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Caped crusaders, kings, clowns and other city types.
By Moira Jeffrey

" Art is made against the force of fortune, but when fortune is bad it often requires the help of art "
Andrea Alciato, the Emblematum Liber.

Ral Veroni's recent work features a whole host of characters he calls "entities", although in another time or place they might be known as Gods. Chief among them are Time and Destiny, two brothers with a bad relationship. Time treats all men as equal, Destiny favours the few.
Time wears the mask of a thief and beats out the hours with a worker's hammer. Destiny, usually depicted shitting or wanking, is a troublesome trickster.

Veroni's work takes two forms: There are a series of images of two cities, his former and current homes: Buenos Aires and Glasgow. Here the entities are presences in the city. Dream sweeps over the Glasgow rooftops at sunset. Absurdity stands atop the Kavannagh building, a symbol of progress in the centre of Buenos Aires. Then there are a
series of computer-generated mandalas or patterns, where the entities feature in complex geometrical structures with symbolic meanings.

Veroni's urban images provide alternative maps of the two cities, maps that bring important real places together with characters who are conduits for political satire, received wisdom, ancient mythologies, sloganeering, jokes and personal stories. Like many map lovers Veroni is, by nature a strategist. Growing up in Buenos Aires, he learnt early
on that the goddess fortune was not always to be trusted. Fluctuating circumstances like economic instability, hyperinflation and institutional atrophy meant that for an emerging artist art practice was often a question of tactics. Veroni's art had to be on the hoof, opportunistic, and above all cheap.

The galleries were full so he staged an illicit retrospective in the toilets of the Museum of Fine Art and waged campaigns using graffiti art and stickers. Materials were expensive so he wrote and published poetry instead. Politicians were corrupt so he devised a satirical scheme to deface election posters. The value of paper money fluctuated so he made
screen prints on bank notes (much cheaper than conventional art materials). But this ad hoc activity also mined a rich metaphorical seam. Above all his work enacted the breakdown of trust between the individual and the authorities. Traditional survival strategies like obedience, hard work and saving had broken down, and new strategies had to be found.

Veroni currently lives in Glasgow and works from 'The Little Studio', his sitting room in St George's Road. Under the sign of Saint George, the patron saint of (amongst others) soldiers, boy scouts and lepers he looks out of his window onto the artery of the M8. If his images of Buenos Aires refer to a long history he has lived through including
times of political oppression, economic crises, periods of cultural conservatism and subsequent rebirth, his history in Glasgow has been both short and bittersweet. The art he has made about this city is more personal. It reflects on love and friendship, on time and dreams and harmony. But it also reflects on distance and dislocation, on cultural
shifts and on his own responses to the current economic and political crisis in Argentina. He is a tactician still. His artist's books are self-published. The entities that appear in his recent pictures, embodiments of the forces that drive or enslave us including Memory, Madness and Money, are actually carefully crafted out of plasticine and live in his cupboard.

" I bring forth symbols of antiquity and a primeval age, of which each man dreams according to his wishes"
Andrea Alciato, the Emblematum Liber.

Veroni is by instinct a printmaker. His work, whether it is poetry, painting or photography refers time and time again to the history of printmaking across the centuries. The skeletons of Holbein's Danse Macabre rattle through his work while Spiderman swoops across his city skies. His interests include the great 16th century printmaker Jacques
Callot as surely as they include Felix the Cat. His love of the popular book format echoes the satirical publications of the Mexican graphic artist Posada as well as the Marvel comics of his own childhood.

Veroni's entities may have the shiny cartoon quality of characters from Toy Story but they have their origins in 16th century emblem books. The first of these, the Emblematum Liber, was written by Andrea Alciato, an Italian legal scholar, in 1531. They became a craze in the 16th and 17th
centuries, amongst the first popular books in the early age of print. The emblems were symbolic pictures accompanied by epigraphs and poems. Each embodied a nugget of wisdom: a wry comment on the virtues or the vices, advice on fate, money or warfare. But the emblem books weren't
simply repositories for arcane symbolism, they were pattern books for great artists and they became instruction books for real live events staged in powerful cities. In such processions and fetes the emblems, like Veroni's entities, came to life in real neighbourhoods, in real buildings on real streets.

But where once emblems were created to serve the purposes of princes and kings, Veroni returns them to realm of satirical street theatre. His entities are an excuse to talk about human fate, about the politics of globalisation, of corruption and injustice. The symbolism of sickles, bones and roses allows him to explore the painful history of Argentina; the image of dreams represents the desire to escape everyday hardships.

The other symbolic form Veroni uses is that of the mandala, the circular image used in a number of world religions including Buddhism and Christianity, represent the universe. Like the mandala, which was often used by monks as an aid to contemplation and religious observation, the entities are capsules of knowledge, symbols that contain within them
complex histories and beliefs.

Veroni's entities are in part a response to his own displacement, an attempt to find a language that is easily understood. The history, the politics and the architecture in Veroni's two cities are undoubtedly different, but his characters are familiar. People are different. People are the same. Any child brought up on Batman would also recognise the caped crusaders, kings, clowns and other city types that populate his work.

Moira Jeffrey

* The following text was commissioned by Street Level Photoworks for Ral Veroni’s exhibition ‘About the bad relationship between Time and Destiny’ - 6th April – 25th May 2002.

 
 
 

 


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