12. Formalism: History and Its Location in Contemporary Art

Magdalena Fernández's works are planned and developed within the continental frame of the modern tradition, specifically formalism. Nevertheless, her works openly modify this plastic tradition, since the "event" that is produced in them is carried out beyond the visible, in the intersection of rational and abstract expressive formulas with sensual and cultural elements. This is an actualized formalism, penetrated by the conditionings of the contemporary; a formalism that is realized in the inflection (in the twisting and turning) of its own determinations, which, for that very reason, are opened and intertwined with the contexts with which they are linked—with the history of painting, for example; with the idea of representation and its problematics; with the concern that visual appearances produce in the gaze and the body. Her works escape their own figuration and their determinations, becoming places of co-production that act by urging, clamoring, exhorting a break with everything that is anticipated or anticipatable.

Cognizant of the openings with which Latin American territory and forms of life have called into question that closed—contemplative and silent—visual dynamic of pure abstraction, Fernández inscribes herself in this critical place with an absolutely personal gesture, thanks to which she not only sensually and texturally mitigates mathematical rigor and rectitude, but also bursts apart the traditional aesthetic dualism of visuality versus tactility, incorporating sound, hearing, the voice. In her works, then, formalism finds new horizons in two senses: first, as a vitalization of forms, elements, and the structural syntheses whereby they transform, become, grow and die; and secondly, converting images into concrete "things," into materialities. In both cases formalism grants them a new space and mode of existence.

Indeed, the formal and abstract tradition of the plastic arts abandons its purity and becomes a sort of "medial entity," an "in-between" that is simultaneously an opening and a shift, a movement and an inauguration, a migration and a beginning, in which the rigidity and rigor of forms disregard their natural space—their own sign, their literal form—and install themselves—or emerge—as a milieu or an expression that has been coupled, articulated, tied, or brought near to that which is external, foreign, strange and different from it. Medial entities are complex: so many heterogeneous potentials are made concrete in them that they can come to be or make themselves foreign to what they originally were (They can, paradoxically, be external to themselves). Indeed, in the domain of medial entities the foundation is potentiality, and the image, the work, is an event rather than a thing. It is the state in which things are pure suspension, the moment at which each form can experience itself, a state of "emancipation" in the strict sense of the word. The medial entity, the "in-between”, is not founded on concrete resemblance, but rather on potential contiguities thanks to which some phenomenon, idea or work opens itself to what it is not, taking leave of itself, expanding and changing. Precisely because there is this opening and shifting, this migration, the object that arises as an "in-between" is both produced by and produces a semantic transformation as a function of which its legibility and comprehension are related to the possibility of going beyond its pure visible aspect, its presence.


Magdalena Fernández's practice is aligned with the formalist tradition as regards the principles of formal composition and style. These aesthetic categories acquire a new meaning and a new aesthetic value by superseding the notion of pure form through an inquiry into the modes of configuring an experience through new media and digital technologies. Recognizing the impossibility of art to ascribe to a pure abstract or rational model of representation, Magdalena Fernández draws from the formalist tradition to address a method of investigation that is drawn from the potency of nature and aligned with the possibility of chance, unpredictability and repetition that emerge at the surface of her work. Beyond presence and phenomena, Fernández’s practice turns representation into a movement of interiority and affective modes of apprehension. The visual aspects of her artistic experience derive from a gesture and, more importantly, from an action that is aimed at responding to the viewer and contexts of formations, as evinced in the series of videos 1vaLF018 Baja - 3vaLF018, 2vaLF018.mp4 and 5vaAB018.mp4.

Fernández's work addresses an aesthetic and ethical concern towards nature that is carried out through a politics of movement. The unity of thought that underlies the experience of her installations seems to find an analogy in physics, in the wave function discussed by Schrödinger’s equation (1925) describing the positive and negative aspects of electrons and matter waves interacting as a result of position and time. Drawing on this analogy, the legacy of formalism in her work extends towards agential, vibrant, sonorous aspects to attribute a new semantic connotation to the principles of synthesis, geometry, and signs. Magdalena Fernández rethinks the syntax and style of formalism by configuring an entanglement between humans and nature in a state of virtuality and immersion.