Brooklyn-based Chilean artist Ivan Navarro illuminates history using lights and mirrors

Ivan Navaro builds chairs that aren’t meant to sit on and doors that you can’t get through. Armed with fluorescent and neon lights and mirrors, he hijacks everyday objects or architectural installations like ladders, tables, gates, fences and water towers and imbues them with metaphorical meanings criticizing systems of power, authority and oversight. Made up of multicolored fluorescent tubes, his “Red and Blue Electric Chair” – a remake of Gerrit Rietveld’s iconic Red and Blue Chair from 1918 – is his version of the electric chair. Drawing inspiration from the history of art and design and his personal life, the artist who originally intended himself as a scenographer refers to capital punishment in the United States, the use of electricity by the Chilean junta as an instrument of torture and frequent power cuts as a means of isolating and controlling citizens.

Navarro was just one year old when General Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile in 1973 in a coup that overthrew democratically elected President Salvador Allende. Growing up in Santiago under the shadow of a bloody two-decade military dictatorship that left thousands dead or missing, he lived in constant fear of being ‘disappeared’, following his father’s imprisonment. , political cartoonist, graphic designer and socialist. dean of the university as head of the propaganda department. “It was always that feeling of not knowing,” he recalls. “My parents always thought that a catastrophic situation could happen. There were people shooting outside and constant power cuts and water cuts, so you had to store water and keep a radio batteries, candles and flashlights. Basically, you couldn’t trust anyone. You had to be very careful, mind your own business, go to work or school, and then go home. 9pm every day there was a curfew to keep people under control so very similar to what we are experiencing now It was much more violent but the routine was very similar.

However, Navarro does not attempt to make overt sociopolitical statements through his art. It puts more emphasis on a spirit of contradiction: new pieces in opposition to old pieces. “What’s important is that each work is almost a critique of the previous work I’ve done,” he notes. “That’s how I continue to create. I’m not looking for political issues to make a new play. I think once you do something very well with a material, the meanings will come. This logic also gives you a lot of freedom because you simply say, “Today I am making a chair, and what is the opposite of a chair?”. Upon her move to New York in 1997, the connections between her art and history became more evident. This is also where his work began to engage with minimalism, which manifests itself in terms of form, but reversed its apolitical nature. “When I came to the States I got into lights, then I saw the work of Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, and my work started to connect to them because that was my new context, but also to understand my own journey”, he explains. . “What I’ve done is relate certain political or social ideas to the very classic materials of minimalism, something that minimalism has always lacked in content because it’s more visual.”

The ingenuity of Navarro’s luminous works lies in their simple, essential and perfectly mastered aesthetics which seduce the viewer, inviting him to surrender to an immersive experience to lead his own reflection. Wanting the audience to ask questions, his works can be read on many levels, offering endless meanings. “What’s interesting about being an artist is that you find things that no one had thought of before,” he says. “You’re like a magician – you suddenly show people that it’s possible to make art out of something they’ve never thought of. The biggest challenge is getting them to think differently. The key moment is when they don’t understand how the work is done. It challenges their perception as they start to imagine things and their creativity starts to flow. Then you realize that your art triggers something in people’s minds.

A recent retrospective on the last 20 years of Navarro’s career at the Paris cultural center, A hundred and four, presented creations whose original function is subverted and replaced by sculptures that force people to contemplate what they are looking at and to consider the possible new meanings for these objects once they are transformed into art. Next is a public installation for the future Grand Paris Express Villejuif Institut Gustave-Roussy metro station designed by French architect Dominique Perrault, scheduled to open in 2026. Called “Cadran Solaire (sundial)”, the Navarro’s work is made up of 300 light boxes, each bearing the name of a star visible from the earth to the naked eye in different languages. He remarks, “It’s an interesting history of the language as it shows languages ​​from ancient to recent times all over the world, because whenever a new star is found it is usually given a name related to the location. geography of its discovery.

Last year, Navarro’s exhibition “Planetarium” at Galerie Templon in Paris marked the first time he used paint. By 2020, he had reverted to more artisanal production due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, while collecting images of nebulae. Considered the world capital of astronomy, Chile contains the majority of the world’s infrastructure, mainly observatories and telescopes, because the skies in the north of the country are very clear, so many enthusiasts visit it to commune with the cosmos. . Combining light boxes and painting, Navarro recreated celestial phenomena like a planetarium representing the universe through images made by man. “It’s part of the same idea of ​​doing something that I’ve never done,” he reveals. “I was making minimalist light boxes using words, and everything had to be super clean. I’ve always had a problem with scratches on the glass completely destroying the piece, but then I thought to myself why don’t I take advantage of it? So I started experimenting with scratching mirrors, painting and coloring, then I realized that they looked like nebulae.

Grinding thousands of dots on a mirror with a handheld Dremel rotary tool to allow the light from the LEDs to penetrate, Navarro then adds color to them one by one, applying fluid stained glass paint to a glass plate on the floor , does the same with another piece of glass, then combines them by a skilful play of mirrors and one-way mirrors to give the illusion of powerful stellar explosions in infinite space. The results are three-dimensional paintings that seem to have captured fragments of space, from cosmic landscapes to constellations and eclipses. “For Abstract Expressionists, it’s almost as if painting is a representation of body movement, but not for me,” he says. “I try to do something different from the history of abstract painting. It’s not expressionist; it’s just a bunch of mixed colors. The idea is to collapse the gesture. And here it is again, contradicting everything that came before.