The face as Panopticon

It is not easy to learn how to look. The contemporary world says that the great José Alfredo Jiménez was right: "Distances separate cities, and cities destroy customs." There was a time when pictures were able to capture the human essence - its aura. There was a time of which nothing remains, but this is no place for nostalgia. The artist, if indeed he is one, insists on creating the archeology of his present, which changes rapidly. The true artist never ceases to give us glimpses of the future. So against all prediction, art stands, vivifying.

Never before has the human face been legion. Never before has it been a major challenge to build from it identities. What specific faces do we see today in the areas where we gather? What faces go into our memory when walking the promenade of Barcelona, or in the middle of a crowd of Japanese tourists who frantically run through the Prado, take pictures and then go off? This is why the work of the taxonomist Juanan Soria is meaningful, because he confronts the masses that seek to homogenize, to stereotype. Sometimes flâneur, camera in hand, stands guard for a few hours somewhere, to reconstruct it later on the computer, the second stage of the artistic process - from photographs, a series of identities that cancel each other out - their own "assumptions about the world" (EHGombrich, 1960). Soria, who shamelessly uses the same ancestral graphite as computer media to create his work, seems to respond to the claim made in Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936): the existence of each artistic work of the artist is unique and unrepeatable; each piece, in oil or graphite, has been designed singularly. The series used are intended to give a sense of unity to the whole, not to automate. The work is genuine, honest in its means as well as in its aims.

In 1791, philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed a prison building which allowed observation of the prisoners without their knowledge: the panopticon. In a way, such construction implicitly reflects the Platonic allegory of the cave: "What a strange scene you describe and what strange prisoners. They're just like us "(The Republic, Book VII). In Bentham's panopticon there were two windows, an exterior one to let the light in, and an interior one, designed to monitor work. Also in the work of Juanan Soria, archaeologist of the face, there are two windows: in one, the external artistic exercise emerges, the struggle of the painter/drawer, with fleeting characters that come and go; in the other, the exploration of the human soul, its confrontation or annulment. It is perhaps a metaphor, or possibly a sign. If before the world was bipolar and civilization had a Janus-face, today it is protein, fractal. Each cell in our cave, each face powers multiple visions. There the cracks of time have always been concentrated, the human narrations, history and prophecy.


Danner Gonzalez
Mexico DF, summer 2011

Translation: Marta Cação Lopes Antão