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Willy Castellanos: Return to Koyaanisqatsi

News Return to Koyaanisqatsi Pic 2 .jpg

Published in Art Nexus Magazine No.115 (Pág. 114-115), diciembre de 2020


Dennys Matos



By 2050, a large portion of the planet’s working population will be employed in jobs that are unknown today. This alone gives an idea of the extreme mutability at the productive base of the contemporary economy. On the one hand, this phenomenon has to do with the replacement of the traditional workforce not merely by machines, but by artificial and robotic intelligence, which infuse a vertiginous velocity into the production of objects. On the other, with the products of financial engineering, which keep the flows and reflows of capital as an investment in labor at an un-precedented rate of acceleration. Labor, thus, must increase anxiously to compensate for indebtedness. The human scale of consumption has been lost, and it is not exactly humans who control what is needed to live decently and humanely, but a whole forest of algorithms, ever more incomprehensible for the standpoint of life’s rationality. At ground level, the panacea of consumerism has as its correlate the disaster of waste, the rubbish that encircles all big cities and even takes over parts of them. Meanwhile, in oceans and rivers, the drive to consume translates into waves of such toxicity that not even nature’s own cleansing magic can absorb it without permanent damage. 

The exhibition Return to Koyaanisqatsi, curated by Isabel Pérez at the Kendall Art Center (Miami), proposes a meditation on these hard facts, which are gradually eroding the balance between culture and nature in irreversible ways. On the basis of the photographs and installation sculptures featured in this exhibition, the artist gives shape to an entire geography of waste, a cartographic profile where, he says, “I have documented, in several visits over the course of a year, a testimony of the culture of obsolescence and the speed at which we use, accumulate, and discard objects, in a direction  opposed to the preservation of the environment, in a peninsula as severely threatened by climate change and ocean warming as Florida.”

In the critical reflection, Castellanos proposes in Return to Koyaanisqatsi, two large photographic series stand out, Cumulus and Pac-Man Sushi’s, both produced between 2018 and 2019. Here, viewers are confronted with harrowing images of such “estuaries,” mountains of waste that are more and more frequently found dotting the Florida landscape. In Cumulus, Castellanos’ work indeed exploits a more landscape-focus way of looking at the photographed object. In these photographs, along with the scattered junk, we can discern some elements of the environment, the spatiality where the waste is contained. In this series, the accumulations of junk and metallic rubbish of all kinds are al-ways photographed against the sky in the background, thus emphasizing elements of the landscape and setting up a symbolic contrast between waste, represented by the massive piles of junk, and the sky as a natural realm ever more voraciously swallowed by an urban material culture of unfettered consumption. There is, in these works, an intimation of terrible, crushing violence against life’s ecosystem. This violence hovers in eve-ry image of the iron wasteland, in the hardness of the mounds of rusting metal that allow us to peek at the sky just as they nullify it as a natural space. 

While in the Cumulus series Castellanos widens the gaze and presents the dumps of a metallic material as a poetic figure allusive of a chaotic, even schizoid state, the angle in Pac-Man Sushi’s narrows and the camera zooms in to leave the viewer with forceful, grim close-ups of various consumer objects now turned into junk. We see (and, more than that, we imagine) the different industrial processes involved in the production of these objects. We see the stitches, the details, the markings, the colors, the machined shapes. This is, then, a kind of immersion in the objects’ features, with Castellano’s photographic registry, in turn, revealing, as it focuses on those details, the aesthetic qualities they acquire. The artist complements this idea with other series of objectual sculptures, made from discarded pieces of machinery and plates, for example, in Disposable Object (2019). Compared to Cumulus, both the photographs in Pac-Man Sushi’s and the sculptures are less documentary and narrative in nature, more expressive, with a touch of abstraction in their visual discourse. These two ways of looking modulate a discourse where (post)modern reason is brought out into the open, above all for the irrational relationships it establishes between the products of culture and the natural world, the world of life, that ultimately sustains it.

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