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Chronicles of Absence by Óscar Muñoz and Rosangela Rennó Opens at Museo Tamayo
View of a fragment of the work of art made by Brazilian Rosângela Rennó and Colombian Óscar Muñoz. Photo: EFE/Alex Cruz.

MEXICO CITY.- Chronicles of Absence. Óscar Muñoz and Rosângela Rennó brings together a selection of works that include photographs, installations and videos from the early 1990s, as well as more recent pieces, that explore memory and oblivion as interdependent concepts. The continual and endless production of images in society reveals how extensively we resort to these materials in order to remember and to illustrate particular events, while at the same time, many of these images are discarded within the immediacy of consumption. In previous times, photographs served to guide us toward the things we should look at; nowadays, they no longer foster our ability to “see” in the same way. Indifference, the incapacity to retain information and the self-defense mechanisms we have developed against certain narratives that we choose to ignore, are examples of social behavior that Óscar Muñoz and Rosângela Rennó focus on in each of their investigations.

Based on historical, political and personal situations, Muñoz and Rennó—through their individual artistic processes—examine the fragile nature of memories, as well as the complexity underlying the current value of the photographic image. Both artists address the inevitable breakdown of the image’s meanings by using photographs that form part of our immediate, day-to-day environment, such as those illustrating newspaper articles or family photo albums. This exhibition fosters a dialogue between the two artists. It salvages an absent past, revealing the amnesia that we are currently suffering as a society. By manipulating photographic material that has previously been ignored, Muñoz and Rennó point out the selective processes implicit in certain common social practices, and portray the face of collective attitudes that are not always visible, but do exist.

Chronicles of Absence presents two critical postures that focus attention on examples of relevant stories from people´s lives. In Tiznados [Charred] (1990–1991), Muñoz looks at remnants of pictures from sensationalist Colombian tabloids of the 1980s. Interested in the fact that under their flattening glare of the flash, photojournalists capture tiny details of unrecognizable homicide victims, the artist made seven plaster panels that extract, in an abstract form, particular details from these images. Far from capturing the aftermath of such tragedies, the original photographs published in newspapers merely portray day-to-day urban violence—content we often encourage through our passive-aggressive way of viewing, which does little justice to the remembrance of the victims.

For her part, in 1995, Rennó examined a collection of negatives that are part of the archives of the Sao Paulo State Penitentiary. Beginning in the 1920s, photographic records were kept of the various marks on inmates’ bodies, aiming to identify prisoners by these physical features rather than by name. The Vulgo series (1998–2003) consists of photographs of prisoners’ heads and necks, classified by their cowlicks or hair-growth patterns; once enlarged, the public exhibition of these prints disrupts their symbolism by transposing them to a context that makes them “current” again. For years, photographs have been used as documents that serve to corroborate people’s identities; here, this process is subverted so that the pictures merely represent anonymous individuals.

As contemporary chroniclers who appropriate stories from the past, Muñoz and Rennó alter the original narratives to reconstruct their meaning in the present. Their “chronicles”, which combine reportage and narrative, force the artists to perform mental exercises of their own in order to reconstruct the cases that they salvage, while alluding to the decay of memory. The images that Muñoz and Rennó present here are both fragile and powerful; they position themselves in a temporal space between presence and absence. This status lends them a novel meaning, one that without ignoring their contemporary form, accounts for the inevitable and nostalgic time that each photograph contains.

Óscar Muñoz was born in Popayán, Colombia, in 1951. He currently lives and works in Cali, Colombia. His recent solo shows (all in 2008) include Óscar Muñoz. Imprints for a Fleeting Memorial, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto; Mirror Image, Institute of International Visual Art, London; Óscar Muñoz. Panóptico, Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo, Badajoz, Spain. He has also shown his work at several biennales including that of Venice (2005 & 2007), Prague (2005), Bogota (2002), Havana (1997), and Sao Paulo (1987).

Rosângela Rennó was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 1962. She currently lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. Her most recent solo shows include The Last Photo, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto (2008) and Rosângela Rennó, Museu de Arte Moderna Aloíso Magalhães, Recife, Brazil (2006). Her work has also been shown at biennales in New Orleans (Prospect 1, 2008), Venice (1993 & 2003), Berlin (2001), Sao Paulo (1994 & 2000), Havana (1994 & 1997), Kwangju (1997), Mercosul (1997) and Johannesburg (1997).

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