Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, 2004 / Museo de las Américas, Denver, USA, 2006 / Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2010
This is a space and time specific intervention which consists of a movie projection in an urban external wall. The movie is a sequence of 30, 12 hours DVDs of a burning candle. This giant projected candle burns slowly, consuming itself during the passing nights until it turns into its minimum expression. That night at midnight, a hand enters the frame to light another full size candle and places it over the old one. This new candle burns for a few more days until the piece is removed.
What goes around, comes around Object, subject and the construction of the spectator's time
By Javier Villa de Villafañe - translation by Alicia Steimberg
Let us use our imagination. Our character’s name is John Smith. John Smith is not a romantic. His birthday won’t arrive before another two months. He does not pray and he does not practice satanic rites. He does not live in a refuge, without electricity, at the top of the Himalayas. John Smith lives in San Francisco. He works Downtown, at an important firm that speculates with money. The market’s day finishes at 6 p.m. After nine hours of being exposed to a continuous procession of LEDs and with his vocal chords exhausted by “buy” or “sell” – let us imagine him as if he were 199 in a movie – John Smith’s body falls on the black leather of his BMW. He drives out of the parking lot into a city plagued with automobiles. He shares the collective anxiety of going back home and taking a hot shower. He is about to blow the horn because the row of cars does not advance when, suddenly, he looks in front of himself and sees a twenty meter burning candle, projected onto the external walls of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Let us imagine. At first our character is absorbed by the image. He is hypnotized like an adolescent by the dance of shapes produced by the fire. John Smith is overwhelmed, he relaxes, he breathes deep. The projection in a public space in the center of San Francisco is an escape from the daily turmoil of the city, from the excess of simultaneous images. From sound pollution, speed and fatigue. As Martín Bomadeo says it with the title of the work Hope, the candle may become a sign of hopefulness. But, more important yet – in this post electric age – it may give the feeling that time has stopped: an intermediate time within an atemporal space. Namely, it is a sign of hope and desire when it is blown at a birthday, but only because this action takes place at the right instant: between the finished and the new year, or when a believer goes into a chapel full of candles and lights his own; warns that this space and this action are not earthly nor heavenly: they are a bridge. Then, John Smith looks at the candle. He does not know for how long: maybe for a few meters, or for a century. It floats, like a budding couple in their first romantic dinner. In this case Bonadeo works on art as an ephemeral offering. He lights a candle for the John Smiths that walk daily through that particular street in the world, a small and precarious gift provoking a present experience, a story at a place –“a specific intervention for time and for space”-. That is clear: never a great story that pretends to reveal a great truth. It is just John Smith floating on his seat. Let us imagine. This effect lasts for a few times, but once the situation becomes habitual and he has understood the process of the candle burning and shortening day after day, the gigantic piece of wax no longer takes him to that atemporal place, a place for meditation, and brings him instead to the here and now, in the bluntest possible way. The candle becomes an extremely anomalous object, now it is an irruption in the course of things, revealing how unfair or painful the present conditions are, in the environment where the experience happens. That scale, larger than the one of the advertising – and the projection, as a continuous process in time and on the walls of an art center, transform the candle in an anomalous object that disturbs the everyday obedience to the usual forms and colors, made routine by the slavery of working hours, the cyclic rotation of advertising fashions and the flow of merchandise. The candle becomes a humanizing object as it deconstructs the pre-programmed urban landscapes, that decoration that can be devouring or alienating. The candle becomes a great story. However, John Smith is assaulted once more by a still harder problem. Let us imagine. The candle, on the back of that wall, within the institution, would clearly be an art object and the viewer, in this case would be easily defined as a subject. There is a respect for the dialogue 201 of the transparent relationship between the subject and the museum object, preconditioned by the history of art and its exhibitions. Thus, although the candle passes through a process of consumption, this process would be denied or remain in a secondary position compared with the visual power of the object itself. A viewer that observed for five minutes would not come to perceive, or feel, this intrinsic quality of the object. While it is possible to build, from here, a reading on the limits of the institution, in this case it is interesting to think how, after the change of context, a transformation is produced in the levels of representation. Outside the museum, the object is not considered in the same way. People passing by daily can feel how the projected object mutates over the weeks. Perceiving this change in the candle bestows on it an almost subjective quality, an organic process with a history, past and a future. In a similar way we might think that the people who daily cover that distance coming from work as a routine, take on the quality of an object: they become an object. Bonadeo no longer provides an introspective and relaxing moment: the object, or the situation produces an inverted visual experience. The object, or the situation, looks at the viewer, and now the viewer is no longer a producing subject, phenomenologically active, he is also produced by the object. The viewer becomes a subject-object, an ambiguous space where everything is built. The act of perceiving becomes something more than the simple perception, it is building the object at a given moment and, simultaneously building us. The subject work, varying day after day, looks at the object John Smith, static, unmovable in the course of time. We might imagine that John Smith, seeing the candle burning looks at himself consuming in time, always identical to himself, and never changing. Merleau-Ponty would say that the object exists as long as it is an experience of the subject. In this case we might say that the subject starts to exist as long as it is an experience of the object. True: it is John Smith that looks at the candle consuming itself, but the experience that goes through the candle is what goes back to him violently, what makes him reflect on his quality of subject in time, making visible his own history as an individual locked up in alienation in the turbulent city, what Cristian Ferrer classifies as an intense prison, “the mold that makes our lives precious and irrecoverable, just machines in perpetual movement”. The work, in this instance, acts as a catalyst. Then, when Bonadeo changes that consumed candle by a new one in the passage from December 31 to January 1, is that hope? Is it the beginning of something new, renewal, a rennaisance? Or is it the cycle of that intense prison that repeats itself once more, again and again? Let's imagine. Our character's name is Mary Johnson. Mary does not perceive the candle in the same way as John. Mary is different from John. In that encounter where the subject, from his own experience, builds the object and himself in that that mutual interaction that is not simply the sum of its elements but the forms of relationship between subject and object, a third space is created, namely, the art work itself. This third space is a unique situation: it is created by each subject and each object, both built simultaneously at that moment. Martín Bonadeo creates “specific interventions for time and space” 203and, why not, for the subject too.
Fire is the origin of projections. Since ancient times many cultures have been exploring the possibilities of shadows and light filtering to produce expressive results. Even today, cinema, television, a computer monitor or an LCD projector, are no more than simple technological shifts from these old ideas. Burning wood has always been a way to generate not only light but heat and smell as well. All religions use fire and candles in their rites, there is something about life and hope that this phenomena represents in an extremely accurate way. As a TV set, fire’s random flame patterns of light and shadows can hypnotize anyone. A city like San Francisco can consume thousands of KW a night, but light is still measured in candelas, the horse power of artificial lighting.