«I don’t think it is terribly difficult to read my work—at least, that is how I would like it to be. … Of great importance to me is not trying to express a thought, but generating it instead: to create a gap between my proposal and the reader’s perception or reenactment.» (In: «For You», Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich, 2005, p. 30)
Liliana Porter’s works challenge the viewer’s associative creativity. We make an effort to produce meaning by attempting to decode her artistic assemblages, and, according to our cultural background and coding, we are to some extent successful. It is only by this interaction that the actual work is—potentially—created in our mind, thus appropriately fulfilling the condition of a classic conceptual artwork. Porter provides us with iconographic material which she has of course previously run through her critical, artistic filter and a scrupulous benchmark test. She presents us with little, colorful figurines from a wide range of cultures, kitschy, cheap knick-knacks and souvenirs from the realm of «low» and pop culture, which she assembles apparently at random in thought-provoking combinations.
Cheerful lessons without a didactic stance
This iconographically charged «building material» represents a plethora of facets from 20th century social and cultural history. Liliana detaches all these toys from their original «harmless» context (which nevertheless continues to resonate), by placing them in an anarchic manner, cheery, playful, and humorous, in new situational contexts, where they acquire an entirely different contentual weight. Trivial toy figurines turn into meaningful, serious players, exquisitely satirizing our social and political life in apparently absurd dialogical situations. They oscillate between banality and depth, between wit and sadness, and they always take a loving, occasionally sarcastic view of our all-too-human existence, our condition humaine, and serve it to us on the silver platter of art.
In ever changing stunning and surprising variations, Porter presents us in her photographies, videos and installations the most diverse and improbable of interactions between her dolls and figurines. She frequently has them reenact slapstick-like scenes, for instance the bright yellow squeaky rubber duck intently looking at the image of Christ, or the Mickey Mouse figure that has fallen on the plate with the portrait of Che Guevera… Without a finger wag or threatening cane, Auntie Liliana manages to serve us kids tragicomic, clownish profundity on a cheerful, easily digestible surface, having us perceive, learn, and experience playfully her artworks.
Arte Povera with a touch of tango
As nimble and light-footed as Liliana Porter’s art comes across, it sometimes catches in your throat; her references are by no means always easy on the stomach or easy to digest; rather they are frequently grotesque and astringent. Liliana does not hesitate to touch sore social spots and point out political plights. Never does she turn lofty, however; she rather always retains her dust-dry humor and her terse overtones in these laconic situations created and termed by herself as «theatrical vignettes». In my opinion, this is brought out best in her great video «For You / Para Usted» (1999).
Liliana Porter’s art is minimalist in the sense that she purely shows the absolutely necessary. Less is more! She is committed to «Arte Povera» to the extent that she uses only «poor», cheap materials. Her art is profoundly conceptual: not only was she one of the very first conceptualists at the time, she has to this day also carried through the program of a metaphorically rich and invariably ambiguous playful conceptualism ranging from subtle to abysmal. Her art is always spiked with a dash of elegiac poetry and often accompanied by Argentine tango music, which at times lends her works a touch of narrative street-ballad singing.