PREM SARJO


WALKING AROUND

The alchemists from the Middle Ages pursued an ancient doctrine according to which precious materials could be derived out of waste. It shouldn't be a surprise then that this old discovery has been perpetuated since in the realm of the arts, following a course of subtle variations up to our times. The notion of a sacred found object is still with us, what has changed is the concept of this finding. This is where the idiosyncrasy of a particular society resides.

Every photograph by Sarjo is a non-manipulated finding of an urban scene in broad daylight. A question is what springs from it, for we only posses a trace of what had happened, captured by the lens of the camera. So something new is produced, born in that instant. Publicity signs have two different spaces: one which informs us and one where lies a void. Urban life has two different sides as well: one whose intention is for us to consume and another which lies hidden, for we may have it right in front of us, but oddly enough, we don't see it. Similarly, human relationships develop according to these guidelines, which is related to what is morally correct but there is another one that remains buried, far from people's gaze and which, most of the time, we ourselves don't even notice.

The street is the space where social life flourishes. It's guts lie beneath our feet though we may never stop to think about it. Down there lie those products of our existence which we have consciously chosen to throw away, for they make us uneasy. It is strange that we have chosen this method to assume our lives within society, for it seems that these scars of our existence, which we try so hard to get rid of, keep showing up, as if there was no room left for them in the depths of the earth.

The reason why we have valuable objects and others which are deemed as "waste" is because they remind us of our own fear of death, and that paralyses us with fear and repugnance. Nonetheless, all that surrounds us - including ourselves - is destined to die. It is remarkable to see what happens in these photographs with the corpses of human creation. There is a hidden logic, between chance and conscious intervention: a cast for concrete turns into the Roman Coliseum defying nature's shapes, rising with the sole help of man's hand, an abandoned mattress by a garbage truck becomes a devouring dinosaur, two piled up plastic chairs discover their secret loving passion, the teared carton box lying on the ground with a stone on it to delimit someone's territory changes into the face of a smiling robot. All the findings are displayed by the eye that plays hand in hand with a child's imagination, but also the man that reflects on his trade, who is concerned with referring to art's history. Thus, on an ordinary street walk one could find Mondrian in a mutilated refrigerator carefully leaning against a trash can, minimalist structures that glow in their naked presence from the back of a truck, quotes on still life on the paint in corners, or a glance into a seascape amongst the colors of a worn out wall where a red boat previously had the role of a carpet. It is quite significant to be able to find the poetry behind these things created by the human being. It is that side that was not conceived so as to be seen, it is that part of our personality which we choose to conceal in our relationships, it is the mystery of that we do not declare while we live. The camera may split the invisible things of this world.

The names given to these pictures guide the observer towards a new interpretation. Most of them are directed towards a fresh and innocent sense of humor. However, there is a harshness which cannot be ignored, and which refers to the social reality of the recordings of these actions which are no longer visible. The way in which it is ordered and recollected relates to a way of thinking that goes beyond our conscious processes. A makeshift workman's barrier in Santiago will never be the same as another one in any other part of the world. This space-transforming procedure acquires a characteristic that presents a problem to contemporary artistic methods and, inevitably surfaces the notion that a street finding may as well be inside a museum and thus be considered a work of art. In Walking Around visual situations emerge which directly evaluate what is "typically Chilean", such as "patch" solutions, which are made out of laziness, never solving the core issue at hand. These alternatives, which are literally poorly made, tend to add up, so a problem which was once a small thing suddenly becomes unfixable. Another constant in Chilean behavior that Sarjo recovers ironically are the security systems. Quite often their construction is plainly absurd, thus belonging to the same false notion of "patch" solutions. These constructions are sometimes carried out with viciousness and then effective prisons which hurt our eyes are created, giving us a very elaborated insight into what fear can represent for certain families.

Within the sordid space that a more profound reading can give us we will find a more delicate possibility: poetry. How can we find beauty and harmony in things that aim towards degradation and death? The answers may be as diverse as the other questions that may be born out of them. This is the most evanescing point of these images, that is why it is easy to get hold of it. The poetry in the photographs that make Walking Around is a very subtle one, because they reflect the notions of life and death with a mystical tone out of those base materials. We may think that this poem is in a situation of conflict but it is actually quite the opposite, for it is always rooted in reality. It never departs from it. That is why we can't escape the sparkling beauty of these photographs: it is finding the elegance within the corrupting bodies, morphed into strange butterflies. Dead things carry the voices of those beings which no longer can see them. That is why there is never a person in these photographs, however, people will always be its protagonist, by saying: "we are freer than what we think."

Rocío Casas Bulnes

September 2008

Translation: Sebastián Jatz Rawicz

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