Rodrigo Valenzuela: Tenuous constructions

The art exhibition at Upfor doubles as a construction site linked to other Pearl construction sites

By Rebecca Mackay Rosen Carlisle

As Portland developers continue to fill the city with cranes and condo buildings, Rodrigo Valenzuela’s solo show Hedonic Reversal at Upfor uses video, photography, and a complex process of image construction to both deconstruct and build anew.

The experience in the gallery is like viewing documentation of previously unknown urban ruins. I can’t help but wonder how an anthropologist might decipher the scene—what once existed here? Valenzuela’s large-scale black and white photographs line the walls of the gallery, creating a sense of expansion as the spatial constructions within the work recede into rich blackness. The works confront viewers at a human scale, but these windows only deceptively invite, as on further inspection they reveal a cacophony of line and plane in improbable space.

Detail from Rodrigo Valenzuela 's "Hedonic Reversal"/Courtesy Upfor

Detail from Rodrigo Valenzuela’s “Hedonic Reversal”/Courtesy Upfor

Valenzuela’s photographs contain manufactured spaces, created through a process of visual and literal layering. He physically builds constructions in his studio, which he then photographs, reconfigures, and re-photographs on a backdrop of earlier photographs. The use of high contrast, sharp focus, and rich, velvety black make it hard to distinguish objects from photographs of objects layered within the work. There is spontaneity in the construction, and playfulness in the photographs of constructions in front of photographs of drawings on photographs of constructions.

The mind-boggling layering is somehow serene, like an abandoned construction site, until one tries to pick apart the convoluted puzzle. This layering simultaneously creates a flattening effect and a skewed sense of space, rife with visual confusion and impossibility. Drawn elements speak to architectural plans, but also call attention to surfaces, creating a tension between what appears dimensional and what flattens within the image.

Maria TV (5 min) from Rodrigo valenzuela on Vimeo.

The careful balance of construction and destruction found in the photographic images in Hedonic Reversal can also be found in Valenzuela’s accompanying video Maria TV, which investigates issues of race, class, and media portrayal. For this work, Valenzuela hired Spanish-speaking female immigrants to reenact monologues from Telemundo soap operas, and coupled them with personal histories. The destructive characterizations from television are exposed as fabrication, as the women share stories about constructing lives for themselves, as well as the constructs of family roles, notions of identity, and finding a sense of place.

Detail from Rodrigo Valenzuela's "Hedonic Reversal"/Upfor

Detail from Rodrigo Valenzuela’s “Hedonic Reversal”/Upfor

Valenzuela’s exhibit places the viewer in a tenuous sweet spot between curiosity and concern. One might look at Portland’s soaring rents and gentrification and feel the same thing. In Hedonic Reversal, beautifully crafted images of destruction, creation, and ruin, and interwoven video of fictionalization and identity, lead to the question: What is lost in construction?

Rodrigo Valenzuela’s Hedonic Reversal continues at Upfor gallery, 929 NW Flanders, through April 4, 2015. Closing reception 6-8 pm April 2.

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