Omertà on oil. The era of silence

There is nothing scarier than silence. A stony, cheerless, impenetrable silence to reality. A silence that does not dare to be broken; I saw, but better not. Silence from fear, silence from indifference, silence from interest, silence from complicity. The silence of you first, then me. Silence which is degrading, repulsive, abject. Shame for the species.

 

A glacial era freezing screams. Judges, partners in crime, the argumentative, the dogmatic, the evasive, the media (who remain). Governments, nations, continental and global authorities. All frozen. There is too much oil here for them to be heard; too much money for them to listen. The thunderous cries of their fellow man has still not reached them. The pain of the abused does not affect them. Humiliation does not make them blush, even when it is perpetrated in the spotlight. General omertà, while they give you their barrels. The petroleum era of silence. Shame for history.

 

 

Antonio Briceño

April 2014

A look is a tacit undressing of the being that is revealed, projecting that being’s frustrations, horrors and hunger. In fact, whoever looks allows themselves to be seen, while offering the depth of their pupils as a mirror. This dynamic is a ritual of expressive completion that requires a common horizon where the other (or others) participate(s) with their indifference or complicity.

 

Antonio Briceño (Caracas, 1966) has produced a series of videographic portraits of people who were victims of the excessive use of force by the security forces during the protests that took place in Venezuela between February and March 2014.  Briceño asked them to look at the camera and remember in silence the experiences they went through during those days.  Each of these faces is an unspoken testimony, a soliloquy of fluctuating looks that sways between introspection and remembrance. 

These portraits were lit as though in an interrogation room, bathed in a head-on, inquisitive light. Anyone could have been there, rightly or wrongly, after being apprehended, struck or threatened. But, somehow, both the victims and their unspeakable captors shared the same cell, wrapped in the sordidness of a crimeless "cause" and the unpunished guilty.  Also taking part in that symbolic circle of impunity were the spectators, although unharmed, who are now seen portrayed in the eyes of the other, in the variable drive of their unconfessed memories, in anger, in defencelessness, in impotence.

 

The portrait, one of the favourite genres of the author, has taken on a strong inner movement in this series that transcends the constancy of the frame and the stillness of its models-witnesses. Here, the subjects are defined by their psychic activity, rather than by the similarity to the model, because what matters is the somatic effect of the memory, the muscle tension, the sweating, the breathing and the tremor of the fragments of light on their eyes. In this case, the videographic medium allows a brief but effective temporary synchronisation with the spectators, incorporating them into a flow of contrasting emotions. It is, in short, a head to head, between the characters portrayed and those who scrutinise their faces from "outside".

 

Omertà (that conspiracy of complicity concerned with ignoring what is going on) makes the victims invisible, even when the origin of their affliction is "public and notorious". So what can be done? How to show what power and its allies refuse to see? Instead of recording the struggle of the barricades, Briceño opts for mute intimacy and contact without affectation. It shows the suspected rioters, without adding any anecdotal detail. Beyond the street epic, away from the explosions and gas; in the contrasting half-light of the studio, emotions come to the surface in front of the camera. You only have to look over the motionless faces to see what they are looking at and confront the somatic, mental consequences of intolerance. After all, all we are "eyewitnesses" of a reality that "happened unexpectedly".

 

Félix Suazo

May 2014

Silence to voices

Antonio Briceño has built a very solid, consistent body of work, defined by symbolic imagery portraying the soul of cultures. More than just "portraits", his figures are archetypal echoes of the ancestors of humanity; more than just "representations", they are complex interpretations of the traditions and myths anchored in the depths of the collective unconscious. Antonio, who has given form to the gods, nature, the oldest pain, atavistic emotions and the most archaic folk wisdom, has now returned to hit us with a work which is completely stripped down, clean and without anecdotes, revealing the most deafening angle of violence and abuses committed by the repressive forces in Venezuela over the last three months. 

 

Without using another language or betraying the primitive force of his rhetoric, this new series shifts to current political events and shakes us from the depths of silence. The artist confronts the faces of victims with close-up shots, clothing and a black background, where a single, sustained, silent gaze (but without keeping quiet), makes the viewer uneasy due to everything that it reveals by its silence.  I like to think of these faces as contemporary deities who, without saying a word, are denouncing the way in which money and oil buy consciences.  One of those moments when artistic creation becomes more brilliant is when it enlightens us with flashes of the future and shows the world to come as a warning, even if this is a terrible silence. Omertà on oil warns us about that next world, where beauty and horror will come to live together in the same well of fear, silence and shame.

 

María Luz Cárdenas

May 2014

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