The Victory Atlas series (from left to right):
The World 1, 2012
The Heavens 1, 2013
The World 3, 2013
The World Time Zones, Cables and Wireless Stations, 2013
The Heavens 2, 2012
Elena Damiani belongs to a recent generation of artists from Peru who have earned international recognition for their ability to deal with historical issues. In the case of Damiani, even though she was educated in Europe and her work is presented in an easily recognizable global style, the reference to her country of origin may seem less apparent than in works by other artists of her generation. In Damiani’s work, the Peruvian landscape is heavily charged with myths and actual history, the symbolic and the material. Those landscapes that were intensively explored during colonization, especially in scientific explorations during the nineteenth century, are recognized as the work of the ancient cultures of indigenous peoples, who produced some of the world’s most prominent architectonic landmarks, including the buildings of Machu Picchu and the Nazca lines. On the other hand, Peru was also (and in some ways still is) a theater of the cruelties of colonization.
Beyond these common associations, however, Peru has been a country characterized in modern times by the exploration of its mineral resources. This is where Damiani’s research into a so-called “aesthetic geology” intertwines the present with the prehistoric. Her most recent body of work, the Rude Rocks series, combines her interest in what artist Robert Smithson called “the earth as a museum,” with her sculptural studies of geographical strata. Rock formations, of course, are microcosms of the earth’s uncertain origins. When they are put together with data that records the earth’s history, however, rocks are highly sensitive to all kinds of speculation, both scientific and otherwise. Damiani’s new body of work, as she explains it, is like Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Sand, a story that has neither beginning nor end. Instead, it is open to every kind of intervention and alteration, even though it always remains the same.
In this way, Rude Rocks is like an entropic nightmare: everything is destined to remain as it is. That may explain why, instead of continuing to create site-specific interventions into the ancient landscapes, Damiani has decided to engage the hybridity between modern design and prehistoric readings. As a result, her new series allows rationality to be reflected in its own distorted mirror. Robert Smithson once proposed rereading the work of the French painter Paul Cezanne, suggesting that the viewer begin an inverted journey from the canvas to the studio, and back to the landscape, which was the artist’s subject. Likewise, Damiani seems to invite modernity to look back and to consider its conflicted ideological and geological roots.