Marco Godoy

In the Service of Vision

May 22 - Jul 17, 2021

Max Estrella is delighted to present Marco Godoy’s (Madrid 1986) most recent work. These new pieces come as a result of his research on public protest started in 2010. In the Service of Vision proposes a reflection about individual responsibility in rejecting violence in all its forms. Godoy appropriates authority’s symbols to build a non-violent-opposition discourse. Semiotics of power are subverted to create new meanings. Here the sense of vision plays a very important part as the intellectual attribute that shields us from becoming repressors ourselves.

Eyewitness of the demonstrations and riots originated in Santiago de Chile in October 2019, Godoy evinces a hopeless stagnant society, which is incapable of escaping the spiral of violent acts inflicted on it. As a response to this context, he designs a symbolic action where tangible is contained by the immaterial. Light and reflection served to protect protesters from physical aggression, also forcing those who amputated the vision of 407 people and repressed thousands more, to face their own shame.

50+ Swat shields with a mirror sheet on it were distributed by the artist to demonstrators. They were able then to defend themselves through reflecting light and blinding police. Thanks to that, engage any violent action was avoided. And at the same time, repressive forces were confronted with their own aggressive reflection. Vision is the sense that connects us most to the world. It is an abstract projection of the future to come. With this action, its integrity is protected. It is not a victim any more, and becomes a source of authority to lead every individual’s destiny.

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Appropriation is also applied by the artist with the typography used in monuments. Hasta que Valga la Pena Vivir (Until Living Is Worth It) is one of the most popular statements on protester’s placards. Using an alphabet made from the characters of the monument located at Plaza de Armas in Santiago, Godoy reenacts it in one of the pieces exhibited. Old monuments are dismembered and reconfigured to start a conversation about the future imagined by the people. These letters sculpted on stone create a cavity, a void that reminds us of Jacques Lacans’ empty speech. Just as the signifier fails to represent us, this alphabet of rocky signs is not capable to achieve this goal. It is the artist who reconfigures it into a new language.

Marco Godoy lives and works in Madrid. He studied at the Royal College of Art, and Video and New Media Deparment of SAIC Chicago and UCM Madrid. In addition to his expertise in video and photography, his work encompasses sculpture, drawing, and collaborative projects. His work has been exhibited in Matadero, Casa Encendida, Centro Centro and Centro Conde Duque, Madrid; Centre Georges Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Whitechapel Gallery and Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London; Stedelijk Museum, Hertogenbosch; Edinburgh Art Festival; Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art; Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; among others.

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In October 2019, indignation grew in Chile because of a 30-peso raise on the price of subway rides. This unleashes into a wave of protests. The people demand a new Constitution, and unite in massive demonstrations around the equestrian statue of Plaza Dignidad (Dignity Square) in Santiago. “Hasta que valga la pena vivir” (Until life is worh it) is one of the staple slogans of a country distressed by inequality and debt.

The social outcry floods the country and Chile’s “Carabineros” (police force) respond with repression and violence. They shot pellets against protestors, leaving more than 400 damaged eyes and causing partial and complete blindness. Demonstrators were sprayed with tear gas, water, and acid, resulting in significant burns. About 2500 people were imprisoned and 34 killed.

Thus, in Plaza Dignidad two feelings arise: the desire of imagining a future, and the fear of losing eyesight.

Understanding protest as an ecosystem of coexistence and communal living was transformative. Some protested, and others protected them from police repression. The “first line” was a group of people without hierarchy who faced and held back the “Carabineros”, protecting the demonstrations. I was told by Christian, who participated since the beginning, that he never knew the names of any of his first line peers. They cannot be recognized in the infrared photos, where we can only see their body heat.

The project, In the Service of Vision, consisted in donating 60 shields to the first line of protests, distributed among small affinity groups. These shields have a double function: to protect and to “blind”. The mirrored surface allows redirecting sunlight, which prevents the opponents to see. This way, without resorting to violence, just as Perseus with Medusa, the reflection is returned and the “Carabineros” are blinded.

In the middle of this social tension, living in community in public space, traditional stone and bronze monuments are dismembered. The outburst generates a new form of intangible monuments like banners, slogans, and graffiti that wrap the city of Santiago.

The phrases that can be read in the exhibition are taken from the protest, but the typographies are a direct replica of real stone monuments. Carved letters composed demonstration slogans like “hasta que valga la pena vivir” (until life is worth it), “utopía es ahora” (utopia is now), or “ven, seremos” (word play in Spanish which means “we shall overcome” and “come, we will be”). The objective is to solidify these phrases, which would otherwise end up disappearing from public space.

Despite the harshness of photographs and injury count, social outburst is an emotional and hopeful movement. Thus, a year after the first protests, in November 2020, the demands of demonstrators develop into a plebiscite to approve a new Constitution that replaces the one written by Pinochet.

In a street graffiti you could read “it wasn’t about the 30 pesos, it was about 30 years”.

Marco Godoy
May 2021