Cesar Alfonso's Mayan Cosmogony - Commentary by Nathaly Martínez
Mayan Cosmogony c. 2011 (United States)
Oil on canvas, malleable keyboard circuitry, steel hardware, and computer circuit board fragment 8 ft x 8ft in diameter
"Abstraction, Landscapes, and Intertextuality Exhibit" -
QbaVa Gallery, Union City, NJ (April-May 2011)
Cesar Alfonso has created an abstract piece of artwork that is not a simple and explicit in nature. It is an unorthodox assemblage of media arranged and fastened together to make a peculiar configuration. There is what seems to be a long green rectangular computer memory chip topped off with a steel metal link that might be found sustaining other hardware amongst the insides a computer. Framing these two computer pieces are four long rectangular canvases, about 3 feet in length and 1-½ feet in width. These canvases have created an incomplete diamond around the two centerpieces of hardware as they have been assembled in an “X” formation and spaced a few inches away from each other.
Each canvas has been painted a different color. The canvas to the top left of the two center pieces is charcoal black; top right is white; bottom left is amber yellow; and bottom right is red. The panel that has the most variation in color and shade is the yellow canvas. While the other three canvases have distinct brush strokes, this canvas includes a very intentional and perceptible blend of red, orange, and gold pigments. The strokes are long and lighter with gold coloring as it nears the center of the assemblage and darker with shades of red and orange as it reaches the bottom edge of the canvas. Finally, the four canvases are each adorned with a soft plastic rectangular plate of keyboard circuitry. Each circuitry is nailed into their respective canvases about a quarter way down from the edges framing the two hardware pieces.
César Alfonso is a Cuban native, raised in Havana during his formative years (1). He was exposed to other Hispanic cultures as he spent his youth in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Madrid, Spain. César Alfonso is a multi-faceted intellectual as he studied art history, literature, and biology in Yale University, only to then complete a medical degree in New York. He also received psychiatric and psychoanalytic training, and studied studio art at the School of Visual Arts in New York. César Alfonso is a true renaissance man as he performs his roles as physician, artist, and educator. He shares his wealth of knowledge as a professor at Columbia University, New York Medical College, Sichuan and Tsinghua Universities in China and ABAC University in Thailand. Alfonso is also the President of the Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization called the Children Art Foundation. This Foundation promotes "the artistic development of underprivileged, disenfranchised or disabled school age children by providing them with opportunities for artistic expression, public dissemination of their artwork, financial educational support, and participation in cultural exchanges" (2). He is also the President of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry. The American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry is an organization of "psychiatrists interested in the application of psychodynamic psychotherapy in clinical practice and in understanding emotional aspects of culture and art" (3).
In his efforts to create something new and original for this exhibition, César Alfonso chose to incorporate the medium of hardware and circuitry to his art. He had de-constructed digital camera parts and combined them with other mediums into a series of assemblages that resembled and reflected the Aztec Codex Yoalli Ehecatle (circa 1400 AD) along with his Mayan Cosmogony piece (4). The Codex Yoalli Ehecatle is a ritual and divinatory manuscript that was "used as a means of invoking the prophecies of the Gods" and holds the cosmic narrative of creation as told by the Aztecs (5). Cesar Alfonso appropriately called his series The Cosmic Narrative of Creation. Alfonso wanted to use the creation stories as his sources of inspiration to craft his collages around with all his pieces in the exhibition. César Alfonso was particularly moved by the creation story conveyed in the hieroglyphic mythological pictograms by the Aztecs and nahuatl people in the Codex Yoalli Ehecatle (6). In the Abstraction, Landscapes, and Intertextuality exhibition, these pictograms would hang alongside each individual assemblage of circuitry for the viewer's convenience, comparison, and contemplation of the series.
César Alfonso's The Cosmic Narrative of Creation and Mayan Cosmogony were very much similar because they used circuitry and mythology as integral elements in their pieces. Through his use of camera circuitry, Alfonso is able to replicate and draw attention to the numerous contour lines featured in the Aztec pictographs. He is able to do so because of the streak-like attributes that circuitry has. In the Mayan Cosmogony piece, he uses computer circuitry to take on a tangible form of reference. Alfonso's assemblage was accompanied with a small interpretation that further explains the obscurity of this curious piece:
For the Maya, beyond the center of Earth, the Universe stretches North, South, East, and West. Each cardinal point is associated with a specific color. Red signifies the coming of light from the East and Black the setting of the Sun into darkness. Yellow represents the South and what is intangible, our temperament and personality. White, the North, is the color of our bones, the essence of character and structural fortitude. In the center of this compass lies the green Earth (7).
The long green rectangular computer memory chip is the green Earth that Alfonso is referring to. However, Alfonso seems to have intentionally failed to make reference to the other keyboard circuitry that he has on the painted panel canvases and also the steel metal link that is perched above the green Earth. Perhaps his rationale behind this is simply to leave some of the components of the piece up for interpretation and for other onlookers to consider. However, given the elements of the rest of the piece and its interpretation, a conceivable object that these last few components could represent are clouds; clouds above the green Earth, amongst the red shades that break at dawn, amongst the darkness that falls at dusk. They are the clouds which we will join once we perish and leave our flesh and bones, and which will always be around no matter what our future holds and how much we fail in our human forms.
César Alfonso's work seems to be intended for an audience that could appreciate a unique approach to art that makes an attempt to think beyond the scope of a painting easel and a potter's wheel. Perhaps it is for a younger generation that could look beyond the traditional confines of art forms and seriously consider this a viable avenue for discovery and creativity. Or perhaps it is for the most acculturated assembly of artists and visionaries that might have the insight necessary to see the potential in this exceptional style of work.
In this day and age, there is a heightened sense of expectation for originality from artists as many ideas and forms have been created, used, recycled, reinvented, etc. These circumstances make innovation a difficult task to achieve. Nevertheless, César Alfonso does strike as a novel artist as he uses these unorthodox media to create a modern and inventive new art form. Alfonso also cleverly presents an interesting challenge to his audience as he invites viewers to take an inside look into what our information culture has been utilizing without much thought. Despite how much digital circuitry has become such an integral part of contemporary life, rarely do individuals reflect on what is "inside" the machines operated every day . Spectators are reminded of the technology that is taken for granted and the intricacies involved in providing the comforts enjoyed by today's society.
César Alfonso's work is creative as it makes use of new media and uses creation stories as its point of departure. The Mayan Cosmogony allows the viewer some insight into what the artist's message and intentions are behind the piece, while still allowing the viewer to have his or her own interpretation. Audiences are compelled to look at the different circuitry pieces and forced to consider how far technology has taken society. Despite the technological aspect, the piece is grounded in a more organic composition, using oil on canvas and utilizing colors to convey a Mayan narrative about the cardinal points. Alfonso's piece is intriguing as it tilts and turns the cardinal points into an "X" configuration rather than a traditional "+" format, only building upon the work's unique aspect, deviating from traditional Mayan iconography. Cesar Alfonso's Mayan Cosmogony is an original and innovative piece that still resonates with its viewers in this new form of expression.
(1) Cesar Alfonso, Biography, http://cesaralfonso.com/bio.html
(2) Mission Statement, http://childrenartfoundation.org/aboutus.html
(3) Mission Statement, http://aapdp.org/index.php/about-us/
(4) Cesar Alfonso, Gallery 7-Codex Yoalli Ehecatle, http://cesaralfonso.com/gallery7.html
(5) Gallery 7
(6) Nathaly Martinez, e-mail message to Artist, April 28th, 2011
(7) Cesar Alfonso, Mayan Cosmogony, April-May 2011