Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Superniño en Atitlán, de la serie Kriptonita
C print, 30" x 20", 2003

- My friend Edu … asks me, “Does Superman need to eat?”
- Well, no, not really. His body feeds off solar energy and that is enough for him.... In the comic book Peace on Earth this is mentioned, since Clark, studying the problem of hunger on Earth, feels sorry for them and says that since he doesn’t need to eat hi will never know the pain of hunger.
(Taken from

At the end of Kill Bill 2 – Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece – David Carradine (Bill) performs a long monologue about the duality of Superman/Clark Kent, inverting the alter ego relationship between the hero and the man. It is a commentary that affirms the impossibility of avoiding or changing the destiny that awaits each person: Beatrix Kiddo was born an assassin, just as Superman was born being himself. This monologue, which the most well-read critics have associated with an old essay by Jules Feiffer, leads one to a rereading of Salvadoran artist Waterio Iraheta’s Kriptonita (“Kryptonite”), in an exercise of cultural transvestitism where all imposition – beneficial or not – constantly acquires a level of fatality.

The non-western world is bombarded daily – in their interactions with the media – with visual images that obliterate their esthetic vision. However, art takes this effect and turns it into counter-discourse when it subverts and appropriates images from the mass media. It is in this vane that the Superman character becomes the leitmotiv of Iraheta’s visual essay – the same hero that was used as an instrument of patriotic propaganda during World War II.

These days, after the end of art – as announced with the arrival of Warhol and his Brillo Box – artistic production has begun to displace itself from its accepted spaces of expression, keeping the taxonomy of the period as its shield, and with the haste and the dizziness of the times led to the annihilation of the daily. The bizarre terrain of art allows us, on many occasions, to have intimate dialogues with objects that refer to our everyday experiences, leading to the reformulation of realism. It is in this way that we are constantly falling back on the archaeology of modern objects, or a barter and trade economy, carried out in trades, in juxtaposition, or in costume. These transactions, and their conceptually elaborated premises, blame the questions “what” and “how” for encroaching upon the “why” and removing it from artistic discourse, and it is there that the objet trouvé continues to be the muse for the hazardous. It is in this way that Iraheta’s hand works to make these things – Superman’s clothes or his classic figures (including the flying lessons, done in Porter’s style) – subjects of transfiguration, that which introduces us to the sacrosanct cult of the ordinary.

If the work of Iraheta had accustomed us to more domestic and self-referencing exercises, Kriptonita threatens with all the artist’s range of possibilities – meticulous work in drawing, photography and installation – staged as a malefic game. This duality of antonyms is the deceptive doubling back upon which a new aesthetic has been created: arriving at what belongs to oneself with a sense of déjà vu, an irremediable association of our false discourse of infinitely asking for forgiveness. Iraheta does not need to define himself as apocalyptic in order to play with this historic illness that has pushed us to the cynicism of adopting the aesthetic of populist spontaneity and attributing to it the end of the ridiculous.

One question cannot be avoided with this exhibit: What is Kriptonita? In the Superman saga, you have the response in a strange and diversified mineral, which comes from Krypton, the superhero’s planet, and which makes his powers disappear. Tempted by metaphoric language, this explication derives from a psychoanalytical reading, one which equates the place from which we come with the mother figure and the loss of powers with the catastrophic. Thereby the super-people who share the exhibit with the hero share not only a quota of solar energy, which is essential for survival, but also two fatal qualities – their own planet which rejects them, and a suit as false as the emancipating stories and the modern utopia. Here, all are left naked and without the crown.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the artist has chosen local stereotypes to fit with his historical joke. We must revisit the taste for the local, for clichés and regional exoticism, in order to borrow from a discourse that remains on the boundaries between the politically correct and the rampantly amoral. Each one of those portrayed – like Beatriz Kiddo, like Superman – shows their fatality, shows that as much as they may “cross dress,” trying to fully disguise themselves, they cannot escape their own Kriptonita, the obligation to a life that detests possibilities.

Clara Astiasaran
Costa Rica, April 2005

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