Published in Artist´s Book Yearbook 2003-2005
by Ral Veroni
review by Andrew Eason*
Ral Veroni’s Buenos Aires is a book in the form of a series of related cards, accompanied by a colophon and notes. It features the figures I’ve seen before in prints by Veroni: glyphic personages impinging on the skyline like Japanese monsters, by way of Mexican hero - wrestlers, accoutred strangely, with their godlike accessories. Hammers, sickles, improbable decorations and masks. Staring skywards and raking the horizon with their electrical-impenetrable gaze like socialist sculpture produced directly from the unconscious of the workers. Ral is from Argentina but lives in Glasgow now. One figure, a representation of the She-Wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, is described by Veroni in his notes: “The wolf was the symbol of Rome. In a city like Buenos Aires it also marks the presence of the massive Italian immigration... The Wolf Departs is an attempt to symbolise in an image the return of the discouraged sons of the immigrants to the land of their forefathers.” It made me think also of the Scottish/Italian sculptor Edouardo Paolozzi, whose work showing massive, fragmentary feet and hands recall the broken statues one finds in Rome. They pop up in conurbations across Scotland (and elsewhere), where they’re well liked, and routinely covered in chip papers tossed away by our homegrown urchins. Both these bits of statuary, and Veroni’s autochthonic sky-geezers look out across their environments with the mixture of insecurity and hope we get from any sense of history. There’s a lingering communication implied in these glances though: a communication between generations and continents that asks in which direction the communication is going. Are the discouraged sons finding their courage again? When they return, where will they return to? Are these personages on the skyline above our cities ready for us to use, or are we, like the one holding the sickle, simply not able to control the dominating and rapacious power of these heroes? The sickle man is bent-backed, unsure, so the sickle twists around, becomes a question mark instead. Who knows what the real character of this power is? This figure is Absurdity: he’s maybe taking the piss out of us mortals for having a go at controlling our lives. On other pages the figures biff each other with hammers, are poised, ready to smash up the forest of communications around them like Gods disgusted to find that their worshippers, becoming bored, have turned to other things to fill their world.
In other pages the figures - I’m starting to think of them as a family of Gods, irascible, powerful and unpredictable - are looming over bleak skylines of clocks without hands. In another, a red skull, eyes obscured by a bone and looking like something out of the Codex Borgia (a collection of Mexican (Aztec) writings) hovers threateningly in a district of faceless, hermetically dull buildings. Ready to smash the puny mortals. Well, history does that - we’ve no need of Gods to do the same: rather these are the parts of human character that’d like to smash all this stuff up. In another page still, Destiny (for it is he) is masturbating genteelly from a rooftop onto the houses, spilling the seeds of consequence into the lives of the humans going about their business in the rooms and streets below. Behind, on the skyline, huge signs rise above the city, survivors from abroad who’ve weathered the local storms. They’re now cruising all over the surface of the city like hubristic Titanics broadcasting their confidence and overbearing success to the discouraged people. Destiny’s sowing some seeds in this field. Here’s a place with a history of its own, with its own character and history, its own problems and destinies. Here’s a corner, where a café honoured the name of a poet. Then it’s gone. Then it returns again - perhaps not the same, but there at least, so there’s something to work with. The same old characters cruise the skylines, ready to beat the culture into the shape of their choosing for good or ill. The Hammer is right here, waiting for the new material. He’s patient, at least, but a bit unpredictable. Smashing up the old building has, though no one expected it, made it possible to bring back something of the good that was there before which had been lost. Time’s here too, using his pair of Mjolnir-like hammers to bash everything around, but he’s also using them to semaphore out to the horizon, perched atop a communications tower. Or he might just be threatening: his big hammers are aloft in the air. Where will they come down? If he is signalling, who’s he signalling to? Another God? Destiny perhaps? Veroni’s already shown us that those two have an argument to sort out: it’s them who we see on another page, going at each other with their weapons. Destiny has just smacked Time in the head and seems to have won a temporary ascendancy. What will it mean for us all? Veroni says of these divinities “When in kindness they try to make good, things get worse. When enraged they are merciless with us; then, sometimes, things get better.” It seems to be in the nature of these beings that they can’t act with subtlety, that they get too snarled up in humanity if they slow down and compromise their agency. It seems to be, as well, that they have something in common with us - they, like us, can’t be sure of the consequences of their actions. But they need to act or be subsumed into nothingness. In fact, that’s what they are themselves: their power is ours. If we speak and act according to something we’d ascribe to a principle or a higher cause, we’re engendering these Gods and all their shaky leverage. Veroni wraps things up with a little old- fashioned hope. He began the series with an image of the Argentine flag: two bands of pale sky-blue with a band of cloud-white between. Where the sun should be, in the centre of this picture of the sky, he’s placed the image of Absurdity, wielding his discouraging question mark to scythe down our hopes. But by the end of the book he’s replaced the blue colour with the sky itself, the white colour with the clouds. In the centre, two figures shake hands: friendship. The next page: a windowless white beaten-up building stands against the sky. Phonelines run across it, connecting it to heaven and earth. It looks like it will stand as long as it has to, but it looks tired. On the last page, the Hammer is waiting to fashion a new world from the destruction of the old. It’ll be a bit of a shock. It’s always been that way. The Gods know, because they were here first.
*Andrew Eason is a Scottish artist currently based in Bristol