The Clouds in an Unchanging Sky exhibit in Madrid’s Casa de America takes a peek at the city of Bogota from two different views: Spanish photographer Ricky Davila and Colombian poet Dufay Bustamante. Two views that melt into one solid lyrical breath based on an array of fifty four pictures tagged with poems that serve as footnotes. Dufay Bustamante, born in Pereira, sings to the city like a thrilled minstrel in the face of his country’s streets. His works –poetry linked to down-to-earth life– focuses on the urban topic. A work, he says, that consists of “rendering everything in poetry”. Bustamante is capable of looking far beyond or moving past the daily life and bringing up the beauty of it. He experiments with words by adding emotions, ideas and human problems to them just to make poetry break free from the black-and-white lethargy and become an interactive element with other arts. Together with his texts and sharing the same space, Ricky Davila’s assorted images, a Spanish photographer formed in New York and highly recognized for his World Press Photo Award-winning report entitled Heirs of Chernobyl made in Cuba. Both capture Bogota’s hidden breath, those concealed heartbeats only some people can hear and see, let alone what they portray for the grand public. Davila offers a very visual beauty, always in black and white, relying on a peculiar light treatment that generates an odd effect, just as it time were standing still. As a matter of fact, many photographs are untimed, perfectly hailing from the past century or from the recreation of an unreal time. The images remain calm, immersed in an alarming quietness. A proposal of appeasement that paradoxically pries uneasiness wide open. The recondite calls us with the characteristic voice this exposition is marked by: silence. Dufay Bustamante, Davila’s friend and Cicero in Colombia, shares this proposal of a different world that can’t be made out to a naked eye. It’s a reencounter with the city in a shared experience. The introspection and intimacy of his words hook up with trivial and remote objects. What binds them together? Metaphor. If each image is a beautiful question, then each verse leads us back to the image without giving us an answer. Those are verses that ask around. Poems that suggest and hint at, sometimes softly, some other times coarsely. Like in Inspiration. […] I tell you the seeds/ don’t grow in concrete […] and shooting stars stop in her chest and transparent precipitations grow in her womb. The visual shrouds us: soft drapes to the winds, bloodshed, a man looking out a wind, a couple of scared dogs… Or that magnificent panoramic view of Bogota from the air where the unchanging sky shows up all the time. The rest of it is just images from the ground, from the streets. A somewhat veiled reality sometimes by means of blurred trees or faces. The artists look at the street: corners, people, objects, buildings –sometimes in ruins– men and women whose lives we know nothing about and we just have a brief glimpse of their vital existences, a look on a face, a frozen pose. Those characters and their gestures are turned into verses. There’s a gripping silence. Dufay says that much in his poem At Noon: […] suddenly and for a few seconds nothing is heard/ it’s not the silence/ the echo sounds just like the voice… In this joint work by Davila and Bustamante, the materialness takes a new and surprising relieve: a phone booth, a flowerpot, a ladder or a bell jump onto the front stage and acquire unusual significance. It’s all still life, like urban still life, standing next to such images as a man by the phone, a sleeping beggar or a nightly street lit up by lamp poles. There’s an intense desire to rescue the skeleton of the city. Some of the pictures are out of focus by means of a special technical treatment used in an effort to hide reality and turn it into a mystery. Imma Turbau, Director General of the Casa de America, writes in the exhibition’s catalog: “Mystery and concretion are two words that seldom come together; yet they rub elbows with all their senses in this exposition’s pictures […] Beyond Bogota, inside Bogota, the mystery lies […] It offers us dozens of questions, sows the seeds of uncertainty. There’s not a single crack of deceitfulness throughout the entire exhibit […] It shares with us that tiny moment when reality was taken aback.” Or as the poet says: […] daily objects come up depressed/ but the shadow remains intact. Though the city of Bogota is the main topic, the leading character is man, that serious and restless man that walks or runs off with a purse under his arm, who gets amazed with his face of fear or irony, and also smiling. Man in his many sides. Unknown people who look at the camera and wonder, who were probably just passing by and by sheer chance were captured into the memory of the city. That apparently innocent man. There’s no explicit violence, yet next to the dazzling and stunning beauty there are gripping and hurting images. There are also a few hints of denunciation to, for instance, consumerism, as read in the magnificent poem entitled The Plastic Prison that goes along with the picture of a smiling old doll and a wardrobe full of clone heads. Bustamante’s verses are explicit and pack a resounding wallop: This harvest/ we turned it into science fiction/ that new wave of life forms/ and look how we ended: unrecognizable./ Metaphors in the special effects burn, freeze / become invisible, stretch/ reinvent themselves for love out of chaos/ clip their wings with razors/ in the offices of the skyscrapers/ they cry for you in the public toilets/ levitate in the plastic prison. Clouds in an Unchanging Sky doesn’t pause in beauty, the topic move far beyond the outreach of the works, treated with sobriety, delicacy and certain uneasiness: solitude that’s reflected in a man sitting in a café, or the exile in the image of a window with quasi-imperceptible lace curtains that seem to take flight. War is also one of those in-depth topics Dufay and Ricky depict. Thus, the war topic is addressed: next to some seemingly indifferent soldiers and a blood-stained street: […] Fighting is alright/ but we use the wrong weapons. This splendid combination by these two artists reveals an original portrait of Bogota. A presence that comes along with us far beyond the simple visit. The honesty of these metaphors speak volumes of a space that remains unchanged, but we could no doubt forecast that the clouds, in their endless array of images –some cutting like knives and all of them armed with meaningfulness– will always let us stare up at the limpid Colombian sky.
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