Return to Koyaanisqatsi
Return to Koyaanisqatsi
To my father Baudilio, whom Dizzy Gillespie used to call “the great Indian chief”
In the language of the Hopis—the ancestral people that once inhabited the central area of the United States—the word “Koyaanisqatsi” means “Life Out of Balance.” Filmmaker Godfrey Reggio used it in 1982 as the title to the first of an experimental film trilogy documenting—with Philip Glass’s suggestive music and no dialogue at all—the loss of balance in this “world we live in,” in his own words.
Nearly four decades ago, the fast camera language used by Reggio in several of the film’s scenes described better than any other medium the speediness of our way of life, the frenzy associated to the movement of large human agglomerations and the fast-paced rhythms of serial production of consumer goods. In contraposition, slow motion allowed the close observation of the accelerated destruction of certain life spaces, sketched as a metaphor of human voracity on earth, a voracity parallel to the excessive accumulation of goods and at the same time opposed to the rhythm of the natural world, where vast empty spaces and quiet contemplation are still possible.
Return to “Koyaanisqatsi” –an exhibition made up by photographs, installations and objects—revisits the spirit and documentation of this urban paroxysm by means of a different process of visual investigation (using the 4X5 negative camera) in a series carried out in the city of Miami in several scrap metal recycling facilities. The traditional “large format” cameras—now practically in disuse—impose, from the very process of registration, an appropriate slowness of looking and making, while guaranteeing at the same time a sharpness of detail highly superior to the digital medium with its hasty recording speeds.
And why the junkyards? Because never before in the history of human civilization has waste constituted such a threat as the one it poses for us nowadays. We can hear today a prophetic echo in the words sent in 1855 by Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe to then-President of the United States Franklin Pierce: “My words are like the stars –they do not set. How can you buy or sell the sky –the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. Yet we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water (…) This earth is precious to him [God], and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. The whites, too, shall pass – perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.”
I have documented, in visits spread throughout a year, the testimony of the culture of obsolescence and the speed wherewith we use, accumulate and discard objects in a diametrically opposed way to the preservation of the environment; in a peninsula like Florida, severely threatened by climate change and the warming of the oceans. Through the photographing of junkyards, I have also registered the formal beauty of garbage. I have rescued found objects and assisted them—recycled them—to give them a new life as an imaginative gesture. And I have asked myself the question that I pose here, with a clear awareness in mind that the time to resist this paroxysm is increasingly running out: How can we stand against the programmed obsolescence, the accumulative excess, and the maddening speed of life? How can we find common ways to keep us from “suffocating in our own waste” and recover the balance we have lost? I came back from these dumps with a clearer view about the urgency of a quieter common life, less voracious and destructive, more full of cheerfulness and imagination, and above all, capable of constructing a sustainable culture for our species as well as for all the others. This is the only way to avoid the coming time of gloom, a time when, according to chief Seattle, will start “the end of living and the beginning of survival.”
The Large Cumulus (Installation), 2019
Cumulus Series, 2018-2019
Pacman Sushi Series, 2018-2019
Countdown to Zero (Installation), 2019
Zoom-In Global Warming/Radiators (Polyptych), 2019
Disposable Objects, 2019
Return to Koyaanisquaatsi, by Willy Castellanos, at the Kendall Art Center, Miami
(Arte al Día International Magazine, September 2019)
In the framework of the Lágrimas negras collective exhibition curated by Isabel Pérez, the artist, curator and critic Willy Castellanos develops a proposal constituted as an individual show gathering four photographic poliptychs of different characteristics, three assisted or intervened ready-mades, a direct ready-made and an installation-box with multiple components.
By: José Antonio Navarrete
The greatest difficulty of photography these days, as a direct artistic practice, lies perhaps in that the potential easiness to make a photographic take increases the demands towards the construction of sense in a world saturated with images. The effort aimed thereto, of thinking as well as of visual and technical experimentation, usually antecedes and pursues the photographic act in such a way that it becomes merely a moment in the lengthy process of creation. Perhaps today, like never before, the problem lies not in what and how to photograph—which was the photographers’ main focus of concentration until a few decades ago—but, beyond that, what to do with the photographic images, that is, what discourse to construct and how.
This problematic assails me while watching Return to Koyaanisquaatsi, by Willy Castellanos, for several reasons found on the very basis of the exhibition’s artistic and communicative efficacy. One: photography becomes the central medium of exploration for the proposal’s discourse, where an inquiry is forwarded on the accumulation of waste as an outstanding trait of contemporary society. That is to say, unlike those artists aligned with the historical vanguards for whom waste was a component of their collages, assemblies and sculptures, in this proposal by Castellanos garbage is the protagonist per se.
Another one: The artist has used differentiated strategies to combine photographs in discursive or poliptych modules, one distinct from the other, with variations in their representational proposals and rhetoric emphasis, but efficaciously related to each other. Lastly: he has also displayed a set of residues taken from the same dumps he photographs as expositive elements contributing to expand the forwarded questionings. Castellanos’s proposal unfolds like a combination of representation and presentation—say between photography and ready-made. If photography is the medium of image production more directly connected with ready-made, for its technical condition of direct registry of beings and things, in any case, the presence of the ready-mades in the exhibition attempts to overcome the gap between waste and its representation.
It could be unnecessary to add, after the preceding explanation, that this project evidences not only a meditated approach to the complexities of its own subject, but the use of numerous resources of imagination. Besides, Castellanos, perfectly capable to turn words into a device to unleash combined reflections and emotions, accounts for the motivations and disquisitions that stirred him in his project in a personal text that welcomes the show’s visitor on the wall.
Castellanos’s photography gets the most out of a particular trait of the resources inherent to photographic construction: its possibility to embellish any referent. If garbage dumps are and cannot be anything but informal heaps—in the case of this photography, metal dumps, including auto parts, home appliances and others—the photographer chose to act on them by applying certain mutually related artistic operations: the search for the form within the formless, its localization and isolation. Each image in the Pac-Man Sushi’s and Cumulus poliptychs, both made between 2018 and 2019, evidences this operation and, at the same time, the manifestation of a specific mode of existence of form. That exploration on form should be understood, besides, as a simultaneous investigation on colors and textures of waste, which altogether bestows on the photographs an amazing visual sumptuousness. Part of this endeavor is also The Large Cumulus, 2019, a photograph printed on an enormous canvas divided into nine vertical strips, representing the semi-pyramidal form of a dump. In general, a concern for the beauty of waste, expanded to ready-mades, crosses the whole set of exhibited works and becomes a communicative thread between them.
In the aforementioned hall text, Castellanos places the reading of his proposal in the space occupied by the contemporary warning calls on the need to preserve the environment and construct a sustainable culture for mankind. Nonetheless, in the kernel of his visual proposal it is possible to find other fruitful ideas on a discussion concerning the constitution and performance of contemporary culture, to which he is by no means alien. In short, and it is a point also made by Return to Koyaanisquaatsi, our culture is nurtured by waste and rejoices in seeking beauty in the residual and disposable.