Empathy, an exhibition by Martha Lucia Ramírez at La Balsa Arte, Bogotá, is based on an approach to what the artist calls 'the time of the image' through which she emphasizes 'the lost relationship with the body'. From a slippage between photography, as a visual reference, and painting as a material, poetic and aesthetic medium, a lack is manifested, a conceptual turn in the interpretation of the image, whose effect is identified as an incongruence between the reading of the two media. This semiotic twist allows us to identify the disjunctive between the 'unrepresentable' in photography and the infotographable in painting.
The title of the exhibition, Empathy, refers both to the link between media, between images, and to the empathy that the artist feels with that which constitutes the object of her work. There is an urgency to explore the relationship between body-experience, body-space, body-society, in terms of collective experiences, as well as from one's own subjectivity. The individual act, be it effort, emotion, or resistance, takes on significance by linking the individual act to a social history. Alternatively, the social-historical fact is translated into the new forms of experience of contemporary individuality.
The exhibition presents works from various series to account for the range of concerns incorporated into the artistic work of several decades. In Ramírez's writings, the concern for the nature of the human being in a broad sense stands out. There we can read the concern for the unrepresentable of the Real (the Real, for Lacan, as that which is beyond, behind, or below the phenomenological appearances that are accessible to the direct experience of individual consciousness); the centrality that the Symbolic acquires as a collective formation and law (and in the development of subjectivity) and, finally, the persistence of the Imaginary object as that which cannot be circumscribed, which is invisible and ungraspable because it belongs to the domain of the unrepresentable -the void.
In this journey through the contemporary image of the body, Ramírez identifies in the series 'Contracorriente' certain situations that oscillate between the logical and the paradoxical. Displacement represents the constant effort of the body in movement, both the individual and the social body; movements, the application of force in a situation seems to speak of the human condition in its struggle to overcome entropy. The men retrieving a log of wood from the sea, or the man pushing a block of ice (a clear reference to Francis Alÿs) represent the idea of ceaseless labor, pointing out the difference between human action with a view towards the production of 'use value', the appropriation of natural materials to supply human needs, versus an interpretation of labor as capitalist production. Some actions, such as pushing an inert object, like a stone, are metaphors for the imaginary built around nothing, almost nothing, emptiness.
The series Telón De Fondo articulates the notion of 'invisibility' with the 'ghost' that the body becomes, represented by the evidence of survival of the kidnapped in Colombia. Photographs taken against a background of a decorative tablecloth, which alludes to 'home', the image represents subjects forcibly deprived of their identity. Conversely, in the portraits of children, of photographic origin, a historical and universal practice, the invisibility of the affective bond with the mother prevails, who remains hidden and immobile behind a curtain that covers her and mimics her with the background, carrying the infant in front of the camera.
The paradoxical maternal invisibility points to a problematic of identification, incorporation, and phantasm as metapsychological phenomena. In the words of Abraham and Torok1, it is not the dead that frighten us, but the gaps left in us by the secrets of others. Although "the ghost is not associated with the loss of an object, it may then be the result of a failed process of mourning, ...the ghost of popular beliefs objectifies a metaphor that operates in the unconscious: the burial of an inadmissible fact. The image 'crosses out' the mother, while orienting itself to re-present the infant's identity, to imaginatively affirm its individuality.
Invisibility as or that which is in the unconscious is central to Ramirez. In her words, her goal of 'representing the unrepresentable' stumbles with the ungraspable of the Real. How to represent absence, lack, lack? His images of moments of pain, or of emotional embraces, or the series Between Hands, refer us to a spiritual sublimation.
The viewer is left with the task, in an act of empathy, of filling in the blanks through an act of faith and imagination.
Ana Patricia Gómez