Jacuzzi by Manuel Solano, at Kunsthalle Lissabon

The eye is the organ that dictates, that commands and synthesizes. The eye monopolizes and the information captured by it precedes all the other senses. In a visual age, where the image carries an ontology that is intertwined with that of modern civilization, the eye, the gaze and vision are at the head of jurisprudence, experience and perception of the world – i.e., of life in the world -, mediating, computing, evaluating, constructing and deconstructing, always and, even if latent, an endless list of images. The artist’s memory is above all visual; as is their understanding of the practice.

What happens when the major organ that is vision fails the artist when the world that the artist took for granted is only a rather opaque veil that covers the gaze and forces a re-understanding and re-signification of their position in the world and the nature of their artistic practice, now unable to process and measure through the eye, perceive, evaluate and synthesise their aesthetic experience of the work they produced. It is an existential, dramatic cut that forces the development of new abilities built behind that defunct instrument-consciousness.

It is no longer the eye that commands the hand, that guides the gesture; it is no longer the vision that infers the result of that gesture, calibrating and retouching it. Now it is the whole body that commands, in its abilities and insufficiencies, understanding that this such is not fatal, it does not represent a defect. It represents a functional diversity, filled with constructive potential.

In 2014, the Mexican artist Manuel Solano (1987) lost their sight after an HIV infection. This loss marked two moments in their artistic body, as one might expect. Previously, Solano had experimented with photography, digital composition, installation, sculpture in minute detail, and video. All the tools with image potential were at their disposal, without any limit, open to the tentacular and multidisciplinary experimentalism of contemporary art. Blindness caused a decisive change in the way they worked.

Touch and the archive of images, which they keep when the light was absolute and colours shone from one side of the spectrum and shapes to the other, now guide and construct their paintings. The “haptic approach”, through the scrutiny of fingers, lines and pins for the most precise geometries, plus the help of a collaborator, have allowed Solano an exercise as large as life, as immense and complex as memory, despite the limitations. Thus, the artist does not work on blindness and trauma, but rather on memory and its creative possibilities after trauma.

The works exhibited in Jacuzzi, at Kunsthalle Lissabon, are full of saturated colours, without their construction ever being obscured. They are, above all, representations of broad, empty spaces, but with traces of occupation. There are no bodies, only the melancholy of their passage. And the melancholy of never having experienced those spaces. They are emulations of desires, in the expectation of building in themselves, in the imagistic archival glossary of the mind, of memory, the image they have never seen, nor will ever see. “Before I went blind”, Solano says, “I was the best painter I could imagine, certainly the best I knew. Right now, I’m not so sure. My work remains referential and intimate; queer and nostalgic; giddy and provocative; exuberant and captivating.” In Solano, art is a place of individuation, self-referencing, affirmation, of – lato sensu – recovery. And it is about them, exclusively about them – without excuses, subterfuge, or dissimulation.

The canvas becomes a huge map, guided by the hand and the remaining and reminiscent memory of objects and images from the past. The tactile nature of the work builds within the artist a tentative mental territory, which is progressively filled by paints applied with the fingers. The artist’s Instagram account shamelessly shows what was possibly the intimacy of the creative process, so revealing and mesmerizing in their case.

In the limit, the work of Manuel Solano recalls what Saramago said in Blindness: only those who can see are blind – blind in their functional arrogance, blind in the delirious attempt to command the world through only one sense, without consciousness beyond it, without significant alternatives beyond it.

Life becomes fragile when the body loses an instrument. But, all other life, all other daily life is reborn – humble, aware of the cooperation of the other and awakened to the imagination, something so forgotten among adults.

Manuel Solano’s Jacuzzi can be visited until November 27, at Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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