"Cavity as second skin", 2011, Mercedes MacDonell

Cavity as second skin

"Only the Patagonian paradox: tiny blossoms in vast space"

Paul Theroux, In Patagonia

The landscape of Patagonia makes a deep impression on those who explore or inhabit it. In addition to the sensory impact of a natural beauty that does not seem to be of this world, Patagonia offers an intellectual experience like a trance or a dream produced by vastness, magnitude, distance. The majestic nature of the space inevitably dazzles and fascinates, while also giving rise to philosophical, metaphysical and religious thought. This is the magic of the south. Numerous travelers, naturalists and adventurers have written about these lands, and they all agree: in the loneliness of Patagonian silence, something seems to be revealed; in the vastness of this geography, something seems to be said. Outer landscape becomes inner path, and from introspection comes a new and highly personal definition of one´s self and fate.

Isabel de Laborde is one of the people who has been entranced by, and fallen in love with, this stretch of land. A Mexican-French artist who resides in Argentina, the discovery of this land made a decisive impact on her art: “It’s not by chance that I am fascinated by Patagonia; I have always been drawn to emptiness, the vastness of space, silence. My life was very urban: my only contact with rural landscapes was through paintings I saw in museums. That’s why, when I suddenly found myself immersed in that landscape and I discovered that universe of kilometer after kilometer of blank paper that is Patagonia, I was captivated. Over time, I came to experience nature as my fourth nationality or, rather, a new language that became part of my life.”   

Thanks to her frequent visits, Patagonia became not only a metaphor for her inner life, but also a work of art in itself, her most surprising and richest one in terms of unconscious thinking capable of generating a new and original language based on abstraction. “I have spent thirty years looking at this landscape. It is within me. At first, I experienced it with a certain fear and a great deal of reverence. But what got me on my way was the rhythm, the playful process that begins with the line and the stain. That’s what takes you to another plane of greater focus, one where the key lies in forgetting intention, because you already have the content: it is your world, the work you do every day when you heed the silence which is an active sound, when you go forward on the blank sheet, confident of your rhythm,” reflects the artist.

Since then, and especially intensely in the last five years, Isabel has been creating art that will presented in 2011 under the title “Cordón vegetal” (Vegetal Cord). She describes it by saying, “Being immersed in nature puts you in touch with the meaning of life; you feel totally connected to the cosmos. That idea is the basis of the show: there is a subtle thread in nature and in life itself that makes you create your own landscape, your own unity in the midst of diversity, and you come upon situations and people who will prove crucial to your life. None of that happens by chance. When I speak of a vegetal cord, I am referring to those affective bonds, to that inclusive, cosmopolitan family, that each of us builds around ourselves, and that also consists of all the inhabitants of the planet.

Isabel is an artist very interested in experimenting, in investigating techniques and innovating practices, and mostly in wandering and trying things out with absolute freedom. This has yielded a work that, while inevitably finite in scale, has great visual depth. Before the viewer’s gaze, it operates like a staging of her experience in the space of Patagonia. The show consists of two types of work: a series of works on paper that covers the walls of the gallery space, and a series that symbolizes the “vegetal cord” for which the show is named. That second series is made using tree trunks that have been arduously and lavishly reworked with enameled ceramics, trunks she has found during long exploratory walks. 

This work is geared towards viewers aware of the grace of lines, colors, textures, stains and surfaces. While the works on paper and the ink drawings convey a sense of unreal distance, the trunks express intimacy and closeness. Isabel explains that people often ring her doorbell and bring her a broken, drenched or burned piece of a tree that was once young and blooming so that she might transform it and bring it back to life through art. It is for good reason, then, that Isabel conceives of her work in relation to alchemy: she is often found in the solitude of her outdoor studio in Patagonia, focused as she performs a sort of transformation.

Surrounded by papers that create a sort of endless horizon (because what there is to be seen is a so intensely abundant), the trunks arranged as if on the banks of a bending river invite the viewer to touch their smooth, polished surface, to admire the soft brightness of the ceramic, to look at the wood’s veins, knots and hollows. In them, in the vegetal cord to which they give shape, lies the true heart of this show. That cord suggests the idea of union with nature so central to this artist’s thinking.

Mercedes Mac Donnell