The Argentine video artist and filmmaker Sebastian Diaz Morales (b. 1975), who divides his time between Comodoro Rivadavia in his homeland and Amsterdam, is regrettably little known in the U.S., though he has exhibited widely elsewhere around the world. In “Ficcionario,” his fifth solo at Carlier Gebauer, he showed three works from 2012, all completely different, yet all equally ambitious.
On a wall-mounted 19-inch monitor in a copper frame, Diaz Morales screened Pasajes (Passages), an approximately 12-minute loop showing a man—the “existential vagabond,” as the artist dubs him on his website—walking through what seems like an infinite series of doors. Diaz Morales is nothing if not Borgesian. We see an amazing array of rooms, from a gym with a man jumping rope to a restaurant kitchen to a grand modernist lobby, as the neatly dressed man enters, strides purposefully through, and exits—only to enter the next space. The editing is seamless, and the environs dreamlike; one feels at once anxious at the relentless succession and curious about what the next door will reveal. Occasionally the man back- tracks, having hit a dead end, but the door he reenters opens onto an entirely new room. Nothing shocking or untoward occurs within these spaces, and he never seems to tire or grow frustrated, remaining dispassionate throughout.
Diaz Morales has in several earlier videos deployed the technique used in Smoke Signal (approx. 7 minutes, also screened on a wall-mounted monitor), a form of digital manip- ulation that transforms live action into white lines on a black ground, something between solarization and animation. Here the artist strays into vaguely political territory. Splicing together footage from a harmless festival parade and a demonstration in which agitated participants hold aloft photographs of disap- peared loved ones, he fashions a nightmarish world constantly on the verge of violence. Shots of a cameraman raised and lowered on a crane platform add a note of self-reflexivity.
The most spectacular (literally) of the three works on view was Insight, a 10-minute high-definition digital video that was projected onto one large wall. It begins with an image of a film crew looking directly at us, at eye level, ready to shoot—a nearly motionless, life-size tableau vivant of seven characters, one of them in a wheelchair. The figures are gazing intently outward, when, in slow motion, their expressions turn to shock. Suddenly their image fractures into thousands of pieces, and it becomes apparent that their subject was a mirror. Much of the video is consumed with close-ups of the glittering shards flying about in slow motion, some of them still reflecting details of the crew. After a time we see the cameraman’s eye loom, and then the group materializes again, reversed, and averting their faces as if they have witnessed a horrible accident. The wheelchair seems somehow germane.
The crystalline definition of every instant of this projec- tion seems to reflect the extremity of our own experience as we witness the infinite regress of visuality. The format of tableau vivant, the mirror and the scopic theme that structures the narrative bring to mind VelaÌzquez’s Las Meninas, if not the veritable industry of theory inspired by that painting. Yet the actors’ emotional reaction suggests another order, one in which the viewer is more dramatically ensnared in the spectacle being witnessed. The characters avert their eyes from us as we stare rapt at them, and our fascination becomes the source of their horror. It is a wily trick indeed, well played by a master.
Photo: View of Sebastian Diaz Morales’s Insight, 2012, HD video, 10 minutes; at Carlier Gebauer.