Etrangere at Beaux Arts des Ameriques, Montreal CN
“Etrangere,” Lydia Rubio’s latest suite provides a summa of her visual and conceptual motifs in her ongoing exploration of the theme of homelessness. Her new variations, harking back to the stunning series <em>Written on Water</em> and <em>Dangerous Journeys</em>, floating cottages and ghost ships crowding colorful maps and seascapes, start out with the haunting poem by Chilean poet Marjorie Agosín, which provides both title and structure. Indeed, Agosín’s central image is <em>intemperie</em> (“stormy wind” is Jill Levine’s smart translation) and a transparent metaphor for exile and homelessness, to which a lady beggar, latter-day Ancient Mariner, settles after a fruitless search for nurturance.
Rubio’s expansion of Agosín’s imagery spans a suite of five oil panels (<em>Mundo</em>, Spanish for World), plus eight more oils, one paper sculpture, and nine additional works on paper, including one artist “Passporte” and one Artist Book. Their unifying motif, and Rubio’s innovation, lies in the agonies of the female body, which recurs in all the new pieces and constitutes a daring departure from early searches through the shipyards of loss and memory. Thus, in <em>Mundo</em>, the five-panel suite structured upon the five letters of the Spanish word, the same “foreigner” swims above the ochre seascape; bears a shipwrecked load; plunges, Icarus-like, onto a foreshortened landscape; holds up, lady Atlas, a floating house; and balances Agosín’s “tiny island” upon her head. The same “foreigner,” and in fact the same colors (sky blue and light ochre) reappear, yet appear different, in each panel, not only because bodies shift position, or letters change, but because each canvas introduces variants on Rubio’s signature motifs: floating cottages, rafts, geometric figures, seashells, enigmatic strings. A true theme- and- variations <em>tour de force</em>.
Rubio´s five-paneled <em>World</em> is her answer to Hercules’ twelve labors: women who hold up the fort in the face of exile and despair. The classical air of her female allegories is propped by the visual codes of geometry (triangle, circle, and square); colors, the suite’s reappear in the three canvas oils; the elements (earth, wind, fire, water), in all four linens, rendered in charcoal and sand; and quotations from Agosín´s text.The codes convey the idea of a secret order unearthed by visual exercise, as if the superimposed geometric figures acted like magnifying glasses that focus, in their sheer transparency, upon the heroines’ secret struggles. The three canvas oils show the same woman in three different poses: above, upon and under seascapes. By contrast, the four raw linens show different figures in various stages of repose that allude to classical moments. All the images culminate in “Visa por un reve,” a title borrowed from a popular Dominican <em>merengue,</em> where the exhilarated mermaid or goddess uplifts the boat, aptly named “Etrangere,” and turns travail into fun. The same boat’s sculpture version allows the idea of foreignness to spill out of the canvas, while both the “Passporte” (misprint deliberate) and Artist Book, both stunningly beautiful, press the same conceptual play further.
Where lies the beauty of foreignness? Lydia’s answer is as winsome as the smile on that goddess’ face.