crusaders, kings, clowns and other city types.
By Moira Jeffrey
" Art is made against
the force of fortune, but when fortune is bad it often requires
the help of art "
Andrea Alciato, the Emblematum Liber.
Ral Veroni's recent work features
a whole host of characters he calls "entities", although
in another time or place they might be known as Gods. Chief among
them are Time and Destiny, two brothers with a bad relationship.
Time treats all men as equal, Destiny favours the few.
Time wears the mask of a thief and beats out the hours with a worker's
hammer. Destiny, usually depicted shitting or wanking, is a troublesome
Veroni's work takes two forms:
There are a series of images of two cities, his former and current
homes: Buenos Aires and Glasgow. Here the entities are presences
in the city. Dream sweeps over the Glasgow rooftops at sunset. Absurdity
stands atop the Kavannagh building, a symbol of progress in
the centre of Buenos Aires. Then there are a
series of computer-generated mandalas or patterns, where the entities
feature in complex geometrical structures with symbolic meanings.
Veroni's urban images provide
alternative maps of the two cities, maps that bring important real
places together with characters who are conduits for political satire,
received wisdom, ancient mythologies, sloganeering, jokes and personal
stories. Like many map lovers Veroni is, by nature a strategist.
Growing up in Buenos Aires, he learnt early
on that the goddess fortune was not always to be trusted. Fluctuating
circumstances like economic instability, hyperinflation and institutional
atrophy meant that for an emerging artist art practice was often
a question of tactics. Veroni's art had to be on the hoof, opportunistic,
and above all cheap.
The galleries were full so he
staged an illicit retrospective in the toilets of the Museum of
Fine Art and waged campaigns using graffiti art and stickers. Materials
were expensive so he wrote and published poetry instead. Politicians
were corrupt so he devised a satirical scheme to deface election
posters. The value of paper money fluctuated so he made
screen prints on bank notes (much cheaper than conventional art
materials). But this ad hoc activity also mined a rich metaphorical
seam. Above all his work enacted the breakdown of trust between
the individual and the authorities. Traditional survival strategies
like obedience, hard work and saving had broken down, and new strategies
had to be found.
Veroni currently lives in Glasgow
and works from 'The Little Studio', his sitting room in St George's
Road. Under the sign of Saint George, the patron saint of (amongst
others) soldiers, boy scouts and lepers he looks out of his window
onto the artery of the M8. If his images of Buenos Aires refer to
a long history he has lived through including
times of political oppression, economic crises, periods of cultural
conservatism and subsequent rebirth, his history in Glasgow has
been both short and bittersweet. The art he has made about this
city is more personal. It reflects on love and friendship, on time
and dreams and harmony. But it also reflects on distance and dislocation,
shifts and on his own responses to the current economic and political
crisis in Argentina. He is a tactician still. His artist's books
are self-published. The entities that appear in his recent pictures,
embodiments of the forces that drive or enslave us including Memory,
Madness and Money, are actually carefully crafted out of plasticine
and live in his cupboard.
" I bring forth symbols
of antiquity and a primeval age, of which each man dreams according
to his wishes"
Andrea Alciato, the Emblematum Liber.
Veroni is by instinct a printmaker. His work, whether it is poetry,
painting or photography refers time and time again to the history
of printmaking across the centuries. The skeletons of Holbein's
Danse Macabre rattle through his work while Spiderman swoops across
his city skies. His interests include the great 16th century printmaker
Callot as surely as they include Felix the Cat. His love of the
popular book format echoes the satirical publications of the Mexican
graphic artist Posada as well as the Marvel comics of his own childhood.
Veroni's entities may have the
shiny cartoon quality of characters from Toy Story but they have
their origins in 16th century emblem books. The first of these,
the Emblematum Liber, was written by Andrea Alciato, an Italian
legal scholar, in 1531. They became a craze in the 16th and 17th
centuries, amongst the first popular books in the early age of print.
The emblems were symbolic pictures accompanied by epigraphs and
poems. Each embodied a nugget of wisdom: a wry comment on the virtues
or the vices, advice on fate, money or warfare. But the emblem books
simply repositories for arcane symbolism, they were pattern books
for great artists and they became instruction books for real live
events staged in powerful cities. In such processions and fetes
the emblems, like Veroni's entities, came to life in real neighbourhoods,
in real buildings on real streets.
But where once emblems were created
to serve the purposes of princes and kings, Veroni returns them
to realm of satirical street theatre. His entities are an excuse
to talk about human fate, about the politics of globalisation, of
corruption and injustice. The symbolism of sickles, bones and roses
allows him to explore the painful history of Argentina; the image
of dreams represents the desire to escape everyday hardships.
The other symbolic form Veroni
uses is that of the mandala, the circular image used in a number
of world religions including Buddhism and Christianity, represent
the universe. Like the mandala, which was often used by monks as
an aid to contemplation and religious observation, the entities
are capsules of knowledge, symbols that contain within them
complex histories and beliefs.
Veroni's entities are in part
a response to his own displacement, an attempt to find a language
that is easily understood. The history, the politics and the architecture
in Veroni's two cities are undoubtedly different, but his characters
are familiar. People are different. People are the same. Any child
brought up on Batman would also recognise the caped crusaders, kings,
clowns and other city types that populate his work.
* The following text was
commissioned by Street
Level Photoworks for Ral Veroni’s exhibition
‘About the bad relationship between Time and Destiny’
- 6th April – 25th May 2002.