Rodrigo Valenzuela works across photography, sculpture, installation, and video to construct scenes that function simultaneously as documents and fictions, and that reflect his ongoing interests in examining industrial and post-industrial concepts of work and the contemporary realities of laborer. For his photographs, he constructs elaborate tableaux out of urban detritus, much of it found in scrap yards, such as cinder blocks, pipes, wooden palettes, corrugated metal, and two-by-fours. The resulting large-scale black-and-white photographs resemble miniature ruins, images that feel familiar yet distant, and that suggest spaces of abandonment, alienation, and displacement. Simultaneously, these compositions reference certain aspects of Modernism, sometimes recalling American Abstract-Expressionist painting or Latin American Brutalist architecture.
Much of Valenzuela’s work acts as a critique of postcapitalism, social decline, and systems of oppression and authority. In the two series of photographs to be exhibited at BRIC House, Afterwork and Weapons, he conjures a post-worker’s world, as he speaks to the elimination of the individual laborer (and of their dignity and value) and imagines a workforce supplanted by the machines of automation, or engines that no longer require an operator and that rage when no one is watching.
In the industrial era, workers themselves were treated as engines, their bodies valued as the capital necessary to forge steel mills, operate steam engines, and so on. Some of these photographs have a sinister edge, embodied by the threat of metal chains and hooks, while others are delicate, almost sympathetic. The smoke in Valenzuela’s imagery invokes the blazing steam and white heat of steel in the process of formation, but also the perspiration of labor, suspended in air as if evidence of the now-absent worker. In these depopulated spaces, Valenzuela asks us to think about our contemporary reality, of workers dispossessed due to automation, workers who struggle to unionize, and essential workers who have endured unsafe conditions during the time of the pandemic. While viewers are left to posit their own narratives, the artist himself suggests that perhaps the workers have all left, some to strike, others to abandon their jobs altogether.
Valenzuela will construct an architectural setting for his photographs in the Gallery at BRIC House that will symbolically evoke issues arising from his imagery. This sculptural aspect to the exhibition will itself reflect the artist’s own labor, and harken back to his experience as a construction worker upon his arrival as an immigrant in the United States. In addition to photography, the exhibition will also include a new video and series of sculptures by the artist. The exhibition will be accompanied by public programs and by an illustrated catalogue with an essay by curator Elizabeth Ferrer.
List of Works in Exhibition (English)
List of Works in Exhibition (Spanish)