Erik Guzman at The Front Room Gallery | Review by David Gibson
Every artist these days has more than a simple aesthetic, they have their own mythology to promulgate. It’s as if they want to present their art work not only as an example of their creative qualifications, but to manifest elements across the spectrum of their artistic history as individuals. The determination of quality being highly subjective, we are required to engage ourselves with the work on hand to such a degree that its mythos becomes evident.
In the drawings and sculptures of Erik Guzman, we are presented with work which depends upon, and in some cases actually produces, a light source. Think of the light bulb going off in the thought balloon of a cartoon character. Other sources of light are less allegorical but no less mimetic, such as the sun pacing its track across the sky, developing a notion of transience and duration even as it falls prey to the same immutable forces. The sense of alarm, an interruption of daily life to manifest a sense of eventfulness, is the paramount element in any of these circumstances. Light as controlled by man often has an illuminating (sic) aspect which its natural origin does not.
Guzman’s sculptures and bas-relief drawings are unique in my experience of art. They seem to have emerged out of the genre of Science Fiction, specifically one in which hieroglyphics and celestial machines both have a place. I can see references to films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tron, and The Terminator. Yet I also relate them to Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Each of these works of literature or film, and the narrative subgenres to which they belong, presents us with a highly mythologized view of reality.
What Guzman’s work shares with them is his love of the opaque and the mysterious. In Clarke’s (and later Kubrick’s) masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, we are given an alternate timeline to history in which an ominous presence, floating on the edges of humanity’s experience since the days of the caveman, makes itself known. The monolith object operates as a sort of cenotaph on man’s road into the future, marking a flashpoint at which a certain detour must be observed, in order that at least one destination be reserved for persons other than mankind. On the way to this moment, a series of transformations take place through which we are made to feel overwhelmed by transcendent powers. But what takes precedence in the perception of such events is also evident in Guzman’s work: an understanding of manifest visual conditions that overwhelm logic.
The mythology evident in Guzman’s oeuvre takes two routes: the narrative of epics and the mystery of symbols. One may choose either route from which to find meaning. The narratives are oblique yet dynamic, and are etched in horizontal glass panes which sit on little ledges hung on the gallery walls to the left of the first room, and on the right are a set of hanging structures which are illuminated from within but seem to have the glass panes suspended behind cloth strips, so that light passing through them creates a subtle shadow resembling a watermark. The specific markings in the glass panes are oblique to say the least, and feature epic scaled sites which house events of metaphysical or spiritual grandeur: what appears to be either an endless building or a road stretching to infinity, interrupted by a swarm or infestation of small flowing creatures which seem vaguely elemental, as they are accompanied by glowing stars and seem to appear out of a rift in space. A more common figure is the silhouette of a man’s form, just his upper torso and head, with light emanating from him as he travels through a series of labyrinthine spaces toward a grand godlike figure whose own silhouette seems to merge with the fabric of reality, becoming less present while at the same time all-powerful.
Guzman’s sculptures, which are installed together in a second room, are arranged so that the physical space needed for each, and its own projecting light, does not interfere with the others. As one walks around the room one discovers that the programmed movements of each is generated by a motion dictator, as if we were interlopers in a strange crypt. The machines themselves seem to be fashioned from a combination of metal and ceramic material, and they utilize a lot of open space, with portals in the surface so that one can look into the machine as it operates its specific and oblique function. All the metal parts are shiny and gleam in the aura of their own illumination. Approach one machine and the moving part arcs back and forth, with a light inside of it flashing on and off with a dreamy regularity that is almost serpentine. Another starts revolving very quickly, while another seems to fold up into itself, like an armadillo.
The intermingling of a passive mythological element with the dynamic cultural content of wireless entertainment most commonly used in video games but having implications far beyond them is what gives Guzman’s work its rigor. We have always looked to machines for knowledge. The difference between actual machines such as the microwave and the Walkman, and imaginary ones such as jet-packs and laser guns, is often a matter of degree. Each of them extends the reach of what man can do. One of the implications of such far-reaching ability is that it will begin to resemble godlike proportion. The machines in Erik Guzman’s art are like a new species, making the first uncertain gestures into existence, instinctually marking space and extending the range of metaphor for how we see ourselves. Perhaps God is nothing more than a well-designed machine. If so, Guzman helps us to see the light.