Juan Antonio Olivares

Fermi Paradox II, 2018

Cassis madagascariensis shell, Nautilus pompilius shells, Syrinx aruanus shell, Melo aethiopica shell, nylon string, metal hardware, micro-speakers, micro-SD cards, 5-channel audio-file (9:12 loop)

Dimensions Variable

Unique


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Artwork
Description

Juan Antonio Olivares’ practice is concerned with humanity’s ceaseless, and one might say doomed, search to expand our own existence or to at least hold onto the lives we do have. His desolate works often evoke love, loss and loneliness in a way that is painfully affective upon the viewer.

In this new installation, Olivares delves deeper into our fascination with the universe as a forum in which to search for existential meaning. Extending his work on the Fermi Paradox from his 2017 installation of the same name, which featured a single shell complaining of its loneliness and inability to find other sources of intelligent life, Olivares now presents the viewer with five shells, all speaking in chorus.

Fermi Paradox II is animated by the tension that exists between the human will to live and the crushing nothingness of our existence. Olivares weaves together fictional narratives with soul ballads, enigmatic speeches and a lecture by the late Stephen Hawking to build a bleak image of humanity’s fate to suffer in the face of oblivion.

In one particularly evocative piece of narration, a voice takes on the high and detached tone of spiritual texts to regale the listener with an altered creation myth. In this pseudo-Genesis, man awakens naked under the cosmos, stirred by the ‘great song about the brotherhood of suffering between everything alive’. In the background, Nina Simone’s baleful voice sings on. The viewer is caught in this recognition that there lies a space between kinship and loneliness in which we are all trapped, turning ourselves inside out in the search for companionship in the long journey to the grave.

Olivares suggests that it is our capacity to wonder that makes us suffer, makes us torture ourselves with these mental gymnastics. Our intellectual confidence gives rise to existential doubt and depressive states, a paradox that is as confusing and beguiling as the one that gives this installation its name, and allows Olivares to explore the complexities of human nature.

About
the artist

Juan Antonio Olivares (b. 1988, Bayamón, Puerto Rico) studied between New York and Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. He has exhibited in the USA and Europe, including Jan Mot in Brussels, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, which this summer held his first major institutional solo show. The artist lives and works in New York.

Olivares’ practice is wide-ranging, encompassing video, sound installation, drawing and performance. A feature all his works share, however, is the artist’s meticulously detailed and technically refined approach, which imbues his practice with a great depth and poignancy.

The American artist has taken the contemporary condition as his subject, unpacking  issues and themes that hit home for the millennial generation, such as office-life and routine; displacement and the modern immigrant experience; the bittersweet memories of childhood; and universal loneliness. His works use advanced digital technologies to merge together these socially and historically-specific concerns with larger existential questions. Weaving fictional, and occasionally autobiographical, narratives, Olivares’ works produce surreal yet touching scenarios, which move the viewer emotionally towards empathy, but also into contemplation of the intersection of these philosophical questions and everyday life.

Moléculas, a 2017 film which formed the centre of the artist’s Whitney show in Spring 2018, is a perfect illustration of this quotidian existentialism. Rendered in hyper-realistic 3D animation, a one-armed teddy bear tells the painful story of his past - his move to New York city and the loss of his mother. Caught in an ambiguous space resembling a psychoanalyst’s office, one senses that the teddy bear is a stand in for the artist, or someone close to the artist, who recounts his own memories in this abstracted form. Olivares takes the highly personal and in a deft sleight of hand transforms it into something universal: the symbol of everyone’s lost childhood, a love-worn toy, faces and questions the way in which memories live on in often acutely painful forms.

At the centre of Juan Antonio Olivares’ works is empathy for the human condition. Whatever shape his art takes this principle is its driving force: training the viewer to see past the different circumstances and stories that clothe each individual life, and enter a space of mutual communication where common vulnerabilities are exposed.


At the centre of Juan Antonio Olivares’ works is empathy for the human condition. Whatever shape his art takes this principle is its driving force: training the viewer to see past the different circumstances and stories that clothe each individual life, and enter a space of mutual communication where common vulnerabilities are exposed.


Juan Antonio Olivares
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition

November 1st, 2018 until
January 6th, 2019
Curated by ARTUNER