Shotgun Reviews

Oscar Muñoz: Sedimentaciones at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Danny Olda reviews Oscar Muñoz: Sedimentaciones at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa. 

Oscar Muñoz. Sedimentaciones, 2015; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist, the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, and the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, Miami.

Oscar Muñoz. Sedimentaciones, 2015; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist, the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, and the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, Miami.

The gallery is dark save for the surface of three tables illuminated by projectors from above and faint rays of light let in from the nearby lobby. Slips of neatly arranged photographic paper flanked by two sinks are projected onto each table. Some of the papers bear portraits printed with what appears to be charcoal, while others are blank. The artist’s hand enters the projection’s frame, selects a portrait, and dips it in water. The portrait “slips” off the paper and into the sink. The residue of the portrait circles around the drain and finally the face disappears. Soon the process is reversed in the opposite sink as it fills with water and the dark residue of an image. The same hand dips a blank leaf of paper into the water to catch a portrait and returns the new image to the table. The endless gurgles from the six sinks filling and draining murmur throughout the museum. The process resembles table magic. While it is unclear what is happening and how, one thing is for certain: this is an enigmatic alchemical photographic process.

Oscar Muñoz: Sedimentaciones, an exhibition featuring an installation of the same name currently on view at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, immediately recalls the violence of Colombia, where Muñoz was born and still lives. The current conflict in Colombia is an ongoing civil war that stretches for more than half a century into the past. Though the installation speaks well to more universal feelings of death and memory, it seems to convey a piece of the Colombian conflict with special poignancy.

The cycle in Sedimentaciones is incessant and weighs heavy. The erased portraits are perpetually replaced with new ones, underscoring a nagging fear that the conflict may never actually come to an end. Further, the certainty that all the photographs will eventually be effaced set against the uncertainty of which one is next undoubtedly carries a terrible familiarity for communities set within such conflicts. It’s difficult to overlook the similarity between the activity in Sedimentaciones and the process of developing photographs; the gallery is like a busy darkroom. However, the distinction is critical: these aren’t bodies but decidedly photographs. Sedimentaciones is the documentation of people coming into and out of existence. There is a different sort of death here. It is the remembrance of people slipping in and away under the activity of a larger hand that hardly seems to notice them.

Oscar Muñoz: Sedimentaciones is on view at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum through March 7, 2015.

Danny Olda is a writer and editor based in Florida.

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