October 25, 2016 -
November 25, 2016
La Balsa Arte Bogotá
Panoramic. Semblance, La Balsa Arte Bogotá

SEMBLANCE is the name of the latest series of photographs by Caroline Peña Bray. The title, which refers to those “appearances” that differ from “reality”, reveals the intention of confronting the viewer with all that is opaque, irresolute and fluctuating in the country’s history. As Peña Bray states, “Expanded to life size and devoid of the most painful details that characterize the history of Colombia, these windows use the blurred effect of the soap on the glass to present an abstracted reality that allows us to approach both a violent and unconscionable history. Freed from the propagandist and polemical noise of the press, here history and politics remain unresolved, stuck in a process of change that has not yet concluded.”1

We see the inside of a window. We are inside the Capitolio Nacional de Colombia. The building, home to the headquarters of Congress, was begun in 1876 under the orders of President Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera and completed 40 years later. The interior of the window frame, with its wooden trim crudely painted brown in color, reveals nothing of this historical place; only the shadow of a ghostly image of the Palacio de la Justicia appears, facing the Capitolio from the other side of the Plaza de Bolívar.

We see the windows of the Edificio El Tiempo (1958) by Italian architect Bruno Violi, currently home to CityTV and located at the junction between Avenida Jiménez and Carrera Séptima. Today, despite the amendments to the window that testify to the passing of time, the image belies a thin railing whose design alludes to a modern architectural aesthetic. With its broken glass – the result of a blow, a sudden or violent movement – the window also speaks of the political power exercised by the media, their power in shaping public perceptions and the dark forces that rage against freedom of expression. The image reminds us of a history of abductions, threats and other acts of barbarism undertaken against the democratic right to review and report.2

What to say of the interior of the newspaper offices of El Espectador? An aluminum window frame seems to merge with the glass into a single plane; the image, semiotic in nature, seems to evoke a vague memory or perhaps the pale effect of fog. All is white against aluminum; we can trace the landscape of the hills of the savanna, and imagine it to be similar to the view seen by Guillermo Cano Isaza, director of the newspaper between 1952 and 1986, the year in which he was assassinated by the Medellin cartel.

From the Presidential Suite of the historic Hotel Tequendama (Cuéllar, Serrano, Gómez & Co., 1953) the traces of an urban landscape can be scrutinized. The Edificio Aseguradora del Valle provides a blurred backdrop to the city. This memorable hotel has been the scene of many events in national life: “It is there that momentous political conventions have been celebrated, as well as cultural, business or fashion encounters, and the suites have hosted the biggest names in show business or power, who visited the country throughout decades, in times so long gone that centuries seem to have passed: singers, actresses, bullfighters, writers, prelates, diplomats, spies, gangsters, humorists, cyclists, footballers, bandits, conmen, personalities of the jet set, national and international politicians.”3 From its windows we understand exactly what the city is: “And from different angles, in silence, in the solitude of the rooms, during moments of waiting, one looks with an eagle eye deep into Bogotá, avenues that go to the north and to the south, and the fog, the clouds and rain that emerge from the hills of the Colombian capital and are one of its most indelible marks. And of course, the bridges of Calle 26, Carrera Trece, home to the original Goce Pagano dance spot, and Avenida Décima and Avenida Caracas, which once were the living arteries of the country; not to mention the city’s biggest cemetery, the Biblioteca Nacional, and the towers of the Centro Internacional. Or the nocturnal luminosity of the metropolis seen by insomniacs stricken with jet lag.”4

Following our tour deep into Bogotá, its clouds and rain, we arrive at the offices of Semana magazine, the Museo Nacional de Colombia and Edificio Vengoechea (1939), property today of the Banco de la República.

By placing us within the interior façades of various emblematic buildings, those silent witnesses of the past, Peña Bray challenges the viewer while positioning him as the embodiment of a symbolic agent: the “Other”. We are no longer ourselves in the face of an infinitely detailed and empty visual field. We are the medium by which the “Other” acts and speaks. Peña Bray plays the role of “informant” and as we are placed here, there persists an uneasy feeling of being observed while observing. Who is this “Other”? Who looks through the window of the Palacio de Nariño? And what does he observe? What is really at play?

We can talk, then, about power, blind power; terror, blind terror, such as that which sat in front of the windows of airplane Avianca 727-21, identical to that which exploded over Soacha on November 27, 1989. Power, such as “the state, goods, capital, money, interest rates – taboo, truth, sin – these have imaginary social meanings,”5 Cornelius Castoriadis tells us, because they are not rational, that is to say, they cannot be constructed logically, nor are they real, since they cannot be derived from things.

Peña Bray talks to us about the society that we embody; society, like all living things, establishes its own world, through which it generates a representation of itself. It is in this sense that we are met with the window of the Museo Nacional de Colombia: it is an imaginary representation of who we are, how we want the world to see us. The weight, the relevance, and the value that is given to information by social institutions reflects the set of values present within society itself. Will we become, then, the meta-observer who builds signifiers into the works of Peña Bray? Signifiers that, covered with a film of soap, are not well defined, but are, like us, evanescent and mutant.

Ana Patricia Gómez Jaramillo

Says Gómez, director of LA BALSA "This singular mode of 'flight' acquires in Palacios' work a singular poetics: nuns, children on their way to school or a load of lemons are enough to unveil the human creativity deployed in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties".

"And if in one of these flights we look down, perhaps we would see the work invested by man in the exploitation of one of the most coveted materials on earth: gold." "In the riverbeds men and women work incessantly in search of the longed-for mineral, symbol of wealth but also of destruction and death. The gaze that links the mountain peaks is nailed to the ground of the rough mining work".

Selected images

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