Rodrigo Valenzuela’s debut institutional exhibition in New York, New Works for a Post Worker’s World, at Brooklyn’s BRIC House through December 23, is part political science, part political theater, and part science fiction. Valenzuela grew up in Chile under Augusto Pinochet; he moved to the U.S. and worked as a day laborer while developing art practices that interrogated the borders between building materials and the builder, like Sense of Place (2018), an installation of photographs that projected hypothetical blueprints for various structures onto deserts landscapes, turning succulents into citizens, or perhaps colonizing them. New Works, and the related, roughly concurrent exhibition at Asya Geisberg Gallery, Afterwork, which closed October 22, creates another kind of occupying force.
A triptych of his most recent photographs holds court in the BRIC gallery’s center. In 2022’s Weapon #29, Weapon #30, and Weapon #31, figures mobilize into skeletal forms of knives and gears. Refuse and factory rejects gather into armature before your very eyes. They seem to trudge, or storm, off the scaffolding of two-by-fours meant to contain them, stilled just long enough to be photographed and then silkscreened with acrylic onto used time cards inked with words like STRIKE and UNION. You can almost hear them clank as they assemble and crowd out other (human) laborers.
More gather around the gallery’s corners, along with a solemn video work and a handful of suspended sculptures that aggregate dark tools like a more cynical Louise Nevelson sculpture. Surrounding the sculptures are photographs evincing, or promising, destruction: landscapes suggest hellish factory floors stocked with pipes and hooks that beckon towards unknown horror. Chains hold the hooks fast. In these 2021 archival inject prints, fog drifts, a tool of bureaucratic obfuscation, a byproduct of overheated creation, or the last ghostly gasp of eliminated employee morale. Hard to see exactly; impossible to miss.
The surrealist assemblages of the Brothers Quay come to mind, but Valenzuela seems far more concerned with material reality than fantasy. His photographs drain Fritz Lang’s Metropolis of its glamor, deny the succor of the sheer beauty in Louise Bourgeois’s monsters. Are the figures seeking revenge for unseen horror? Or are they preparing to inflict it? Who are these new captains of industry? They are made of the master’s tools and they are ready to dismantle the house.