Etymologically, the word “horizon” has a Greek root that relates to limits, division and separation. It can also be connected to the term eaggemearc, from Old English, meaning something like “the furthest distance you can see”. Such conceptions of horizon mark its understanding until today. Reinforced by the advent of perspectival thought in the West during the Renaissance, horizon conveys a sense of separateness or distance between the subject and the object in question – the field of perception that horizon stands for. This understanding of horizon also privileges a sort of relation that is eminently visual.
Phenomenology has a long standing tradition in tailoring a new conception of the term horizon. This alternative represents an authentic reversal of perspective regarding distance or division in favor of engagement. It also rejects a relation that is exclusively marked by the sense of sight. Under the logic of classical perspective, for example, it is possible to see only one facet or side of an object within the field of vision, that which is frontal to the spectator. In response, phenomenology claims that the situation is not limited to this form of perception. The object has an internal and an external horizon. According to Edmund Husserl´s terminology, the first kind of horizon relates to the other sides or aspects of the object, which cannot be appreciated from a single point of view. Most of the times, according to the author, these can be anticipated. However, it can be added, this anticipation can be frustrated. An unseen facet of the object, when revealed, can betray expectations. The second kind of horizon, the external, represents a field of perception almost limitless; it contains everything that can be experienced of a thing in connection with other things.1
French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty took and expanded Husserl´s ideas on the internal and external horizons. Concerning the latter, he described it as the field of correlation between the visible and what he termed “the invisible”. As Stefanie Wenner has explained, the external horizon contains the complete set of relations between things in space, and even time, that cannot be fully grasped.2 Echoing Husserl, the external horizon is “the misty horizon that can never be completely outlined.”3 In order to notice such hidden relations there has to be a profound engagement, to approach the object with “eyes that genuinely think.”4 This mode of perception, according to Merleau-Ponty, is at the core of aesthetic insight.
A world made out of debris
This incomplete and brief recount of different conceptions of the term horizon is used as an introduction to discuss Ricardo Alcaide´s artistic practice, taking as an excuse the title of his current exhibition presented at Dimensions Variable (DV) in Miami: Holding the Horizon. Alcaide´s practice starts, more often than not, from an experience and deep involvement in an urban setting. There, he usually collects fragments and material residues, such as debris from demolished constructions or urban ruins. One fragment of this kind is exhibited at Holding the Horizon. This object shows a regular grid made out of small mosaics that are still adhered to its surface. If this object was seen frontally, facing the side with the mosaics, it would be difficult to anticipate its other facets. The back turns out to be a rough surface, made out of solid concrete. This particular object could be seen analogously to one of the concerns at play within Alcaide´s production. With one side marked by a smooth and regular grid and the other with a rough concrete surface, this piece of debris seems to embody a tension between (modern) ideals or rational plans and the actual and harsh material conditions and circumstances of everyday life.
This piece of debris, or any other used by the artist in his projects can be seen as fragments. Again, phenomenology offers a positive meaning for this term, often associated with disjunction, fissures and breaks. According to Dalibor Vesely, the object understood as fragment cannot be seen as an isolated thing as it carries a metaphorical potential. Vesely—former surrealist, philosopher and architectural theorist- stated: “What we see at work here is a metaphor that has the capacity to establish the similarity between different objects, and as a consequence the capacity to reveal on a deeper level what is common to them. The metaphorical vision of a given reality depends on productive imagination and on the existence of a latent world that is always present, waiting for articulation.”5
Under this perspective, Alcaide uses urban debris and detritus as fragments. He employs these objects as individual found objects or produces sculptural assemblages from them. In Settlements (2014), for example, the artist presented dozens of these pieces made out of, basically, urban waste. This large group of works was displayed on the floor as an irregular sprawl. Next to it, the artist positioned a monumental structure made out of metal shelves. This object, invariably, calls to mind the image of an iron skeleton of a modern building (like a large unité d´habitation) whilst in construction. Settlements, in fact, could be seen as the representation of a particular urban center with large architectural projects and irregular constructions. As such, this installation embodies part of what constitutes the external horizon, the original setting from which all the debris were taken: the complex megalopolis of the 21st Century under global capitalism—with its tensions, disproportion, contrasts and inequalities.
Alcaide exploits the metaphoric quality of the fragment even further. In some cases, the appearance of the pieces of debris, or their assemblages, can bring to mind certain art historical references. For instance, some of the pieces and solutions featured in his large installation Unconscious State (2018), produced and presented in Mexico, recalled classic examples of modern geometric abstraction from that country, such as some works by Mathias Goeritz or Manuel Felguérez. Such historical references in connection with a specific local context highlight the nature of the external horizon as inexhaustible in its meanings and connections. In this regard, Husserl remarked: this “zone of indeterminacy is infinite.”
For Holding the Horizon Alcaide has produced several pieces in which the representation of a hand plays a central part in their articulation. These elements represent a variation within his production of the last decade, mostly centered in non-figurative solutions. The presence of the hand within the history of visual representation is archaic, as it is evidenced in multiple cave paintings. Very early in the history of art, the hand began to be defined as an expressive element, almost as a means of visual communication. Modern art continued to explore this condition of the hand for more than one century. Artists, from Auguste Rodin to Bruce Nauman, recurred to representations of detached hands in some of their works. Expression and communication persist in their sculptures (like in Rodin´s The Clenched Left Hand, ca. 1885, or Nauman´s Fifteen Pairs of Hands, 1996) as well as an attempt to unsettle the limits between a figurative representation and an abstract form. In Alcaide´s works, detached hands appear on the walls of the gallery, performing several actions – like holding a piece of urban debris or a steel bar. In Verticality (2021), a hand is used to show the pull of gravity. It holds a piece of thread with an object tied at its bottom, marking a vertical line (A line that could be as a horizon in its own right, a dividing line associated with the human in pre-Renaissance thought). The hand in Sense of Direction (2017) holds a steel frame diagonally, as if suggesting forward movement or direction. In this way, Alcaide´s sculptures remark the potential of the hand to communicate, sense, measure and interact with the world.
As such, the presence of such hands, and their actions, seem to point out to the original setting of Alcaide´s practice, his engagement with the space of the city and the intimate relation he establishes with some of the objects found there. They show the interplay between the visual and the tactile within perception and how together they expand the object´s horizons. The hand in Feeling the Past (2021), for example, carries the piece of urban debris mentioned at the beginning of this text, with one of its sides covered with mosaic. This work shows how tactile perception annuls the shortcomings of visual appreciation from a perspectival point of view. Another work makes explicit with its title the relevance of this haptic dimension: Holding Concrete (2021). It is important to mention that in previous projects, Alcaide plays with material indeterminacy regarding some of the debris. He often casts in bronze found things such as pieces of cardboard, wood or concrete. On closer inspection, certain everyday objects turn out to be bronze sculptures. By relying in this kind of indeterminacy, he produces ambiguous works that can bring certain awareness to the process of perception itself as well as its level of engagement.
Rainbow of Chaos
In 2015, whilst attending a residence program in Miami, Alcaide found a public artwork in a parking lot. It was a painting on the wall that had the inscription We live in the Rainbow of Chaos. The artist found later that this phrase was attributed to Paul Cezanne. Regardless of this fact, the experience of the encounter with such sentence propelled Alcaide to start a personal investigation regarding color. Recalling the legacy of the monochrome, he produced works such as Rainbow of Chaos (2015) and Rainbow of Chaos no. 2 (2016). In these pieces he began to articulate a distinguishable palette of colors reminiscent of Isaac Newton’s sevenfold rainbow sequence. Alcaide employs industrial materials to produce these works; lacquers and polyurethane paint endow each painting with a reflective surface that highlights the artist´s situational concerns and interests. Rainbow of Chaos and Rainbow of Chaos no. 2 also present a tension between regularity and nonuniformity. This might be more evident in the second piece of 2016. Here, he used pieces of wood to create an irregular grid on top of each painted surface; its presence altered the sequence of the colors drastically. The seven pieces in Rainbow of Chaos were also painted whilst having these fragments of wood. However, they were removed, cracking and damaging an otherwise smooth and pristine painted surface. Both of these interventions might bring to mind, once more, Alcaide´s interest to point out an unresolved tension between the ideals of modernism and the realities of its legacy in everyday life.
Alcaide continues this chromatic investigation in Holding the Horizon, six years after his first encounter with Cezanne´s phrase in a parking lot in Miami. In two works in this show, he uses the palette of seven colors that he began to study and employ in pieces such as Rainbow of Chaos. In the installation Horizon (2021), he presents seven regular slabs. Reminiscent of minimalist sculpture they are rectangular blocks made out of MDF with an industrial finish. Such final appearance is achieved by the application of industrial lacquer painting. The distinctive palate of seven colors (tones of turquoise, blue, purple, pink, vermillion and two variations of yellow) is applied on the top surface of the blocks. The lateral sides of these structures are painted using a spectrum of gray tones as well as white and black.
The presence of the blocks in Horizon transforms the spatial scene of the gallery. The space is divided by these slabs of color; the spectator can move through them and observe the whole through different points and perspectives. Seen in array this piece possesses an architectonic quality; these blocks could be seen as a row of regular constructions. Moreover, the installation has a strong pictorial intention. The more neutral tones and colors used in the sides (white, black and gray) reinforce horizontality and a sense of grounding. They, also, provoke that Alcaide´s rainbow colors acquire a unique intensity and relevance. According to him, “this chromatic sequence is stimulating and even uplifting”. It could be said that in Horizon Alcaide signals the condition of the appearance of a rainbow as a phenomenon of perception. By moving in the space of the gallery, the public can find points of view in which to see the seven colors in sequence, without interruption, from certain angles. Invariably, a consideration such as this might bring to mind the importance given to perceptual interests in some cases of art production from South America in the last century.
The second piece that employs this palette of colors is Unity (2021). This work consists of seven hands holding together a steel tube, horizontally. Like previous works discussed in this text, these hands emerge from the wall. The difference is that they are not white but impregnated with color, highlighting once more the artist´s pictorial concerns. The use of “impregnation” is not arbitrary and is meant to refer to the use given by Ives Klein when painting objects, reproductions of artworks or casted body parts and profiles. In this way, from a distance, the application of color in this work of Alcaide can cause certain perceptual indeterminacy, blurring the contour of the hands. Besides carrying a specific color, each of the seven hands is also unique in the sense that they were casted individually and, as such, each is different from the rest. This diverse group of hands gathers in a common task, holding a bar as if marking a horizon. For Alcaide, “holding the horizon” is a metaphor for maintaining stability, “to hold the sight in the horizon in order to avoid imbalance, with the senses aligned to overcome a specific moment.” This work composed of seven hands working in unison is the one in the exhibition that most eloquently refers to this situation described by the artist. As such, Unity also points out to another understanding of the term horizon as that terrain of common participation and shared experience.
As part of Holding the Horizon, Alcaide invited Chilean-born artist Felipe Mujica to present several works of his ongoing series Curtains (begun in 2006). These pieces are made of different fabrics or textile procedures and are often exhibited hanging in different points of the exhibition space, creating a sort of new, soft architecture in the gallery. As Alcaide´s Horizon with its colored slabs, Mujica´s Curtains transform the spatial scene. Change is constant as the curtains can rotate when they interact with currents of air or with the movement of passing-by spectators. The architectonic character of his intervention speaks of the artist´s interest in radical constructive practices of the twenty-century, from International Constructivism to the School of Valparaiso in Chile, active since 1952.
Each of the Curtains carries a specific design of Mujica, belonging to a series based in the interplay of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. Through the years he has amassed hundreds of these designs in a series of notebooks. Initially, it was the artist himself who tailored each of these designs in the fabrics. However, since 2012, Mujica has made of the production process of the works moments of collaboration and, in occasions, social situations. Some of the Curtains exhibited in DV were sewn only by the artist while others were produced with groups of women in Gothenburg over a period of two weeks in 2018. The artist met with them regularly to sew and socialize around the traditional Swedish fika – sharing time with friends and colleagues to have a cup of tea or coffee. Sewing, in this later case, was done in group whilst sharing from banal conversation to discussing common interests and concerns. In this way, this series by Mujica is similar to Alcaide´s practice regarding two aspects. Firstly, the important role that manual work has in the process of production and, second, their mutual recognition of a larger (social) horizon, a shared ground of experience.
- See, for instance, Edmund Husserl, Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973
- Stefanie Wenner. “Horizon as a machine to produce visibility. An expedition into the politics of B-Visible”. Sarma, 5 Nov 2002 http://sarma.be/docs/2843
- Edmund Husserl, Ideas General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, New York: Macmillan Pub Co, 1962, p. 92
- Stefanie Wenner, Op. cit.
- Dalibor Vesely. Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation. The Question of Creativity under the Shadow of Production. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004, p. 338
Daniel Garza Usabiaga, Ph.D.
Daniel Garza Usabiaga holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Art History and Theory, at the University of Essex (UK) and postdoctoral studies from the Institute of Aesthetic Reasearch of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Currently, he is an independent historian and curator. In the past, he has been curator of the Museum of Modern Art and Chief Curator at the Museo Universitario del Chopo, both in Mexico City. He has been a contributor in publications edited by the Getty Research Institute, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Hamburger Banhnof in Berlin, amongst others. He has published two monographic books on the work of artists Mathias Goeritz (2012) and Wolfgang Paalen (2018). He was Artistic Director of Zona Maco, the contemporary art fair in Mexico City. He was curator of the XIII FEMSA Biennial We have never been contemporary (2018-19) and Artistic Director of the XIV edition, Inestimable chance (2020-21).