Joaquina Salgado: The Backend of Culture
Joaquina Salgado’s simulations function as software through which we access the backend of our own technology-infused cultural history. Her ancestral environments depict territories full of structures that could have been built before time was split into centuries, maybe before time itself, though they could also be from a “no-time,” plucked from eternity. There’s something in these environments that could belong to an unfathomably-vast multiplicity of epochs. Temporality seems to be an anchor of contemplation in these worlds, where the potential technology-afflicted slither of time, however dystopian or utopian it appears, seems to intertwine with ancestral narrative. Is this a future that looks and feels ancient? Or a past time when a technological civilization existed, had its time and then completely disappeared? This temporal ambiguity leaves place for an experiential mystique, a joyous and fleeting uncertainty.
Our human relationship to history plays a central role in Joaquina’s universe of musings. The piece “Hidrontes” (below), a work created in collaboration with the artist QOA, is a mixed-media installation that includes video screens, physical objects and sound design. Within it, we find one screen depicting an old, aged avatar who claims “I’ve been in this liminal zone since the last living being disappeared.” This suggests a dystopian moment in history where all human civilization has perished, gone, vanished; simultaneously, another screen nearby portrays a natural environment where plants and other organic life-forms grow and die in a constant loop. As if destruction and genesis were two faces of the same coin, and whatever had disappeared could always emerge renewed. Time appears to be a parameter explored in several different scales: from the personal to the archeological: Different magnitudes of time propose different forms of introspection.
Within all their mystery, it’s hard not to find these works tinted with spirituality. There’s a sincere connection to meditation and states of higher consciousness in the overall texture of Salgado’s constructions. Joaquina told me she looks to create “states’’ within the viewer, much like the mind-altering effect of a psychedelic drug, or the upward psychic spiral that a deep meditative practice could send one on. In a time when esoterica is so in vogue due to the resurgence of the mythical, arcane, and superstitious beliefs, creating art that speaks to the spiritual can become a hazardous task. Joaquina’s work tackles this endeavor with a thoughtful, delicate touch, focusing on mental and spiritual harmony while creating experiences that leave room for individual exegesis. The tethers are gentle, and that creates a playground more than a box.
Joaquina’s art is art in relation to technology. Both in tool and subject matter, the vast sociopolitical, philosophical, even personal themes unfold in many ways in her body of works. The most challenging thing in tackling the topic of technology is the thin line between tool and execution. The tools we use as technology-driven artists are usually industrial, and as such, they gravitate towards certain expressions. These normally stagger critical thinking and perpetuate the mainstream, so a critical understanding of such values is highly crucial for a relevant contemporary art practice. If left unchecked, the tools themselves become the work, as it falls victim to the intoxication brought forth by the spectacular array of possibilities which they provide.
Joaquina fights these impulses by way of subversion, creating pieces that escape “what is meant to be” within the tool’s logic. One good example of this is her use of the software Unreal Engine (created to produce high end, realistic, high performance 3D video games) to create cyclical simulations that “go nowhere”; they just are, they have no beginning, middle and end except for the temporal imposement of the viewer, who conveys their own temporality simply by sitting down and using it for the span their attentions allow. In her installation of the work “Simulación de lo escencial”, exhibited in the context of “No existe tierra mas allá”, the first IRL Argentinian exhibition by Cryptoarg, the experience is had by sitting physically inside a polygonal capsule and navigating a real-time simulation using a trackball mouse, with which you control a fishlike creature that wanders around a lush, softly-colored natural world depicted on a screen. The sound design accompanies a contemplative, brooding, ethereal experience that has neither beginning nor end.
In the work “Portal” (below), one of Salgado’s earliest tokenized works, a character sits solemnly in front of an artificial landscape. There’s a hint of ritual in this scene, something in the posture of the character and the way the elements surround it, as though the smooth-textured being was trying to arrive at a pure mythical substance. Somehow, the works themselves seem to be going through a similar process, the elements within them seem to be put together in order to access an ancestral secret that might unlock transcendence. In ceremonial structure, the elements exist through conveying a level of fabular distortion, a rich but understated proposition of travel to the unknown.
This is also true of Joaquina’s more experimental works, “Dualidad” and “Layers”, where another ancestral element, the mask, seems to placehold for the idea of the digital being, the spirit behind the screen that awaits possession by its creator, the human. In “Dualidad”, fragments of a face are displayed on a flat surface, almost like an archaeological exhibit that manifests isolation and apotheosis, making the arbitrary gesture of declaring these objects an element of contemplation.
Joaquina’s world of compositional potpourri coagulates into a statement of experience over interpretation. If we accept this shift, we are left with a pure plane of being (a somewhat similar process to that which the consistent practice of meditation proposes). In this manner, being becomes a pure place of the work itself. I can’t help but wonder if the recurring use of water in her work hyperlinks to this very notion. Through a history of knowledge-seeking and the development of the discipline of self contemplation, water has played a central role in Salgado’s works as both metaphor and instrument. Water is material and also a life substance. It can go through different states and is central to organic existence. Water can endure, permeate, move and stand still. It has been here since the beginning of life, and must be present in order for life to subsist. But overall, just as in Salgado’s work, water can surround you whole or escape your grasp with absolute, unbothered ease.