and the ship sails on ...
- Óscar Alonso Molina-

"If there is no solid land within reach, the ship must be constructed in the middle of the sea; and not for us, but for our ancestors. Clearly they knew how to swim and so Š some way, maybe with driftwood Š constructed first a raft, that has become such a comfortable vessel that we havenÕt, today, the courage to jump into the water and start all over again."

-Otto Neurath-






The slave ship with its sinister internal structure, designed for the intercontinental transport of that shameful cargo with which the European settlers traded in the New World, was the starting point for Ivan Larra's (Madrid 1965) recent work, which, since the year 2000, has been dedicated almost exclusively to graphic work, and that now returns to the medium of painting with this exhibition in the Zambucho gallery, in Madrid, where he presents his most recent work. His previous iconography was centred in the varied typology of packing, storage and transport containers – mobile charts and packing cases, trailers, industrial cranes, pallets, etcetera - through which he hinted (with sophisticated ellipsis at that which until now has left out of focus the human figure) at contemporary marketing and the constant presence of mass production, transformed into pure merchandise, that in our days controls the, no less, depersonalised world of commercial exchange.

Something very close to cruelty, to violence, as a factor that alienates, degrades or deprives the individual, was beneath those unpolluted images that could be explained comparing them to those famous images of Andy Warhol. These, with their characteristic apparent lack of passion allowed them to reflect with diabolic clarity that which until then had only been an aesthetic intuition: that the work of art, in the capitalist production universe, incomprehensibly absorbed the shine of its own stardom. Perhaps the time had arrived, thanks to Warhol, to give back to the world of images all that these had retained since they became a real obsession for the western world: from the great work of art to the star, from the self-styled objective documentation of the television news or the written press to publicity, from the neon advertisement to the fetish... everything, everything could be levelled out for the sake of an obscene materialism, and without a hierarchy that would, apparently, liberate us from the authoritarian terror that comes from desiring one thing more than another...

In Larra's case, only the dramatized skin of the xylography made sense of the hesitant statement in its determined and undaunted mechanical, industrial objectivity. But the memory of that vessel designed to extend worldwide slavery hasnÕt yet completely disappeared from Larra's current work. His "generic" and mental scaffolding occupies the whole view of the representation, but in exchange for such a zoom he has lost his previous clarity of form, and offers instead a resonance – what else could be expected from the hold of an empty wooden ship, but that it would act as an echo chamber for its own internal structure -. In fact, the lower cross beams, all those walls, beams, basic furniture, measured and drawn perfectly accurately, keeping in mind strict profitability factors, are now revealed to the spectatorsÕ view as what they always were: Abstraction, the attempt to dominate visually the complexity of the material of some fields of reality through its graphic, plastic, aesthetic subordination. Before, the mere presence of the objects impeded the view. As soon as things are slightly out of position, the view becomes bright and clear.

Larras' work now clearly shows a greater formality: his images close upon themselves - Cloistered? - in a complex balance between the figure and the background, leaving just a little residue of paint outside the profile of these technically and meticulously studied pieces. Once more, the original drawing is unyielding and cold, but the fit of the different parts is the result of an unknown, long distance view that no one had foreseen at the beginning of the cruel chain of production whose final aim was simple profitability: figural and semantic clarity.

Insisting in the image of the slave ship increasingly more obsessed with it's' own empty shell, now allows us a point of view through which we can understand the subtle turn seen in Larra's recent perspective. Otto Neurath's metaphor comes in handy to criticize Carnap's linguistic fiction: "We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct our ship, but unable to do so neither on dry land nor with the best materials. Only the metaphysical can disappear without leaving a trace. These imprecise and imperfect pieces continue to be, for good or bad, the materials of the ship".

Our artist seems to give, in his recent work, greater priority to ambiguous threads, composed of paradoxical torsions or impossible structural figures competing with each other and where the passive contemplation of the spectator, seeing the ambivalent nature of these figures, will never ever conclude. It is precisely here where this new work gets it absolutely right. Compared with Larra's previous work, where the alignments and the colouring seemed to impose itself in an imprecise manner, Larra now retakes the pictorial tools conscious that his own means advise him to moderate the optical texture of the language, to balance the graphics and the stains, to extend the colour register and, above all to limit technical refinement in the interest of a greater mental control of the subject.

Similarly to assembly and general instructions of use, all the rough sketches, the plans, each piece of furniture and architecture that we can perhaps see in the finished work have all been carefully planned. This result of Larra's representation of volume reminds one of a type of uninhibited distortion found in Cubism, which is related with new generative procedures of the figure that papier collé and the collage gave. Even with a little attention the observer of these paintings will discover in the layers of these works the origin in marquetry and inlay: meticulous and clearly defined cuts of plywood and laminas inter mixed with paint.

Following the tectonic plate idea, another of the things that singularizes Larra's work is the importance given to the discontinuity of the visible. As in the analysis of the co-ordinates that organize the complex systems carried out with fascinating clarity by Julie Mehretu, or the constructivism based framework of our Manu Muniategiandikoetxea – who our artist so admires, or their predecessors like Partenheimer, Klingelhöller, Artschwager or even Mucha, these pieces increasingly incline towards the theory of chaos and the deconstructive models that some town planners, engineers and architects like Tschumi, Eisenman or Libeskind – deal with in their proposals. Along with them we should mention Matta-Clark, an intensive and categorical artist, whose initial training was, precisely, architectural, and whose work offers an unexpected bridge between these fractured and unstable constructions and the "non-form" of Bataille, that at the moment Larra points to. It is precisely perceivable, in his fine intelligence and sensitive capacity to detect the monstrous (all that, that according to the aesthetic romanticism hadnÕt completed its formal teleology), in the most complete form we could ever imagine: the implacable functionality of the commercial flow that we saw shamelessly exposed in his old slave ship. And so, the ship sails on...




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