Artnexus Issue #82 Sep - Nov 2011
Institution: Centro Cultural B.O.D. - Corp Banca
Antonio Briceño is an artist who uses photography to communicate a poetics of respect for the planet, its inhabitants, and its cultures. He is a defender of diversity, a lover of nature and of the wealth that has emerged, after a long history of contact between nature and humanity, as mythical, linguistic, and spiritual complexity.
Between 2009 and 2010 Briceño traveled to Lapland, a region inhabited by the Sami people; a vast expanse that stretches over northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland and Northwest Russia. The Sami, the original inhabitants of Scandinavia, proud of their native language and culture, struggle to validate their rights over a land they occupy since time immemorial and to preserve their autonomy, their traditions, their culture and their language, now under siege by the currents of globalization.
Briceño's journey to Lapland made him develop an interest in that unique culture, established in the cold and difficult landscape of the north, monotonous only in appearance. The richness of the Sami language captivated the artist, who, noticing the variety of words used to name the environment, discovered the subtle, hidden diversity-hidden to the eyes of a man from the tropics-of the inner and outer worlds of this people.
The exhibition 520 Reindeers. Homage to the Sami Language emerged from that experience. The title emphasizes the linguistic wealth of a people that possesses many words to name an animal that has traditionally been its primary means of sustenance, the husbandry and domestication of which occupy a large part of the local life and culture.
Presented between March 30 and May 15, 2011, and curated by Tomás Rodríguez, the show comprises prints of ink on flexible methacrylate, a Lambda print on dibond, a video installation, and methacrylate, a Lambda print on dibond, a video installation, and a sound installation, totaling some one hundred images of the Sami and their natural environment.
Sami is a mosaic with 40 portraits of individuals belonging to that ethnic group; some appear dressed in traditional garb of great symbolic and social significance, and others in Westernstyle dress. The emphasis on such disparity expresses a cultural reality that transcends folkloristic romanticism and underscores, rather, a cultural rootedness that is above all a sign of the spirit, in an environment that has not remained immune to outside penetration.
144 paisajes is a beautiful series where the artist builds a total image based in the serial repetition of the photograph of a Lap landscape, noting the subtle difference that exist for the Sami people in spaces that are identical to the eyes of the photographer (and the viewer). This notion is made concrete in the richness of the language, and becomes the guiding thread running through the show.
Starting from experimentalism and motivated by these interests, Briceño found in the technique of printing on methacrylate the ability to duplicate in a metaphorical way the hide of the reindeer, a material present in the lodgings, dress, and rituals of the Sami culture. Like reindeer hides, methacrylate is susceptible to bending, folding, and rolling up. At the same time, it allows for transparency, a necessary condition to express the subtle contrasts of light and shadow found in a landscape that is overwhelmingly white. Transparency also makes layering possible, which contributes to create a dense visual and semantic atmosphere loaded with evocative power.
For Briceño, his work Los 520 renos de Mika Saijets "summarizes everything that the show is after. The acrylics were stretched in the same way hides are sun-dried, so that their bending is left in suspense, as a potential. These perfectly stretched hides contain the 520 words used to refer to reindeer and at the same time an unending herd of these animals, superimposed in two separate layers. Thus, as we walk, the images and the words fuse and reemerge, back and forth, leaving behind shadows that are as enigmatic as the history of Sami words, and of all words."
The installation La luz que se escucha evokes the natural phenomenon of the aurora borealis, which possesses great symbolic meaning for the Sami. The projection of the aurora is accompanied by a Yoik chant, a deeply spiritual form of expression where the essence of the person, animal, or place that is named enters into a deep communion with the cosmos. 520 Reindeers. Homage to the Sami Language not only honored this memory-filled people, but all the peoples of the earth who struggle to maintain their identity, as a way of defending the cultural and spiritual diversity of the human species.