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Friday, June 12, 2015

Armando Guiller: Patterns and Beauty

Helical Work #6. Armando Guiller.
Steel and birch plywood. 70 x 18 x 18
Last night a reception was held at Meridian Design Associates, an architectural firm, to present "Helical Work #6", a sculpture of Armando Guiller recently bought by Meridian Design Associates. Armando asked me to write a presentation, which you can read here now. Special thanks go to Frank Guiller for letting me use his pictures from last night. (As readers of this blog know, I have also written about Frank Guiller in this blog: "Frank Guiller: el cristal con que se mira"). This is what I said last night about Armando Guiller's sculptures:

Two weeks ago Armando Guiller called me to find out when I was going to finish writing this presentation. Trying to explain away my procrastination, I told him I was busy helping my daughter prepare her trip to Switzerland. Of course, he asked about the trip and I gladly boasted that she was going to Geneva to spend the summer working at the Large Hadron Collider. 

“What exactly is she going to be doing there?”, Armando immediately asked with genuine interest. I told him she was going to be coding. “Coding for what?,” he asked. “Well, Armando, as we know, when protons collide they send showers of particles in all directions, right? [Full disclosure: Of course, I do not know anything about colliding protons—I was just parroting what my daughter have explained to me several times during the last few months.] She is trying to find certain patterns on those showers of particles, she and her colleagues are trying to make sense of them,” I told him. And Armando replied: “Man, that is exactly what I try to do with my art, but I look for beauty in those patterns.” He was referring to a particular series of sculptures he did some time ago, but I guess this is the best definition you could find about his work as a whole. 

For the last forty years, some artists, critics and writers have tried to talk like scientists. The result is at the same time hilarious and boring. Armando is the exact opposite of that trend. He talks like a person who knows a lot about physics and engineering and is just using the language of art to explain certain facts to the scientifically challenged. And he does it with remarkable humility. He really thinks he is talking about something his interlocutor probably knows. That’s not the case, of course.

One hundred years ago, futurist artists were fascinated by the beauty of the mechanical power of modern machines. Bicycles, cars and planes suddenly replaced saints, the Madonna, noblemen, sunflowers, naked lunches, and card players as the subject matter of painting. Artists like Giacomo Balla or Benedetta Cappa, among others, tried to show us the aesthetics of aerodynamic lines and the magic of pure velocity. 

“We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed”, Marinetti declared in his Manifesto. We all remember his famous phrase: “A racing car […] is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.” It turned out to be a childish fascination. They all marveled at something they didn’t understand, like the baby spreading his food on the screen of an iPad. Maybe that innocence was the reason most of the futurists ended up fascinated with Fascism. “And like young lions we ran after Death”, says Marinetti in the Manifesto without knowing he was describing his own destiny.

One hundred years ago too, Marcel Duchamp was trying to reconcile art with life. He wanted painting to be useful again, not just an object of empty, frivolous beauty. The urinal in the museum was not simply a new definition of art. It was not just a rejection of the traditional role of the artist as creator—it was also a rejection of the museum as the natural, final destination on any relevant work of art. 

The museum, for Duchamp was a Western abomination. “All exhibitions of painting or sculpture make me ill. And I’d rather not be involved in them,” he wrote to a friend. He wanted art to return to the gothic cathedral, where each painting, each stained-glass window told a story and showed the illiterate Medieval Christians the essence of their faith. 

Photo: Frank Guiller
Art was supposed to be a learning tool, not a mystery that only a chosen few could understand. Art was not supposed to be explained—art was the explanation. At the end, realizing that the reconciliation of art and life was impossible, Duchamp and his Dadaist friends decided that Western art was dead—as dead as the God of Friedrich Nietzsche had been for twenty years; as dead as that ‘old bitch gone in the teeth,’ the European civilization. And that was when the Dadaists started giving axes to the public at their art shows so they could destroy the paintings hanging from the walls.

I was thinking about both Marinetti and Duchamp after talking to Armando about those colliding protons he and my daughter find so captivating. There is a contradictory relationship between his clean sculptures and the dreams Duchamp, Marinetti and company were dreaming in the year of 1915.Of course, Armando Guiller’s sculptures more often than not have the flavor, the lines and the finish of complicated industrial objects. But his is not the Futurist’s wide-eyed admiration for some modern contraction. It is rather it’s exact opposite. Armando Guiller is not an artist who dabbles in mechanics, but a technician and inventor who produces art in order to show us what he clearly sees in the intrinsic logic of machines and nature. 

Giacomo Balla’s purpose was to portrait the beauty of the racing car hood, the aesthetic quality of its aerodynamic design. Armando Guiller just wants to show us the spectacular elegance of an internal combustion engine or a subatomic storm. 

He says he looks for beauty in nuclear reactions and industrial objects. “My work,” he explains, “brings Mechanics Principia into aesthetical and perceptual examination.” But when you observe his sculptures you don’t get the impression he is looking for anything. He seems to have found what he was looking for a long time ago. He seems to know something—in a deep, powerful sense, he seems to know it. He is just showing us what he knows. His work reminds me of Ezra Pound’s dictum: “But I'm not arguing, my friend, I'm just telling you!” One of the basic concepts of Armando Guiller’s recent work is the helix.  “I’m fascinated with the Helix, to me is the equation that best describes the process of human development,” he declares. This sculpture, in particular, is part of a series he calls “Helical Works.” The materials are steel and birch plywood. On close examination, the sculpture is a collection of numerous, almost identical pieces. The brutal exactitude and the surgical smoothness of the surfaces give the work an industrial quality. 
Jorge I. Domínguez-López (Tersites),
sculptor Armando Guiller and his
Helical Work #6. Photo: Frank Guiller

But there is nothing industrial in the organization of those pieces. The artist patiently  ensembles them together until they take the shape he imagined or saw before he designed the interchangeable pieces. Describing his work, Armando explains: “The sculpting process consist of stacking a chosen material in sections to form a complex body, where the body refers to life and the sections to those experiences that can turns its course.”   We wish we could have life experiences so polished and stackable, so logically interconnected.   We wish our lives were perfect helical progressions instead of almost perfectly hellish nightmares. But what he is telling us is that such perfection does exist. He has seen it, and he is also capable of portraying it in wood and steel. 

You can look at this piece, Helical Work #6, as an assortment of wood and steel pieces. But it could be a contemporary rendition of Boticelli’s Birth of Venus—you only have to imagine the newborn goddess prudishly covering her sex with her right hand instead of her left. Or it could be a wood and steel rendition of one of Modigliani’s languid girls. Helical Work #6, beyond its Pythagorean precision and its ‘Jeff-Koonsian’ impeccable finish, projects a delicate, human, feminine, almost maternal image. 

In a recent conversation, Armando told me that he had decided to start this series after he noticed that his work was lacking geometry. “What about theology?,” I asked him with a chuckle.  I was playfully referring to Ignatius Really, the protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces, who claims “The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency.” I don’t know yet about theology, but we know for sure that Armando Guiller’s works have plenty of geometry, taste and decency. With those elements and his talent, he has translated the Euclidian beauty of perfect curves into a language of steel and wood. His sculptures are not supposed to be explained—they are his explanation. His is not arguing, my friends, he is just telling us something he knows. We just have to listen to him with wide-open eyes. 

Thank you.

Photo: Frank Guiller