Liquid Territories, by Magali Ávila, provides us with an ambitious pictorial exhibition in which a range of carefully chosen themes come together, and in which the crossing of natural spaces plays an accentuated role: the river, the mountain, the vegetation and the land itself. The theme that is wagered in the title of the set of pieces is already a crossroads of at least two images: space and matter, that is, the territory as an opening of the experience that reveals the singularity of the liquid.

Space and time are the most general categories of experience. Everything that we can experience occurs in a place and in a duration, we cannot even imagine the effective absence of one or another reality. In order to have access to reality, you have to be right in a place, of whatever kind, and in a period of time, regardless of whether it is about real or merely theoretical temporalities. Hence, reconstructing an issue like that of territory —from its zero degree— supposes a task of no less difficulty, and this becomes an even more complicated matter when it comes to an issue as vast as that of space.

What territories are we referring to when we think of their liquid states? How to account for the experience so personal, so intimate and inscrutable, so elusive and at the same time so shared as that of traversing the space and matter of specific geographies in the terms and possibilities that painting has without repeating what is known? and without being disloyal to what has been lived?

Patenting in painting what an experience of dealing with natural territories implies is a notorious challenge, and it must force us to get out of the stagnant models to approach the sensations that we live in said places. Sinking into the mountains, entering the river, any experience of the untamed—have been reduced in recent visual culture to commercial advertising for cigarettes and sports tourism, or else, to a monographic print of scientific illustration, but going through its paths, environments and thresholds as discrete sections is something else entirely.

The images presented to us there have little or nothing to do with the banal circulation of the spaces that appear in tourist guides. For the same reason, the fundamental thing to dislocate the ordinary gaze of these visions is to intervene and displace the scales with which we observe the things and the living beings that populate these places. It is an exercise of lenses and peepholes, of approaches and distances, and above all of location and dynamic positions.

Before anything else, what is obvious in the first pieces of Liquid Territories is the abrupt but concrete image of fluidity and blue in On the Other Side of the Mountain. The manifest presence of the abstract almost as if it were a natural thing: an animal, a set of treetops, a clearing in the forest or a river. In front of Magali Ávila's pieces, we stand before pure matter in the manner of an extensive thing (the contours of water) in its intensive properties (its attributes: its fluid state), that is: water as an image that intertwines with its materiality presented before us through the precise support of the pictorial. Territory as the emergence of sensations in that which distinguishes them as land, as wind and as plant life. However, despite many of the titles of the compositions, presented as a unit or in a series of diptychs or triptychs, what we do not find is easy referentiality. Magalí Ávila does not work with a worn aesthetic model of nature, in any case, what we will not find here is a manifest referentiality. It is true that there are figures, there are allusions, hints rather of signs, allegories and icons. But these strategies are abandoned and almost erased by the determination to make the forces of matter present in their link with the concept.

It is often pointed out, almost as manual phrases, that in abstract art there is no unity of plots, nor are clearly identifiable characters presented in the manner of court or genre painting, much of this is true in simplified terms. But Liquid Territories does not cease to problematize the issue of testimony and story, there is an intermittent and discontinuous narrative in which what is liveable is dispersed and is shown fragmented into sub-plots that populate the invisible threads between the pieces and as a trace or vestige of the author's experience.

Another point to highlight is the technical deployment, which is also thematized as part of the artist's discourse, particularly in the piece towards which the flow of the exhibition is directed: The initiation. Here the malleability of the material is partly the protagonist, the inevitable flow in the face of the decline and the escapism in a steep dive of the liquids make up an epic scene of sacredness and mystery: the course of the fluids, the spirits of the river, all this in a contraption of profanation that reveals the technical nature of the pictorial practice as well as its constitution as a living body of wax and oils.

To put it in other words, in this piece we witness an abstract allegory of encaustic itself: the unhidden truth of the fire-engraved technique (enkaustikos – εγκαυστικος), revealed as a trade secret. Fire and water as painting trades. This piece, with everything and its conceptual escapism, is still a revelation of the initiatory path in which the secret of painting itself, as a disciplinary practice, rises to self-awareness. Self-awareness of painting and self-awareness of the river. Meeting of technique (téchne- τέχνη) and materiality (hyle – ὕλη).

Undoubtedly, it is the celebration that implies a meeting of concomitant dimensions but rarely as manifest as aesthetic and intellectual discourse. The discontinuity is a multiple drift of narrative flows throughout the pieces of the exhibition. There is not an entirely unity of the subject of experience in this plot, and yet the exhibition is also a testimony: the works show us that someone has lived what they give an account of. The place of the experience cracks its continuity and disperses it in planes and positions of superimposed gazes among which emerge the flesh-painting, the painting-vegetable and the dense mineral that are not anchored in the mere reference of a geographical location. We would speak, in any given case, of a geography more defined by immersive paths of gazes and by monumental compositions of material cohesion rather than properly by an ordinary landscape route.

We are facing a dissemination of perception, and with it the visual landscape is also dynamited. The textures present us with the visuality of other senses: the tactile, the auditory, even the oneiric and the erotic that underlie the phenomena, which are also altered states of the sensible.

In the work of Magali Ávila, what we are presented with is a dispersion of sensations that are tense between the autonomous and the interdependent. The very location of these relationships between some paintings and others is presented in an asymmetrical and unequal way. At the same time, there is the presence of microscopic planes, typical of the life of water molecules in the wind, as well as crystalline constructions in rocks and tree leaves, as well as figurative evocations of organs, gestures and icons uprooted from their typical placement as images.

In sum, Liquid Territories is also a game that at every moment resizes and transforms into a framing position the place that is traversed at each step of the journey, each diptych, in each possible relationship —overt or covert— between the paintings as partial units and as a unified composition.

The journey implies an irruption of thought converted into concrete and allegorical matter at the same time, a contradiction that embraces its polarities in the incarnation and concealment of its plot. The exhibition itself is a dissertation on the metamorphoses and hybridization of natural figures and representations. Matter (hyle – ὕλη) appears and becomes visible only at its intersection with the concept as form (morphē – μορφή). Hylemorphism has been called in antiquity that way of being of the real in which there is no matter that is not accompanied by its form, that is, its figurative aspect (eidos – εἶδος).

The Liquid Territories proposal forms a spatiality that disrupts the common place of the museum as a space for easy contemplation. Well, it is -literally- about landscape plans that escape from the representative stamp to which the commercialism of contemporary visuality reduces them. We have in front of us a plethora of material experiences that burst beyond their assigned site by the laws of geology or tourism: the territory in which the mountain and the river coincide shows us another face of color, which as an idea fully coincides with its materiality in wax and oil. The river is flow only in the lapis lazuli of the wax, and only as painting is the river a river that does not refer to another flow external to itself. A foundational and fundamental aspect of the abstract is its resistance to being a referential and servile image. There is an image but in another tenor. The image is no longer a sign of an absence like the mimetic image or the typical figurality, since it does not represent anything external to it. In the works of Magali Ávila, the image does not represent something that is not already there as a living territory of the pictorial in its most complete fluidity.

Until March 2022

Mexico City Museum


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