By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
Last winter, after we left Mexico, we returned to the US and stayed a week in La Jolla, California. We were there primarily to visit our granddaughter, who was in her final year at UC San Diego. Since she had obligations other than entertaining her grandparents – such as classes and work – we had time to explore the area. One afternoon we headed to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. We had fond memories of the permanent art collection and wanted to refresh our acquaintance with some of the old masters from Spain such as El Greco and Goya.
We never made it to the Museum. As we walked past the nearby San Diego Art Institute, we were intrigued by a sign announcing an exhibition. “El Lenguaje de Las Cosas – The Language of Things.” Since the exhibition was presented in partnership with the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT) – a bridge between our two countries rather than a wall – we were compelled to spend at least a few minutes at the exhibition. We wound up spending all our free time there that afternoon.
We were not familiar with the artist Roberto Romero-Molina, whose surrealistic work comprised the entire exhibition. Although he was featured in a 2016 publication by Stefan Falke, “La Frontera – Artists Along the U.S. – Mexico border,” and he works and exhibits in both countries, his art has not yet been on view in Oaxaca. Perhaps one barrier to his recognition in our area of Mexico is the massive nature of his projects.
El Lenguaje de Las Cosas filled the whole lower-level exhibition hall of the San Diego Art Institute. Its six huge installations each immerse the visitor in a completely different audio-visual landscape. You are engulfed in the artist’s visions and cannot simply stroll by or stare for a few minutes. Each installation evokes reactions, interactions, and emotions.
One of the works that stimulated maximum interaction was titled Open Field. A soundscape that was constantly transformed by the visitors’ movements and sounds, such as humming or singing, produced captivating resonances. Changes in sound were displayed on an oscilloscope. The ability to see and hear one’s effect on the immediate environment was existentially impressive.
A less interactive but just as evocative installation was a tree-like representation that emitted bird sounds produced with a 1978 synthesizer. The visitor is invited to circle slowly around the tree, listening to the never-repeating bird songs alternating with periods of quiet, or stand in one spot with closed eyes listening and feeling as if located deep in a primordial forest.
A work that in itself was a bridge in two senses involved art students in Baja. Romero-Molina, emotionally transformed by two events – the death of his father and the birth of his son – pondered his own sense of being a bridge between the two generations. He asked the students to ponder their own sense of being and to record their thoughts on video. The videos, of various lengths, are displayed in a loop on eight screens. The visitor is literally and philosophically involved in different rich views of the meaning of life.
The three other works were also captivating and deserved lengthy time to appreciate them. The Art Institute’s guide said, “To hurry through is to miss the moment.”
In an interview for the San Diego publication Hoy, Romero-Molina commented, “The exhibition is an attempt to materialize in these works the idea that what we can put into words, is actually a stream compared to the great ocean of human experience we live. Reinforcing the importance of the arts is this ability to dialogue, express and exchange with other areas of knowledge and human expression, which with the use of language would be very limited.”
From our perspective, Romero-Molina’s attempt succeeded. We hope his work finds its way to many other museums in Mexico – perhaps even Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO).