Published  27/03/2012

Carlos Amorales: La Lange des Morts

Carlos Amorales: La Lange des Morts

Yvon Lambert Gallery, Paris
2–31 March 2012


In the Parisian springtime, an exhibition about death, and its symbolic representation, seems at first to be out of place. La Lange des Morts – The Language of Death – which should be melancholic and morbid, seems instead to be lively and fresh, in this tranquil setting. As one explores the exhibition further, however, it seems there’s a deeper altruism at its heart, which gives the show a peaceful effect, more than simply Parisian light and good organisation.

Carlos Amorales has lived and worked in Mexico all his life, and his most recent collection is concerned with the criminal problems of his country, in particular the drug wars that complicate and even destroy the country. During the past 15 years, Amorales has developed a visual alphabet of symbols and signs, which gives his work over the years a continuity, and achieves a linking of various ideas: beauty and death, vanity and transcendence, and so on. Also the use of the visual language gives Amorales’ work a unique quality – an intimacy between knowing followers who recognise those signs and the ever-explorative artist. 

In La Lange des Morts, this private language is used to expose and question death, a typical fixation of modern artists, certainly, but a project that Amorales approaches in a way that seems unusually in touch and focussed. He turns images of violent murders, results of the “war on drugs dealers” in Mexico, into abstract prints on paper – abstract signs and intangible marks. As Amorales explains:

The language proposed could be the voice of death if it could speak, if we existed in a sort of hellish afterlife. This work could be understood as the expression of the feeling of alienation towards our own culture, where the war seems to be something impossible to rationalise and where senses escape our imagination.

The second section of the exhibition is an installation, using several large mobiles that move only slightly, and for a time at least, silently. But a selection of drum-sticks are laid out on a shelf at the side of the room, and visitors to the exhibition are allowed to do as they wish with the sticks and the cymbals that hang from the mobiles. Visitors can create music or noise, harmony or chaos.

Given the prints of abstracted death in the other room – the souvenirs of a drug war, there is the implication, of course, that this choice is about more than crashing cymbals. Peace, too, is a choice. Amorales seems to be pointing out that it is a choice but that we don’t always choose what we think we would choose. Anarchy or peace is a split-second decision. The pictures – patterns made from abstractions of newspaper photos of those who are violently killed – do not seem particularly morbid in the well-lit exhibition room. They don’t seem like death because they have been abstracted in such a way that the violence is out of focus. What Amorales leaves us with are pictures of death from a distance, death made interesting and aesthetically pleasing.

We have a choice: to use the cymbals to make chaotic noise or harmony – we can see the prints on the walls - the language of death – as articulate and disturbing – or abstracted, neat and aesthetically enjoyable. Amorales shows the spectator that he or she chooses whether to see death or not, even when it is clearly present. Perhaps that possible fleeting denial is part of the beauty of the show, though, rather than representing a weakness on the part of the viewer: As Amorales himself explains:

“This installation suggests a quiet state of tranquility - by being played by an audience, it can become either harmonic or chaotic. These sculptures are an antidote to the horrors caused by war and violence: my personal desire to offer a blissful moment.”

The language of death, then, is not only about representing it, but also of removing oneself from it. By confronting war, Amorales makes peace with it, too.

Click on the pictures below to enlarge

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