Lasting Impressions: Miguel A. Aragón at Tiny Park
Trauma permeates Miguel A. Aragón's very physical printmaking, both in subject matter (victims of Mexico's drug wars) and in process (depending on the intended result, he burns, abrades, or hand-drills the works). Aragón's return to Austin — his first solo here following the critically-lauded exhibition Fractured Memories, Assembled Trauma at Mexic-Arte Museum in 2012 — is both potent and bittersweet, as while the artist's bracing techniques continue to advance the compositional potential of paper, it also coincides with the final outing at eastside gallery Tiny Park. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor
Two monumental hand-drilled works on paper form the show's backbone, positioned across from each other and dominating their walls. Six small-scale abstract collages from a new untitled series accent their massive neighbors and act as tidy metaphors for visual overload and the parsing of information from the glut of Google. The hand-drilled works hang in loose dialogue with one another. In De brazos abiertos ('with open arms', irony intentional), a young man lies spread eagle across four panels of inky Xerox and ripped, snowy-white paper, frozen where he fell in a hail of subautomatic fire. In the other, La matanza del Centro Aliviane ('the massacre at Centro Aliviane', named for a Ciudad Juárez drug rehab clinic attacked in a 2009 turf battle, an older woman shields her eyes from the violent aftermath.
I did a bit of Googling and found the image Aragón referenced for Centro Aliviane, a Xinhua/Reuters Photo identifying the woman as 'a relative'. A Getty image from The Los Angeles Times names her 'a bystander...wait[ing] for information'. A mini-story forms from these two photos: by their dates, the Xinhua/Reuters Photo occurred first (she reacts to the news that a loved one, perhaps a son, was gunned down at the clinic), while in the Getty image, she awaits confirmation on her relative's identity, waiting until early in the morning for the unwelcome, inevitable news. Her leopard-patterned dress, so clear in both photos and prominent in Aragón's work, vanishes into a surface-noise moiré when approached. Only holes remain, punctuating the layered paper like Roy Lichtenstein's Ben Day dots except more visceral, retaining the collective history of having been drilled into drywall in Aragón's studio and echoing the gunfire that claimed so many of the artist's compositional subjects. Is the man in De brazos abiertos the son of the older woman? We can make that visual connection, perhaps, but really he was someone's son, an unidentified body with a name and a family somewhere, just as the woman in La matanza del Centro Aliviane knew a victim — or multiple victims — in the ongoing drug wars.
Less 'meaty' than their large-scale kindred, each untitled collage intermingles formalist diamonds (think Q*bert) on yellow paper over fragments of drilled black paper and/or scratchy Xerox. I see these as exercises in information extraction, due both to the afterimage effect achieved by staring intensely at the yellow coupled with the almost total abstraction of the layered paper. Due to Aragón's current studio constraints, he viewed his large-scale works through his iPhone in order to achieve a proper compositional depth, converting hand-drilled halftone patterns into a mourning woman and a murdered man. In the collages, there is no such freedom. Whatever image was once there is now sheer textural abstraction, like a bullet-riddled wall in extreme closeup.
Now, on a personal note, this is the last exhibition at Tiny Park under its current auspices. Co-directors Brian Willey and Thao Votang sent out the fated final newsletter midway through my latest New York trip, and though I knew the news even before then, it doesn't get around the curatorial void about to inflict itself upon Austin's visual arts community. I interviewed Thao and Brian during their transition from a creative apartment gallery to a commercial space in 2012 (check parts one and two), which only begins to elucidate upon the impact they've had on me (erstwhile Yankee setting his base in Austin) and the local art scene. It is fitting that Tiny Park's eastside presence goes out with a “bang” by returning Aragón to Austin, as he opened their debut exhibition back in 2011. Much has happened since then, for Tiny Park, for Aragón, and for this author. No matter what happens next, the story isn't over for Tiny Park. Considering Thao and Brian's formidable talent and curatorial acumen, their next powerhouse project is only a matter of time.
Miguel A. Aragón received an MFA from The University of Texas at Austin in 2012 and lives and works in New York City. His work has been exhibited at institutions and galleries both nationally and internationally, including International Print Center New York (New York); Austin Museum of Art (Austin); Mexic-Arte Museum (Austin); Lamego Museum and Douro Museum ( Alijo, Portugal); OSDE Espacio de Arte (Buenos Aires, Argentina); and Centro Cultural Vito Alessio Robles (Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico). His works were featured recently in the group exhibition Approaching Zero – At the Frontier of Contemporary Printmaking at Kala Art Gallery (Berkeley, CA), and Aragón will participate in Bodies for Billions at Rogue Gallery and Art Center (Medford, OR), opening July 2014. New Works at Tiny Park continues through April 26.
Brian Fee is an art punk based currently in Austin, TX, but he can usually be found in New York, Tokyo, or Berlin, depending on the art season.