Fictional Archeology at the MAC

"Fictional Archeology", an exhibit of eight paintings by the American artist Jake Scharbach, recently opened at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Quinta Normal.

 Contingency Management by Jake Scharbach.
Contingency Management by Jake Scharbach.

But Santiago is a long way from this artist’s small town roots in Washington State. Born in 1977, Scharbach grew up with an almost storybook, north western frontier childhood, complete with a cabin hand-built by his father, clothes sewn by his mother, and kerosene lanterns to light the house at night (they had no electricity).

“In a lot of ways it was kind of an idyllic childhood,” he reflects. The close community that existed in his town shaped Scharbach’s views on true human connection—a connection, he says, that modern-day society is lacking. After dropping out of high school at the age of fifteen and attending art school, he left his small hometown behind for a series of experiences that transformed him into the artist he is today.

Whether it was living in an anarchist squat in Barcelona, bicycling through Europe and Italy on trips that had him sleeping on the side of the road at night, or moving to the relentless city of New York, Scharbach reached several conclusions that influence his current artwork—most importantly, the idea that through a series of factors such as violence and industrialization, civilization is in decline.

 Photo courtesy of Jake Scharbach
Photo courtesy of Jake Scharbach

After seeing reoccurring instances of ferocity and force in the classical paintings and sculptures of many Italian cathedrals, Scharbach was inspired to explore the trend of violence that ran throughout western civilization, leading to the series of diptychs on display in "Fictional Archeology."

Each diptych is comprised of a classical image placed directly alongside an image from modern-day society, such as a car engine or a protester. Scharbach first intended these works to be a study in beauty versus horror, but quickly noticed that the images captured something else entirely. “I came to realize that the images were not a yin and a yang,” he says. “They were the beginning and the end—the continuation of a single entity of a single culture.”

“Like the ancient Romans, society is in its decadent period,” he explains. Citing the exhaustion of natural resources and the inability of world leaders to address the obvious and immediate crisis of global warming, Scharbach found himself questioning how mankind arrived to this point. “In my work, I’m trying to synthesize a solution to that question by putting things side by side,” he says.

 Adaptive Expectations by Jake Scharbach.
Adaptive Expectations by Jake Scharbach.

The diptych format also enables Scharbach to approach global questions in a simple and clear format, as opposed to the deconstruction and analysis techniques of contemporary art, which the artist fears could obscure the larger meaning of a piece.

Despite making art for many years, this is Scharbach’s first showing in a museum—in fact, the artist had put away his paintings a year earlier. This opportunity only came about after the Chilean artist and curator Manuela Viera Gallo, a friend of Scharbach's, submitted his works to several venues here in Santiago without his knowing. She is now the curator of his exhibit at the MAC.

While happy to have the chance to exhibit his works, the artist seems relatively unaffected. Whether he gains success from "Fictional Archeology" or not, Scharbach will always continue with his work—it is part of who he is. “I don’t know why I make art,” he admits. “I think it’s just a compulsion.”

"Fictional Archeology"
May 28-July 31
MAC Quinta Normal
Metro Quinta Normal
www.mac.uchile.cl/exhibiciones/expo/fiction-archeology

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