Rodrigo Valenzuela’s exhibition at Klowden Mann proceeds in two directions. The first is represented by a suite of black-and-white photographs of tableaux constructed in the studio. The second appears in a video intertwining the stories of Latina immigrants to the U.S. with telenovela dialogue. In some ways, both are portraits of disappointment.
The photographs, printed in negative, document eerie constructions that suggest architecture, ruins, stage sets and altars. Each one is titled “Animita,” which means “roadside shrine” in Spanish. The main recurring motif is a molded or carved decorative panel featuring an intricate geometric design. The panels appear variously broken or fragmented, propped up into makeshift structures, often studded with flowers or other vegetation. They evoke modern design, but also sci-fi spaceships and foam packing. They also feel strangely Victorian, and Valenzuela has installed a version of the panels on one gallery wall as a relief complete with wainscoting.
It’s hard to say exactly what these shrines commemorate, but it appears to be a kind of disillusionment with progress. They are like miniature ruins of some futuristic city.
The video, “Maria TV,” is more explicit in its discontent, moving from plaintive voice-overs about the difficulties of immigrating to the U.S. to scenes in which the participants, dressed as housekeepers, enact defiant monologues from telenovelas. If the photographs are an elegy for what might have been, the video is a recuperation of sorts, a testament to the ways in which pop culture can be co-opted to voice disappointments and frustrations otherwise repressed.