Frame and Rupture, Inscription and Displacement:
The Limit Between Space and Object in the Work of Magdalena Fernández

The broken line that runs through the plane’s diagonal midsection seems to slide sideways. Adjacent to yet another line that mimics but displaces it, the diagonal appears to move within the space that opens up between itself and its double. That space is minimal, restrained –the site of a tightly contained flicker that spreads out over the whole surface, as the same procedure of displaced duplication has been applied to the remainder of the work: twice pressed, each time in a slightly different position, against fragments of a single structure in relief, the white sheet of paper appears to the viewer as the support of a pulsating construction.

To perform the described act of reinscription, Magdalena Fernández has used the first work in a series of “surface modulations” that Lygia Clark produced in 1957. The procedure is significant in both a formal and an historical sense. For the line that Fernández breaks down and displaces sideways, thereby creating visually elastic gaps within the plane of paper, had been understood by Clark as an internalization of the pictorial frame –a frame broken and reinscribed, by means of incisions on the plane, within the work’s apparently dismountable configuration. Fernández returns to Clark’s formal thinking in order to intensify it. She exacerbates the rupturing, enlivening, and therefore “organic” effect of Clark’s line. Yet by reinscribing and displacing the structure of a modernist work, Fernández also produces a material allegory of her own research, driven by the interest in reconfiguring Latin America’s modernism in ever renewed ways.

The monotype in which Fernández remodulates Clark’s work belongs to a series of white-on-white pieces that includes another modernist construction, a poster by A. G. Fronzoni, which the artist reinscribes and reinterprets from a contemporary point of view. Like Clark, the Italian designer resorted to line in order to articulate an elastic geometry –a geometry that compels the plane to generate an unstable, collapsible, even reversible sensation of space. And once again, Fernández retraces the rupturing rhythm of that instability by actually subjecting the plane to the pressure of volume, whereby the ambivalence between projection and recession, strictly perceptual in Fronzoni’s poster, takes on a material condition.

Writers on Fernandez’s work have remarked on this aspect of her research: the interest in objectifying optical sensations within a space that is itself conceived as a constructed object informs, in their opinion, the artist’s installations(1).The forest-like threading of 1i011 provides the most recent example. Rather than being the static elements of a rigid geometry, this construction’s fractured metal bands swerve when viewers exert pressure on them. As they oscillate and regain their precarious equilibrium, such elements redraw the space where they are perceived –a space that briefly stops being the empty gap that exists between the metal bands to become a shifting body, an object made up of tensile spatial relations.

Yet just as it is important to remark on how the installation’s elements objectify space—an observation applicable to the artist’s hanging mobile volumes, the open frames of which might equally reshape slices of emptiness—the converse operation also has a critical significance in other writings on Fernández’s work: space extracts from the material condition of these pieces the deobjectified traces of their movement.(2)

It would therefore seem more fitting, when addressing the work of Fernández, to demarcate a zone of intermediation between object and space. Detected and named “non-objectivity” by critic Ferreira Gullar in relation to neo-concrete art, such a liminal zone would in theory resist the strictures of rigid material conditions—those, for instance, imposed by the framed limits of either pictorial plane or object—so as to allow experience to disperse and recombine itself within a multilayered, multisensory medium. The novelty, both critical and enriching, of Fernández’ approach to the theoretical platform of neo-concrete art lies in her use of video to create elastic articulations of planes divided by yawning gaps–the internalized transmutation of the frame into the dynamic force of a process of continuous (re)construction.  

It is also through video that the artist has planned, in dialogue with the glass façades of the cubic building of Museion, Bolzano’s contemporary art museum, to perform an operation of dispersal and recombination so as to disrupt the perception of the building as a fixed, circumscribed architectonic object–an object opposed to the fluid, constantly shifting condition of public experience in urban space (ip010)(3). As she had done with Clark’s and Fronzoni’s structures, Fernández’s new project would follow a logic of duplication and displacement: eight channels of video would be used to project onto the façade’s glass panes the structural lattice that sustains them; at first coinciding with the tectonic grid, the projected lines would then proceed to expand and contract, thereby making of the façade—the building’s framed face—a shifting, elastic body capable of remodulating the relation between city and construction, between space and object.

Juan Ledezma
spanish version

(1) See Luis Pérez-Oramas, “Lo casi visible”, in Magdalena Fernández (Museo de Arte Moderno Jesús Soto, 1997), and A.G. Fronzoni, “Magdalena Fernández Arriaga”, 1993.

(2) See Elisabetta Pozetti, “Magdalena Fernández Arriaga”, in Steellife, 2009.

(3) The letters “ip” of the title stand for “intervención pública” (public intervention). This new aspect of the artist’s work corroborates her intention to achieve a structural integration between art and architecture. Thus Bolzano’s project, among others being currently developed, are prototypes of a yet unexplored way of linking life and everyday life, which is also a critical continuation of Latin American modernism’s ideals.