"we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead"
- WG Sebald, Austerlitz (2001: 185)
Within Daniel Blaufuks' prolific career there are themes / concerns / obsessions that are evident: travel, exile, memory, life and death. Nevertheless, the artist never dodged to explore new techniques, forms or even technologies. In There was a time when we were all alive we find this double nature, a subject that easily refers to past works, a format that can be seen as a leap (but perhaps not be) in the explorations of the artist.
In a return to video work, Blaufuks presents in this exhibition three simultaneous visions of the interior of the Pantheon dome in Rome. With construction dating to the end of the reign of Trajan (98-117) and the beginning of the reign of Hadrian (117-138) the Pantheon, as the name implies, was the home of the various gods of the Roman pantheon. With its casket dome, and its perfect balance between sphere (dome), cylinder (rotunda) and cube (vestibule with second elevation), the Pantheon is an architectural feat that still survives today. Not only that, it survives as a place of worship. The central window open to the skies, the only source of light in the building, invites visitors to the interior space. Through it wind and rain are permitted, but it is the sun that has primacy. His daily movement transforms the interior of the Pantheon by emphasizing one niche at another, but it is only at noon on April 21, the anniversary of the city of Rome, that the entrance to the temple is illuminated. Blaufuks examines inThere was a time when we were all alive this transience when filming and photographing only the interior of the dome, eliminating any other temporal reference. The focus is the eyeglass and this is the point at which all the visual effects, sometimes extreme, will be centered.
There was a time when we were all alivepart of a phrase collected in a dream of the artist during a stay in Rome, after repeated visits to the Pantheon, a dream in which the border between life and death became tenuous. Perhaps it is not surprising Blaufuks's association with the death of the Pantheon by presenting a phrase that defines the latter by its opposite: by the moment that all were alive. With the transition to Christianity and the abandonment of the ancient gods, the Pantheon was donated in 609 to Pope Boniface IV, who dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and the Martyrs. Here they would later be buried illustrious like the painter Rafael in 1520, example later followed with the creation of the diverse national pantheons. Blaufuks's frontier between life and death in space, which is son (h), can also refer us to other transitional moments for other projects. InTerezín (2007), the artist appropriates the few surviving excerpts from the Nazi propaganda film held in Theresienstadt, dyeing them red and slowing them down. The effect produced is such that the figures, with the tension of their movements emphasized, become spectra. Here too, there was a time when everyone was alive, the instant before the one set by Roland Barthes in which the viewer realizes that these people are dead and will die.
It will not only be in the theme that some parallels will be found between past projects and the new work presented in. There was a time when we were all alive. Also at the formal level, with its exploration of visual and film boundaries, we may find affinities. However, the work that Daniel Blaufuks now presents to us will be perhaps the most visually experimental of the artist. Composed of three photographic panels and three simultaneous and synchronous video projections of the same sequence, we see an abstraction from the interior of the Pantheon dome. In one of the projections we find the natural tones of the stone and the illuminated cement. This is not a fixed plane: the camera moves, the image splits in rotations and it comes back together as if it were a kaleidoscope. These movements are repeated in the other two projections, this time in black and white and inversion of colors. Through these techniques the concave space of the dome seems to suffer a flattening, the coffins are now on the same level, resembling more niches found in columbarium than decorative elements. At the same time, the rotations contribute to a disorientation effect, amplified by the sound that accompanies the videos. Despite being captured by Blaufuks during his visits to the Pantheon and dealing with the noise produced by the mass of tourists here, through the treatment that the artist gives him the sound no longer resembles something organic, if it is a mechanical hum.
Also in the photographic set we verified the use of exaggerated photographic techniques: the marked grain, the inversion of colors, the contrasting black and white. Focusing on the eyepiece, each panel is composed of a photographic sequence that reflects the variations of light generated by the solar movement. Thus, the effect produced is close to that of a solar clock. It is perhaps here, with the return to the stars, that the Blaufuks project more relates to the original design of the Pantheon as a link of the earth to the heavens; as a space where life and death are mixed.