Adrián Villar Rojas

My Dead Family

The image of a whale stranded on land always has a profoundly shocking effect: the last surviving giant produced by millions of years of evolution lies dying in terrible pain, utterly helpless. Parallels to our human civilization spring to mind, as we appear to have lost our sense of direction and are hurtling blindly towards climate catastrophe.

© Carla Barbero

Mi familia muerta – My dead family is the title of a whale sculpture created by the artist Adrián Villar Rojas in the spring of 2009 for the Biennial of the End of the World in the southern Argentinian city of Ushuaia. In the middle of the Bosque Yatana, a small forest of Araucanian beech trees and other native plants, lies a 28 metre long colossus. It is an enigmatic and unsettling sight. Its surface is pockmarked and covered in scar-like craters. The sculpture, which is made of wood, clay and other materials, took weeks of work by Villar Rojas and his five-member team to complete. As the artist explained to a local newspaper, work on the project was “almost a challenge to climate, to nature”. At the same time, he said that his approach was “very simple”, “like an extreme documentary film”.

Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city situated on the coast of Patagonia, is the perfect synonym for human existence in the midst of an environment that is at once overwhelmingly beautiful yet inhospitable. The title of the second biennial, whose curator was Alfons Hug, the German director of the Goethe-Institut in Rio de Janeiro, was no less striking: Intemperie – a word which one might translate as “at the mercy of the elements”. Even the most remote corners of the world are not immune to the signs of global climate change, and its effects are felt particularly painfully near to the polar regions.

Hardly any other animal symbolizes the grandeur yet fragility of the ocean fauna like the whale, the world’s largest living mammal: in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick the whale is portrayed as the archetypal antagonist of man, whose aim is to conquer nature. In more recent times, by contrast, this giant of the seas has been used as a symbol of the threat to nature in conservationists’ campaigns. From time immemorial, whales have occasionally become stranded on beaches, but have only become an endangered species since humans started plundering their natural habitats with scant regard for the consequences. According to scientific studies, one important factor why whales have increasingly been losing their orientation in recent decades is the underwater noise levels generated by ships, icebreakers and drill rigs.

At first glance, Rojas, who was born in the Argentinian city of Rosario in 1980, would not appear to fit the prototype of the aggressive artist: his influences lie in grunge music and comics, while his heroes both in art and reality tend to be broken figures, as he freely explains on his website. From his whale sculpture pours an elegiac poetry of failure, loss and decline. This is a pervasive impression to which the observer can react in one of two ways: with a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness, or with a burning desire to change course before it is too late.

Bettina Bremme
is a freelance journalist and author, and works for the Goethe-Institut Barcelona

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V. 2009


    © Adrián Villar Rojas
    Adrián Villar Rojas (*1980 in Rosario/Argentina) is a visual artist. From 1998 to 2002 he studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Rosario, and in 2005 held a scholarship at the Clínica de Artes Visuales in Buenos Aires, where he examined the phenomena of coincidence and the concurrence of events. That same year, Villar Rojas was awarded a prize at the Bienal Nacional de Arte de Bahía Blanca/Argentina. His individual exhibitions include Incendio (Buenos Aires 2004) and Un mar (Buenos Aires 2005), and in 2009 Mi familia muerta was on show at the 2nd Biennial of the End of the World (Ushuaia/Argentina). Adrián Villar Rojas lives in Buenos Aires.