“Videmus nunc per speculum et in aenigmate”
Pablo de Tarso
The branch of sculpture responsible for producing religious images for votive, catechetical, processional or liturgical purposes is defined as imagery. This artistic manifestation is closely related to the history of Western culture, since it is in charge of depicting the different Marian and Christological invocations, as well as the saints, martyrs and other theological figures that make up the Christian pantheon. Therefore, it is widely known worldwide and is widespread in all countries of Catholic tradition, including our own.
In appearance, the imagery is exclusive of churches, chapels, hermitages and other ecclesiastical spaces. However, these days the capital’s Servando Gallery is home to El umbral de la incertidumbre (The Threshold of Uncertainty), a photographic exhibition by Adrián Fernández that focuses on the mysticism transpired by sacred images.
The representation as a simulacrum is one of the topics preferred by this young creator. Proof of this are De la imposibilidad estética del vacío (2010) and Del ser o parecer (2012), series in which Adrian manipulates essences and appearances to reflect on the multiple ways of perceiving or conditioning reality. The optic-sensorial plays a leading role in decoding these proposals, since our gaze is not always trained to detect the frontiers between the real and the apparent. The photographic exercise connects here with the pictorial tradition of still life and becomes a tool to foster the algorithm of the illusory through the manipulation of perception, prompting us to reflect on the mimetic character and prerogatives of so-called eighth art. Thus, the intense colouring, the reiteration of fitomorphic motifs and the iconographic contamination by means of shapes and colours between backgrounds and figures substantially contribute to sowing in the observer that doubt which is the product of the rupture with the basic foundations of the gestalt.
We find something similar in The Threshold of Uncertainty. First, because it is a photographic series on sculptural representations. If religious imagery is in itself a simulation exercise that refers to a Christian loci or theological figure whose ethos, beyond all mystical character, will influence the individuals of their immediate cultural context. More than a person or a specific being, sacred images refer to a system of values at work for a group of people, who tend to give them respectful veneration and transform them through the acceptance of dogma and daily praxis into vehicles for the manifestation of faith, an ethical question par excellence.
Adrian then photographs these images, these representations, extracting them from votive, catechetical or processional contexts and immersing them in a dense, dark atmosphere, free of referents, which can take us back to the penumbra inherent in certain ecclesiastical spaces. To top it all off, we photograph them from behind, in such a way that we cannot perceive their particular attributes and manage to identify them clearly (nevertheless, a sharp eye can recognize the thorny crown of Christ of Limpias, the house that serves as the throne of the Virgin of Loreto and the radiated mandorla of the Virgin of Guadalupe, among other elements) or shows us only their faces (that is, the incarnation of the figure) surrounded by shadows, immersed in a silent scream, invaded by a pathetic look, worn out by use and time, as if they were about to fall apart; A last detail that, paradoxically, makes them more real, more shocking and closer.
Adrian rejoices in half-measures and navigates between belief and disbelief, between the faith of the pious and the artifice of mystical representation, of the icon as an object-work of art. It does not attack or demystify the mystery of faith; on the contrary, it calls our tension on the artifice of religious worship. With this series he establishes an intellectual space open to dissimilar reflections on the nature of the artistic in terms of the mystical secret, the theatricality of votive rituals and the photographic as a tool for apprehending reality or offering its illusion, its ghost, its trace. When I see these images, countless ideas come to my mind related to the counter-reformist eagerness to seduce the believer through the eyes, the loss of faith or the desire for miracles experienced by the contemporary world, the intrinsic fear of the atrocious possibility that our prayers will not be answered (that the divine will turn its back on us), the wear and tear of heritage goods, and the eticity of the artistic phenomenon, based on what is permissible and prohibitive, on what is tolerated and excluded, on which artifacts deserve or do not deserve to be catapulted to the status of a museum.
If anything characterizes En el umbral de la incertidumbre, it is precisely its evocative capacity. A change of perspective, a precise framing and adequate lighting have sufficed for the artist to articulate a series that is questioning, inquisitive, seductive, rich in senses and interpretative paths. Even so, I consider that this proposal deserves a greater deployment on the part of the artist. In it, Adrián has a space for creation and reflection that he has just begun to explore and will have to be strengthened after a more detailed and profound investigation, focused on the assumption of the photographic from a current and novel position, self-representative of the processes, advantages and limitations that the eighth art currently offers us.