Aren't You Glad?

Prophetic art grows bitter with age

Juan Alberto Franco Ricardo, Aren’t You Glad (2017), 17 in. x 21 in., archival inkjet print mounted in mat board decorated with blue tape, newspaper, and found imagery.
[A scanned image of a crumpled and balled up page from a newspaper against a mostly black background. In between the folds, warped images of President Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner emerge alongside unreadable text. Unnaturally vibrant orange peels surround the crumpled newspaper. To the left of the central frame, a triangular newspaper image emerges from the mat board, points left, and features a crowd of people holding unreadable signs in the departure/arrival road of an airport. To the lower right, an almost rectangular found image emerges from the the mat board, its top left corner forms an a horizontal L-shape as it traces the right bottom corner of the mat opening. This image features a clothed, lounging figure that sits on top of a red, soft fainting couch. The figure directs their gaze outwards at us and holds their right arm over their heads, resting nimble finger on dark, black hair. At the right foot of the fainting couch a black-and-white, spotted cat plays with an orange while another sits below the figure on the ground. Two blue lines cut across the composition. The first cuts the entire work horizontally at the bottom third of the composition, covering what would be the fainting couch figure’s legs and abdomen. The other blue line cuts from the top edge to the right edge intersecting at a point with the top-right corner of the mat opening].

“When at last he surrendered, Florentino Ariza hung the mirror in his house, not for the exquisite frame but because of the place inside that for two hours had been occupied by her beloved reflection” (García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera, 228).

They say that good things get better with age. Sweet wines and fragrant cheeses stored in oak barrels and on wooden shelves that bring out the nuanced flavors to the sophisticated palate. In their containers, these delicacies absorb the value of a delicate metamorphosis, like a caterpillar that (de)materializes into liquid to then become a winged marvel. We understand metamorphosis through the perception of time as linear, one process leads to another. However, memory complicates this formula.

In the case of the butterfly, one would imagine that when their caterpillar bodies turn from biological wine to winged insect inside the cocoon, they would forget their previous lives. Unexpectedly, it appears that butterflies and moths remember experiences from their caterpillar stage (Nielsen 2008). Perhaps, when we think about memory, we have a tendency to locate it in the brain, a place to store it for later access.

Florentino Ariza’s lifelong unrequited love for Fermina Daza in Love in the Time of Cholera (1989) binds Florentino to his own memories and images of Fermina. During an unexpected dinner encounter with her, Florentino spends hours looking at Fermina’s reflection on one of the restaurant’s mirrors without her knowledge. In his romantic obsession, Florentino purchases the very mirror that held Fermina’s image temporarily and hangs it in his home. In the case of the mirror, Florentino rejects the value of the mirror’s “exquisite frame” and its utilitarian reflective quality. Rather, he gives value to the length of time (“two hours”) associated with the particular image (“reflection”) of Fermina.

Oak barrels, cocoons, and mirrors with “exquisite frame[s]” all hold observable chemical, biological, and physical changes. Works of art that rely on image permanence create a reflective, but unchanging surface (mostly). The stillness of Aren’t You Glad (2017), a work that combines photography and collage, ripples outwards without much resonance at first. At the time, I was working with oranges as a visual motif and literary pun. I was also interested in the sculptural qualities of the newspaper translated into the center image as a photograph and as a cut-out coming out from the mat board. And of course, there was a bit of political jabbing with the oranges and the title.

A pattern of coincidences emerges from the work three years later. The center object of the newspaper surrounded by the orange peels becomes the familiar rendering of the novel coronavirus. The fainting couch and lounging figure allude to the weight of pulmonary symptoms, the patients in hospitals, and those working (or not working) from home. The image of protest crowds (originally from the protests at airports against the travel ban) resonate with the ongoing protest for justice and liberation for Black lives. And the horizontal blue line that resonates with the visual of the “Blue Lives Matter” flag.

Visual language deceives us. We have a cognitive bias that attempts to recognize patterns, when there are none. A coincidence tends to make us question our specialness. Does running into my crush at the restaurant mean that we are meant to kindle our love? Did I make a prophetic work of art? For the first question, maybe it’s time to say hello for once. As for the second, well, I deny that framing. Instead, it reminds me that as art ages it absorbs its social context. Maybe it becomes more bitter. Maybe it becomes sweeter. It begins to resonate with a constantly evolving world.

We hang art in our homes not because of “exquisite frames,” but because of its ability to absorb and reflect so much.


References

  1. Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera, trans. Edith Grossman (London u.a: Penguin, 1989).

  2. John Nielsen, “Study: Moths Can Remember Caterpillar Days,” Transcript, Morning Edition (National Public Radio, March 10, 2008), https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88031220.