Adrián Balseca at Madragoa Gallery, Lisbon
Madragoa Gallery in Lisbon is currently presenting the work of Adrián Balseca in the solo show The Skin of Labour.
In The Skin of Labour, the artist composes an uncertain landscape depicting a rubber plantation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The latex collecting vessels have taken the shape of a hand, resembling a glove — a phantasmagorical presence that embodies the historical labour relations in the region. The project, consisting of a 16mm film accompanied by photographs and an object, inquires about the core values that underlie human exploitation of nature, and reflects upon the impact of the technification of labour. The artist reads into the present legacy of a prolonged extractivism in the vital territory of the Amazon, evoking the skin as a protection mechanism, as much as a paradigm of fragility in a living system.
Geographer and mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine, who was part of the French Geodesic Mission that measured the length of a degree of latitude at the Equator, presented the first scientific paper on rubber in 1751. He was the first Westerner to witness the Indigenous population’s various uses of latex in present-day Ecuador, and to send the first rubber samples to Europe. The same territory where La Condamine did his findings would later endure a history of ruthless and violent extraction, particularly during the rubber boom between 1879 and 1912. This period coincides with and is directly related to the Second Industrial Revolution, which demanded vast amounts of different prime materials. Although happening at the same time, the rubber boom and the technological revolution pertained to two different spatialities. Precarious slavery relations were the norm at extraction sites, while the production of goods witnessed a fast technification of manual labour.
The extractivism agenda in the Amazon today has moved on from tapping Hevea Brasiliensis trees to drilling for oil, shifting from vegetal extraction by hand to fossil extraction by machines. This change is integrated in the project by the use of butyl rubber for the “gloves,” a synthetic latex made from petroleum by-products, raising questions about the possible uses of the territory, the transformations in the landscape, and the uncertain future of local uncontacted communities. The work underlines the abysmal gap between our collective imaginary, which relates the Amazon to the idea of ultimate idyllic nature, and our systematic drive to conquer and exploit this territory, in a world with reconfigured production forces and labour relations and on the verge of planetary urbanization.
Text by Ana Sophie Salazar
Madragoa Gallery – Galeria Madragoa Rua do Machadinho, 45 1200-705 Lisbon
23 November 2016 – 13 January 2017