Real time vanitas
Interactive installation
Olga Martínez Art Gallery, Buenos Aires, 2002 / Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires, 2007 / Woodstreet Gallery, Pittsburgh, USA, 2010

Spectators pass beneath a light bulb and a camera takes a middle ground shot of them. This image is projected in real time on a sand glass timer perfumed with naphthalene. As time passes by, the projected image vanishes and gets lost upon the sand glass and starts being projected on the floor, going from a vertical state to a horizontal one.

Martín Bonadeo: Vánitas en tiempo real (real time vanitas)

By Lic. Verónica Tell. Art History, UBA. Translated by Tamara Stuby

Vanitas and time are interrelated by their very nature: time acts upon all things, and life exists as a transitory state. Following a centuries-old tradition, Martín Bonadeo takes it upon himself to remind us of this fact once again.

Nature tends to be symbolized by fruits, leaves and insects in this pictorial genre, and they are the elements that have, in fact, appeared in Vánitas empapelado (Wallpapered vanitas), one of Bonadeo's previous works where he projected images of insects onto wallpaper with a floral motif. Subsequently, while in historical vanitas the human figure tends to be absent (although skulls are frequently employed to evoke the fragility of earthly human existence), here Bonadeo decides to include it. He does so in a very particular manner, since the human figure in Vánitas en tiempo real (Real time vanitas) is that of every person who pauses in front of the work.

On the one hand, as in other installations (Américas Fundidas -Fused Americas-or Termosíntesis – Thermosynthesis), the artist turns the viewer – whose presence completes the construction of the work – into the work’s driving force. On the other hand, by situating each viewer at the center of Vánitas en tiempo real (Real time vanitas), Bonadeo takes the conceptual principle behind vanitas and puts it to work in the field of concrete evidence: both reality itself and the image are put into question.

A filmed image of the viewer is projected onto the flat surface of an hourglass in real time, where the viewer stands in front of his own representation. The support for this real time image (which is what, apart from the technological terminology? Or is it possible that such simultaneousness in and of itself exists, as the artist himself points out, “a photograph or a digital image belongs to the past once we can see it”?) is the sand contained between the glass pieces, in other words, the marking and measurement of the passage of time. Here there is a reference to traditional iconography, since both hourglasses and water clocks have characteristically formed part of vanitas as instruments for measuring time. In this work, however, the clock is present not only as a conceptual element, that is, as an object that refers back to the idea of time, but acquires a different dimension as well, since it is the image's variable support: as the sand 101 runs, time runs out and along with it, the representation of ourselves disappears. High technology produces the image that goes along with the sand that slips downward. Nevertheless, one part of the work that pertains to antique, simple technology –the hourglass– preserves our image: what happens is that the glass surface itself continues to reflect our image back to us. Representation and reflection exist between high and low tech. While the former fades away before our eyes, the latter persists. However, we do not receive our own reflection every morning, since a set idea of it remains, persistent in our minds: it is the evidence that time goes by.

As such, real time is not just technological language, but also that which we perceive in a very concrete way, passing before our eyes. It makes us aware of the fact that every second that we spend in front of the work is a second that has passed. And we could well stay there, “and you could also await the instant that was arriving... that was arriving... and suddenly, in the present, and was suddenly melting away... and another that was coming... and coming...”, as Clarice Lispector wrote.*

** Clarice Lispector, Cerca del corazón salvaje, Madrid, Siruela, 2002, p. 56.

Mirror's real time

Wall text

The image given back by a mirror changes constantly and it is not the same in the morning as at night time. Not to mention the transformations suffered by the personal image throughout the years. But as to mirror technology itself, a reflection at present time, a photograph or a digital image belongs to the past once we can see it. Light takes its time to rebound in the mirror, digitally processed or projected. The impossibility to trap the present is thus evidenced. A sand glass timer shows us the same kind of fluid reality. Superposition of those two mechanisms produces a strong representation of the impossibility to maintain a still image.

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