Sol y Sombra Gallery
Chuck Ramirez, Title TK (installation view), 2003
Sol y Sombra Gallery is located in an early Texas homestead just north of downtown San Antonio. The name “Sol y Sombra” translates into sun and shade. This well kept limestone structure is typical of the charming Victorians that dot the neighborhoods surrounding the inner city. The house itself is encircled by the random overgrowth of a wild front and side yard, with native plants forming a small forest.
Walking around the house, I come upon some freshly emptied cardboard boxes stacked haphazardly on the back steps. The boxes have various enigmatic labels on them that say “Waterfall Beauty Picture,” “Moveable Scenery Lighting” and “Beauty Motion Picture.” The words Made in China are also printed in large red letters on each box. Shortly, I find out what these mysterious boxes once contained.
I step into the gallery to find something quite different from the relaxed, organic exterior. Leaving the warm light of a fast setting sun outside, I am suddenly confronted with a cold and artificial grouping of illuminated, moving images of waterfalls that cover the facing wall. Their sterility is jolting. They are not unlike old Pearl Beer promotions, which boast of beverages brewed from sparkling Hill Country springs. However, these versions carry no commercial logos or signage. They were manufactured as imitation nature for American consumption. Their light is cool, and the constantly moving blues and whites of the waterfalls are somewhat hypnotic. But as a group, their collective artificial light and continuous motion is sinister. I suddenly have the same feeling I do in a funeral parlor or a doctor’s office—the feeling that death is somewhere nearby.
Here, in fact, are the “Waterfall Beauty Picture”, the “Moveable Scenery Lighting” and the “Beauty Motion Picture”—the contents of the mysterious boxes I discovered earlier on the back steps. The wall is covered floor to ceiling with these waterfalls from Hell. They move, simulating falling water. They artificially mimic the sound of natural waterfalls and even synthesize and excrete the smell of nature. The effect is a deceivingly seductive, “counterfeit” nature.
In the next room of the gallery are a chair, a lamp and a table. The large room is completely dark except for the artificial light of another waterfall. The lamp shade is also a waterfall, rendered in the same blue, green, white and acidic yellows. It wasn’t inviting me to stay and sit for a while, so I didn’t.
A print entitled Real is framed at the entry to the exhibit. It’s a reproduction of the Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word “real.” Ramirez likes to educate and warn through his surreal installations. We as consumers are constantly engaged in forfeiting the real and substantial in exchange for the unreal and superficial. No flies here. No sand burrs, no sweltering heat and no trips on rocky trail…just simulated waterfalls under artificial skies. This is true seduction, the consumer slowly giving up his right to reality. Here is the artificial, posing as the real.
When the counterfeit becomes more real to the viewer or consumer than the original, the original is lost. Ramirez understands the increased willingness of the American consumer to accept the artificial and counterfeit in lieu of what is real. This work serves as a warning that unchecked consumerism can be harmful to your reality.