Future Ruins: Rodrigo Valenzuela
January 31 – April 26, 2015
The Frye Art Museum is pleased to present the first solo museum exhibition of multi-award-winning Seattle artist Rodrigo Valenzuela, who has created a significant body of work since his first exhibition in the United States a mere four years ago; his video productions and photographic works have attracted increasing national attention.
For the present exhibition, the Frye Art Museum commissioned Hedonic Reversal, a large-scale installation, and El Sisifo, a three-channel video projection. These new works move beyond the autobiographical focus of Valenzuela’s earlier projects to encompass broad discussions on class, race, and labor. “My story,” he explains, “is essentially one of coming from a blue collar family, a family of workers. As a worker myself, I want to make a larger statement about everyday life.”
Valenzuela’s work is in part a response to the recent transformation of Seattle as the city assumes its destiny as a capital of global wealth and philanthropy. Inexpensive apartments, workers’ cottages, and unpretentious manufacturing buildings are being replaced by the glittering citadels of the technological elite. While commentators speak of the familiar specter of a boom and bust economy and ruminate on present displacement and future ruins, Valenzuela muses on “the aesthetic of ruins without the social or economic failures that accompany them.” Occupying uncertain territory between documentary and fiction, he lays bare hedonic reversal, a pleasure in pain that is foreign to him, a pleasure in social and cultural ruins: “I have been looking at how to construct ruins that don’t carry this pain. Are there ruins beyond decay?”
Above all, Valenzuela’s gaze is directed at those who construct, clean, and maintain the palaces of illusion: the workers whom he names the 13th Man. Hidden from view, often under the cover of darkness, it is they who remove the debris left behind by the much vaunted 12th Man after passionate celebrations of the city’s athletes. As Valenzuela notes, his labor—his work—is to bring visibility to the 13th Man and to honor her and him through the construction of a counternarrative for and about the working class.
"The installation of Hedonic Reversal itself, while far from painful, is felicitously thorny and disorienting."
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times
"If the search is for authenticity, Future Ruins nails it at every level."