It is no easy task to separate Pablo Boneu’s work from his own life. In that sense, he stands as an artist who makes use of different genres and expressive means, and who does not content himself with exhibiting his finished products but questions himself constantly. Nonetheless, contrary to many contemporary artists, his interest in the creation process as vital experience is intimately linked to an obsession with presenting a finished product, coherent in its achievement.
His work marries two critical impulses: on the one hand, the idea of production as serial repetition of a given object; on the other, the traditional notion of the work of art as artisanal fetish. The tension arising from that two-way critical stance is apparent in all his productions, and gives forth what could very well be called not a style but a Boneu world: a unique way of making art and being an artist.
In the mid-90s, parallel to an intense graphic guerrilla activity displayed in public spaces, Boneu starts exhibiting his work in museums and art galleries, from the Centro Cultural Recoleta and the AECI (the Spanish Agency for Iberoamerican Cooperation) in Argentina to the Centro de la Imagen and the Hilario Galguera gallery in Mexico. His works begin to know a demand from private collectors who often display their astonishment at being unable to acquire an artwork through traditional monetary means. Those willing to play his game voluntarily become devices completing or broadening the meaning of the work at hand.
More than filming, photographing, drawing or writing, Boneu invents structures. A very special kind of structures, closed and open at once. Closed because of their rigorous internal coherence; open because of their ability to proliferate indefinitely. It would not constitute an exaggeration to say that Boneu’s works are governed by an aspiration to become unending, to mix and assimilate with things in order to become one with them in another world, yet to be known.
Building with the gaze
Laura González Flores
The gaze is central to Pablo Boneu’s recent work. And it is so in a three-way sense: first, as the subject of photographic images; second, as the action displayed by the people thereby portrayed; and, third, as the strategy for the reception of the artworks.
In his recent series encompassing works such as Ubi Exulten (2013), Three Minutes with Glenda (2014), Godless (2014) or Innocence (2014), the subjects, frontally presented in a classical portrait format, a medium frame from chest to head, gaze –or do not gaze– at something. Their gaze is directed to that something outside the frame that powerfully compels their attention. In Ubi Exulten and Godless, the characters glance upwards: the first picture, in black and white, features a man wearing an aviator cap (which, on the other hand, suggests the medieval caps of Hyeronymus Bosch’s characters); and the second, in color, presents a woman whose face is highlighted by very red painted lips (whose sexual hue is contrasted with the modest and hyperfeminine clothing she wears, featuring lace at the neckline). In both cases, the mouth of the characters is partially open, giving the appearance of suspension in a moment of surprise.
What do these characters gaze at? Anxious to know, the spectator looks up, outside the frame, to that space where their glance is directed. Nothing: we do not find the answer in that blank space, that void. Or perhaps do we formulate, in our uneasiness, a sort of answer, any answer: ours, the reply that we construct, that we invent, that we narrate as a result of our own unability to tolerate uncertainty.
Taken from “World, Gaze and Abode. The Photographic Work of Pablo Boneu” by Laura González Flores (UNAM, Institute of Aesthetic Research) in González Flores, L., Pablo Boneu, Individuos, multitudes y otras ilusiones, Terreno baldío Arte, México, 2016.