CIUDAD AUTOMÁTICA OF BUENOS AIRES
Automatic City is the insitu answer to the question Josie Watson asked herself when she travelled in 2008 to meet her paternal family living in Australia. Walking through the streets of the first-world city of Sydney and seeing the old port from which her father had sailed in his youth, almost at the same age, the young artist asked herself: Why Argentina? Both Sydney and Buenos Aires had been, by the 1970s, the great world promises. Thirty years later, Sydney had achieved those goals, but Argentina had failed to sustain its success over time.
Alexander Ian Sinclair Watson, a native of Rosario, with a Scottish father, had travelled the world for his father’s work. When he arrived with his family in Australia, he realised that in 20 or 30 years this city would not be the environment he was seeking for one of his life’s goals: a family. Without so many reasons and more on a hunch, at the age of 17 he boarded a ship carrying only a suitcase with two shirts, forty US dollars and a phone number in the mind of a childhood friend. With a bleak outlook, Alexander Ian returned to Argentina on the night of the Ezeiza massacre in 1974. He phoned his friend and was welcomed into the Gómez family for many years. He studied medicine at the UBA, in the midst of the dictatorship, never once doubting his goals. Years later he met Anita Lozada, with whom he would form the family he dreamed of.
In 2008, on a sunny morning in Sydney Harbour, looking at the reflection of the sky on one of the downtown skyscrapers, Josie saw for the first time the first sketch of Ciudad Automática. The final form of the sketch was generated by the antagonistic and almost catastrophic image of the city of Buenos Aires, on the plane back, flying over the Rio de la Plata. What was it about the city that really made her father choose this way? Ciudad Automática sprang from the experience of the same questions that sprang up inside him. Only years later, with the series already advanced, he was able to read in his own work the answers he had found along the way.
This city took the name “automatic” from the long years of work that the young artist dedicated to the subject of “automatism”. Understood as human action guided by the mind without “thinking”, automatism had been a technical exercise of mental liberation practised by the surrealists in literature. It is the father of the exquisite corpse among others, and sought to untie man from his mental protections to let the unconscious come to the surface. In the artist’s work, automatism, that flat, graphic, automatic line, is the reflection of a profound human action. Her approach to automatism is not a critical vision of the automated habits of humanity, but a profound observation of each one of them, understanding in this way of acting, an inevitable form of survival with an intrinsic character of personalised values. Thus finding a deep and inclusive meaning in every seemingly superficial gesture. “There is always a purpose in human action, and we need to be “pleased” by that which has the reason of purpose: that is why we can affirm that at the base of life, there is an aesthetic option” (P. 13. “Beauty, an urgent subject” Gabriel Dondo, Ediciones Lotgos).
The colour of this liberating line is not in vain that of Black. This colour, according to the physical theories of painting, is the set of all the pigments, which he interpreted as a latent force of life to be defragmented. It is not in vain that it is the predominant colour in oriental culture, which associates it with beauty, creative will, youth, vital energy and, above all, the trace of humanity.
The artist found the city as the propitious environment to express the possibilities of this human creative force that is capable of deciding, doing, forgiving and self-condemning. What could be more human than a place where each brick was placed on top of the next brick by a single human decision, until great buildings were generated?
Just as the black line carries an intrinsic meaning that is externalised in its stroke, the white line expresses, in its extreme duality, human spirituality. The theories of colour that guide the artist’s study mention white as a signifier of God, Emptiness, Silence, Space, Three-dimensionality. In her work, black and white are two symbiotically configured antagonists. Through white he affirms the belief and dependence on a Superior Being, that of each person’s understanding, who at times acts on human action, contributes, allows, deliberately absents himself, is not found, collaborates, etc. In this way the white line is observed in some places balancing, redirecting, highlighting, strengthening, covering, giving prominence to, sustaining, the black line. A divinity at the service of its most beautiful, most creative creation.
In this way, a factor typical of Josie Watson’s work, duality, is present. Although there are deep levels in which the creator of the series meditates on duality, the first feature of its presence is the dialogue between acting and meditating, both automated, both human, both material, both spiritual. His artistic manifesto is this chaotic and enchanted city from whose infinite dualities springs the material-spiritual existence of the central motor that regenerates it: Urban Life. The black and white lines can be seen communing, treading on each other, dialoguing, respecting each other, admiring each other, absenting each other, possessing each other, hearing each other, or committing suicide together.
Then, everything in between this existential struggle, the colour. Colour refers to the circumstances in which the vicissitudes of life occur, those we do not choose. Each corner or place represented was chosen after a special experience of the artist in that location. The colour adopts its nuances according to the experience in each space. Although they remain submerged under a slight desaturation typical of the smoke of the city, each shade reflects the unpredictability of each moment of life in the city. These colours are the fruit of the defragmentation of the two aforementioned forces.
These elements take on organic forms, with a liquid consistency. Life in this city proves to be chaotic in that it is organic, that is to say, with its own tragic coherence… like nature itself. The curved, oscillating forms express a vertiginous, unstoppable movement. Ciudad Automática is so human that it seems to fall or melt, evaporate or harden? Its towers become soft and the streets become lagoons that reflect the sky. Life seems to be so liquid, so fleeting… but strangely commemorated. This city does not speak of automatism and of acting ephemerally, but recalls in its appearance the transcendent, the essential, the sacredness of human action and existence.
A concept is born in this series, as an answer to one of the artist’s questions, which will accompany her throughout the development of this strange city: the phenomenon of chaos, a Latin American phenomenon. Latin America is characterised in comparison to other places in the world by its affective nature. It would seem that its inhabitants stand out for prioritising affection over success in their cultural values. Chaos ceases to be an impediment to order and becomes part of what is almost strictly necessary for this affective maturation. No matter what happens, what is lost or what is left behind, what is most valued is the personal-affective growth of the person in relation to his or her closest friends and enemies, that is, personal success.
This concept inspires the artist to represent two different types of characters in her city: those who, automated, fall into the maw of acting, unable to differentiate their interiority from the superficial, and those who are able to differentiate the realities, embodying the existential struggle between chaos and self-realisation. A tension is generated between both realities, another peculiar play of dualities. But this tension is not harmful. It is the “Punctum” or, a little further, it is the decision to live “awake”. Chaos becomes, for the enlightened, the indispensable tool for personalisation. Each of the people, “automated” or “realistic”, is a loved one of the artist, whose life and personal history embody answers to the questions that the first question unleashed in her life.
Today, located in our space and time, the artist tells us why for some people the façade of Buenos Aires is actually preferable to that of a clean and whole monument in a square in some first world country: “It’s for a simple reason… Buenos Aires is more real”. “The Latin American chaos in which we are immersed can be more fulfilling than the limitless comfort of other environments. Here we constantly have to decide and choose… freedom that is not enjoyed everywhere in the world today (from the persecutions in Africa, the wars in the Middle East or in Southern Europe, to the sterilising materialism of the first world). In this place, I wouldn’t know if I could say privileged, there is a gift: the Latin American chaos, as humanity in constant movement, too constant, already uncontrollable.
Life condenses in these streets until it saturates us with noise. People know, in this place, more about themselves than they think they do. The environment, even if it is already outside the limits of the “orderly”, responds to the natural, chaotic and at the same time ordered character of human nature and its reality”. Finally, tension. An effervescent characteristic of Josie Watson’s work. She seems to mould the compositions like plasticine and to maintain a taut balance from each side of the frames. As in her personal world, this factor cannot fail to take on its special unspoken prominence.