I met Aldo Chaparro

Mario Bellatin

I met Aldo Chaparro at a small cabinet at New York City’s MoMA that time I didn’t actually meet him in person he was being presented by a curator who held a strange device – which he assured  was his own invention – where you could appreciate the image of the artist, Aldo Chaparro, speaking about certain aspects of his work. The curator who was demonstrating appeared to be somebody magnificent to me. I said earlier he was carrying a unique didactic device. It was an artifact Pre-wired to a screen, through which some kind of film about reality was showing. At first it shows a truly unsettling image.


Chaparro  gave the impression of having just been awakened from  his grave, and his head hit his head, at the root of the weather, as if it had been eaten by birds.  I was surprised, I knew that Aldo Chaparro enjoyed impeccable health, and that at that very moment he was, surely, at the workshop he had set up in the neighborhood Condesa in Mexico City.


His blurry image, with such a strange head, had to be about a certain plastic action he had prepared for that occasion. But the biggest surprise occurred when some book sleeves appeared on the screen. The covers of Damas Chinas, Salón de Belleza and El jardín de la señora Murakami.


In that moment it began to be heard, through the device, the voice of Aldo Chaparro. Having detected a signal, from the origins of his craft, a kind of constant restlessness to create without creating. In other words, to emphasize the voids, the omissions, before the presence. Maybe that’s why the artist that made those first works – those which were possible to be seen in that instance – looked many times to build them without the need of utilizing images, or words that followed them, in the traditional sense, otherwise as a simple resource to execute, in a slightly empty manner, the mechanism of imposture. Because of that motive, he said on repeated occasions, since childhood, he copied countless figures and the letters of glass jars of food or from medicines he would find around his home. Also artworks or texts from other authors, especially from popular music. He dedicated himself for some time to the work of transcribing, an exercise that many times separates the word from its original function.


Aldo Chaparro followed through with his discourse. He said that for some time he had been taking note, almost with terror, of the prophetic character of the artworks he had been creating. He had seen himself involved, fifteen or twenty year after making them, in similar situations in which would appear in his projects. He recalled, for example, when the curatorial montage was realized, in a small museum located in a population of fishermen to the south of the continent, of Salón de Belleza. From the start he decided not to intervene in the process of the mise-en-scène. Supposedly they recommended him to believe in the discourse of the curator with the goal that they would create their own result. During the vernissage, in the middle of the show, Chaparro fell into a state of some kind of ecstasy. He hadn’t gone to the rehearsals. He didn’t know how he would find his work arranged. Everything was a surprise. It was the first time in his life in which he could actually read himself. The artistic discourse had been completely respected, but the structure was radically modified. For this reason Aldo Chaparro didn’t count within that moment the rhetoric he used to build the artwork. The structure capable of saving him from the onslaught that was going to cause him to appreciate what was revealed there in its true dimension. From the beginning of the night he took it as a state of almost hypnosis while he felt, literally, the phrases entering directly through his ears. What kind of astonishment had been capable of elaborating such similar writing?, he said.




However, in the apparent abject universe that was represented on stage, Aldo Chaparro believed to have discovered something fundamental: the existence of the true reality. What was happening in that space appeared with a luminosity and transcendence which everyday life was lacking. He warned, in that instant, that maybe one of the reasons that he explored art was the construction of this parallel world, one which should belong eternally to accomplish a full existence.


Given the impression it seemed that while more subtly sordid the depicted, the better. Aldo Chaparro noticed that the mechanism consisted of locating a terrible universe ahead, as a type of protection against the horror that the same world has been establishing. The existence of that resource becomes evident in the central idea of the work La escuela del dolor humano by Sechuán, where he tried to recreate a form of folk art whose goal was to take advantage of the pain in societies. When the show Salón de Belleza 

ended, and following this kind of prophetic character, which was certain, that the art, the proposals, they brought with them, running backstage and having a hold on his own character. From the consumer of the phrases that were exposed to the public. He took it with him afterwards to his house. Aldo Chaparro started to live together with himself. The process was slow and somewhat embarrassing. It took him some weeks for the other self to shed the depicted figure and revert to being himself again. Before leaving, the character inoculated in the body of Chaparro a physical discomfort, visual diseases, capable of completely warping the basic notions of reality, which appears in many of his pieces. Aldo Chaparro was infected, by his own work, by an incurable ailment. Of a discomfort that, what’s more, seemed not to be extinguished, well there, through the apparatus idealized by the impeccable curator who had spoken in the saloncito Duchamp in MOMA, the crowd could follow by watching and listening to him talk about the things that he continued doing after this death, as it was apparently trying to show itself through the strange apparatus.

The mechanism through which the work in salón de belleza went, from the initial creative process up until its representation in Chaparro’s blood, was almost perfect. According to his own phrases, the prophecy, present in every image, frozen by an author must come true. Ever since he discovered, ever more frequently, that reality was only a pale reflection of the pieces. What was most impressive to Aldo Chaparro about a determined type of creation, those built from intuition and using one’s own resources, was that once the structural frontieres are removed, creating systems which allow an understanding of the world as machinery. It became clear that there was no limit whatsoever. That was the point where possibilities really opened up, and there was no other option than to take shelter under a trascendental order. Chaparro himself states that this instance might brush the mystical experience in which, after a series of deprivations and fights against individual freedom, one reaches for the infinite.

Aldo Chaparro wasn’t sure whether having organized a Congress of double artists was a way to continue building his practice. Some of those who were present in the small Duchamp hall seemed to be surprised to hear these words. Many had no knowledge of Chaparro having carried out such a Congress. In spite of the initial doubts, many attendees remembered they did in fact know from a while back that Aldo researched possible relationships between the work and the author. Perhaps to corroborate that idea, which was being discussed among the MOMA audience that evening, Chaparro stated through the screen that he came from a tradition where the artist’s presence and their circumstances had been given too much importance. He was aware that his search to disentangle the relationship between work and author was present in most of the projects he had plotted. In order to deeply explore said relationships, he accepted the proposal to abandon his craft as creator to become curator for an artistic show. He was invited after listening to a conference he gave abroad where he mentioned the importance of the other arts, even more than the one he practiced, during his formative years as a creator. However, once he accepted the invitation, he realized he couldn’t be anything else. Not a critic nor a curator, not to mention an exhibition planner. His interest was only to carry out artistic constructions. He intended to follow through with his promise and make the exhibition happen without ceasing to conceive projects at any moment. He began to elaborate the congress the same way as any of his ideas. He invoked the figure of the curator as author and the show as the work of art. He thought of the possibility of organizing a congress of artists where the artists wouldn’t be present.  An event which was also a plastic action.

He would transfer only the creators’ ideas to this place to verify what could happen with the images and texts once they were free from their authors. At first he undertook a strenuous photographic work ––it is hard to imagine Aldo, who abhors cameras, doing such a labour–– , but through the screen, the audience in the Duchamp hall saw him operate a digital camera, which he activated without looking through the camera’s peephole, so as to portray the six months each creator spent with their double: people chosen by chance who were supposed to memorize texts they would later recite in front of a live audience in an art hall. The idea caused bewilderment. At first the organizers hesitated, even though Aldo Chaparro himself was proposing it. It seemed they didn’t want to risk too much. However, after a series of arguments, the project was accepted with no further objection.

The day of the opening there were complaints from several art history teachers who had traveled from their universities just to be with their subject matters. To Aldo, those complaints were fundamental because the absence of the bodies was one of his themes of interest. Especially after death. The professors’ laments were proof of what others actually expect from artworks. If this was about ideas or forms, as expected, those were present right there. Aldo Chaparro had accomplished to spread what was really important in that moment to the real authors around that room. The reactions revealed that, to many, what was important were other kinds of exchanges and not the work itself.

After the Congress, Aldo began to pose a series of actions. Through the apparatus designed by the curator from New York, Aldo stated that the most interesting one was the one that had to do with the montage and staging of Perros Héroes (Hero Dogs). The story began when Chaparro replied to an ad on the paper  announcing the sale of some sort of shepherd puppies. Back then his dog, who had been loyal to him for several years they spent together, had just died of old age. He was searching for a substitute animal. He had rehearsed, with no success, with several specimens. A Greyhound who crashed into the walls of his house due to lack of appropriate space for running. Some lebrels who littered the furniture and the beds with no restraint. A few podencos who would follow no instruction, and a primitive Basenji, the cat-dog who despaired him via indifference. Then someone recommended him to try this shepherd dog. These were the only kind of dog capable of passing a certain canine skill test. He was also informed this was due to them being direct descendents from wolves. Hence his quick reply to the ad. Over the phone, he asked a few questions about the relationship between the dogs and their ancestors.  About if their abilities could be explained by a more developed intelligence than the rest of their species. After listening to him, they told him to wait a few moments. Someone else was going to answer his questions. Minutes later, Aldo Chaparro heard for the first time the voice of an imboile man, who from the first words spoken to him tried to demonstrate how much he, as much as the dogs under his care, possessed a superior intelligence.

An hour later, Aldo Chaparro had found himself present in the room of the inmobile man – a paralyzed man that, only from sounds that he emitted from his throat, trained dogs to kill -, watchful of the spectacle that he had set up for guests. With the help of a nurse trainer he would take turns with the dogs. Chaparro began to see how the animals repeated conducts that the paralyzed man  had anticipated moments before. Before the departure of Aldo Chaparro a miscalculation occurred. One of the animals bit Chaparro and tore apart the pants he had on. The paralyzed man blamed the trainer. Aldo Chaparro didn’t go back to that house until half a year later. In that time he realized a long piece about the experience that he lived that day. When he handed i5 to the indicated people to make it known to the public, he thought of going back to the place of the facts. He wanted to see how much truth was present in what was created. He warned, with amazement, that in his creation appeared some details in which he thought he didn’t notice for the first visit. He came back for this reason a week later. On that occasion with a photography camera – the same one which he used for the Congress of doubles – and, as was the usual, he took photos randomly. He decided to include them afterwards in the work and pass them off as the true installations. That is to say, simulate that the environments had been built by him, not that he had taken them from reality.

Once he had finished everything, Aldo Chaparro wanted to present a type of concept about an idea of that paralyzed man and his fighting dogs. To accomplish it he got in touch with several directors, so that each one would publicly announce that they would put the work on the big stage. The idea began to be planted that the idea of Perros heroés would be presented simultaneously in different places. Chaparro included himself in the proposal, announcing that he himself would direct one of the adaptations. He made an agreement with the owner of an arts complex so that they would announce the following on the marquee: Aldo Chaparro, director. They placed themselves in the ads for the daily newspapers. Until, suddenly, something happened that occurs to lots of works: the inauguration date passed without anyone noticing. All of the premieres, agreeing to take place on the same day, were ignored. A renowned scholar of these types of actions – who Chaparro had convinced to participate in the idea –  published in a magazine his comments about the different artworks. In the magazine it’s mentioned that the staging had looked to highlight the characteristic principle of the character: the immobility, for which Aldo Chaparro  and the distinct groups had used trained dogs to remain motionless on pedestals, threatening the public. Those animals, while the text was being developed, were replaced by stuffed specimens, by dogs made out of wood or the space was left empty. The changes were realized principally with variations of light.

When the pieces appeared in the gallery, he was also willing to collaborate in the false montages, and announced that during the presentation he would carry out a kind of act of reparation for those who had missed the inauguration of the works. Aldo Chaparro found a temple from the 16th century as a stage for the presentation. He then arranged the participants for the play that he had supposedly directed – set designer, sound engineer, lighting director – who would reconstruct the montage by means of words. By the time they would finish their interventions, Chaparro had prepared a surprise – during the time that the reconstruction lasted he had been kept hidden, underneath the altar in which the presentation took place, a sheepdog trained to stay in place. With a command from Aldo Chaparro the dog jumped. It stayed there, on the surface of the altar, ecstatic, while the fictional text began. A voice-over emerged, coming down from the choir, who was repeating fragments of the piece. Phrases, words, chopped up ideas, complete ideas. Around twenty minutes transcurred of absolute tension, with the dog placed over the altar of the church looking directly at the public. The assistants stayed still in their seats. They feared that aggressive beast that was dominating them. The scene, a group of people observing an altar presided by a dog, to Aldo Chaparro, was more of an effective action than to have presented the actual artwork.

In a certain moment, when Chaparro would find himself sitting in the first row watching along with the rest of the audience, he felt an impulse to stand up and ask them what they were actually doing there, in the church stands, admiring the motionless dog. The animal continued. Illuminated by an overhead light. The surroundings had grown dark. The temple stayed unaltered. Except, for the dog’s ear, which made slight movements when the volume grew louder as the text was repeated.

Aldo Chaparro was convinced about the difference between both montages. The ones from Salón de belleza and Perros héroes. He even saw that they were opposite exercises. A lot of people believed that the work about the dogs had emerged from the imagination, while the one from Salón de belleza was taken from reality. Some even thought that Chaparro, before making his last artwork, had visited a room turned into a place to die, which apparently existed. Asimilar effect was produced  at all the different sites where the action was executed. In every one of these places, the existence of a similar space was known, almost as a myth. The team who carried out the montage found one on the outskirts of town. The crew rehearsed the play within its premises. To Aldo, the work of art was more effective at its initial intention in that present moment than when it was presented to the public; to reference the Plague. Now, Salón de belleza can take on the subject of the Plague from a Bliblical perspective.

Some years after his fake death ––represented by the images on the device designed by the curator from New York, once that action had begun to fade into oblivion–– Aldo Chaparro started to miss belonging to life, such which had probably been devoured by birds. That is what he said through the screen: that his life had been devoured by birds. Even to the curator, the appearance of Chaparro’s body was a mystery, presented in this manner,  on the screen. He was found wearing his usual suit, immaculate despite the voracity of the birds. More than one artist could create a hypothesis about this. A writer would construct the story that would make coherent the discoverement of the body, irreproducible and without the possibility of anonymity, appearing practically out of nowhere. Aldo Chaparro with his head pecked open apart. However, if the curator apparatus from MOMA wasn’t lying, he would be eager to get a hold of normality again. On the screen, Chapparo appeared to not know what to do by presenting himself in that way. The feeling of strangeness stopped him from doing activities which he was used to doing. Looking at the ocean, roaming on his sailboat, playing with his daughters or imagining the skeletons of his pieces like “I will survive” or “Where is my brain”. Even though he felt that wasn’t the only thing bothering him. At certain moments, he noticed that he was missing a type of artificiality able to fill the void in his body.  Something that would clear up the distorision he had caused to present himself against that public. He didn’t want to go to the world of orthopedics. The idea of ​​having a body built for him that tried to replace the loss was too unpleasant for him.

In that environment, generally, instead of highlighting the artificial he decided to hide it. He also didn’t want to appeal to the universe of religion. To him it was unthinkable to walk with a body that came from a Hindu god. Some time ago, he had done a type of experiment which resulted in finding the key to resolve the problem. During that time he had made a video where he showed himself completely warped, inclusively in a more radical way than the one he was showing in the museum. When he got to the determined city – it seemed to me that he showed the images in a space called Espinzazo – he felt the rejection of the audience that went to see it. He then went with a man who dedicated himself to the fabrication of masks, who happened to prepare a body full of fancy stones, which made the rest assume a type of happy amazement  before it’s presence. Since then, Aldo Chaparro was clear that the next body he would present had to necessarily come from the universe of plastic arts. He resorted to one of the most important creators, after some previous encounters, the expert in distorting the images of the people, who thought of a series of possible bodies for Chaparro. Pieces which at the same time possessed a practical function and counting with a determined aesthetic.

The proposal that Aldo Chaparro had solicited from the artist, perhaps it had to do with making the accident, from the distortion of the images – as if they were cardboard mirrors – a communitary happening. That characteristic which stopped belonging o

nly to him to change itself into a practice which involved the rest. Chaparro imagined an action that made the distortion of the bodies a kind of public garden. An anonymous space where every single person had the responsibility of maintaining the space in perfect conditions. In the body of Aldo Chaparro the accident was presented as a sort of casuality. There wasn’t, in the eyes of Chaparro, a single person that appeared to have a body surface while their body  was under the effects of the distorsion.

After Aldo Chaparro mentioned the affair a silence was created in the small Duchamp hall, located close to the emergency exit door of the museum. The discussions between the assistentes ceased completely. The curator placed himself to the side of the screen and told the present audience that he was going to turn off the apparatus for a few minutes. In the meanwhile he would talk about a certain piece that Chaparro had just released. It was titled “I am the author of this work” where, by means of a series of complicated procedures, he recounted visually and narratively a series of dreams and premonitions. He put into practice an artistic action originating from the interior soul, like how Aldo Chaparro enjoyed naming a certain unconscious exercise that he used to execute. He also inquired, again, the prophetic character of his works. Two of his obsessions.

Without transition in between, the didactic apparatus began to work again. The screen grew bright and a close up of a face could be seen, according to the curator, it was Aldo Chaparro’s face. No one understood if it was a mask of a body, or of an orthopedic corpulence, or of the image given to him from another world, one with the manipulation capable of distorting everything. Chaparro spoke once more. He confessed to have copied, in a deliberate manner, works from other artists. Not as an exercise of transcribing, an activity he used to do all the time during his childhood, but instead making them pass off as his own. He clarified that he began when, after his decision to present himself in a distorted manner, he fell victim to a severe depression, which he tried to control without using prescription drugs. He suffered anguish and panic attacks, even a certain state of despair. He reached out for help from a specialized orthodox psychoanalyst. He went through several months of great suffering, which ceased once he resorted to a psychiatrist who prescribed him with the appropriate medicine to pull him out of such a state. During his martyrdom, the only activity he could take on was the making of  an artwork which he named La Jornada de la Mona y el Paciente. At first it was a series of writings in the form of letters he wrote to the orthodox analyst so he would understand his situation.

He did so because at the daily therapies he attended, said analyst had settled the rigor of silence as the axis of the cure. In those days, Chaparro received an invitation  to participate in a homage to Samuel Beckett, the performer. In spite of the crisis he was going through, Aldo Chaparro accepted. He didn’t seem to be aware of the consequences this could bring him. Then he completely forgot about it. A week before his appearance, he received the program with his name printed on it.

He panicked even worse. One of the characteristics of his condition was that he had a strangely altered sense of responsibility. He feared having committed to something he couldn’t carry out. The only thing he had was the text he had written to portray his crisis. He then executed a highly elemental action upon which he hadn’t reflected much. Under the title, La Jornada de la Mona y el Paciente, he wrote Samuel Becketts’ name, as if the Irish performer was the author of the letters for the analyst. He gave it to a specialist in certain matters of the arts, asking if he was in condition to set up an emergency montage of such material. Funny enough, the guilt that came with this action produced some kind of recovery of his emotional balance.

But that action was not the only one of this kind Aldo Chaparro did. One other time he transformed Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis into a brand new text. He used only the words the original author had used.

Once he got rid of the main anecdote, –transformation– what was left was the testimony of someone who can’t fall asleep and experiences disturbances that make him feel like an insect as a result of his state. Chaparro modified someone else’s work to create a new one to go with the images that a certain photographer had requested from him in order to make a book together. When the chosen photos arrived, Aldo Chaparro felt appreciation towards a series of images portraying empty houses. Other than this trace, he couldn’t find any other particular characteristic. The only thing he could appreciate about them was the muteness of the portrayed objects. It seemed to him, he was never sure why, that those were perfect houses for insomniacs.

The audience at the museum saw, through the screen, the pictures the photographer had sent to Aldo. The curator, establishing a sort of dialogue with the screen he had invented,  stated that, more than mute, the houses seemed lonely.When he heard this, Chaparro stopped talking. Only at that moment did all present there know that there was a possibility of interlocution between the hall and the images on screen.

The takes where Aldo Chaparro appeared weren’t prerecorded. To our own shame, we understood that he had heard all the comments made in the room. Aldo Chaparro seemed to have gone into thinking upon the curator’s interpretation. His face, which constantly deformed and went back to normal, gave him away. Once he spoke again, he said he didn’t necessarily find solitude within those houses. In order to refer to true solitude, he stated, one had to submit to Luis Buñuel’s column (one of his favourite film makers) which he had abandoned out of the blue after filming Simón del Desierto.

Triggered by the theme of solitude in said column, Aldo Chaparro remembered the time he was summoned to a congress on film and mysticism. The invitation caused wonder. He was sure he lacked the artistic and intellectual profile required for the event. As in every subject he was passionate about, he had nothing in particular to express.

Both concerning matters of film and matters of mysticism, he would have preferred to listen to what others had to say. However, the only possible way to attend this event was through a presentation. He remembered someone had told him that Buñuel’s column was abandoned in the desert. Aldo Chaparro then took on the task to get a recent picture of said column. He wasn’t fit to go personally to its location, but he requested over and over again that someone get him a picture. Finally he got a perfect reproduction, taken by a professional. It showed only the cusp, and at the side of the platform, one could appreciate a series of biblical symbols. At one extreme of the image, almost by chance, there was a light post. Chaparro framed it,  after looking at it for a few days, as if it was a religious representation. He also got a series of stamps made suggesting the column which he gave out to his neighbours. The next day he went back to the houses he had visited, bringing his camera. He photographed the people who lived in the surroundings, asking them to pose showing the stamps Aldo had given them.

Aldo Chaparro tried to make believe that his neighbours were members of a brotherhood created around the lost column. The text that went with the pictures mentioned a group of people who decided to run away from the city hoping to improve their living conditions. They had found Buñuel’s column from the movie on their pilgrimage. These people decided to take this amazing fact as a sign to settle around it. Soon they began to attribute healing virtues to the monument.

At some point, almost not looking at us, the curator told us that, in spite of the things Aldo was stating through the screen, Aldo Chaparro had never known what it meant to create without creating. The explanations he could offer seemed to have been scripted only as an excuse to stay alive, or better yet, offering a normal aspect, despite the circumstances. He also said Aldo’s body was never pecked apart by the birds.

The didactic device designed by the curator of the small museum hall never existed. Neither did the reunion of a group of people at MOMA, awaiting the arrival of a collection of distorted images of Aldo Chaparro. Everyone  knows Chaparro’s figure as an artist is always situated beyond any contraption. Mute and absent. Like the one held by the dog he once held upon an altar.

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