Maintenance YardSeptember 25, 2014
Romer Young GallerySeptember 5 - October 11, 2014 Solo Show
Having lived in San Francisco and currently residing in San Juan, in his native Puerto Rico, Pablo Guardiola fuses the histories of the two locations in his exhibition Maintenance Yard. Both coastal areas have a legacy of European and American seafaring expansion, and Guardiola uses markers of this history to explore cultural and nautical imperialism. While many of Guardiola’s references may not be readily apparent, patient and curious viewers will find in his juxtapositions of imagery provocative questions about how we understand and organize meaning.
Guardiola’s photo collage Drake (2013) references Sir Francis Drake (1540–1596), a global explorer and exploiter who circumnavigated the globe for the British empire. The British honor Drake with a monument in Plymouth, U.K., and his legacy as the first European explorer in Northern California is memorialized in Marin County’s Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Drakes Bay. (Contrastingly, some Puerto Ricans denounce Drake for his leading role in the British attack on San Juan in 1595.) In Guardiola’s photograph of Drake’s U.K. monument, the figure stands heroically with one hand resting on the globe while a sword hangs from his hip. Behind this image, Guardiola has placed a photograph of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that depicts several gentlemen observing the city against a smoke-filled sky. With Drake’s monument perched on a pillar and the earthquake photographed from above, Guardiola creates a perspectival relationship between the discovery of the Bay Area and San Francisco’s momentary destruction.
In Untitled and Sharks 1 and 2 (all 2014), Guardiola considers the history of San Juan’s Castillo San Felipe del Morro fort (“El Morro”) and the ways that Spanish and American imperialism has altered Puerto Rico. Constructed by the Spanish between 1539 and 1589, El Morro is currently part of the U.S. National Park Service, as Puerto Rico is an American territory. During WWII, the U.S. reinforced the fort with modern armaments, which it subsequently removed, leaving rectangular voids. For Untitled (2014), Guardiola photographed one of these resulting voids. For Sharks 1 and 2, he filled the void with a Mexican and a British edition, respectively, of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws (1974). The images show that the publisher has altered the novel for foreign markets, changing the cover art and titling the Mexican edition Tiburón, or “shark” in Spanish. By inserting Jaws into a space that armaments once occupied, Guardiola suggests that American popular culture, which in this case is embedded with nautical and predatory themes, has replaced a more military-driven imperialism. Moreover, Guardiola explores the ways that those in control have repurposed and altered sites and objects to suit their audiences and purposes.
Even if a viewer doesn’t know the backstory for Guardiola’s references, his work’s visual and historical patterns evoke a mysterious labyrinth of potential meanings. By posing questions, Guardiola positions history as an active investigatory process rather than a passive reiteration of fact.
Pablo Guardiola: Maintenance Yard is on view at Romer Young Gallery, in San Francisco, through October 11, 2014.