Rodrigo Valenzuela is obsessed with ruins, or more specifically, with the ghosts of decay and displacement that lurk within urban renewal. A Chilean-born immigrant, Valenzuela spent years working under-the-table construction and janitorial jobs while navigating his way through art school and to permanent residency in the US. His large-scale photographs and documentary video works address these experiences both literally, as in Maria TV, 2014, a video exploring the lives of Latina maids, and imaginatively, as in “Hedonic Reversal,” 2014–15. This series of seventeen black-and-white photographs, nine of which are on display here, depict processes of material construction and destruction in the artist’s studio.
The term “hedonic reversal” refers to a psychological phenomenon in which one actively pursues pain and sadness. In Valenzuela’s work, it speaks to both first-world workaholism and the entrapment of low-wage survival. The photographs in the series are taken from a fixed vantage point, framing a vertical rectangle that is the stage of action.
Working on a black background, Valenzuela constructs eccentric geometric forms using chalk, spray paint, wood,
packing foam, drywall, and other commercial detritus. With the exception of the spray paint, the materials are all white, and within the monochrome environment of the photographs, their forms become graphically linear, creating broken perspectives at every turn. Chalk is everywhere, revealing the artist’s presence in foot- and handprints. Valenzuela photographs each work in progress, printing and incorporating these moments back into the scenes. This results in images of mesmerizing interiority and ambiguity, with time and labor refracting like bodies in a house of mirrors. The ruination enacted in the works’ hermetic chamber is transformed into landscapes of dynamic repose.
— Stephanie Snyder