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Metallic Salt, 2023

Site specific project for Patio Herreriano, Valladolid (Spain)

It has become the norm in the Museo Patio Herreriano’s programme to assign the Chapel of the Counts of Fuensaldaña and the adjoining space, known as the Gil de Hontañón Room, to artists from different generations and backgrounds for projects of a specific nature, i.e. pieces conceived in relation to the qualities of the place. The one now presented by Belen Rodríguez (Valladolid, 1981), entitled “Metallic Salt”, addresses the space as an extension of the “pictorial”, a logical consequence of the evolution of her most recent work, whose core interest lies in the reformulation of the constituent elements of painting, such as those related to colour. The use of the adjective “core” is not an idle choice of word, as her work shows an inclination to observe what is structural in the languages of painting, something testified to by the repeated presence of “supports”, fundamentally stretcher frames, and other surfaces, forms or spaces susceptible of accommodating painting. “Metallic Salt” also gives rise to a wide range of new readings and narrative nuances hitherto unheard of, since, in its passage through the unique space of the chapel, gazes and bodies oscillate freely between image and matter, plane and fold, contemplation and action or the experience of the real and the expectation of the possible. In relation to the latter, it is worth noting that in the emphatic historical nature implicit in the space, fiction now slips into subtle and luminous insinuations.

Metallic salt – which is not a metaphor but a real chemical process – is the element that makes it possible for colour to be constituted as such. It is the conductor of the pigment towards a state that allows it to become perceptible to the human eye. We might say, perhaps from a somewhat lax approach, that it turns the ethereal condition of light into potential chromatic matter. The pieces we see in Room 9 are composed of fabrics that have an ambivalent relationship with their supports, while in their different dialogues, or in the different ways in which fabric and support relate to each other, the transit is formalised. Belén Rodríguez makes no secret of the sources and stimuli that inspire her interest, namely a head of red cabbage, autumn in the forests of Cantabria, the skin of an avocado, the cold texture of marble... Based on a meticulous conceptual process, the perception of the different tonalities takes shape. On the one hand, she echoes the internal rhythms of nature, and on the other, she notes that colour becomes visible only from subjective impressions that can hardly be ascribed to regulatory standards. In any case, her exhaustive analysis comes to a firm conclusion: colour enjoys a vigorous and inalienable autonomy.

The concept of the fold, which Baroque aesthetics adopted as its own, is a recurrent presence. The dazzling movement of lines and forms characteristic of the Baroque is analogous to the way in which colour inhabits nature. Like a bird that accidentally flies into a room and which you guide back out again with your eyes, colour is a frenetic stimulus that is carried along by the light. Belén Rodríguez resorts to a strategy in the dyeing of fabrics that involves letting nature do its thing and entrusting everything to organic implementation. Hers is more the position of an observer of the processes, as she seems to pay attention to the way in which the fabrics are activated by the action of nature. Her work in the studio drifts towards a reflexive approach to the processes she has witnessed.

The piece that Belén Rodríguez has created for the museum’s Chapel responds quite naturally to the challenge posed by the scale of the space, questioning it from the bottom and from the form, that is, from the assumption of the proportion of the place and from the narrative character that defines it. A large surface area of almost one hundred square metres takes up the entire space. It is perceived as a territory, a landscape through which we walk, dressed in the attire designed by the artist. The surface of the canvas evokes a stony, marble-like material, while the whole confirms the scenographic nature that many of her earlier pieces already hinted at. It should be pointed out that the evolution of Belén Rodríguez’s work towards the scenographic has seen some of its most significant peaks at the Patio Herreriano, since during her time in Room 0 and in the recent collective exhibition “Painting. Ongoing Renovation”, we saw growing spatial yearnings, which are materialised here in an unprecedented dimension. What this piece introduces is a habitable nature, an induction into experience, a painting that rather than being looked at, is lived, and the place that is transformed, ductile and dynamic, always different after we have passed through it. We tend to give a contemplative slant to everything we understand as iconic, and this large marble surface, which has the magnetic quality of all icons, provides an experience extended in time, something that becomes a flowing perceptive torrent.

There are, therefore, many reasons why this exhibition devoted to Belén Rodríguez is important to us, and we would like to thank all the people who have been involved in its production. There are plenty of them, given the complexity of the project. It is a process that has been delocalised between Cantabria and Valladolid and is now seeing its joyful resolution in our galleries.

Javier Hontoria

Text by Chus Martinez

Text by Francisco Javier Sanmartin

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