Necessary displacements or a photographic dematerialisation of painting

Over the last few years Javier Riera’s (Avilés, Asturias, 1964) artistic project has swung from abstract painting with sensitive, lyrical roots to the landscape idea, carrying out interventions on natural landscapes through projects of geometrical shapes which alter its perception in an immaterial fashion, as if he was painting with light, without leaving any permanent marks. The result of these interventions are photographs which, although they may be considered documentation of actions, they actually comprise a process of shape analysis, with the rigorous sense of visual investigation.

This move from painting to landscape intervention, which has been thoroughly analysed by Andrés Barba, Aurora García and Oscar Alonso Molina1, shows more the character of synthesis than an evolution of pictorial work. The technical innovation of introducing projections in pictorial objectives and its formal application in a natural area from an idea of dematerialised intervention and with experiential and relational experiences comprises the framework for the project on a decisively post-pictorial plane.

His work in the 90’s centred on lyrical and gestural abstraction, and since the early 2000’s he has established a subtle approach to nature, through the creation of atmospheres and lights, sometimes of strange, sub-aquatic echoes, applying a view of the microscopic to suggest the essence of landscape, without actually fully depicting it. Between 2003 and 2008 his references to nature have led to his own landscaping style: he resorts to geometry to establish tension between the irregularity of the appearance of the natural elements and the regularity in their internal structures. This is how the crystalline formations appear, cellular or polymer structures as symbols of an essential, nuclear landscape, abstract, suggested as a symbol, the fruit of a viewpoint in which contemplation of the romantic origins blends with the scientific eye.

It is precisely in this series of paintings that it is possible to trace the formal references for some of the geometrical structures that are going to be projected on the landscape.

The step then, from painting to project and intervention in the landscape through geometrical shapes that alter our vision without leaving any trace on nature once the projector is switched off, opens painting up to another sphere of comprehension, affording it as a total experience: it summarises aspects related to the processes. With the idea of a performance that is set within elements closer to the legacy of Land Art reread through landscape painting, from a certain meditative melancholy of Romanticism and from a calculated application of new technologies to the procedures of a pictorial viewpoint.

This work is inserted within a theoretical and practical context, one that is eminently experimental after having passed through painting over recent years and which is now much closer to technological and technical renovation.

The character of art largely depends on the technical tools and instruments that the culture of each age provides. Art often adapts them, perfecting or “correcting” them so that they can be used for visual, artistic purposes. At the same time, these tools determine the modality of the viewpoint.

To a certain extent, Javier Riera’s project analyses some of the internal processes of the construction of pictorial images, deconstructing its materiality and using projection to do so, which, based on the mechanism of a dark camera, is one of the first auxiliary technical tools serving the pictorial tradition since the Renaissance and, which in the 20th century has transformed the artistic viewpoints and practices.

In his last essay “Las tres eras de la imagen”, Jose Luis Brea2 positions painting within what he defines as image / matter, which he differentiates from filming and digital images (e-image). In this sense it is well worth emphasising that the significance of the material character (object) of the painting is due to a process of mercantile distribution of unique, unrepeatable pieces of work and to the limitations of the means and tools that reproduce the depiction as a simulated object. The identification of the painting with its support (canvas, metal plate, or wood: painting; paper: drawing, or wall:fresco) on which the shapes or scenes or traced, lasted to the end of the 20th century and the more “the death of painting” was talked about, as a metaphor for a change in artistic perspective, hypotheses of a synesthetic nature that (rightly so) considered certain photography as a form of painting3.

Painting appears as a theoretical, perceptive background in the installation and begins to talk about expanded painting or a generic category of “painterly” for any productions that do not strictly meet the “material” and “specific” conditions of pigment on a support. In the end it is all about theoretical resources to define what came out and what comes out from the traditional categories that are unable to properly explain the changes and transformations that have taken place. All these indicators of “technical anomalies” also point out the changes that have taken place in perception, comprising a more open and polysemic experiential / relational spectrum. It is not therefore only evolution / adaptation / application of techniques that determines change, but rather a profound modification of the patterns of reading from sensitivity / perception.

The idea of expanded painting, i.e. a painting without paint, or going beyond the framework of traditional or conventional painting, also appropriates the capability of intervening in space, as site specific, sharing this possibility with sculpture.

Simultaneously, photography has become a versatile mechanism for producing images: it establishes a different condensation of what is pictorial and carries out a synthesis of the pictorial visual tradition in convergence with the visual photographic and filming tradition. Removed from the traditional role of witnessing that had been assigned to it right from its origins, and after systematic criticism of the concept of truth, photography appears as a very open field of experimentation, in which the resulting image is the product of previous construction, whose only purpose is to be photographed.

In Javier Riera’s work we find constructed photography, the product of an experiential process, and to some extent performative, that is back-fed on the notion of dematerialised painting, whose reading takes on substance within the framework of photography as a process (projection) and as a result (photographic support).

Projection thus becomes a hybrid instrument, featuring a peculiar pictorial density and an immaterial photographic character (as well), susceptible to acting and intervening in the landscape or in public space as an ephemeral or temporary site-specific.

This work by Javier Riera fits into a dynamic and fertile context of research into resources of spectacularity, affording singular pictorial contention, with a distinct meditative, contemplative mood on the landscape.

Projection, a tool frequently used in performances and theatre scenery between the 60’s and 70’s, began to be used as a device for spectacularity applied to public spaces in the 80’s, particularly as a derivative of photography, since the projected images were initially stills from slides. In general, projection has been frequently used in urban public areas and more specifically using buildings as screens.

Kryzstof Wodiczko was one of the first artists to use it, with the intention of redefining the concept of public art, expressing an acute political commitment. His projections questioned the official discourse being expressed in the city, by choosing images that produced significant friction and tension with the buildings that served as their screens, usually monuments and public or corporate buildings charged with symbolism.

In 1992 Soledad Sevilla made a projection in Vélez Blanco castle (Almeria) which for two consecutive nights recovered the splendour of the Renaissance courtyard sold to an antiquarian at the start of the 20th century, and which is currently exhibited in the New York Metropolitan Museum. The action begins at dusk and as night falls, the courtyard, with its archways, columns and corridors appear in its original site. This project, included in the activities of the international Expo 92 in Seville in the Andalusian provinces, put still images across as a singular form of poetics of the duration of time, allowing the appearance of memory as a spectre activated by light.

Javier Riera’s projections are linked to this type of poetics and temporal discourse, between duration and the instant, but his intentions are very different when he emphasises pictorial reading of nature through geometry, and he places himself away from architectural or monumental environments to take to the outdoors, to nature, in natural landscapes, reconsidering landscapes from an imaginary geometrical universe that refers to science as an analytical fiction.

Other artists, such as Daniel Canogar, have used projections of moving images on buildings or monuments, projecting simulations of people scaling walls and façades, sometimes in real time, as was true in a performance carried out by volunteers who crawled along the floor. Craig Walsh, on the other hand, in one of his interventions projected speaking faces on trees in public town parks (in the framework of theatrical or musical performances of theatre plays or musicals, as elements of accessory or ornamental spectacularity), maintaining many formal connections with the indoor work of Tony Oursler, although without the psychological charge and narrative included in the work by the latter. Nevertheless, in this work spectacularity was more an objective in itself than a tool of formal analysis, as is the case with Javier Riera.

In 2008 Javier Riera presented this project for the first time as a solo show at the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, including a wide selection of photographs of projections of geometrical shapes in landscapes.

Since then, his project has grown, fredifining its characteristics and defining his field of action. The masses of vegetation and the treetops play the role of the support or screen, thus permitting interaction between shapes and the “support”, blending plant textures with the structure of geometrical shapes. Moreover, light intervenes activating the visual experience by transforming the projected image: the cut-off point between the light of dusk and the darkness of the night establishes a temporary plot involving the appearance of the image and gradual clarity, as darkness falls.

This visual experience of time can be seen in the exhibition that the artist held in 2009 at Museo Barjola in Gijon, by means of a projection that documented the appearance and disappearance of geometrical shapes on a tree in the crepuscular light of dawn, making a visual spectacle through time by means of a gradual change in the light.

The project now being presented in Valencia, comprises another step, since it moves the experience of light and landscape to the city.

The relationship between the trees and the buildings in Alameda park creates new interference, also with the lights and movement of the city. The horizon, broken by the buildings is a background that makes the view of individualised detail of each intervention more exact.

When inserted in a public space, projections are found somewhere between painting and sculpture, in a more visible mode, if this is possible, in the landscape. The plane and the volume are not opposing poles, they appear as superimposed perceptive vibrations, as if they were integrated virtual parts of the same body: the geometrical structure builds both the planes and the volume.

On the other hand, the city and the urban environment, establish a different consideration for the trees than the one found in a natural landscape. Urban trees appear contrived, a gardened simulation of nature that tends towards an ornamental adornment, a embellishment of the architecture. The projects on the trees in the Alameda accentuate the fusion between geometry and vegetation. Converted in sculptural volume, they underline what is ornamental and establish an ephemeral relationship with the environment through the changes in light: they appear as strange talismans of nature in the night that remain hidden during the day.


  1. See: Aurora García, “Geometría y paisaje” – “Secuencias” exhibition catalogue, Barjola Museum Gijón 2010. Oscar Alonso Molina, “Acoplamientos contra natura” – leaflet for the exhibition “Está sucediendo”, Ana Serratosa, Valencia 2011-2012.
    Andrés Barba, “Javier Riera y el paisaje intervenido” – “Noche áurea” exhibition catalogue, MNCARS, Madrid 2008.
  2. José Luis Brea, Las tres eras de la imagen. Imagen-materia, film, e-image. Akal, Madrid 2010.
  3. An example of these “synesthesies” is how, in the 90’s, at numerous painting prizes, photographs were awarded, thus paving the way to prizes outside formal categories. Another very significant example was the Gold Lion for sculpture awarded to the photographs by Bernd & Hilla Becher at the Venice Biennial in 1991.

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