Rodrigo Valenzuela is known for his ability to capture—as he puts it—the “transitional zone…between the purely pictorial and the cinematic.” The Chilean-born, Seattle-based video artist and photographer unites his two mediums in a two dimensional format, capturing the world both within and outside of the frame. In his current work for the upcoming show The Goalkeeper at Bryan Ohno Gallery, Valenzuela constructs a reality through “still life” sets and delicately altered scenarios—bridging a gap between reality and what we see.
I sat down with Rodrigo Valenzuela at his studio at Cornish to discuss the concept and direction of his work. His show, set to open at Bryan Ohno on March 6, is entitled The Goalkeeper. Valenzuela explains, “When you play soccer in the streets there is never a sense of team…basically everyone is trying to show off as much they can…. There is no strategy to win…. No one wants to be the goalie. He doesn’t take too much of the glory but all of the blame. But they have a perspective of the game from far away…a different understanding. It’s the role of the artist too. Be a part of the game but not that much of a participant, offering this perspective.”
The analogy speaks to a common and often correct notion that artists exist on the fringe—and not just visual artists, but writers, philosophers, sociologists, critical and analytical thinkers who find formulae and patterns to describe the order of things, and those who represent the action back to itself in ways otherwise ineffable. Rodrigo Valenzuela attempts to capture this altered sense of perspective and reality in his latest collection of work.
His studio shows the process behind his work; each corner is filled with a new environment of props and backgrounds. The green screen, which Valenzuela captured in the process of being painted, confirms to one the willful alteration of reality. Another corner is painted all black and was a backdrop where “workers” engaged in a game of soccer. As is common in Valenzuela’s work, he has altered the photo by removing the soccer ball, removing the object that gave the scene context and transforming the nature of the scene drastically, changing simple but dynamic movements into an artistic pose.
The largest and most complex environment looks like a shoddy construction site. Upon closer inspection, one sees the intention and delicate balance of the scrap wood, window frames, and Xeroxed photographs (“materials of bureaucracy”). This is what Valenzuela describes as “the beauty of the mess,” an often overlooked aesthetic value. The photographs of this setting zoom in on individual elements while also capturing the perspective of the entire studio. Valenzuela utilizes his Photoshop skills here as well, altering the photos by adding corrections and digital composites, leading the viewer to question and study the illusion of process and construction. He states, “Showing the whole studio, even if it has tricks in it, the photograph of the studio still has a value…. These arrangements are carefully conceived to make it look chaotic on purpose. It’s just generating drama in a different way.”
While “fakeness” generally carries a negative connotation, Valenzuela sees the beauty in it. “I think fake is good, but fake is good when everyone is aware that it is fake. When you are honest, everyone wins…. You should say it with pride.”
Valenzuela’s alterations and perspective on these sets purposefully convey imitation and—by honing in on individual parts and pieces—the process of construction and composition, not deconstruction and decomposition. That said, depending on the viewer it could go both ways, as this is a transitional state and the trajectory is uncertain. This is a tidy merging of form and content, as Valenzuela’s own process uses the transitional zone between film and still image.
Valenzuela is also a video arts teacher at both Cornish and the University of Washington. Both classes, “Intro to VideoX” and “Video Art and Installation,” rely on similar explorations of environment and images. Valenzuela encourages students to “think through images”—understanding details and elements outside of the frame. We are bombarded, almost constantly, with images and video that are generally stereotypical representations of concepts. (Just image search “asleep” and you’ll see what I mean.) Valenzuela asks his students to be critical of these images, seeking out those that are aesthetically and artistically relevant. One assignment requires students to film, non-stop, for two minutes—a lengthy period of time in terms of video. While the subject may be mundane, these films require the maker to consider the changes occurring within, and outside, of the frame—capturing a progression in time and place. Teaching has come to be an important aspect of Valenzuela’s life, and thus of his artwork. As previously stated, The Goalkeeper presents an alternative perspective and understanding of images and their connotations.