneche’s painting. Because time here is experimented with. In Blanchot, it is the time of the unheard of and the unthinkable, of the obscure or, more concretely, of the absence of time or the present without presence. The text dominates; the discourse vanquishes and imposes itself on the subject. As in Arancha Goyeneche’s shapes of fractal appearance, all overflows, on this occasion even the margin itself, and the artist attempts to tattoo this reality by insisting on the fragment, summing yet another time.

In 2000, the artist was to present a series of travel albums titled De paso por Nueva York [Passing through New York]. Mariano Navarro came up with a neat title: “A Cutter on the Eye’s Globe”. I am reminded, naturally, of Buñuel. But it is interesting to apply this harshness to the usual plastic softness of Arancha Goyeneche. Perhaps crying will be what fosters the blurring of paintings as in those times. Navarro compares Arancha’s attitude with Cézanne’s sequential brushstrokes and his fragmentation of vision. The uncertainty of the cut. Or its subsequent sticking. Yes. Perhaps this is what perplexes us in Arancha’s landscapes, whether they be artificial or natural, musical or noisy like the urban landscape. Francisco Javier San Martín would speak of ‘evoked landscapes’. Mariano Navarro would speak of how retinal formality, forced by the procedure of the cut and representational reconstruction, constitutes the backbone of her production, as well as of the possibilities of contemplation offered to the viewer: “The continued repetition of one single method of observation and realization displaces the object and its sense until the latter has not been constituted and reconstructed into an image that does not allude to the original gaze, but to the backdrop which it becomes before our eyes (…) Refragmentation, thus, of the gaze, which has to spread over a doubly severed surface. As if, at one and the same time, the cutter opened up the vinyl tape and the eye’s globe”.

In a way, we could understand Arancha’s work as an exercise in ellipsis, both in space and time. Just like any kind of interference or dissemination, like any kind of invisibility of the rest or coitus interruptus, the starting point of ellipsis is the fragment. It is, thus, an interruption of reality itself, of its time and of its space. But the break does not necessarily constitute a rupturing of its continuity. Rather, it would be an ellipsis or the contemporary need to create an accident, to transform into a fragment and convert the fragment into a landscape. Adorno pointed this out in his Aesthetic Theory: “Art that makes the highest claim compels itself beyond form as totality and into the fragmentary”. It seems that the event only took place within accidentality. Hence the certain fractal sense in Arancha’s paintings, capable of combining irregularity and structure. The awareness of disorderly order remains precisely due to the force of the fragment or crack in its anarchic, or anarchitectonic potentiality, to refer to Gordon Matta-Clark and his obsession of reading new spatial openings. These tensions generate a truly interesting, disconcerting and pleasant aesthetic universe in Arancha Goyeneche. If in Matta-Clark light is filtered through his cuts, Arancha delves into the void of things, into the poetry of all that is in excess, that overflows. Everything consists in an ironical strategy of camouflage, as in the painting outside of the painting where contention dominates excess.

Because the cuts that Arancha Goyeneche operates are no other than deconstructions of still-to-be-inhabited landscapes. Thereby she investigates that which is invisible, in the margin, something that may also have a lot to do with the choice of material of her paintings, which also propose a parenthesis and/or splitting (though by accumulation) of the ready-made or ready-fabricated. Of course, the resort of using artificial light as a pictorial strategy that was to characterize her more recent work is not new. Dan Flavin already managed to pervert minimalism’s ‘pure’ proposals with his neon lights. At least for the strictest minimalists like Carl Andre, who starts out from the fundamental signification of sculpture: the cutting of a concrete material. For Andre, sculpture evolved first as form, then as structure and finally as place. Judd was to fulfil the first two steps, but not the third. Whereas Dan Flavin and his intention of using fluorescent tubes distorts the premise of conventional minimalism that consists in changing the material of a context for another. Flavin’s neon lights carry out their usual function, that of providing light. This does not occur with pieces by Andre, for example, and much less so with other minimalist artists like Judd. Flavin includes an element of sculptural form that ends up functioning like an indeterminate form of painting. The relationship with architecture is unquestionable, as the tube irradiates a light that transforms the wall into a sort of blank screen that affects the works situated close to the work in question. I am reminded of the minimalism of Sugimoto’s photographs of cinemas, which do not allow the projected films to be seen from a photographic exposition that lasts as long as the film itself and which results in the screen becoming blank and does not allow its contents to be perceived due to the excess of images. The formal minimalist simplicity is unquestionable, as also is the intention to represent the passing of time in a photogram, frozen ephemeral moments all in one.

Some years ago, I worked with a piece by Dan Flavin that paid tribute to the constructivist tradition and, in specifically, to Vladimir Tatlin, emphasising the evident connection between Russian constructivism and the ready-made. And such direct references are what other minimalist and conceptual artists like Sol LeWitt did not like about Flavin. LeWitt even went so far as to state that he liked everything about Dan Flavin’s art apart from the lights. Naturally, what bothered LeWitt was how artificial light implied an idea of imitating nature, something that pure minimalists avoided at all cost. Accordingly, LeWitt would reduce material aspects in favour of their structural counterparts; layout and not form. This is why he would remove the parts of the cubes to be left with the skeleton, depriving perception by default, as opposed to Flavin with a light or void that, paradoxically, fills all, like the mist in a painting by Friedrich or, as in this case, Arancha Goyeneche’s landscapes, in which light comes into being as a pictorial effect or gesture, whether from reflective adhesive vinyl strips or via coloured fluorescent tubes.

It is light as a conjuring element, as an illusionist capable of also functioning as a structure, just as it may be possible to discern in the pieces presented for the exhibition at the Canem Gallery in Castellón, as she had already tried out in her work Fuga y retorno [Flight and Return] in 2002. Another example would be the force of her two illuminated landscapes in darkness which she presented in Artesles in 2005. Light allows her to capture the emotion of the landscape, moving her away from formal representation though working with analogy in the type of format and in that sort of retinal projection of painting.
Arancha Goyeneche works with the gaze, with pictorial contemplation. The support or the physical limits of the painting or the space do not matter. In between photography and painting, between form and structure, between the rational and the emotions, between what is generated and what is substituted, between Léger and Delaunay, between Davenport and Calapez, between Flavin and Turrell, between cutting and sticking, between painting and projection, between collage and masking, between the slowness of the process and the speed of the flash, between cold and hot, between order and chaos, between Mondrian and Gordillo, between the singular and the kaleidoscopic, between the thickness and the crack, between painting and life. And among so many crossovers, the tension of the lines and the contrast of colours generate a vibrant intensity that gives the sensation of movement, even though this may be the product of repetition, of insistence, until the image explodes… and overflows.