The Space between Two Worlds
As of at least 2002, when he began his series of street dwellers in London city, collectively titled Sitters, the work of Ricardo Alcaide (Caracas, 1967) explores the borderline character of the skin; it penetrates into the metaphorical richness of membranes (whether they be walls, blankets, plastic sheets, fences, or the skin itself) that separate the interior from the exterior, that divide one world from another world that is its obverse, its opposite.
During the course of these almost ten years, there have been diversions and mainly formal changes, gradual but substantial, which may even seem to indicate a radical rupture between the earliest and the most recent production, but the same series of subjects remains quite clearly at the center of his concerns. In Sitters (2002-2005) Alcaide contrasted, although implicitly, two universes: on the one hand, the street dwellers, and on the other, the world of those “inserted” in the system (included in the latter the artist himself and his public). But the careful construction of the scene and the way in which the subjects were portrayed evinced their intense beauty, suggesting relationships with Caravaggio’s characters, as has already been pointed out, or with the prolonged close-ups of Renée Falconetti playing Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film La Passion de Jean D’Arc (1928). That is to say, at the same time that he emphasized their condition as marginalized from society, the artist integrated his models in the sphere of an iconographic tradition which was central to the constitution of the aesthetic culture, more specifically, a religious or mystic aesthetics of the Western imaginary.
The importance of Sitters in the development of Alcaide’s poetics is demonstrated by some works produced in the years immediately following this series, which constitute splittings of the initial series, both from a formal and a conceptual point of view. Such is the case of Words (2006), an ensemble of prints on formica in which the different details of the skin of each model are used as backgrounds and to write words on them (GOD, HOME, CHANGE, SPARE, BLESS), which, excerpted from the beggar’s classical phrase, “Homeless, please can you spare some change to give me, if possible, Thank you, God bless you,” emphasize once again, besides the social dimension, the closeness with the mystical-religious question. In the series Houses (2007) and Outdoors (2006-2007), the skin is superimposed, whether physically or only through digital interventions on photographs of the city of Sao Paulo, on models of houses, and on the huge advertising billboards that characterized the city before the recent campaign against visual pollution. While in Sitters the representatives of marginality became surprisingly attractive, ennobled by a classic aesthetics, here the perspective reversal is found in the way in which “our” houses and “our” city suddenly reveal they belong to “them”, to the point of being made from the same substance “they” are made of.
The change in scale in these works, at least in what concerns the urban or architectonic dimension with which they are faced, marks a turn in relation to the silent ambit of the photographic studio that sheltered the models for Sitters, and it can be considered, in retrospect, the prelude to a new way of approaching analogous or borderline issues. If the most radical and fertile change takes place in the series A Place to Hide, another decisive pivotal moment seems to be the one marked by the photographic series, also produced in Sao Paulo, Transeuntes ( Passers-by)(2005-2009). In this case, in fact, the presence of the city, in addition to its being a backdrop, is already a determinant element in the construction of the atmosphere of the scene, and it reveals the artist’s interest in the capacity of modernist architecture to contribute to create settings outside of time, strongly antiquated on the one hand, and extremely contemporaneous on the other. The most outstanding characteristic in Transeuntes is not the urban setting or the extraordinary timelessness of the characters’ clothes, but the animal masks that the passers-by posing for the artist agree to wear. The artist and writer Becky Beasley, who is the author of interesting essays on the work of Ricardo Alcaide, lays the stress on how the act of posing for an unknown photographer, particularly if this is done wearing a mask, constitutes a hiatus in the monotony of the daily routine. Beasley speaks of “dropping out”, almost a falling apart of the rigid line of predictable events, but the same verb also defines the choice of the street dwellers and beggars, who opt for not entering into the logic of a society into which, in many cases consciously and programmatically, they do not manage or they do not want to integrate. That is to say that, in spite of the adoption of a significantly different iconographic rendition, Alcaide’s work ends up dealing also on this occasion with the subtle distinction between integration and marginalization, between being inside and being outside (with regard to society, to time…).
A Place to Hide (2010-) a series of works in various formats and techniques, and also the title of two exhibitions presented by the artist in the past few months in Madrid and Sao Paulo, introduces even more radical splittings by comparison with the works analyzed in the first place in the present article. Based on some photographs of street dwellers wrapped up in blankets, for example, Alcaide has created quite a large series of small oil paintings and drawings, in which the folds in the fabrics that protect the characters (from the weather, from the gaze of passers-by…) become rigid, in such a way that they take on the appearance of mere formal studios, occasionally establishing relationships with modernist architecture itself, or even with the visual language of Concretism, which was decisive for the development of the visual arts of the second half of the 20th century in Brazil. In the mounting of the exhibitions, however, these paintings and drawings do not have a privileged place, and they may be presented side by side with the photographs that originated them, the videos based on the drawings, or even the pictures of containers or trailers used as improvised shelters. In addition to the works themselves, the artist also produces the walls that support them: makeshift constructions which are reminiscent of the fences surrounding building sites, on the one hand, while on the other they are often associated to the modern and concrete tradition on account of the precision of their forms. Hence, even in a sublimated way, or furthermore, in a more mature way, Alcaide continues to explore the fragile frontier dividing precariousness from solidity, poverty from richness, that which protects us from that which threatens us.