Fernando Llanos
Revolutionary Imaginary: The Death of Video Man

Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts,
University of Texas at El Paso

Caitlin Murray

Still photograph from the production of Fernando Llanos' The Death of Videoman; courtesy the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts, University of Texas at El Paso; photo by Christopher Mortenson

Still photograph from the production of Fernando Llanos' The Death of Videoman; courtesy the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts, University of Texas at El Paso; photo by Christopher Mortenson

Revolutionary Imaginary: The Death of Videoman serves as a retrospective and a wake for Videoman, the superheroic alter ego of Mexico City-based artist Fernando Llanos. On view at the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso, the show consists of drawings, multiple looped videos, a painting, a figurine and past exhibition ephemera. The objects present a nonlinear narrative of the life and death of Videoman, and several serve as plans or documents of Videoman’s primary activity: projecting video onto urban environments. 

 

Llanos, in the role of Videoman (2005–11), produced what he calls “videointerventions” and “urban acupuncture.” Documentation of this work in the show includes a video of Videoman projecting video of plane crashes onto the Porto Alegre Airport in Brazil as passengers arrive for the 2005 Mercosur Biennial. In another, we see him projecting anti-commercialism slogans on the walls of a shopping mall for a brief period of time before mall security forces him to leave. These video interjections are provocative and controversial in that they probe social mores and occasionally urge political critique.

As Videoman, Llanos engages the mythology of the superhero in a manner that is bombastic, larger than life and even cartoonish. But in satiric contrast to decidedly masculine and stoic American superheroes like Batman and Superman, Videoman is a playful figure. Curiously, in the drawings, figurine and ephemera depicting Videoman Llanos presents a persona that courts superhero mythology with bulging muscles and a confident, uplifted gaze. However, the videos reveal him to be something else, an ordinary man in geeky clothes and a harness outfitted with electronics. He doesn’t look tough or invincible; instead he travels on rollerblades while projecting slogans in the shopping mall. In another work, he projects video from the back of his sidekick, a pet Chihuahua (Videohuahua). Not stalwart but mischievous, Videoman and his work comes as a modest provocation, encouraging people to pay attention to the world around them rather than saving them from supervillains. With his sidekick and egregious mustache sculpted in the style of Emiliano Zapata, he also tends to parody Mexican stereotypes, even while embracing them.

Llanos’ most recent act as Videoman is the exhibition’s biggest surprise as well as its key element. Llanos decided that his show at the Rubin Center, one in a series the Center has organized to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, would also mark the end of Videoman. A work in two parts, shot on 16mm film and made in collaboration with filmmaker Gregorio Rocha during the first week of the Rubin show, The Death of Videoman is projected on a wall at the exhibition’s entrance. The film’s first part consists of stills and footage extracted from the videos that document Llanos’ earlier adventures. A corrido sung by Maria Lopez de Letona, subtitled in Spanish and English, accompanies the footage and narrates the life and death of Videoman.

The work’s second part is more shocking, and again presents Llanos’ playful side directly coinciding with immediate and serious concerns. A recording of Videoman as he travels on horseback through the cities of El Paso and Columbus, New Mexico, is interrupted by appropriated footage of men and women alone or in small groups, sometimes blindfolded and often surrounded by armed guards wearing ski masks. The footage depicts executions committed by drug cartels as retribution or intimidation of rivals and potential traitors. This half of the video, accompanied again by a corrido, ends with Videoman’s death as he is shot in the back by an angry white woman who claims, “I hate you wetbacks, and I hate your lousy videos.”

Llanos closes the video with the epitaph, “We are men not mice, if the country is hot, with its people we will save it.” Here, Llanos calls for real people, not superheroes. Significantly, the death of Videoman is an insistence on the collective instead of the singular and—perhaps surprisingly—reality and not fiction.

Caitlin Murray is Archivist of the Judd Foundation, an MA student in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin and co-curator for the Marfa Book Company & Gallery.

This exhibition will be on view through February 12, 2011.

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