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Terra Incógnita

Between the opaque veracity of scientific data and scenographic simulation, Monica Lopez constructs a fiction of the southern continent. In this “expedition,” the memories of numerous expeditions that have created imaginaries about this territory converge, where the idea of a strange and inhospitable region persists, a white desert, a landscape of ice and mystery. The artist plays with the meaning of these images beyond what they signify in our society and avoids the urgency of ecological alarms that predict a gloomy future for Antarctic ecosystems in the immediate term, in order to approach this place from the sensitive dimension of empathy that demands a slower pace than that of social and environmental urgencies.

Mónica explores the representations of the geography of the South Pole created for a theme park in Orlando in the work Snow in the Dry Valleys. The photographs form a visual essay that can be read as a travel log. She uses the persuasive effects of the landscape to aestheticize the poverty of realism in these scenarios. Under her lens, the illusion dissipates: the constructivist framework of a fictitious, domesticated Antarctica leads us to think about the interests and motivations that sustain the spectacle. This site offers the possibility of exploring glaciers, caves, and frozen lagoons with the guarantee of safety, control, and comfort of an artificial environment. Interestingly, in this way, one of the promises of modernity to dominate the untamed forces of nature is fulfilled. The simulation allows idealizing the extreme conditions of the Earth’s coldest continent. The work eloquently converses with that romantic gaze, taking the sublime to the absurd.

In the video installation The Triumph of Delirium, the artist recreates in the museum space the comfort that characterizes theme parks, placing us in the front row to observe images of Antarctica that make us complicit in the environmental and symbolic predation systematically exerted upon it. This proposal functions through contrast, rupture, and fragmentation as aesthetic procedures. The terrible and enigmatic beauty of polar geology, the sea, and endemic fauna unfolds in these representations as intensely as the virulence of the devastation caused by the technologies and infrastructures that seek to modernize natural ecosystems. What could previously be interpreted as the triumph of human will in the conquest of this land, as demonstrated by the documentary records of the early expeditions used in this work, is now revealed as a civilizing and speciesist violence. In a way, this abuse is also present in the idea of Antarctica as an object of entertainment in museums and theme parks around the world. The proposal combines images of very different experiences that manifest similar desires for possession and enjoyment of the southern territory.

Scientific discourses about the planet’s southern extreme constitute an unavoidable reference in this art exhibition. Recognizing their claim to truth and the use of this scientific veracity in environmental and cultural extractivism, Monica decides to suspend the apparent rigor of biology, geography, and anthropology, disciplines that have produced prevailing imaginaries about Antarctica, in order to seek other forms of authenticity in the representation of this place. A part of this research emerges in the work Atlas non Solaris, the heart of this exhibition. Here, we can immerse ourselves in the artist’s mentality, in the connections of meaning that she finds or creates between different references, and in her ability to forge her own bond with the southern region. Through drawing, Monica caresses the traces of this “terra incognita” that pulsate in photographic archives, illustrations, maps, and documents whose meanings are put into function of a new way of imagining this territory. A gesture of similar delicacy and empathy led her to create The Ancestor´s tale, a poetic image of an anticipated disappearance that, instead of condemning and lamenting, we could reverse with the means that our civilization.

Ana Rosa Valdez