Miguel Arzabe
Graduate Student

Contact information

Email: arzabe@gmail.com

Group: Department of Art Practice

Web site: http://www.miguelarzabe.net/index.php

Personal statement

Miguel Arzabe’s practice encompasses multiple modes and media. Whether through painting, drawing, sculpture, video, installation, or relational environments, a central concern remains that of the trace or trail- a play with an index pointing towards a fleeting moment or action within space.

In the recent installation, A Summers Worth of Repeated Attempts At Capturing Remembered Light
, Miguel gestures towards the 19th Century Luminist painter’s endeavors to represent the effects of atmospheric light and color within the idealized American landscape. He creates an assembly of small-scale oil paintings on plywood panels of differing formats; color fields of seamlessly modulating tones and smooth, horizonless surfaces that bleed from dark to light. These are positioned along a pair of parallel shelves constructed from the remnants of large stretcher bars. Alluding to the melancholia of the Romantics, this collection of hazy twilit spaces marks an elusive act of perception and seems to speak to loss, memory, and failure in relation to the transcendental Sublime. The paintings are informally- almost precariously- propped against the wall, and their placement upon the stretcher bar shelves underline a shift in status from painting asserting itself as window to painting asserting itself unapologetically as object. These are no longer color fields conceived of as vast, epic space, mingling pleasure with horror through the dwarfing and overpowering of the viewing subject. Instead of an illusion of potent, unbounded space, Miguel presents us with a representation that instantly admits its own inadequacy (through the captioning device of the title), yet nevertheless provides the opportunity for an intimate, quiet moment of contemplation.

In Come Play Soccer in the Gallery
, Miguel stacks and layers a variety of traces, which begin to fold in on themselves in tangled ways, ultimately resulting in a series of tangled drawings. Taking the memory trace of a past event as the project’s starting point (the televised images of the 1986 World Cup, childhood attempts to reenact the athletic heroism of its players through forbidden soccer games in the family basement, a dated wallpaper), the gallery is transformed in subtle ways so as to recreate this remembered space and invite the audience to perform the physical action that once took place within it. The wallpaper patterning undergoes a process of abbreviation, collective reinvestment, reproduction, and, finally, resurrection, forming a continuous band that delineates the perimeter of the gallery/playing field. Two miniature goals and a ball are inserted, and when bodies finally enter as the decisive material of the work, they become actors in the ritual and spectacle of the sport, leaving unintentional marks of activity through scuffs on the wallpaper and floor. It is a slippery game which points to the tension between the potentially liberating act of participation and physical exertion within the white cube of the gallery space on the one hand and the assertion of tight authorial control, permissions, and itinerary on the other. The latter is underscored by the fact that a camera continually surveys and records the action from above, sending images via live feed to an off-site screen. These distorted VHS recordings are then used to produce a final text, in which the artist directly reinserts his hand to make drawings that map the ball’s trajectory by literally tracing an image in time. In the end, the original, instigating event has undergone numerous processes of mediation and translation, replays and reenactments, and all we are left with is the index of an abstract, wobbly line.

In Miguel’s work, this abstracted trace asserts itself as a recurring motif. It is present in the line that tracks the topography of the face in an Etch-a-Sketch portrait, the gestural drawings created by the maneuvers of a collective foozball game, casts of segmented footpaths within the landscape, and the digitally doubled trek of travel and rest across the span of the John Muir Trail. These indices mark evidence of the body in space, its brief interactions with other bodies, its variously successful attempts to perceive, inhabit and dominate a territory, and the gaping distance between these embodied experiences and the filtered representation that results from “tracing the trace”.

(Text by Bonnie Begusch, MFA 2010)