López Cuenca’s work can well be defined as an allegorical process, that is, an attempt to subvert the closed meaning of signs to the extent that they have been established as symbols. If the symbol is a closed, imprisoned structure subject to the tyranny of a single interpretation, allegory seeks to break that monopoly by fragmenting it, blurring it, and granting it new contracts of meaning according to the context in which it is expressed. It is therefore no accident that López Cuenca works primarily with materials that are already there, found objects that enable him to undermine established systems of meaning. In 1988 he produced the works Poetry and Poezie Proletarska. The first is an oil painting on canvas; the second is executed in enamel on glass and wood. The works opened up a new way of experimenting with reinterpretation of the coded signs of marketing and the world of public information by turning on it the ‘disordered, free gaze’ of the poet or artist. In Poezie Proletarska he uses the well-known Pepsi Cola logo, changing the name to Poezi (eproletarska) or ‘proletarian poetry’. In Poetry, he plays with public information panels in various languages, subverting the information that appears by inserting the word ‘poetry’ in the languages corresponding to the national flags. In that way the poetic event, normally associated with the private and the intimate, becomes a public staging. On this subject Mar Villaespesa has written: ‘Unlike the tradition of the found poem that seeks to incorporate such fragments into the poetic code, Rogelio López Cuenca seeks to make poetry part of the public code.’ In these works López Cuenca’s aim is to fully exploit the territory that lies between the coded neutral zones of the public information space and those sensitive areas that belong to artistic expression, which are always far from any coding. His goal is to achieve a hybridisation of those territories so that we can draw from the resulting tension an awareness that calls into question particular certainties. In both Poetry and Poezie Proletarska, López Cuenca subtly reveals a basic fact in his quest to involve the viewer: ‘the sources from which he draws his forms clearly fall outside the designation of art,’ as Dan Cameron puts it. The intersection of the public presentation (both institutional and commercial) of the image and the involvement of viewer— in terms of knowledge of the way the image is articulated—allows the artist to launch a debate focusing on so-called ‘elite art’ and on cultural productions based on experiments that have not yet been demarcated in the visual economy. López Cuenca’s works reflect his determination to socialise the discourse of art, drawing the viewer towards the domain of paradox, for it is there that institutional interest in the unification of meanings and the creation of a hierarchy of signified things is illuminated. If there is a defining feature that characterises the work of this unusual artist, it is the way he situates creative practice outside the traditional places and contexts of art, questioning the social function of art and artists as well as the location of creative activity in political hierarchies of interpretation and communication. López Cuenca’s work is thus closely related to a whole generation of European and American creators (from artists who intervene in public spaces, like Dennis Adams or Barbara Kruger, to counterculture designers) who want to clothe their production in a certain camouflage, in such a way as to generate confusion and blur ‘strong’ discourses. In a sense, it is matter of dressing up as a policeman as a strategy for slipping into the police station and arresting, though only for an instant, the web of meanings inside. It is also undoubtedly true that the reverse process occurs; that is, the introduction of elements quite alien to classic creative production as a way of questioning the role and importance of art. Such camouflage is often categorised as ‘confusion’ by the political classes. We need only recall the problems the artist had with the organisers of Expo 92 because of his interventions on local signposts. As Charles Bernstein has pointed out: ‘López Cuenca’s work has been repeatedly evicted from the public spaces for which it had been commissioned, and the objections raised to it often had nothing to do with the content, but rather with the apparent lack of it. For anyone who denies the official information space is undermining the authority of all authorised transmission.’ On the other hand, the use of referents like the trade mark of a famous multinational drinks company, information panels and traffic signs (as in Kommendes Paradise)—combined with the fact that his pieces often take the form of stickers or posters to be put up in the street—extends the discourse to a far wider circle of viewers, reaching beyond the narrow audience that traditionally found on professional or elite gallery circuits, though this does not necessarily translate into a populist discourse. According to Cameron, López Cuenca ‘stays far enough away from conventional beauty to avoid falling into the trap of delivering sensory gratification before he shakes us up with a new dawning of awareness.’ Lastly, one of the elements that runs through all López Cuenca’s work (and is particularly characteristic of the pieces under discussion here) is humour. Through verbal games, puns, turns of phrase and juxtapositions of meanings, his works always indicate one thing but at the same time point towards another, blurring any univocal meaning and making us smile or even laugh—a form of focused reflection and visual criticism.
Works that may interest you