An Instant On the Road. Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo’s Exhibition at Cenart
Posted on 20 June, 2018
Rubí Aguilar Cancino
Death is a lived life. Life is a coming death.
Jorge Luis Borges
The main theme of the second International Photography Festival FotoMéxico was Latitudes, an invitation to explore the geographical, anthropological and disciplinary diversity in contemporary photography. Works were exhibited along four axis: Politics and Society; Landscape and Territory; Traces and Memory; and Body and Identity.
The Centro Nacional de las Artes (Cenart) participated in Landscape and Territory, with two photography exhibitions: Dislocating surfaces (Scandinavian photography) and two series by Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo: KIII and Pantonecrópolis, along with an installation, Columbarium, in the Central and Arte Binario galleries, from October 2017 until February 2018. Gómez de Tuddo dealt with life and death. Her showed panoramic views of cemeteries and cities, detailed images of some cemeteries and an installation of funereal portraits and a coffin, in a room with a suitably funereal soundscape.
KIII consisted of images of objects and buildings usually found at cemeteries; photographs taken by the artists during his travels through several countries documenting this project. Funereal monuments and sculptures, showing how families remember their dead; angels, cherubs and Christs adorning those graves. These images also document the passage of time, highlighting the decay of some chapels, generating a sense of neglect through an excellent use of chiaroscuro.
In Pantonecrópolis, the relation between the cemetery and the city is stated through panoramic views. The artista has an evidente fascinastion with graveyards. They appear on the forefront of all these images, while city buildings are in the background. Using black and White allowed him to erase the boundary between the cemetery and the city, unifying both spaces.
These photographs display a wealth of gray hues, creating rich contrasting textures and shaping beautiful urban landscapes.
Columbarium centers on the inevitability of death. Age, ethnic, gender, social or national differences don’t matter: this is why Death is called “the Leveller”. The artista approaches this subject through grief, absence and remembrance. As a preamble, there were photographs of four fetuses, stressing the fact that Death sometimes snatches them before they even get to be born. There were 490 funereal portraits,(1) in black and white, along the four walls of the room. At the center, the artista placed a simulated coffin lined with mirrors. The lighting came from the lower part of the walls, and there was a recording sounding all the time.
The portraits refered to death in a very general way, as something decisive in our lives but unrelated to a certain time or place. The collection of faces only stated that those people had existed once. Being immersed in that space saturated with faces produced a chilling sensation, knowing you were surrounded by the gaze of people who are no longer alive. This feeling was hightened by the sound of bells, a melancholy birdsong and some reiterated prayers. It was unavoidable to think of the death of a loved one.
Choosing photographic portraits to reflect upon death fulfilled two of Roland Barthes’ postulates about this art form (2). For him, a portrait is the moment when a subject becomes an object, it’s a kind of death by wich it becomes a spectrum. This takes place in a literal sense in funereal portraiture. It also functions as the “return of the dead”, as the resurrection of the individual, making the person live again in our memory. These portraits attest to the deeply rooted urge present in all cultures to preserve the memory of thedead. But this is not all. The artista reminds us as well of our own finitude.
As one entered the room, a coffin placed at the center connected us immediately to death. The coffin was right there, “in state” as it were. It forced us to go up to it and gaze at the interior. It made us shudder, as if struck by lightning from inside: our own fase was reflecte don the mirrors lining the coffin. Seeing our face there was related to the funereal portraits exhibited on the walls. Will we be parto f such a collection one day? Certainly.
There were two temporalities at work here. The time of a life that never was, represented by the photographs of those four fetuses; and the time of a life that has come to an end, signified by the portraits of the deceased adults. Both were related to life’s time, regardless of the precise dates in which each of those lives had taken place.
In our times, speaking of death is chilling and threatening, because we’re exposed to insecurity every day and to images of death by murder or accident on the internet and other media. This makes it a subject of interest for many artists, who approach from different angles and media, in the visual arts, cinema, literature, performance and others.
Gómez de Tuddo presented it as a natural issue concerning every living being. He bound together life and death, forcing us to see what we don’t want to see: the unavoidable termination of life. A traumatic but unquestionable fact. He imposed a discoursive order on us, compelling to look at opurselves in the lasta bode we’ll ever occupy.
Even though death is a common asnd universal fact, our country has a special relation with it, and with cemeteries. These places have a powerful symbolic charge in the Mexican psyche. Traditionally, people clean and paint the graves, adorn them with flowers, and spend the night there with music, food and drinks, on the Day of the Death in November. We also put photographs of our dear departed on the walls, on our desks and our shelves at home.
Thinking about death is terrifying and stressful. The level of violence in our country only makes this even stronger, as we are made to feel vulnerable all the time. This contexto f violence, death and vulnerability is present in some contemporary art Works that could be labelled grotesque, terrible, harsh or ironic. By contrast, it seems to me that Gómez de Tuddo’s approach was different and refined. The photographs he exhibited in Pantonecrópolis (buildings next to cemeteries) opérate as contrasting rhetorical figures. They show opposing buildings, two different ways to inhabit a space: one momento we are there, in an appartment; the next we are here, in the grave. Photographing cemeteries in different countries also attested to their cultural value and their relevance within their historical context; they show, deliberately or not, specific traits of their cities.
This installation had the merit of connecting the spectator with the theme from beginning to end, starting with a photograph at the entrance (an unnerving image taken from inside a grave) showing some serene clouds in the sky; next, the images of the fetuses moved us deeply, stressing as they did the fragility of life. The whole atmosphere pervading the space produced a multifaceted experience, its immersive quality intensified by the ligthing and the gloomy sounds.
Gómez de Tuddo created an apt atmosphere for an aesthetic experience that made us reflect upon life and death through memory. Not any kind of memory: the painful experience of loss and grief.
The whole Project, the photographs and the installation, displayed conceptual strength and impeccable craft, as well as a convincing narrative. It showcased the artist’s ability to remind us of the ephemeral nature of our own existence.
Acha, Juan, Arte y sociedad. Latinoamérica: el producto artístico y su estructura, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1980.
Barthes, Roland, La cámara lúcida, España, Paidós, 1990.
Kabakov, Ilya, Sobre la instalación total, México, COCOM, 2014.
“El Cenart presenta obra del fotógrafo Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo y una colectiva de foto escandinava”, October 25, 2017, <https://www.gob.mx/cultura/prensa/el-cenart-presenta-obra-del-fotografo-alejandro-gomez-y-una-colectiva-de-foto-escandinava?idiom=es>.
Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo-FotoMéxico 2017, <http://www.fotomexico.cenart.gob.mx/es/alejandro-gomez-de-tuddo>.
Rubí Aguilar Cancino is a researcher at Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación e Información de Artes Plásticas. This text was prepared for the seminar “Discurso Visual. Estudio y Análisis de la Experiencia Visual Contemporánea y su Relación con las Prácticas Artísticas”, led by Doctor Alberto Argüello Grunstein, between March 2017 and May 2018.
colectiva de foto escandinava”, October 25, 2017,https://www.gob.mx/cultura/prensa/el-cenart-presenta-obra-del-fotografo-alejandro-gomez-y-una-colectiva-de-foto-escandinava?idiom=es.
 Roland Barthes, La cámara lúcida, España, Paidós, 1990.