by Patrick D. Flores
In the window, the moon is hanging over the earth,
meaningless, but full of messages.
It’s dead, it’s always been dead,
but it pretends to be something else,
burning like a star, and convincingly so that you feel sometimes
it could actually make something grow on earth.
If there’s an image of the soul,
I think that’s what it is.
The passage is from Louise Glück’s A Village Life, lifted from the book on the work of David Maisel, involving a suite of photographs of a psychiatric facility that keeps a unique index of cinders. The poem speaks of a teeming solitude in which stillness sows signs and dissembling, of the chance to rear a clearing under its near radiance. It approaches an image of no less than a seeming soul, glimpsed from a window: hanging, dead, burning. Maisel converses with the poem in the form of the Library of Dust, done from 2005 to 2006, that archived copper canisters holding the cremated remains of patients who died between 1883 and the seventies: “vibrant minerals bloom on the urns’ surfaces, as the copper reacts with the ashes held within.” These relics of psychopathology, catalogue of death in the clinic, have been forgotten, unclaimed by kin.
Keenly consider the description of both trauma and beauty: “The approximately 3,500 copper canisters have a handmade quality; they are at turns burnished or dull; corrosion blooms wildly from the leaden seams and across the surfaces of many of the cans. Numbers are stamped into each lid; the lowest number is 01, and the highest is 5,118. The vestiges of paper labels with the names of the dead, the etching of the copper, and the intensely hued colors of the blooming minerals combine to individuate the canisters. These deformations sometimes evoke the celestial — the northern lights, the moons of some alien planet, or constellations in the night sky. Sublimely beautiful, yet disquieting, the enigmatic photographs in Library of Dust are meditations on issues of matter and spirit.” Maisel relates this library to a thriving labyrinth (note how the word bloom repeats), thus fleshing out the “forgotten” serially.
Roderico Daroy is drawn to this contemplation, and his kindred reflections have accrued pages of his own library, a heap of pages kept in stock, primed for a long wait. We turn these leaves over in this exhibition, at last. In his constant but conscientious search for things that matter, Daroy finds the most intimate. Not in the sense of the quotidian or the prosaic, beyond the “banality of evil” or the “practice of everyday life,” for instance, but rather in the register of the resonant: that it lends itself well to a future condition of being in a state of further play, not in the terminus of object or in the device of the enduring. Perhaps it is not the thing that is had; it is the attentiveness to it that consumes him and that he lets in turn consume the thing anew. In a certain sense then, the artist reverses the ethic of the antiquarian, seized by rarity, as well as the objet trouvé specialist of the Duchampian impulse, beholden to surplus. Daroy reclaims something from entropy or flux, surely, though he does not struggle to contain it. He instead subjects it to another ecology and duration, a latitude of time, an influx of elements, a realm that remains. It is relayed into a cycle that resists the instant, as it were, deferring its objecthood as art or its liquidity as spent force.
The thing in Daroy’s hands basks under a whirling world, an “always incipient cosmos,” as a poet would put it with felicity. It is this grace of process that leads moment and place to gather thickness: the density of the overlooked, the strata of silence, the texture of interval. In this supposed vacuum but potential plenty lie the weather, serendipity, palimpsest, wonder, accident, inspiration, error, vermin. Daroy is open to this kind of fortuity but does not sacrifice acuity in the face of a ravenous nature. The tension between these two wills moves him to create and to find solace in “results” or “outcomes” both at his behest and beyond his auspice. In his past works, we see movie billboards, a bygone art in the digital age, beaten to shed their multiple surfaces, betraying the text of a title or the face of a star. In another project, he recovers stacks for smoked fish to reveal the effect of fire and the scent of sea.
The equally attentive social scientist will tell us that the social is thick, thus the phrase “social thickness,” most likely a notion in dialogue with an earlier method of “thick description.” Life happens as a multitude, and that to grasp it is to impossibly grapple with the detail that is legion. And all this accretes inexorably into a range of traditions: biography, art, memory, a Dutch interior, an icon of Mao infested with parasites, among other epiphanies. Mingling in Daroy’s workshop are watercolor tablets, passport photos, clutter, pieces of jigsaw puzzle, torn plates of art of the masters, various residue, quaint frames, decorated glass panes, fossils, patina, shards, craqueleur, impedimenta. Taken together, they are encrustations, in fact, migrations that bedevil the inviolate — or the native. These inscriptions build up incrementally into intermedia: unhurried drawing, scraping of caked burn stains on pots, marking of charcoal and pastel, film of beeswax, quirt of squid ink, the trail of termites.
There is, therefore, a heady level of disfiguration or defacement to be discerned here, a smearing of reputation, so to speak: corruption, decay, drenching, attrition of material, which is fatigued, distressed, worn down, made to appear marred as in Sally Mann’s photographs using the wet plate collodion process that alludes to random imperfection, the lesions of a liminal technology. We hear that Daroy dreams of pictures, stirred up by pilfered images tacked on the wall to be stared at and imbibed. When inexorably demonstrated as “art,” they become both “documentation and metaphor” of a process of transformation, quite akin to David Maisel’s “ aerial images of environmentally impacted sites that explore the aesthetics and politics of open pit mines, clear-cut forests, and zones of water reclamation.” In other words, the contingencies of violation across very subtle and substantial shifts of time, like Braudel’s fabled, eventful but apparently clement Meditteranean, or the calm cosmos from afar that is actually wracked by unseen cataclysms every now and then.
For this exhibition, Daroy revisits the promise of collage, or better still, combines and congregations tangentially in the key of Robert Rauschenberg and Alfonso Ossorio respectively, to reckon the rituals of process that invariably last for seasons. One work condenses his version of Ingmar Bergman’s recurrent vision of “wild strawberries,” except that this one took place in Beijing and had as its protagonist, his daughter Ligia, who took to the fruit with passion; this binge had its leavings, which were then pressed between sheets of paper and made to morph into “pulp.” Another story has Tokyo for its setting. A cylinder of typical Japanese refinement was plucked from the street and admired for the rigor of its actually industrial form, its prefab consistency and efficiency. Around its topmost part are concentric holes, facets that struck Daroy, prompting him to pursue the logic of the tool, so to speak, lavishing acrylic on it, squeezed straight from the tube and onto it layer after layer, between which were inserted middens of the mundane: nail clippings, chipped tooth, winged termites caught in paint, bugs. The pursuit of five years, however, found its frailty: the hand could only hold up to a point and the internal make-up of the object of affection returned the gesture, thus the tapered contour and the failed tumescence. A totem it was not meant to be.
From Beijing to Tokyo, we move to Ilocos, the windswept northern region of the Philippines, facing the China Sea and reeking of garlic. The churches over there have been called “earthquake baroque” by earnest art historians who try to understand the mistranslation of Europe to intuit the temper of the tropics. Daroy recovers damaged photographs of sights as if souvenirs, works on them, and mounts them on retrieved proofs of a printing press, displaying color tests and stray sentences on their way to becoming books. This manifests his interest in the oeuvre of the exceptional Miroslav Tichý who crafts his own camera and consummates the photographic in drawing.
Daroy titles this exhibition and of time, citing the photographer Uta Barth’s series of photographs that dwell on the incidental and linger on the quiet. It is a line arrested in its course, just like Daroy’s forays that are delayed, syncopated, foil to the frenzy, the edgy, the up-to-date: a time-consuming obliviousness. It is an enigmatic phrase, with a connective and a noun in one breath, nexus and name that when spoken conjure the unknowing. We reciprocate this specter with the word gamut, originally signifying the scale of music but also pertaining to range, ambit, spectrum. It evokes an extent, a horizon. In the local argot, it may mean root or healing, ancestry and becoming well again: the matter of world that suffers light years of trace.