Rodrigo Valenzuela: American-Type
In his photography and video-based, work Rodrigo Valenzuela reveals tensions between individual and communal experiences. He is highly conscious of how the camera translates spaces, objects, and people into images. His work on view here investigates topics of alienation and displacement relative to questions about labor, immigration, and American culture.
This debut presentation of Valenzuela’s American-Type photograph stakes its title from an essay by Clement Greenberg, one of the most significant art critics of his day. Greenberg put Abstract Expressionism and artists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline on the international map by identifying a distinct characteristic of postwar art in America: he argued that painting was about the act of painting and not about a complex idea of representation.
In the years following World War II, America became a great power, one with political, economic, and cultural influence worldwide. Greenberg’s ideas on art paralleled a larger societal yearning for safety and stability and a desire for a straightforward perspective on an American ideal. For Valenzuela, this perception is still relevant in today’s global sound-bite culture. In American-Type he points to the flaws in this approach to representation, questioning what it is about American culture that wants to create something that is devoid of content. As a culture why do we want things to be lacking in subtext and complex critical thinking?
As a cultural worker in America, Valenzuela feels it is his responsibility to push the conversation forward, and his own labor as an artist becomes key to his doing so. He engages in the process of making his photographs self-consciously: everything that is visible in the final photographic image was created by hand. Carefully crafted chunky sculptural elements made of plaster mixed with graphite are structural forms that, when photographed, resemble abstract expressionist brush strokes on a two-dimensional plane. Using clay to create a staging area, Valenzuela makes large-scale images of the sculptural arrangements to use as backdrops for additional photographs. This creates complex, layered imagery that toys with perception and a sense of space and depth. Despite the seeming simplicity of the resulting forms and lines, this is a labor-intensive process. As viewers decipher the layers of space depicted within the image and make sense of Valenzuela’s process, it becomes clear how a photograph captures time. In this way, the artist offers evidence of the labor of his practice as a kind of performance for the camera.
Valenzuela adds voice to image in his video work to further comment on the significance of his own labor as an artist. Strongly rooted in his Chilean identity, he often explores the complexities of working in America as an immigrant. His video Tertiary references actors in films who are essential to the story but are never given character names. They are defined by what they can offer to propel the narrative. This serves as a metaphor for the immigrant worker’s experience in America—always present in the background, making everything work, but not acknowledged in an overt way. In the video, the rapid pace of the voice-over and the quickly shifting camera movement between bodies in a tight space articulate a sense of alienation and emotional distance in spite of physical proximity, another aspect common to the immigrant experience in America.
Rodrigo Valenzuela was born in 1982 in Santiago, Chile. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
No. 1-15,from American-Type Series, 2018
Archival pigment prints mounted on Dibond
with artist frame
54 x 44 inches, each
Edition of 3 + 1 AP
Courtesy of the Artist
and Klowden Mann Gallery, Culver City