Anche di notte
The practice of Rodrigo Hernández (Mexico City, 1983) has been driven, since its inception, by an ongoing and sometimes overwhelming impulse to escape, from a physical point of view, the constraints of language. There is a sense of both freedom and complexity in giving substance to an idea, a concept or an emotion through a gesture or a drawing rather than through words, whether they are written or spoken ones. The result of this apparent difficulty in verbal expression is thus materialized, within Hernánez’s work, through the creation of silent images full of paradoxes that summon lasting moments of doubt and uncertainty.
Hernandez usually works on an intimate scale, one that demands closeness, minuteness and affect, but this can sometimes change. Individual elements, an ever expanding lexicon of visual references coming from a multitude of origins, scattered trough space and time, can be added and combined, thus building a whole that exceeds both in form and in narrative the individual elements that are at its origin. It is not surprising, for example, that previous solo exhibitions of the artist saw the merging of images from Futurism and Pre-Columbian art, or the geometric patterns and the kaleidoscope of colors by Italian designer Emilio Pucci, and the richness and exuberance of the textiles he created with the minimal simplicity of the atmosphere of Zen paintings.
Anche di notte, Hernández’s solo exhibition in P420, in Bologna, continues this intuitive exploration of affect through the visual legacies, imaginaries and symbols of art history. It opens with a small painting, oil on wood, of a nocturnal scene reminiscent of the surreal ways of composing a landscape or even of De Chirico’s idiosyncratic construction of depth, with its characteristic ominous shadows. Lending its name to the show, the painting demands closeness. It presents a simultaneously somber and bright depiction of one of Brancusi’s Sleeping Muses, dormant under a black sky, lit only by a schematic and abstract full moon. The flatness of the black and white backdrop contrasts with the warmth and peacefulness of the golden brass sculpture, creating a pictorial tension which thrusts the visitor into a generalized sense of doubt and heightened attention, which will remain constant throughout the exhibition.
The trompe-l’oeil has been a recurring motif in Hernández’s practice, as it brings into question a certain ontology of objects and how they are perceived, creating a sense of wonder, doubt and mistrust over things and their place in the world – and even over the idea of materiality altogether. The Tao of a Bat, the second work in the exhibition, is one of such trompe-l’oeils. A wall painting recreating one of Bologna’s famous porticos in dialogue with a brass work portraying a bat, it dialogues with the minute painting, both in a material and a narrative way, and functions as a portal leading into the nocturnal domain of the flying mammal.
The second room of the exhibition is home to nine works made from golden hand-hammered brass. The figures and motifs are outlined softly, despite the hardness of the metal working, and the warmth of the beaming brass creates an atmosphere of silent contemplation which is not dissimilar to those of devotional spaces. Medieval references are paramount in the room, with the figure of Filippo dei Desideri, a 14th Century warrior whose tombstone can be found in a museum in Bologna, being central to the work. The suggestion of a narrative path, a fictionalized biography of the mysterious medieval warrior, of whom very little is known, but whose name is as intriguing as it is prone to romantic fantasies, is suggested by this series of works. Silent moments of contemplation, of tenderness, love and companionship, of weightlessness and dreaming, make up the possibility of an inner life, one that comes into being when the sun sets and the moon rises, of a long dead and forgotten man.
Anche di notte
Review by João Mourão and Luís Silva
P420, Bologna, Italy
23 September–12 November 2022
Rodrigo Hernández, Anche di notte, 2022, installation view, P420, Bologna
Courtesy P420, Bologna
Photo Carlo Favero