“Future Ruins: Rodrigo Valenzuela” at the Frye Museum

Hedonic Reversal #3

Rodrigo Valenzuela. Hedonic Reversal #3, 2015. Inkjet print. Commissioned by the Frye Art Museum and funded by the Frye Foundation.

Born in Chile, Rodrigo Valenzuela managed to move from the hardscrabble life as a poor, undocumented immigrant first in Canada then in the United States to recognition as winner of the “Stranger’s” Genius award and one of today’s young artists to watch. The transformation wasn’t easy. It took years of hard manual labor and then an MFA from the University of Washington to achieve that recognition.

Valenzuela’s work addresses the social reality of today’s upscale Seattle economy where the fortunate classes enjoy a level of privilege and comfort that has, in part, been made possible by the less fortunate low-end workers. He reminds us of the immigrants and people of color who do the untidy, low-paying, unattractive jobs upon which the favored classes depend.

In his videos, he poignantly directs our attention to those unseen people who do our dirty work. In El Sisifo, a three-screened video we see workers cleaning up a sports stadium. Repetitively bending down to pick up bottles, paper, garbage of all sorts, filling their plastic bags, dumping them into the trucks, speaking to no one, then doing it again and again. He likens their situation to that of Sisyphus who was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill then watch it roll down and repeat the action forever.

In another video, nameless hotel maids tell their stories, the stories most of us never hear, and aren’t interested in hearing. He calls it Maria TV. These women are unlike the central characters in the Spanish language telenovelas but their lives despite the drudgery have something that is beautiful and mysterious, something the rest of us dismiss.

He explores Seattle’s boom time dissonance in his room-sized installation of 17 large-scale archival pigment prints on Dibond. Each print reveals construction materials arranged in abstract patterns. They are displayed within an environment of scaffolding and wall graffiti that bring to mind a construction or demolition site. According to Valenzuela we live with “the aesthetic of ruins without the social or economic failures that accompany them.”

The Frye commissioned the installation and El Sisifo.

Through April 26 at the Frye Museum, 704 Terry Ave. Seattle, always free, free parking, (206 622-9250 or fryemuseum.org).

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