Rodrigo Valenzuela’s ‘Future Ruins’ reminds us of the ’13th Man’

The "13th man" is presented in "El Sisifo." (Image from the Frye Art Museum)
The “13th Man” is presented in Rodrigo Valenzuela’s “El Sisifo.” (Image from the Frye Art Museum)

With the “12th Man” still in recovery, it’s easy to forget the struggles of the “13th Man” — an often faceless and nameless laborer that Roger Valenzuela gives voice to in his newest exhibit at the Frye Art Museum, “Future Ruins.”

“It’s [more about] building connections for the viewer … and building the relationship between the working-class and the viewer,” says Valenzuela, a nationally renowned Seattle-based artist from Chile who won  a 2013 Stranger Genius Award for visual arts.

The exhibit, which opened on Superbowl Sunday, is on view through April 26 and the Frye’s first dedicated solo show. Valenzuela’s large-scale and multimedia installations unpack an impressive amount of themes — labor, gender, race, detention and displacement. These truths are best understood through the artist’s trademark territory between fiction and reality. (Valenzuela casts real people as actors in short documentary-like, films).

Rodrigo Valenzuela's "Maria TV." (Image from the Frye Art Museum)
Rodrigo Valenzuela’s “Maria TV.” (Image from the Frye Art Museum)

Walking into the Frye’s black-walled exhibition room, a swirl of sonic and visual messages confront viewers of “El Sisifo,” the installation where they are first introduced to the “13th Man.” A southern male voice, presumably a football coach, lectures about strategic investment in an athlete’s potential. This juxtaposes with projections of a deserted stadium post-game against a gray sky, a black trash bag blowing in the wind. Coming into eventual view are the silent janitors — an all-black cast — picking up after the crowds on one wall, while the opposite-wall projection shows a man who appears to be drawing a janitor’s “play” on a chalk board.

The crescendo and decrescendo of minor chords, a sad horn and spoken word overlap with the scratchy chalk board planning, creating a creeping cacophony that sticks with me as I move through the rest of the exhibit.

“Hedonic Reversal” is nothing short of breathtaking — as much in its vision and scope as in its delivery. The elaborately constructed large-scale installation is a body with scaffolding for a skeleton, and “ruins” paintings for skin as they hang onto the structures. Around these are meticulously painted walls with grander ruins. Valenzuela’s comment on construction workers, combined with the reconstruction of gentrification, places us in a future without humans. This is as eery as it is fantastical.

A few more of Valenzuela’s works, like “Maria TV” and “Diamond Box” films, complete “Future Ruins,” highlighting the voices of Latina domestic workers and capturing the fears and visceral psychology of immigrants in detention, respectively.

Valenzuela’s personal story is connected to all of this, as it is “essentially one of coming from a blue collar family, a family of workers,” he says. “Future Ruins” demonstrates his intimate knowledge of the “13th Man” in a way that gives the invisible a voice, a face, a story, a reason for fighting — even greater than that of the “12th Man.”

Catch Rodrigo Valenzuela at a few upcoming Frye Art Museum events, where he is scheduled to speak: the Feb. 28 panel “Moving Towards Future Ruin?,” the March 1 talk, “Future Ruins: Rodrigo Valenzuela,” and the April 26 lecture “Discourse in New Media.”

“Future Ruins” will be on view at the Frye through April 26. Admission is free. 

For more details on the talks, please visit the museum’s “lectures” page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.