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Violence leaves indelible traces. There is no small war. This is the field of Mars, the god who lives in our minds as an archetype since time immemorial. War haunts and consumes us cyclically. Violence, with its thousand faces, explodes everywhere; also within ourselves.
Mythology runs alongside astronomy, and so we can see, clearer than ever before, the traces of violence on Mars, the planet that resembles ours the most: impact craters, abysms, dunes, cracks, mudslides, cannons and volcanoes, like Mount Olympus, crowned the tallest one of the whole Solar System. It is presumed that life existed on that small planet under different circumstances, but all we can see is its scars: the remains of past cataclysms, unceasingly eroded by furious winds.
These wounds are both the consequence and the cause of Mars’ epiphany. He is an extraordinarily emotional and impetuous god, who has a tendency to lose control and whose wounds are highly exposed, though deeply rooted. Just like ours.
That neighbouring planet has a striking resemblance to Earth, or rather to us, on our propensity for violence. Mars comes to us and reveals, as in a mirror, what its skin is made of. Perhaps, we’ll be able to understand, opportunely, what uncontrolled forces destroyed it.
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The Greeks, who read so thoroughly the human soul, had a terrible god: Ares, who reigned over war and battles. He personified violence in its most brutal, uncontrolled and tumultuous aspect. He was wild and sanguinary, and that earned him the antipathy of humans and the aversion of the other Olympian gods.
The Romans identified him with Mars, a god they had inherited from the Etruscans, who not only ruled over war, but also over agriculture and the fertility of the land. For this reason, and because they considered him to be the father of Romulus, one of Rome’s founders, he enjoyed high esteem among the people.
Mars was the lover of Venus, with whom he fathered several children. This secret and fiery relationship he entertained with the goddess of love shows us another face of the warrior god: a passionate and intensely corporeal one. This facet associates him with virility and masculinity; with courage, boldness and impulsiveness; and, for some, with the active and sensual corporeality of dance and sexual intercourse.
Mars was traditionally represented as a young warrior, tall, well-built and vigorous. His bravery and allure seduced the beautiful Venus, forcing her to betray her husband, Hephaestus. Thus, the violence of this murderer god can hardly be disassociated from his body, the very field in which this irrational energy thrives, destructive and fertile at the same time.
Not without surprise we learn that the planet that bears his name is also strongly rooted in physical and solid ground. In fact, Mars is one of the four telluric planets –of a rocky nature- of the Solar System, in contradistinction to the rest of them: the gas giants. Its proximity and close kinship with our planet reinforce the sense of wonder produced by its dusty and lonely landscape, and its rough geography, which is the result of massive cataclysms that have no equivalent on Earth.
Antonio Briceño has created this series from images of Mars’ surface taken during NASA’s most recent missions. The artist has overlaid these traces of the catastrophic Martian geology on pictures of classical sculptures of the god Mars from the websites of six major art museums. The rich textural fabrics and play of colour from those satellite images of the Red Planet are transferred, as marked skins, to the beautiful body of the sculpted young warrior.
On the one hand, through these images we perceive that archetypal Mars’ violence is a matter of the body. It is, in a way, a primary and immediate violence, and therefore a terrifying one. It provokes the terror of barbarism and the fear of what is uncivilized, much like that strange and close planet, moved by unconscious and telluric forces that escape from any rational control. On the other hand, the direct reference to the body makes these pictures deeply disturbing, like if through them we realize that the body is a field in which emotional battles are fought, and where the soul deals with disease, pain, pleasure, age and death.
Briceño’s entire body of work has a high sense of ethics. His previous series have updated a poetics that revolves around the planet, the beings that inhabit it, nature and the cultural and spiritual diversity of humankind. The artist constantly reflects on the various ways in which the richness of life on our planet manifests itself and the fragile balance on which depends its preservation.
Although the archetypal Mars that lives in the individual and collective unconscious guards violence and all that it entails, and welcomes it as deeply rooted in human nature, he can unleash his irrational and uncontrollable rage before our denial and lack of moderation. The complexity of Mars’ archetype lies on the subtle balance between the body that annihilates and the one that fertilizes, both originated from the same virile and active energy. One might wonder if in our accommodated world, so highly technicized, in which we usually think of ourselves as civilized beings, peaceful and benevolent, a dehumanizing imbalance has taken place -perhaps a disconnection between body and emotion- leading to an irrepressible violence that, as a characteristic sign of our times, seems to threaten our own survival on Earth.
The Skin of Mars comes as a continuation of these reflections that the artist focuses now on the violence and the devastation as symptoms of an imbalance of the world’s psyche, which could lead us to self-annihilation, and whose formulation in this exhibition reaches a dimension that involves the archetypal idea and questions the role of the collective psyche as the true activator of history.