From hitting the New York City scene in the nineties with Culture Jamming, to his recent Memorylithics series, Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada has followed a lateral route, characterised by his constant going against the flow.
His work hasn’t left behind the classical arguments of this practice, but he has moved away from some of its most common mistakes – the egotistical excess of graffiti, the loudness, the invasive aesthetics – into a calmer and more reflective space.
Graffiti is an exhibitionist art form, but it also requires deep personal thought. It is clearly visible and yet it generally requires its authors to create in clandestine conditions. It is dazzling and also cryptic: loaded with messages that we can all see but we can’t all comprehend, with its own indecipherable language, difficult alphabet, sectarian markings and tribal slang.
Rodríguez-Gerada is well aware of this world, and a large part of his work shares the same codes – the use of walls, the huge size of his work and the totemic function of his imagery. However, the differences are even more powerful than the similarities. is is obvious in his Terrestrial Series project (the piece delving into Obama’s hero status and a tribute to the architect Enric Miralles) where he dissolves the viewing options of the spectator, leaving only the possibility of being included in a wider view than their own.
More than an ‘artist’ in the strictest sense of the word, Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada may also be classified as ‘urban librarian’. Rather than invading, his actions document urbanites and their interactions with the cities they live in.
In spite of the paradox, his work still maintains a human scale, even in the largest pieces. When, in the Identity Series, ‘everyday people’ from any given neighbourhood see themselves in gigantic murals, they somehow receive a transcendental reward for their anonymity and day-to-day existence.
More than the artist’s mark, these ephemeral portraits on walls reflect other people’s imprints. They are part of a memory that refuses solely to be a passing signal. This resistance creates a certain amount of anguish in those that come across these walls and those faces. This anguish, however, is not due to the portrait’s aggressiveness, but rather to the difficulty in creating them.
After the first collision with these images, it is imperative to step up to the challenge they offer us: to use our minds more than our eyes. When this happens, only then will we be in a position to ‘complete’ the portraits and move our gaze from the portrait to the person being drawn.
As for his sculptures, they seem to refer us, at times, to some region of archeology: blending the past and the present; history with daily life. Because of this, when this artist makes his own children ‘inhabit’ the old stones and bricks, he is permeating them with a history of high intensity, a tradition that contemporaries drag forth even if we are not always aware of it.
When these pieces are presented in a gallery they have something of the ready-made, willing to pay their debts with art in general and with street art in particular. Reminiscent of Banksy or Blu? Both, but also of Duchamp, Brancusi or Picabia, as well as Rosalind Krauss’ ‘expanded sculptures’ and the open eld projects of Robert Smithson or Ana Mendieta.
We are also talking about animistic artwork. Beyond the play on words, for Rodríguez-Gerada a roman column is equally ‘our’ column. It sustains us physically and also it sustains us in time. It has, at the same time, the scale of our ancestors and of our life in the present.
Even though it has always been from the city, street art has not always been of the citizens – an omission that, in this case, has been entirely rectified.
Iván de la Nuez is an essayist, art critic and curator.