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In a flower garden I dreamed that life emanated from metal

Text from catalog ART CONTEMPORANI DE LA GENERALITAT VALENCIANA IV edited by the ‘Consorci de Museus de la Comunitat Valenciana’. 2021. Legal deposit: V-3149-2021 / I.S.B.N 978-84-482-6622-6

Alors je rêverai des horizons bleuâtres,

Des jardins, des jets d’eau pleurant dans les albâtres,

Des baisers, des oiseaux chantant soir et matin,

Et tout ce que l’Idylle a de plus enfantin.

L’Émeute, tempêtant vainement à ma vitre,

Ne fera pas lever mon front de mon pupitre;

Car je serai plongé dans cette volupté

D’évoquer le Printemps avec ma volonté,

De tirer un soleil de mon coeur, et de faire

De mes pensers brûlants une tiède atmosphere.

Baudelaire, “Paysage” in Les Fleurs du Mal

Fall into the voluptuousness of the landscape, where thoughts dissipate between the shrubs and trees. Seek the warm caress of the petals of the freshly-blossomed iris. Among them, something creaks. As if in a scrap yard amongst car parts, appliance parts, boilers and frames, lies a metal flower. It seems as if life still beats in her, although a metal flower is a dead flower. A metal flower is a dead flower (2017) is a work, a diptych in acrylic on cloth by the artist Silvia Lerín. In a way, both parts of the painting appear to be a speculative reflection on the passage of time, decrepitude, or the sunset of a process in which the object is presented transformed.

On one side is an image on canvas of a flower that is watered and fed via water in a glass container. The opened bud is conserved, smooth and fresh, although its metal patina alerts us to something strange. On the other side in the second painting, the flower is depicted as wilted, and the wrinkled canvas infers the ravages of the passage of time. Then we discover the deception. Neither the piece of metal is such – it is in fact a painted cloth – nor is the flower alive, for “a flower of metal is a dead flower.”

When Silvia Lerín explains her painting as an autobiographical work we detect her gaze reflecting on day-to-day experience, on what happens to small elements around her or transitions occurring in her environment, things that are subject to the passage of time. A metal flower is a dead flower is an especially significant work in the artist’s career, situated as it is between her previous project Inspired by an English Garden (2016) and Engineering (2017), a sequel to A metal flower is a dead flower.

The first has its origin in a commission to produce a work inspired by the flowers that a woman had cultivated in her garden. Here Lerín began to spend time in gardens in the British capital in order to capture the expressions of nature as lived impressions, to better carry out her task. One is immediately enveloped in colours, fragrances and shapes that distil their essence although the artist stays true to her work of abstraction. The result goes far beyond the original commission and it in fact led the artist into a new project.

It was from this process of contemplation and delight in plants and flowers, interpreted by the artist as geometric forms, that she extracted the creative sources for her series Inspired by an English Garden. Thus the fabrics fold as would the petals of flowers, the bud is composed of triangular cuts of canvas, the picture no longer exists – or at least not in the traditional way – as the frame has been transformed into part of the bloom, coloured as if a stem, peduncle, stigma or pistil in an artificial bouquet. Lerín transmuted her daily contact with the English garden into an intoxicating experience of colours and forms, a condensation of essence that recalls the olfactory discrimination of a master perfumer, able to distil a new and unforgettable fragrance via every piece that she converted, once again, into matter.

The sum of fabrics, oils, acrylics and woods make up an architectural landscape. The tradition of landscaping gained its highest accolades from Versailles, British landscapes and Japanese gardens. These three cases, the first dating from the 17th century, the second from the 18th century in Europe and the last from the 12th century on the Asian island, pertain to an artificial story about nature in which man has invented, domesticated and exhibited natural life in forms that exist beyond the bounds of normal reality.

If we pause to examine the English garden, however, it seems to be governed by different rules than those of the French or Japanese cases. The grandiose and festive passages of nature in Versailles were created according to the Italian Renaissance’s principles of harmony and order.

The mystical Japanese gardens, also known as Zen gardens, were based on the Sakutei-Ki landscape treatise whose prevailing features were formal balance, mental precision and veneration of the spirits of nature. Removed from these traditions, the idea of the English garden was manifested as an expression of the sublimely natural and with a slightly wild tone that is echoed in the irregularity of its composition.

If the English garden was based primarily on movement, with ponds, winding paths, shrubs and rocks bestowing a certain “wild” order on the plantings, it did not, however, renounce the addition of the creative artifice of human genius. Like romantic works of art, the English garden would promote curiosity, offer the surprise of the unknown, elusive movement or the impetus of naturally-growing vegetation.

It is no surprise, then, that Lerín is moved by the beauty and variation that seasons every tract of the English garden. In this sense Inspired by an English Garden picks up on that wild environment suggested by this type of garden. In this series the artist collected the proper names of the specimens that she found at every turn: Iris, variegated jasmine, calla lily, black tulip, lilies, blue poppy, daffodil, yellow daisy or ivy and even the caterpillars that inhabit these magnificent pieces.

The second project, Engineering (2017), takes the experience of the direct relationship between machine and humans as its starting point. In this case Lerín is seduced by the materiality of certain industrial objects. Some of these belong to our day-to-day: pipes, boilers or mechanical tools such as pliers. Others, however, are hidden deep in the city’s entrails. These are the gears, tapes, copper tubes and screws that, far from our view, execute their surreptitious but nonetheless essential movements, operating the machines and human systems in our capitalist societies.

In this case, we observe how the passage of time leaves its mark on metal surfaces via processes of oxidation or the aging of materials, an early pointer to the origin of the artist’s series Cooper Skin (2019). However, if A metal flower is a dead flower is to serve as a hinge between the two series, the diptych I used to be a Daffodil (2017) and the canvas Metallic bud (2017) from the series Engineering can also be identified with this transition from vibrant and colourful nature to wilted machinelike representation. In fact, in I used to be a Daffodil, we see how the yellow hyacinth becomes a grisaille of the original. It is the representation of the death of the flower and its metallic reconfiguration.

On the other hand, Metallic bud is the synthetic representation of a pink flower bud that, in its attempt to blossom, is constrained by a metallic covering. It is a geometrically-shaped flower on a rhomboidal canvas that is torn in the manner of Lucio Fontana. But where the Italian sought to open up the void in his spatial pieces, here resides hidden life. The metallic bud has been lacerated, allowing us to discern its pinkness, its living nature from the opening inflicted. The flower still oozes some life, residing as it does in that gap straddling between death and metallisation.

Johanna Caplliure ​

 2021 – Independent curator and art critic

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