Miquel Coll/MACBA; Roberto Ruiz/MACBA and Latitudes

José Antonio Hernández-Díez: I will fear no evil

Convent dels Àngels, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Barcelona, 18 March–26 June 2016

The exhibition ‘I Will Fear No Evil’ at the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) presented works from the beginning of José Antonio Hernández-Díez’s career in the late 1980s and early nineties – several of which have not been seen since they were first exhibited – in dialogue with a new project developed especially for the occasion.

I Will Fear No Evil’ looked back to Hernández-Díez’s first experimental works with video alongside early iconic screen- and vitrine-based works, including three of those presented at the time of his landmark first monographic exhibition San Guinefort y otras devociones (Saint Guinefort and other devotions), held at Sala RG, Caracas in 1991, which included works such as ‘San Guinefort’ (in MACBA’s collection), as well as ‘El resplandor de la Santa Conjunción aleja a los demonios’ (The shining of the Holy union wards off demons) and ‘Sagrado corazón activo’ (Active Sacred Heart) (all from 1991). This exhibition heralded what the artist termed as a ‘new Christian iconography’, offering – as artist-colleague Meyer Vaisman described – “a techno-pop view of Catholicism’s most beloved symbols”.

These disquieting and seductive bodies of work deal with the application of communications and medical technology and its interlacing with systems of paranormal belief, most prominently Christian theology. Neither ironic nor profane, they are macabre works that hinge on death, consciousness, resurrection, and the particularly baroque brand of Latin-American Catholicism that was constituted through received European Colonial narratives, as well as by forcibly depriving native peoples of their history and beliefs.

Adopting the form of devotional objects or technological apparitions, the works seem variously like archaeological finds from some electro-spiritual clinic, positivist science-fiction proposals for a future religion or props from an illusionist theatrical sideshow. The presence of ghosts and bodily organs in Hernández-Díez’s out-of-joint works – videographic spectres, disembodied voices, preserved creatures, hearts and skin – is only enhanced by the somewhat necromantic aspect of the fact that several of his works have been reconstructed, as if brought back to life for the present exhibition.

Besides the undertaking of bringing these historical works back to life, ‘I Will Fear No Evil’ presents a new series of works by Hernández-Díez entitled ‘Filamentos’ (2016), as a conceptual echo. These comprise an iconographic study of light bulb filaments, not only as an addendum to his earlier works’ consideration of electrical revelation and visibility, but, as a provocation to consider what is at stake in the sovereign metaphors of light itself.

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