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Daniela Rivera's 'Andes Inverted'

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I was delighted to come upon this piece on my last visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. It possesses a subtle power that is simultaneously personal and political. 

There are two main components to this piece, one being a monumental scaffolded structure with a series of paintings mounted up it's front. When walking up to it, I could not help but notice that it's sides were not covered up, but were left open, revealing the scaffolding underneath. I have no idea what the intent, if any, was behind that decision, but for me, it played into the themes of the piece. It did so because the paintings have to do with a human-shaped landscape (the interior of a mine), and scaffolding is often used to construct buildings. I believe, either intentionally or unintentionally there is an irony at play: the same scaffolding that is used to construct is being used to exhibit paintings of a colossal site of destruction. 

The paintings depict views of a Chilean mine as if from the rim. They all join together to constitute a larger picture of the mine's interior, but do so in a jumbled, non-uniform manner. The shapes of the rock do not flow seamlessly from one painting to the next. Rather, they are slightly off-kilter, like puzzle-pieces that don't quite fit together. This is especially the case because the edges of the paintings align in a 'stair-step' manner with the planar surface of each higher painting set back a bit from the planar surface of the one below. All this creates the sense of disjunction and fragmentation. This can be seen in the picture below. 

Here you can see the 'misalignment at the edge of the paintings'

Here you can see the 'misalignment at the edge of the paintings'

In addition, the whole structure is tilted back at about a 75 degree angle to the ground. This creates additional visual confusion because the perspective of the paintings themselves is downward, but perspective of the whole sculpture is upward. I found myself looking up at aerial views - which can be slightly nauseating. This creates a push and pull on the paintings themselves, which brings them to life. 

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As for the actual paintings, they are almost monochromatic. There are hints of warm and cool, but mostly it's a bland, desitute grey. It seems Daniela is accentuating the featureless, monumentalizing the utter bareness of this stripped landscape. 

On the other side of the exhibit is a wall. Daniela has scaffolded an incline midway up, and use the surface of the incline as a board for a large-scale drawing. It might be hard to tell from the image below, but the drawing is punctuated by strong vertical lines. It also features slanting diagonals which are marked in different ways. When viewing it from far away, it is indistinct, and almost looks as though the wall is dirty. Upon closer inspection, however, the markings appear as traces of foot-prints as well and rocks. This is the ground. Except that it looms over my head. Again, Rivera is playing with perspective and perceptions of up vs. down. As indicated by the title of the exhibit 'Andes Inverted', this is an explicit theme. 

But how does this theme contribute to the concepts of the work? Well, in the wall-piece the mine's surface looms over the viewer. We all have a natural instinct to be afraid or in awe of whatever is over us. Again, Rivera is monumentalizing. When standing beneath the piece, I am literally 'under-standing'. I am looking up in awe of something that I can't quite comprehend. I don't know what angle I am looking at. It appears as a flat surface (because of the vertical lines) as well as a moving surface (because of the light playing across it and the slanting diagonals) as well as a dimensional surface because of the building up of marks. 

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There may be no clear statement these two installations are making, but they do seem to be underscoring the destructive effect of the mine on the landscape. These pieces disorient and intimidate, making me at once struck not with beauty, but with a sense of desolation and loss. 

Andrew Manning