Rodrigo Valenzuela in The Boston Globe 2.28.16

Crumbled vistas, important questions in ‘Hedonic Reversal’

By Cate McQuaid Globe Correspondent 

Rodrigo Valenzuela’s photographs invite viewers into deliciously confounding spaces. Trouble is, his content can get lost in all that formal complexity. Valenzuela’s series of black-and-white photos, “Hedonic Reversal,” at Steven Zevitas Gallery, consider wealth, poverty, societal decay, and architectural ruins.

The photos are complete fictions. Valenzuela builds structures in his studio out of plaster and wood, then he tears them down. The crumbled models may recall a bomb-shattered city, or one eroded due to neglect or economic collapse, but we know they’re made up. Valenzuela poses the question: Do we respond differently to fictitious ruin than real ruin?

Yes. I, at least, responded with less empathy and a more critical eye. Theoretical disaster is less compelling than true disaster. Story disappears and form takes over.

The artist shoots as he works, and he mounts earlier photos behind his toppled plaster bricks and two-by-fours. It’s often impossible to tell where his structures end and the flatter photos and drawings within the photograph begin. Space and time stretch and play tricks in a single frame.

In “Hedonic Reversal No. 9,” a 2-by-4 diagonally spans much of the piece; it pops along the surface, but toward the top, it links to a shard of plaster that runs at the same angle in a photo within the photo. With other structures — a vertical plank, an imploding wall — you often can’t tell which is real and which is Memorex. In addition to manipulating space with a painter’s mastery, Valenzuela artfully plays with the essential question about whether photographs depict reality.

His social consciousness stands out more starkly in the clip from his video “Maria TV,” which also conflates “real” with “fiction.” In it, several working-class Latina immigrants learn scripts from Telemundo soaps. They are ordinary looking women, not TV stars, so they seem out of place playing overblown, stylized characters. But Valenzuela gives us enough of their backstories to convey a passion that harmonizes with the tenor of the scripts. Real life is a lot less glamorous and heightened than a soap opera, but everyone knows struggle.

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