Sometimes you have to forget, or, if you prefer, momentarily set aside the things you know – those acquired procedures and habits that we use to help us interpret an artwork. Any consideration of the issues Joël Andrianomearisoa raises in his work necessarily has to begin with the artist’s poetic imagination. Although his creations are not particularly challenging to analyse, the contrast between the specificity of the titles he chooses for his works and exhibitions and the all-embracing, opaque abstraction in which those same works operate seems somehow to suggest the existence of some undefined, perhaps inexplicable – and perhaps even impenetrable – tendency. It is as if we are looking at an encounter between two different entities.
Andrianomearisoa’s exhibition at the Centro de Arte Alcobendas brings together a group of works which all tend towards abstraction, but from different registers. But whether the artist’s point of departure in these works is cloth on canvas, paper, tapestries, papier mâché or collage, they all share a certain sense of ambiguity which sometimes links them to the landscape and sometimes alludes to objects and structures. Andrianomearisoa in no way attempts to approach abstraction through pictorial recreation of appropriation, or from a stance critical towards painting or abstraction. Abstraction is simply another element that helps us dissolve any sense of anticipation, any preliminary narrative. On that basis, Andrianomearisoa places us in a space and a situation that are both unpredictable, where any effort we might make to possess the work, to endow it with meaning as an end in itself, is constantly interrupted.
These works do not aspire to transmit a sense of anti-illusionism. Their aim is just the opposite. Here we are not looking at what would usually be considered the essential elements of painting – brush, paint and canvas – and there is no intention to engage with the practical techniques that have historically been used in abstract painting. Here, literality and minimalistic aspirations are present in appearance only. Indeed these works are more reminiscent of that type of formalist painting in which the artist would mentally immerse spectators in vast colour fields as a means of pushing them into a wholly fictitious space, as, for example, in Andrianomearisoa’s cloth on canvas work The Complex Horizons (De l’Amour et d’un Romance), 2018. What we are talking about, then, is a kind of distracting trick, manipulation or falsification within the work itself, in its execution, its crafting and its potential. But at first sight, the work offers no clue as to its meaning, and this space sheds no light on the structuring of the artist’s discourse.
That is not to say that Andrianomearisoa’s work is self-referential or lays any claim to its own distinctive niche. Actually, the artist is not all that far from the “neo-conceptualists” and “neo-minimalists” of the late 1980s and 1990s, who emerged to challenge – among other things – subjectivism, emotionalism, and the heroic stance adopted by the “neoexpressionists”. Like them, Andrianomearisoa adopts abstraction to serve his own interests. As I suggested earlier, abstraction is a vehicle. Moreover, Andrianomearisoa is fully aware that abstraction is a force which operates in both the economic and social spheres. For him, abstraction also creates potentially poetic images and can be used to address his own personal experience. The originality and the quest for the absolute which marked much of classical abstract art from Malevich through to Barnett Newman are here replaced by an ambiguity and an ambivalence that are never fully clarified. Andrianomearisoa seems not only to break free from the anguish of what has influenced him but also to assert his desire to expand his own visual language.
This s nowhere more evident than in the titles of his works and exhibitions. Here we find something different, something that does not usually correspond to the realm of the works themselves, and when it does – like in The Complex Horizons, which ostensibly refers to landscape – is immediately dissolved in a specific definition which contrasts with the image we see in the work (in this case ( De l’Amour et d’un Romance) (About Love and an Affair). The title of this exhibition illustrates the establishment of two disjunctive, complementary spaces: that is to say, two spaces that are separate but at the same time intrinsically linked, space which considerably extend the visual language of the works on display while simultaneously presenting the spectator with the dilemma of choosing between different alternatives. But just how far does a title like No habíamos terminado de hablar sobre el amor (We Hadn’t Finished Talking About Love) – the title of this show in Alcobendas – explain and expand upon the work we are going to see or have already seen? What kind of works does it suggest? In what kind of space does it want to place the spectator?
In a recent conversation, the artist admitted that, as we suspected, the title of the exhibition is taken from Jean Genet. That in itself undoubtedly puts us in a whole new mental arena, evoking images that contrast with the opacity of the works on display. Like Genet’s never-ending love, such titles – with their references to names of books, poems, verses, films and groups – forge a compact, intense space of possibilities in which we are allowed to conjure up all kinds of narratives. Here, the artist’s poetic imagination is condensed and spectators are bombarded with references and images that involve them directly in the work. But what work are we talking about? Where does a work start and finish? What should we focus on – the physical, visual space of the objects and structures the artist offers us or that imaginary space made up of fragments of other ideas, other discourses, other origins?
There is admittedly an abundance of darkness, but the artist also celebrates light. I said earlier that Andrianomearisoa uses abstraction to create potentially poetic images and to address his own personal experience. Similarly, the titles help him to establish interruptions and disjunctures that highlight the resources of his own imagination and reveal the other side of his intentions. Andrianomearisoa lives and works between Paris and Antananarivo, Madagascar. His art and his ideas arise out of both locations, and cannot be said to be determined, given meaning or fixed in one single space by either of them. From the economic, political and social legacy of colonialism, the adoption and adaptation of colonial cultures and the affirmation that both his own subjectivity and the culture of his country are essentially different, Andrianomearisoa fashions a discourse of disjuncture and contrast, a dialectic space marked not by the successful hybridization of the parts but by a continuous sliding backwards and forwards between one idea and another. Like the empty containers of his series Vestiges of Ecstasy, 2016-2018, his reality is made up of remembered objects and ideas that are progressively shaped over time but which lack any real content in themselves.
The disjuncture and the interruptions come into play precisely in this in-between space, between the work and “its references”, between the titles and “the work”, preventing us from grasping the artist’s imagination in a clear defined space. It is here where Joël Andrianomearisoa weaves together the ambiguities, contradictions and possibilities that endow his work with meaning and depth.