“The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature
but plunges him more deeply into them.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Terre des Hommes, 1939
Reflecting the diverse range of activity within an urban circuit, specifically highlighting the mundane and repetitive elements of contemporary culture (stretching from the core stimulus cycle of the human body to the positioning of one’s hairstyle and the location of their name on their company’s payroll sheet), is a recurring theme in visual art. Pertinent
changes have appeared in the deployment of these observations over the last century; stemming from Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymade’ objects and the academic bolstering of photography as a relevant aesthetic medium, artists have injected traces of the world around them into the physical work itself rather than simply observing or critiquing
it. Miami-based contemporary artist Jorge Enrique uniquely formats three recent series of works, ‘Numbers’, ‘Urban Dconstruction’ and ‘Low Ride’ melding triggers of ancient human culture (totem poles and petrified substances) with that of the most recent symbologies of the urban jungle (fiberglass, steel and other pre-fabricated, factory-grade materials).
Enrique was born in Havana in 1960 and began his academic studies at the Alfred Glassel School of Art in Houston in 1991. His early showings in Houston and Miami showcased bold, primary tones swathed throughout pronounced compositions of geometric abstraction. This is an invariably premature conclusion as Enrique’s practice has expanded over three decades of critical experimentation and manipulation of and within varying media formats: sculpture, installation and highly traditional, wall-hung canvases. Enrique cites this development as a result of piercing the veil of
urban culture, literally, at the street level.
Ironically, as man pushes ever harder to reign in the imagined chaos of his surroundings (with ground zero, very possibly, being the invention of mathematics and numbers), inspecting the manifestation of this process often results in sensory overload. Within his ‘Numbers’ works, Enrique harnesses that disparity in his mixed media (wood with fresco,
layered paints, carvings and steel) totem poles, with the descent of abstract, blurred number matrices flowing from a vast source overhead.
The beginnings of ‘Urban D-construction’ (2009-10) are visible in his inquisitive source photographs of manholes, asphalt formations in sidewalks and roadways, distinct color palettes of walls offset with dumpsters, and sliding bay doors in warehouses and garages. Morphed into heavily-collaged and manipulated silkscreen prints frozen with resin onto canvas, this would indicate an interest in the physical composition of the urban environment and the seemingly distant echoes of mankind’s earliest municipal personality traits. Enrique’s extensively-lacquered mixed media works from this series layer vivid, pulsating colors alongside the heavy tones of the streets and its accoutrements. Following his ‘Urban D-construction’ series, ‘Low Ride’ (2011-) initiates a tangible bridge in practice between Conceptual, Pop and Installation Art forms. The automotive cultural quirk known as ‘lowriding’ has its origins in the Hot Rod era of the late 1960’s, when the explosion of the American interstate system and industrial output from burgeoning carmakers such as
Ford, GM and Buick began to take hold. The late 1970’s introduced a variation of the classic Hot Rod, remarkable for its hydraulic suspension able to be lowered and heightened by the flick of a switch1.
A subculture of ‘lowriders’ formed specifically within the Chicano and, less prominently, the Asian-American community; each customized car was a reflection of a certain social network, associated with particular styles of music, fashion and visual art. Jorge Enrique locates the aesthetic markers of these subcultures through a subtle reinvention of
the same paint materials used to adorn the ‘lowriders’ commonly seen throughout the urban landscape in Miami, in this instance. The organic, smoothly shaped bulges from flat squares of glittering fiberglass paint appear to evoke natural organs versus a mechanistic byproduct. While indications of the scope of the ‘lowrider’ culture may be alien to most
viewers (wet t-shirt and bikini contests, barbecues and ‘dancing’ contests are not even remotely hinted), the industrial elements and structural format of the works cross over into international automotive and applied design arenas. As in his ‘Numbers’ and ‘Urban D-construction’ series, ‘Low Ride’ maintains a continuous dialogue between the natural
world and the technological world, in such a way as to uphold the ambiguity of its critical genesis. It is clear that the bulbous projections are produced with factory-grade precision, obscuring immediate possibilities of comparison with a natural element. Yet, the issue of ‘subjectivity’ within the machine is another hallmark of Enrique’s work.
Academically celebrated artists of the Modern art historical canon (Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Joseph Beuys, Matthew Barney and Rebecca Horn are exemplars) have experimented with the ‘sentient machine’ theory with an overwhelming number of methodologies and critical approaches within the last century, especially following the World Wars. Focusing on technology and urban subcultural modes to inform the finished aesthetic product, Jorge Enrique offers a specific perspective on the dizzying shifts between man and machine. Petrifying that mathematicallydriven,
breakneck pace in totem poles in ‘Numbers’, elevating those systems with the city’s grit in ‘Urban D-construction’, and projecting its progress as illuminated by a distinctive American subculture in ‘Low Ride’, Enrique’s artistic development displays noted signs of an artistic practice informed by accepted contemporary artistic movements, and simultaneously rewarded with a degree of poignant storytelling relaying his own background and social influences.
Numbers, the street and machines : in color.
Shana Beth Mason, M.A.
University of Glasgow (Christie’s Education London)
1 Berger, Michael L. The Automobile in American Culture : A Reference Guide. Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 2001. pp. 153
Numbers – a timeless object
With his new “Numbers” series, Jorge Enrique not only denounces the invasion of the endless amount of numbers in our modern world but also goes beyond this widely – shared vision and turns them into aesthetical symbols. He takes away their meanings and thus erects genuine contemporary “totems”.
Franz Kafka wrote that “in the distorted mirror of art, reality appears undistorted”. Jorge Enrique invites us to an experience a new perception as we face a sort of primitive reality, beyond the restraint of time!
Here, the material is manipulated and this is precisely where the artist’s vision takes shape. As in an accelerated life, Enrique builds his matrix with numerous layers of colours: thick sediment which he meticulously uses, scratches, even damages until he lays down a final coating of resin, emprisoning it all. The numbers continue to scroll as if time was flowing – but now in another dimension.
At the core of exhibition, his installation of “totems” (seven 99 inch high pieces of wood) Enrique re-activates the primal function of these objects in our culture. Covered with numbers laid down on a compact and over-used painterly surface, these totems confront us with an even more archaic, almost primitive process – like a maturing “big bang.”
The artist, who experimented with exile, offers new frontiers, not only unconscious and ancient, but also new lines to shift. The spectator finds himself in an original position, that of a true actor in the perception of art. Modestly, Jorge Enrique accepts to be a guide along this intimate and peculiar road. Shall we follow him?
Paris, mai 2008
D’après Jorge Enrique, Numbers
You slipped, you cannot remember how. Water at the surface of the earth or not? Memory missing. Of the Beatles you keep number nine. You repeat your social security number : maybe someone asks you, you never know. Mermaids do not sing, they scroll numbers.
We have numbers for almost everything and even more numbers to talk about numbers. You cannot remember your favorite number, your solar number: the basic ten numbers scroll in front of you like a vertical rain. It is raining ones, sevens and threes. It is raining faster and faster, stronger and stronger. Fives and fours. Twos.
In a little bit of moon, in the not-so-bright chessboard of the rolling shutters, we can see your lips move, without guessing a single word. Mermaids do not sing, they scroll numbers. Your eyes follow white and straight lines, others are interrupted.
Numbers like sheep. You know by heart your phone number, your social security number and your identification code. At night, with no affliction but without knowing how to close your eyelids, you repeat the twenty-eight digits in one shot. Should the perfectly established order of their succession be messed up then you would be messed up right away. Should only one of them miss and you would never find the others again.
You pay attention because new numbers arrive. Your phone number, maybe your entry code. You frown as you realize that here, in this lacquered place on which you constantly slide, you may be meticulously telling the secret code of your credit card.
Your perception is simultaneous, and it disturbs you. For each thing you feel, you perceive an additional feeling to the one you would normally have. An accident? Possibly. Behind the window, you hear about number form synesthesia. Numbers are associated to positions in space, you are told. You do not know anymore about which space we are talking.
We remember numbers for each important matter. We add, we subtract. We remember numbers but we do not know which ones. Something is missing here, whatever it is. Falling rain. A few drops. « O HAL, make this stop soon. Can you hear me, HAL ? I am scared ».
Here no one touches. A few translucent millimeters impose a distance and we look to our fingers without knowing what to do. Air is missing, under the layer of resin, air is missing. We get scared. Colors are carved in the inside, visible texture under the texture. We can feel the speed and the wind of the speed.
For twenty minutes or so, or ten or five or maybe seven, your feet rise up, out of their ruts. From above, you can guess the chalky mixture. The bent cliffs, on this, the resin is leaning on. Mermaids do not sing, they scroll numbers.
We never subtract but oneself. Once diminished we can move on, feeling one’s way along. We look for what could increase us. One and divisible, that’s it. One-two-three, one-two-three. At seven you must stop, you touch the wall and stop at last.
Meters, seconds, a little more sliding. It feels as if your fingers have claws, they bite into the texture. Ocean bottoms, nothing else. Mermaids do not sing, they scroll numbers. And on the wrecks of the numbers rubbed by the movements of the water which erase them. Your identification number among others.
Representation of numbers is not forbidden, certainly not. We idolize them sometimes. You live with numbers in a constant future. Speed ensures the counting. Here the head can tell the fingers I do not need you. You go out of your depth but you still go on, with this nothing else matters. Speed and rain. Cramped and tight against one another. Back to back.
Numbers are made for those who count them with distance and possibility to approach them, all together. Of these numbers, these numbers you mention above the eyes pass by, we know they are scanning each line of this odd bar-code. Two thin, one space, three thick and two long. Again six or seven times.
We start everything from anew: under water. We start with numbers, as they are the ones which make us start. The eyes know it and slightly screw it up. What is glossy on top of what is mat. Mermaids do not sing, they scroll numbers.
When numbers are here, right in front of us, then we can stop counting. We are ready for the departure, for the dream. For total amnesia. We join the primitive cell in the darkness of the abyss and all of it is remembered, it comes to the surface, iridescent of lines and numbers all together. Then we really start everything from anew: under water.
© Sylvain Coher 2008