Daniel Otero Torres
Le Livre d’art & Drawing Lab, Paris
For Daniel Otero Torres, each drawing is the result of an ongoing collection of archive and media images as well as travel photos, which are included in variegated compositions. These are then spread out, enlarged or miniaturized, stripped of any context, and subsequently drawn on paper, stainless steel, or ceramic. By way of presentation, and in order to adhere to Daniel Otero Torres' elliptical creative process I would like to share some narratives and crossroads that have influenced the exhibition, as parables and possible paths for visitors to follow.
The exhibition title Tierradentro, "inside earth" in English, comes from an archaeological site built from the 6th to 11th centuries AD that is located in the northern Andes Mountains in the Department of Cauca, Colombia. Protected for its elaborate subterranean tombs and monumental statues, it houses the remains of a vast but little known ancient pre-Columbian culture.
Daniel Otero Torres remodels pre-Columbian know-how and legends from across Latin American; creates connections with ancient cultures of the Mediterranean basin; finds inspiration in Hindu and Egyptian deities; and draws parallels with scientific discoveries, contemporary events, and his personal experience. In the central chamber forgotten female activists and revolutionaries, appear like deities among memories preserved in ceramic and textiles. In an adjoining room, a fragile temple on stilts encloses an entire floor of the Weimar Bauhaus in Colombia's Chocó forest. As the empty hammocks swirl, the vortex of a spatial storm around the north pole of the planet Saturn gradually grows. In the last chamber, a pair of ceramic vases with etched drawings and engobe, depict a story spanning the ages: leopards from the Monterozzi necropolis in Tarquinia, Italy, mix with Jaguar Warriors from the Cacaxtla's Battle Mural, their Mexican counterparts; human DNA is represented by a black figure drawn in an Antique Italian Etruscan manner; Quetzalcoatl, the Snake God, prowls in its animal sheath among the planets and a gigantic cell; and Cyborg ants bustle around a nuclear power plant.
Adopting the gaze of an anthropologist, a naturalist, a physicist, and a science fiction reader, Daniel Otero Torres creates a mythology that is hybrid and mixed. Legendary stories of the origin of the world and scientific models that explain the universe blend together; cosmogony and cosmology are interwoven to produce new hypothetical fantasies. Quantum physics and astronomy are always at hand.
Spatially dispersed, few entities flow between realities and dimensions: dogs without owners and shamans without shadows become guardians and guides; jaguars, which represent an essential deity in Mesoamerican cultures, bridge the gap between the underworld of the dead, the world of the living, and the heavenly world; borrachero (brugmansia Angel's Trumpets) shower down like quantum time, spreading their hallucinogenic scopolamine, a remedy and lethal poison at once, both an ointment and a psychoactive “ritual medicine”; while poppy flowers arise from the footsteps of the stainless steel goddesses.
THE SPIRIT OF STRUGGLES
Protests, and revolutions offer a diffuse source of inspiration for Daniel Otero Torres, from spontaneous gatherings to collective celebrations. Resulting from his research on the iconography of struggles, his monumental sculptures portray a lesser known facet: women fighters, soldiers, and silent heroines of resistance movements during major conflicts of the 20th century: the Mexican, El Salvador, and Nicaraguan revolutions; the Spanish, Algerian, and Vietnam wars; and the Islamic State opposition. Poorly documented, erased by governments once established, or centered on a few emblematic personalities, the history of Milicianas, Soldaderas, Peshmergas, and other female activists remains incomplete. Drawn in graphite on mirror-polished stainless steel, each goddess incorporates parts of various women fighters, forming a multi-armed deity. Devoid of contextual features, they each carry personal attributes and ornaments. Each of them is given an individual meaning. They are not Mother Goddesses but Sister Goddesses. They are not War Goddesses but Dance Resistance Goddesses. Meanwhile, the Spirit of Struggles permeates the world's soil like a subterranean force that reemerges in other ways: fists rise skyward as corals or bushes to music played by a Cupisnique flute player; a Mayan priest from Xochicalco dances in turn.
This other land, neither entirely the same nor completely different, is a place of affective and emotional encounters. Daniel Otero Torres views his artworks as a bridges between different cultures and different worlds: Colombia where he spent his childhood, and France where he has lived for many years, as well as the many other lands suggested by fragments, memories, and dreams of colliding universes. "Tierradentro" is driven by this aesthetic of coexistence and interconnection. This revival of signs and figurines makes archetypal images and primeval visions emerge. In this coexistential ecosystem, we cannot see separate works at a glance but are enveloped by them in a game of mirrors, drawn in by their devouring plants. And from all these sensations there’s always this question, “Who is the ‘I’ that gazes»?
Navigating through these worlds, Daniel Otero Torres explores the ties between what is sacred and profane, between vernacular cultures and planetary thought, between personal recollections and collective memory. "Tierradentro" generates a new system of relations between time and beings. It is a place that creates another story of crossroads and syncretism, challenging us to consider our connections with others via mythologies and political struggles, as well as personal and everyday lives.
A location, a vessel, a feeling, and a planet, for Daniel Otero Torres, "Tierradentro" is all of these at the same time.