Miguel A. Aragón's images of drug cartel victims show the difficulty of addressing violence in today's society
I wonder how many South American drug cartel bosses gritted their teeth when Colorado legalized marijuana. Did we feel them cringe at the thought of their decreased revenue stream? Drug dealing is a violent business, and I wonder how tensions are running south of the border lately.
According to Miguel A. Aragón’s current show, “De la Complicidad con la Agresión,” tensions are high, and body counts are climbing. Every image in this exhibition depicts a dead person (assumedly victims of cartel violence). Taken from the media, these pictures of bloated and bloody faces are enlarged almost to the point of total abstraction. The main body of work consists of six hand-drilled prints in which the victim’s faces are created through riddling the paper with drill holes. Furthering their crudeness, they are tacked to the wall and curl slightly. Some, like Retrato #25, have been so victimized by the drill that areas of paper hang precariously from them.
Near the main door of Flatbed Gallery are three prints that don’t particularly mesh with the others. Instead of being rough and torn, they are unspoiled. Their edges are square, and there is no part of them dangerously close to being damaged by a gallery-goer because they are safely displayed under Plexiglas. Although they still depict the same subject matter (black-and-white images of dead people), they veer toward the safe arena of commercialism, as if Aragón felt obliged to have something in this show that the gallery could sell. Taken alongside the other artworks, they weaken the potential message he seems poised to make.
Across from these are two stencils and a large piece of drywall that’s been heavily damaged. Debris from the drywall litters the floor around its base. Much more experimental than the prints under Plexiglas, these pieces round out the range of Aragón’s techniques. Like a crime scene, they bear the traces of the actions that created them. The stencils feel like the bloody imprints of the victims they portray, and the drill’s violent perforation of the drywall is obvious.
Aragón’s aesthetic clearly drives at revealing the inherent violence of the drug situation. But I think he shows us something else: Violence becomes abstracted and distanced, or it’s become so overdone that it comes across as forced. Someone used the term “shotgun-blasted” to describe these works to me. I agree; they look “blasted.” But to what end? The riddled paper perforated with drill holes is an obvious reference to bullets and flesh. The Plexiglas is an obvious reference to forensic science. And the drywall and stencils are an obvious reference to the killing floor. But that’s just it; they are obvious references. Aragón’s larger message shows us the difficulty of addressing violence of any kind in today’s society. Violence has long been the plaything of culture, and maybe through our abstractions of it, we can keep lying to ourselves about how destructive we really are.