White Stone, Bramble, Gravity, Chance

Roberto Tejada

Diverse kinds of artists have found in the moving image a means to make sense of regional experience while engaging the relation of digital film to other processes in the globalizing world. In a series of video-installation films produced over the last decade, veteran multimedia artist Miguel Angel Ríos has worked with sharp pictorial force to suggest historical urgency by first mobilizing, then capturing and editing, specific live actions that are monumental in scale. Typically five minutes in length, a durational economy has these films invite and resist while giving shape to the metaphorical possibilities they consign. In 2003, at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), Ríos installed one of several subsequent iterations of A morir (’Til Death), a film on which Mexican cinematographer Rafael Ortega served as camera director. The death match and demise of the title played out, in black-and- white loops and three-channel floor-to-ceiling video projections, the visual glide and acoustic drone of spinning toy tops released onto thick lines of a floor grid in unspecified space. These shapes orbited in and out of alternating frames, into a crowd now converging, then colliding in sharp clacks of arrested movements, one or two of them capitulating finally to the law of inertia. Curatorial signage and reviews spoke of the “simplicity of form and color, and the grace of the black tops spinning out of control,” but also of the ground-level angle shots that rendered these trompos, or Mexican folk-toys, “both ominous and startlingly human” as though committed to “edging each other out of the picture” in a visual and aural “dynamics of competition, invasion, aggression, and territorialism.”1

In this immersive digital cinema made for museum display, Ríos has coined an elusive narrative form that nonetheless maintains compositional clarity relative to the outcome each video positions a viewer to anticipate. His subsequent lens- based works have featured an emphatic central trope or figure energized into rhythmic patterning and imagery that enhance the discontinuous flux of sense experience. The anthropomorphic whirling tops of A morir (’Til Death) connect to homologous movements that a white-suited dancer performs in Crudo (2008, 3:41) [also titled White Suit (2008)]. Appearing from stage-set shadows in a ritualistic dance of cultural self-assertion, the male subject swings slabs of raw meat from two rope cords; he remains undistracted from his syncopated footwork evocative of malambo, an Argentine gaucho folk dance.2 Against the white of his attire, the man’s bronze complexion recedes and surfaces again from the surrounding dark. Menacing dogs emerge in a circle to assault the dancer’s limbs still in the throes of heavy dance steps, an ever more vigorous sequence adequate to the violence of this canine attack. Dogs come into view again in Landlocked (2015, 5:05), a line of them burrowing holes through the side of an embankment in a desperate fit of escape. In yet another series of related single-channel works, a hilltop enactment points to the residuum of a cultural past in connection to its latter-day architectural uncanny. The Ghost of Modernity (Untitled, 2012, 3:15) features a cluster of pre-industrial wooden-frame shelters around which hovers a Plexiglas cube serving as the former’s purified ideal form, a haunted object severed from its manufactured status.3 The camera follows the floating transparent cube motif in The Ghost of Modernity (Lixiviados, 2012, 5:03) whose subtitle, lixiviados or leachates, refers to water that has seeped through solid waste, as in landfills, where it poses a serious threat to freshwater sources. The setting here—a massive trash heap—is now stage to a spectacle of cube-form corrugated metal shanty homes now crashing down in free-fall from an unseen source beyond the frame.


1 Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, archive, curatorial statement, A Morir (’Til Death), Miguel Angel Ríos, 15 October–10 December 2004, web, 31 October 2015 <http:// welcometolace.org/lace/a-morir-til-death/>. See Dallas Museum of Art, archive, curatorial statement, Concentrations 49: Miguel Angel Rios, A Morir (’Til Death), 29 January–14 May 2006, web, 31 October 2015 <https://www.dma.org/art/exhibition-archive/concentrations- 49-miguel-angel-rios-morir-til-death>; and Anne Martens, “Miguel Angel Ríos: Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions,” Flash Art, Vol. 38, January-February, 2005, p.116.
2  Victoria Verlichak, “Miguel Angel Ríos: MALBA—Costantini Foundation,” Art Nexus 8 no 75 D 2009/F 2010 pp.108-9


To read the rest of this Roberto Tejada's critical essay and more art writing, Purchase Gulf Coast 28.2 here.