Solar and nocturnal at once

The avant-garde movements that created the historical vanguards irrupted a hundred years ago, protesting the academic cannons and the official salons that dominated the last part of the nineteen century.

In Italy, 1909, it was the Futurists, headed by the hyperactive Tomasso Filippo Marinetti, who pioneered these manifestations, later giving in to the demands of new artistic horizons and a more plastic quest. In Venezuela, the first group that came together spontaneously to launch a common, renovating artistic project in the same avant-garde spirit was the Círculo de Bellas Artes, active between 1912 and 1917.

One of their first paradigms —following the Impressionist point of view—   was to consider landscape as the protagonist of painting, an element that up until then had been relegated to being just bland background composition (with the exception of the masterly Batalla de Carabobo of Martín Tovar y Tovar, 1887, a matchless piece in 19th century Latin America)

Even if some of the members of the "Círculo de Bellas Artes", like Federico Brandt, cultivated intimate paintings concentrated in depictions of detailed architectural interiors, it were, to my understanding, Armando Reverón's luminous ouvre or Manuel Cabré's (with its totemic reconstruction of the Ávila —Caracas' tutelary mountain— to which he devoted his career) the ones who built the farthest reaching and most intense pictorial projects.

Between Manuel Cabré's landscapes and the inhabitants of Caracas there was almost an instantaneous total identification, never reached before by any local artist. The artist's Ávilas painted under the sculptural morning light or in the last hours of the afternoon established ontological and semantic relations that permeated the caraqueños common speech, and are still alive in popular sayings.

For all this, a century later, Magdalena Fernández's exhibition Surfaces, is an active catalogue of the Suprematist alphabet (the circle and the square), that at the same time opens to subjectivity; be it Venice as liquid sky and vibrant mirror of the world, the photonic 2em006 (where filaments of optic cable actualized Jesús Soto's Penetrables, originated in 1966, at Paris' Galerie Denise René) or the more nostalgic 2emoo6 II where a “luminous ambience” brings to mind a fire-fly mating dance, reminding us of similar works of Julio Le Parc in the 60's, that key decade for the Latin American kinetic and optic art.

But there are two pieces that magically handle the alpha and omega, the protos and telos of the exhibit's proposal, recuperating with luminous and sonorous signs the landscape that gives its standard of living to the Caracas Valley, with the same paradigmatic character that Cabré's oil paintings or Brandt's more enigmatic pieces do.

One is diurnal and happens outside, in most summer afternoons, especially when it's very hot and drivers are trapped in highway traffic after hours in their vehicles. Some loud squawking is heard out of the blue sky and from the celestial landscape a blue and yellow pair of macaws appear, Ara ararauna . Sometimes it's a threesome (a monogamous couple and its chic) but when more numerous groups are seen, those are the Ara nobilis , smaller than the Ara ararauna , which like to perch in the canopy of trees that surround the great pond in Parque del Este.

The voices of the jungle seem to stop time for a few seconds, and the afternoon seems brighter to the surprised and charmed caraqueños half- trapped in their vehicles.

In the same way that the first of Magdalena's landscapes are solar and day-like, the other landscape is humid and nocturnal. It brings to mind any caraqueño garden of high photosynthesis, right after the equinox rains. It's the dark of night and the din of the hidden and electrical voices fascinate and stun the spectators. Could they be gregarious or erotic calls?

Urban citizens, devotees of the Ávila and their birds –which nest nightly in the mountain and feed in the city– are also the receptors of the strident activity generated by the croaking of dark and bright slippery little frogs, Eleutherodactylus coqui , about which there are many stories of origin.

Some say that they are endogenous, others that they were introduced from Japan in the 60's by a gardener that wanted to give sonority to the city's mute nights, in the same way that other foreign species of plants and animals arrived and got adapted, like the capim melado weed, the Melinis minutiflora, that gives its colour to the Ávila in the summer months.

In the same way that the colours of the Ara ararauna are organized in a sonorous Mondrian, in the black piece that simulates a virtual garden shafts of light build a moving square where the perfect lines brake at the sound of the loud croaking of invisible frogs. In this way, Magdalena Fernández, born in Caracas, presents her own gestalt, solar and nocturnal at the same time.

Luis Ángel Duque
Superficies' catalog
spanish version