Labyrinth: a metaphor for the complexity of life? | Proa Foundation, Buenos Aires
Dolores Lamarca

Until November you can visit the « Labyrinths » exhibition at the Proa Foundation, in Buenos Aires, an exhibition that brings together various artists and languages, under this disturbing theme.

What emotional meaning does the concept of a labyrinth have?

Uncertainty, perplexity, playful enjoyment, are part of the answers to this tangled challenge that we have ever had to face. In most civilizations, these physical, symbolic and enigmatic structures have existed, which were and are a fertile framework for expressions in all kinds of languages.

From the Greek mythological perspective, the labyrinth was commissioned by King Minos, to enclose the Minotaur (half-man, half-bull character) inside, who fed on whoever entered the enclosure. Theseus, son of the Aegean king, decides to enter the labyrinth and finish off the beast. Thanks to the thread offered by Ariadne, the prince was able to enter, unwind it and form a path, kill the monster and emerge victorious. From that moment his figure represents leadership and temperance, while the Minotaur represents human impulses and barbarism.

The Labyrinths exhibition, presented at the Proa Foundation, curated by Cecilia Jaime and Mayra Zolezzi, highlights the various perspectives from which this concept can be approached. The visitor is surprised in the first room with a 360° video installation, Labyrinth. History of a sign, in which it is pointed out through the voice of Umberto Eco and iconic images of art, the various meanings of it, the importance of the myth and its historical evolution. Likewise, it establishes a relationship with the complexity of life and invites us to consider the world as a set of possible paths to perdition or salvation. From the metaphorical point of view, and situated in the contemporaneity, he makes an analogy with the digital world: “the web without center or perimeter, as an infinite archive of knowledge with its infinite possibilities, can be defined as the largest labyrinth in the world”. These phrases and images envelop the viewer in an atmosphere of deep reflection.

Exhibición LABERINTOS. © Gentileza Fundación PROA.

Within the axis developed in the second room, “the city as a labyrinth”, there are engravings in manuscripts from the ancient city of Jericho, and in the case of “the world as a labyrinth”, the figure of the Christian pilgrim emerges, a soul that wanders guided from the center to the exit, by the word of God. The myth of Ariadne’s thread is replaced by the Christian faith as a guide in worldly life.

The prisons or “carceri d’invenzione” by Giovanni Battista Piranessi (1720-1778) are another point to think of the city as a labyrinthine prison. A video made by Grégoire Dupond recreates these spaces in 3D, allowing the viewer to immerse themselves in the artist’s imagination and in the details of his fine drawing. These unreal, oppressive and dead-end environments place the artist at a pivotal moment between classical ruin and modernity.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Serie Cárceles de nuevas invenciones. Aguafuerte. 575 x 42 cm. Colección Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. . © Gentileza Fundación PROA.Located in the middle of the room, Whirligig, the work of Dan Graham, is a disturbing labyrinth of mirrored and convex glass that returns the image of the environment and of oneself from many angles, generating a labyrinth of images in itself, which dialogues with the rest of the works. Jorge Miño builds spatial labyrinths of stairs, superimposing spaces of strange dimensions, a “Piranessi of the 21st century”. The optical effect of the staircase of the Brazilian artist Regina Silveira, does not leave the viewer indifferent, as well as the videos of Ilaria di Carlo. The monumental work of Edgardo Giménez is linked through color with the utopian cities of Xul Solar, or “of the underworld” as Borges pointed out, and the heliographs of León Ferrari are exhibited as a metaphor of labyrinths, which according to the artist “… they express the absurdity of today’s society, that kind of daily madness necessary for everything to seem normal”.

Dan Graham. Whirligig (Molinete). 2019. Realizada para Fundación Proa | Edgardo Giménez. Las escaleras doradas (políptico), 1991. Acrílico sobre tela, 500 x 400 cm. Exhibición LABERINTOS. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA.

Xul Solar. 9 san Mastiles. 1951. Acuarela sobre papel. 50 x 70 cm. Colección Fundación Pan Klub. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA.
Ilaria Di Carlo. La Via Divina. 2018. El camino divino. Video 15´ Colección de la artista. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA

“Labyrinth in the letters and in the cinema”

In this axis, the curator selects three Argentine writers for their relationship with the labyrinth: Manuel Mujica Lainez for his drawings; Julio Cortázar for his inverted version of the Minotaur and Theseus, and Jorge Luis Borges, for the intense presence of the labyrinth in his literature. This interest motivated the construction of projects/labyrinths in nature, being able to observe in this room the photographic records of the labyrinth designed by the British Randoll Coate at Estancia Los Álamos, San Rafael, Mendoza (2003), the labyrinth at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice (2011) whose shape replicates that of an open book while the trails draw the writer’s last name; and the Labyrinth della Masone, made up of 200,000 bamboo plants.

Exhibición LABERINTOS. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA

Continuing with the reference to literature, numerous copies of the Parisian surrealist magazine Minotaure can be seen in a display case, documenting the great cultural activity of this interwar period. It is a fundamental source for understanding avant-garde thought and the surrealist spirit of the moment, in which various contemporary artists collaborated on its covers. The reason for including them in the sample is related to the origin of the name and the psychoanalysis of that time, which considered the analogous labyrinth of thought and the combat between Theseus and Minotaur adjusted to the metaphor of the fight of irrational impulses, the awareness and self-knowledge.

The nucleus of the “labyrinth in the cinema” summarizes the edition of an unpublished video, made especially for this exhibition, with fragments from the 1920s such as Metropolis, by Fritz Lang, to La isla siniestra, (2010) by Martin Scorsese.

In the last part of the route, the developed axis corresponds to “the labyrinth in the body”, in which the labyrinth is related to the human body and to the meanders of thought, its complexities, reflections and experiences. With the figure of Borges flying over the sample, the following question arises: “To what extent is the labyrinth outside or inside us?”

Michelangelo Pistoletto‘s sinuous passable cardboard labyrinth, which has a mirror in the center, returns our own image to us and with it opens another enigma: are we the hero or the monster of the labyrinth? Perhaps both dwell in us.

Michelangelo Pistoletto. Laberinto y pozo grande. Carton corrugado y espejo. 1969-2022. Medidas variables. Colección del artista. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA

Along the same lines, Javier Bilatz proposes an interactive experience with his digital labyrinth, which is modified when the viewer stands in front of him, takes his features and incorporates them into his own “game”, leaving the viewer captive. The latest proposal is that of Yoan Capote and his Open Mind project, who presents a brain as a labyrinth in a double game between the real and the personal, as well as the drawings of the auditory system, confronting us with the certainty that in our body too there are labyrinths. Perhaps, as Cortázar says: “everything is in us”.


Javier Bilatz. Todos estamos de la serie estancia. 2010-2022. Instalación interactiva de video software propio sobre CPU pantalla y cámara. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA

According to Adriana Rosenberg, “history teaches and art proposes”. This exhibition invites us to return to the history of mythology and antiquity, to read Borges, Cortázar and to relate classic and contemporary artists united by a great story, in the best way of new curatorial concepts.

Horacio Zabala. Estoy en un laberinto. 1972. Tinta sobre papel de calco milimetrado. 31 x 25 cm. Colección del artista. Cortesía MCMC Galería. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA
Exhibición LABERINTOS. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA

Exhibición LABERINTOS. © Gentileza  Fundación PROA.

Exhibición LABERINTOS.
Fundación PROA.
Buenos Aires. 03-09-2022
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