«The poetic value of a work can potentially transform the viewer to a certain extent.» (Oscar Muñoz, 2004)
The power and ephemerality of memory are the focus of Oscar Muñoz’s work. He artistically expresses the fact that memory – and time, which is tied up with it – is relative, can never be grasped entirely, remains constantly in flux, and ultimately escapes us, no matter what efforts we might make.
The artist’s raw material consists of photographs that he estranges and transforms by subjecting them to a large variety of self-invented and aesthetically highly sophisticated technical processes. Metaphors of emerging and vanishing, the eternal cycle of life and death, define in a very poetic sense his entire body of work. In a masterly and subtle approach, he artistically shows us that only change possesses continuity in life. In my view, Oscar Muñoz is one of the very few great contemporary artists worldwide to deal successfully and consistently with the complex theme of memory.
Oscar`s oeuvre is wonderfully intelligible; it can be traced clearly and coherently along his life-long, consecutive artistic development, from his early charcoal drawings, to his subsequent–at the time groundbreaking–discovery of photography as an artistic medium, and to his multimedia compositions, which have since then informed his work. Whenever I visited him in Cali, we invariably took a close look at his works, analyzing and discussing them in detail. We likewise exchanged our thoughts on the pros and cons and the feasibility of the art space lugar a dudas, which he was planning and would later establish in Cali. Oscar was always very low-key, but also very determined if necessary. Presumptuousness is completely alien to him; he prefers to take a wait-and-see, apparently hesitant stance.
Nevertheless, I was soon to realize that he is a master of his craft who knows how to transform his «subject», the «memoria», into simple but all the more emblematic images. In terms of politics, Oscar Muñoz certainly enters dangerous territory with this subject, particularly in his home country of Colombia, where memoria is often deliberately eliminated. But like any outstanding artistic oeuvre, his work, too, is of universal significance and validity. He makes it clear to us that it is impossible to write a single «correct» story, and that there is no such thing as a «true», exclusively valid memory of whatever, because any process that is observed by 1000 people is perceived in 1000 different ways. And all these individual perceptions change permanently from the moment of the very first perception on…
Using a paintbrush dipped into water on a hot stone, the artist draws from memory the portrait of a man. No sooner has he just barely completed the portrayed features, than they evaporate and dissolve into thin air – in an endless Sisyphean task that the artist sets himself to try again and again. («Re/trato» (2003), translates to «retrato» = “portrait”, or to «re-trato» = “I’ll try again”) At the same time, it is an impossible feat to create something permanent and lasting from memory. The remembered image in all its precarious existence is rather subject to continuous transformation; memory and time are in constant flow. Is it possible at all to remember the same thing over and over again? How is our memory structured, what constitutes our memory? These questions automatically arise – and await their answer.
«Linea del destino» (Line of Destiny) from 2006 is a conceptually similar work. The artist’s image is reflected on the surface of water held in his cupped hand, from where it disappears, of course, inevitably, dramatically, and slowly: the Narcissus who has to witness his own disappearance and decay…
And finally, there is «Aliento» (Breath) from 1996: Muñoz took mirror-like circular sheets of polished steel and impregnated them with portrait photographs culled from obituary notices in newspapers. At first, we see our own image reflected in the steel disc. After breathing on these “self-portraits”, the image of an unknown person appears as if from nowhere and begins to replace our own. This image remains for the duration of our breath. When we inhale again, the image gradually fades into our own. The artist evokes the eternal cycle of life and death, from the first intake of breath by a new-born to the final gasp of a dying human being: This process can never be halted; life is in a continual state of flux and, with it, our memories of the past. The only constant factor is change.
Founded by Oscar Muñoz and Sally Mizrachi, Lugar a dudas is a contemporary art center in Cali that offers spaces and opportunities to host external projects and discussions by groups, artists, and communities in Cali, the rest of the country, Latin America, and beyond. The main focus of Lugar a dudas lies in the intersections and margins bridging the visual arts and other cultural practices, as well as the search for inclusive and expansive dialogues that offer new visions about the city’s realities and the ways of organizing and occupying a place in the world.