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An essay on the work of Rafael E. Vera

Structure as Subject

While Gordon Matta Clark’s critical meditations on architecture in the 1970s were fueled by his own chain saw, the surviving artworks—photographic documentations of split homes—are still symbolically charged in an economic climate characterized by foreclosed homes. Today Rafael E. Vera further proves that the subject of home is as urgent and complicated as it ever was. Exercising agency over the domestic space, Vera crafts careful drawings and prints that treat architectural structure—specifically that of a home—as something to be constantly reworked, refined and reimagined. Floating on voids or hanging from invisible hooks, one can almost imagine the detailed, elegant renderings of architectural fragments and bits of wood frame or fencing twisting and turning in real space. Other depictions of wood fencing, frame or posts graphically embrace the flatness of the picture plane.

Under the guise of objectivity, Vera gives us only what’s necessary, breathing new life into the infamous architectural mantra “less is more.” Wielding an aesthetic of “less” as an assertion of symbolic power, Vera asserts that the home is, in fact, a discursive space of always more—that is, constant activity, domesticity and evolving social relations. In other words, by taking away everything but architectural fragment, the work articulates, through absence and repetition, that the home’s actual flesh is made up of people, animals, food, stuff… information. Scale is important in his work—his large drawings energize through pure form, while smaller works feel like surreal, flattened maquettes. His repetitive approach is important, because it underscores a commitment to the home as, what he calls, the ‘ultimate installation.’

As such, perhaps these drawings and prints provide important research for his activity as an installation artist, which happens in the form of both solo projects and collaborations in exhibition spaces and institutions. Sometimes he “cleans up” a space, as he did in Blank Banner, a project for which he replaced a university hall’s mess of fliers and posters with two white banners. As a result, the beautiful architecture of the sky lit space was re-introduced to the community through something of an aesthetic service. In other installations, Vera interprets a room or exhibition space through carefully considered, reductive placement of structures, often created out of the very raw building materials he so often renders on paper, such as two by fours, flooring and tarp. Actively not poetic, the sculptures inhabit the space as studied, formal meditations, and they are temporary extensions of the room’s built identity.

In his collaborative drawings and installations with Mara Baker, his deliberate constructions are coupled with her more visceral, organic approach to mark making. In their works on paper, his repetitive depictions of trap doors, windows and corners are worked over by Baker with gestural layers of “debris” such as paint or plastic. The resulting works have an odd, dark dimensionality that often feels photographic in an experimental sense. Their recent installation Double Tangent, was a human scale, spatial manifestation of their collaborative two-dimensional works. Vera responded to the cavernous exhibition space with an angular built frame, and Baker draped and stretched materials in and around it. Created out of tarp, two by fours and debris, it toed the line between the construction and deconstruction of space, ushering the viewer into an ambiguous state of witness and exploration.

Whether solo or with Baker, Vera acts as intervener, creating works that mediate the spaces they are in. Less about the politics of the architecture that it is about the observable characteristics of the space, his installations make the viewer aware of the countless individual acts that make up his/her own inhabitation of a room: one must navigate around, look over, stand below, identify edges, consider relationships. As a result, Vera’s art and the architecture it is in, symbiotically co-exist in a charged environment.

As we move throughout the world, our physical, emotional and intellectual lives are indelibly marked by structures we inhabit and the spaces we know. Vera dutifully dissects this human connection to architecture, armed not only with the energy of Matta Clark’s aesthetic violence, but also with the precision of a draftsman and the logic of a creator.

-Jessica Cochran

Structure as Subject, by Jessica Cochran