Between Ferocity and Tenderness.

A Review of the Works by María Silvia Corcuera Terán.

Mercedes Mac Donnell

By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll round the infinite…1

Marcel Proust, The Past Recaptured, III.

1 In the mid-1990s, when Argentina still dwelt in the illusion of the First World, María Silvia exhibited a series of toys made from wooden cutouts set on wheels, because your childhood, according to the artist, is something you carry with you throughout your entire life.

The toys beckoned the viewer gently, prodding him towards the nostalgic evocation of that time past and lost. In this sense, they were explicit in the extreme. However, María Silva was saying something far more complex from the very center of these cut-out figures, assembled, polished and harmoniously defined in bright blues and blood-reds. From the actual paint itself that seemed to spread fanlike in veins over the red hearts, and even from the climate of naivety and tenderness enveloping this series of toys, her voice could be heard, speaking almost in a whisper, like children do when they talk to their dolls and share their fears, joys or games with them. Games which are always forms of beginning to discover the world, because the child, when he plays, creates his own reality even as he discovers it… and artists do the same, free in the boundless solitude of their workshops.

2 It is not overstepping the limits to state that it was precisely with these toys that María Silvia began her journey as a visual artist, as shown not only by the different characteristics of the pieces she began to create, but also because she felt at that point both a rupture and a new beginning.

With this series, she abandoned the style she was working on at the time, using watercolors and mixed techniques on paper as her sole support. She launched into a formal exploration of the most appropriate plastic resources for her creativity, understood as an adventure into the unknown, an adventure to free the imagination and explore all the possibilities offered by reality.

One of the critics who have been following her career since the 1980s, Rafael Squirru, synthesized the moment of this rupture in the following words when he reviewed the exhibition of toys for the daily newspaper La Nación: “María Silvia is naturally of an enquiring mind. The high standard she achieved with her watercolors was not enough to keep her there. Hers is a spirit of adventure and movement.”

3 Creating toys, plunging into her own past to seek a dialogue with the viewer on the basis of the universal experience of childhood; trying to transmit an emotion so that this emotion may spark an idea, a memory or a smile; seeking to generate experience from emotion, and knowledge from experience. To think of Latin America, to “project” Latin America from a different perspective in order to comprehend its contradictions and intensities; to think of life as a trip around the world that links chance with destiny...

All of this was something that María Silvia was unable to express with watercolors, even when compared with North American artists of the stature of Georgia O’Keefe or Marie Laurencin. Thus, a need to transmit more than mere aesthetic pleasure, pure contemplation and pure beauty of form arose within her: in 1994, with the presentation of her toys, she changed register completely.

From then on, she unfurled the creative power of that sophisticated introspective solipsism in which her watercolors used to swim, rich in luminous transparencies and references to water or plants, taking a different path. Her gaze was reunited with her past, creating a new vision which, although it never left off being emphatically subjective, also showed itself to be completely social, as it is immersed in the reality of the world. María Silvia began to create, playing, like children do: the concentrated and happy owners of a world that only exists because they were the ones who imagined it.

4 The works of this artist are never innocent. They reject the unidimensional. Neither are the toys simple, for behind and amongst them there is something more. Sometimes this is made manifest, at other times their meaning is hidden and secret, but her works always have something to say about the reality that surrounds us.

Even when the subject seems to be intensely personal, or appears hermetic and abstract, each piece hides its creator’s desire to express what is omitted or left unsaid; what needs to be repeated and what needs to be said once and for all.

Focused on the search for other frameworks for expression, her work underwent a great transformation during those years. She began to explore the use of a new set of themes and new ways of saying things. A phase which preceded the toys was the box-tableaux, inspired by the popular tableaux that one can still find today in small villages in Latin America: these works are also part of that process of looking back into the past, turning one’s gaze to the start of history, when religion was intertwined with magic, invocation with protection, the eternal with the temporal, just as portrayed in the tableaux. That which is there for all to see but which at the same time eclipses itself.

These first ventures, ever more distant from the transparent veils and subtleties of her watercolors, steered the artist onto a personal path of creative effervescence and discovery which she is still following today.

As her work developed, in tandem with the unfolding of the country’s history (the 1990s with their stream of privatizations and blatant political corruption, the shock of 2001 and its social and economic crisis, tragedies such as the fire at the Cromañón nightclub which killed 194 people…), her keen desire to express herself and make statements through her work persisted to the point where it became her own personal trademark.

5 It is no platitude to say that artists create new worlds. During her career, María Silvia has developed a uniquely personal visual language made up of a repertoire of themes and motifs which are peculiar to her work, revealing her special gaze, her particular vision of the world. This is a language reflected in a highly singular output with a forceful and expressive character.

Borges said that “Art must be like a mirror which reflects your own face.” María Silvia has picked up the gauntlet flung by these words which demand that the artist work responsibly, honestly and, above all, with the aim of achieving clarity so that everyone may understand, so that the work can communicate effectively with the viewer.

Visions, confessions, witness accounts, meaningful landscapes, conceptualizations, shared intuitions, perplexities, dramas or moments of smooth, fulfilling joy… each and every one of María Silvia’s works has a message and never leaves the viewer on the outside looking in. The artist always builds a bridge, offering the possibility of dialogue, from the work’s title, colors and forms, to the elements used to communicate a theme or a situation.

There is an aspect of the friendliness inherent in this relationship between the artist, the work and the viewer which deserves mention. It is part of a movement that is clearly educational in its purpose, seeking to bring viewers closer to a world (the “art world”) which they may not necessarily recognize to be their own, making the frontiers that separate them from life more flexible and challenging them to experience art as a game, and the game of art as an intrinsic part of life itself.

Her works also address with great seriousness the task of recovering and restoring the social function of art, emphasizing the role of the artist and his or her responsibility for what he or she says.

6 Restoring art to its elevated social function is undoubtedly a legacy that María Silvia has adopted as her own, as much as from personal conviction as from her love for many artists from both the River Plate and Argentina.

This is a legacy inherited from the artistic wealth and the extraordinary intellectual strength that figures such as Ricardo Rojas, Quinquela Martín, Torres García, Elena Izcué, Ángel Guido and Martín Malharro built through their ideas and works. They were on a quest for a personal style of art which would be able to express the sensitivities of Latin America through their vision of what was autochthonous based on the Constructivist precept that “no culture must repeat itself, but must continue.”

Just like many of them (remember the charming schoolbooks made by Elena Izcué using reformulated pre-Columbian motifs, or Ricardo Rojas’ projects for school-aged children), María Silvia was concerned with ensuring her art could be transmitted to children, linking not only children to art but also artists to playing, as in her subsequent Juegos de artistas (Artists’ games), designed by María Silvia for the Children’s Museum in the Abasto shopping center in Buenos Aires.

This educational project was by no means her only one: María Silvia believed, like so many figures from the world of culture, that bringing art together with children, artists, creativity as playing, and all viewers in general, within a universe of playfulness, is a tradition that must be actively pursued and maintained.

Her work is thus related to the new form of music developed by the Latin American artists for whom she has so much respect, including also Batlle Planas, Berni, Del Prete, Xul Solar, Siqueiros or Aizenberg. She has dedicated hours of study and work to them and has on many occasions paid them homage in her output.

7 María Silvia has always held that the artist is responsible for what he or she says and that thus, his or her ethical commitment is undeniable. This is a key premise in her work, together with a second one which may be summed up in the statement “art is a game.”

There are many contemporary artists who define their work inspired by a strong relationship with playing. For them, the act of creation is identified with, and reflected in, games because both these acts require the exercise of creative freedom as a sine qua non. If they did not play with their materials, if they could not, like children, investigate each detail and even break the toy if necessary to carry on playing; if they were not able to be truly free to create… these artists that so deeply identify art with playing and art with life would close down their workshops and dedicate themselves to something else.

María Silvia is one of those artists. Playing is one of the fundamental pillars of her work, for it is at play, in that surreal space-time dimension, that artist and child meet and recognize each other. They both discover that they have a task to fulfill: the creation of a new world, to make what does not exist into something real. To see what is not there, making the invisible visible and exploring with deliberation the possibilities of reality and its resources in order to create new parallel realities.

8 During the last years of the 20th century, a key feature of María Silvia’s work was her vision of social reality. It is still a dominant theme, to the point where it can be seen as one of the main forces driving her expressive output, as this trait is present throughout her style. At the same time, there is a move to embrace the aesthetic experience without making any concessions, setting her sights by the compass of creativity and playing.

This view of social reality, which is at the same time a reflection of her subjectivity even as it mirrors the world and life itself, lies along one axis: ferocity/tenderness.

In retrospect, looking back at her career and the way her work has developed to take a specific direction and meaning, it becomes obvious that María Silvia—at least since her Juguetes (Toys) series and in particular Peinetones (Hair combs)—has always used a specific perception of social reality as a conceptual element instrumental to the composition of her pieces. A political interpretation of her work is thus unavoidable.

It is precisely on the basis of this point of view, which alludes so unequivocally to the political, that the artist, both in the way the work is composed and in the final meaning it acquires, creates an orientation “towards ferocity,” as something counter to the resource which points “towards tenderness.”

Her work is always the result of the attitude to reality of an artist who feels responsible for what he or she says, how it is said, and why. This conviction is the reason why the artist who is committed to his or her times construes their output in tune with the building of collective memory, for they “turn things that happen into events, something that must be preserved in the public gaze not as something that happened in the past but rather as an occurrence suspended in time,” according to Beatriz Sarlo.

9 Tenderness can be infinite. So can ferocity. With her hearts mounted on wheels, the trip around the world and the paper kites, María Silvia placed squarely in front of the viewer an archetypical view of infancy symbolized by playing, as if it were a call to one’s origins, to the world as it used to be and always was.

How much was there of politics in those toys which challenged the viewer from their innocent appearance, seeking personal emotion at the same time as they emphasized the nobility of the toy as a handcrafted object, in times of Chinese imports and advanced technologies? How surreal were those toys, so reminiscent of popular culture, in terms of their links with Latin America, in the decade of the 1990s in Argentina?

Through ferocity, or tenderness, María Silvia has developed a cadre of work with its own internal process of development and a narrative thread running through it diagonally which acts as a sounding board for the events and occurrences in Argentina and the world, even when these are seen as descriptive from an intimate perspective.

10 Peinetones: voluntad de desmesura (Hair combs. Indulging in excess) was the title of the exhibition given by María Silvia in Buenos Aires in 1997. The artist uses this object to express in artistic terms a sociological point of view born of her fondness for all things popular and the feminine universe on the one hand, and on the other, her exploration and development of a rigorous historical awareness that leads to an analysis of national and global social reality from the perspective of art.

One cannot avoid falling under the spell of the hair comb when one learns the details of its history, like María Silvia, who invested so much time and effort in the process. As the exhibition catalog by historian Félix Luna points out, hair combs of up to one meter across were all the rage in the 1830s, thanks to the vision of a Spaniard who had recently settled on these shores, a man called, curiously enough, Manuel Masculino. Whether he shrewdly divined the heights to which porteño vanity could aspire, or whether he simply saw the porteños as innate show-offs, he nonetheless achieved great renown with his hair combs, made to measure for each customer with all kinds of ornate decorations. These are vividly brought to life in the lithograph cartoons sketched by the chronicler and illustrator Hipólito Bacle during those years. Although this fad did not last long, it was enough for regulations to be approved concerning the passage of the ladies of fashion in the streets; a police decree gave right of way to any lady sporting a hair comb on the right hand side of the street.

Just as with the popular toy (where the loss of infancy is hidden at the same time as its recovery is celebrated), the hair comb theme also has two sides to it in the eye of the artist, and this is clear in the allusions made in the title of the exhibition. The smile that this exaggerated fashion style prompts has a bitter, probably ironic, edge to it, which reminds us of our idiosyncrasies as Argentines, our overwhelming penchant for excess and grand gestures, our bred-in-the-bone desire to break rules for the sake of it… perhaps to prove to ourselves that we are different to other Latin American nations.

María Silvia’s portrayal of the porteño hair comb leaps over historical anecdote, telling us directly about our present and our identity as Argentines. It tells us about who we want to be, who we are, and what we try to be; without realizing how ridiculous we end up looking because we believe we are “condemned to success,” as the Justicialista (Peronist) party leader Eduardo Duhalde said during his presidency in the uncertain months of 2002.

11 In this exhibition there were four hair combs that were very different to the rest. Large, completely white, silent, indifferent to the irony or humor prevalent in the smaller series, these four hair combs referred to a harsher and more somber version of the reality of Argentine identity. Each one of these bore the outline of a woman’s face, bandaged, veiled, hidden. Who were these figures? What were they saying?

The viewer had no answers. Or rather, they were there if he or she gave themselves up to an absorbed contemplation of these images of suffering, immersed in a dream of death, a dream of pain from which they will never wake. These four images represent a key stage in her life as an artist, but while they are extremely intimate, they also reveal a stifling social situation, which by the mid-1990s could be seen in the surface of everyday life, alien from it all but pulsating, like a serpent still in its egg.

12 With the hair combs, María Silvia began to define the outline of the story she wanted to tell, to choose exactly the right resources, to explore possibilities and meanings, at times with humor, at others with profound drama. But she also took her first steps in an area outside the work she was doing in her studio, naturally aligned with the ethics of an artist who stands behind all of her work and who begins her task by “demystifying art.” She rids it of its museum-staid rigor, making it flexible, adaptable, and accessible, trying to insert it into more popular mass market contexts in order to reach a new audience.

During this exhibition, which also included original hair combs from the period and historical documentation, María Silvia and Elsi Jankelevich passed round some leaflets for children which adapted the historical background to the hair comb for a younger audience, seeking primarily to entertain as well as spark their interest. Thus, the artist continued her educational project, one of the more obscure forces underpinning her work.

Her desire to bring art closer to children as well as narrow the gap between artists and children, and art and people in general, would be more than satisfactorily fulfilled in Juegos de artistas, mentioned earlier. This project, with its far-reaching repercussions and which has just finished its seventh edition, managed to bring together under the same roof toys made by artists from the circuit and pieces invented by the children who played in her workshop every afternoon and made their own toys, or “works of art.”

13 The hair comb, both as a concept and artistic resource, would become a fundamental theme in the artist’s output. Each time that María Silvia places the triangular shape of a hair comb in one of her works, whether this be to draw attention to it or to dissemble, she is always referring to the identity of the Argentines. The hair comb represents our own culture and history: it is a reflection of us.

The entire series is made from cartapesta (papier-mâché), which is no coincidence. Its function is to speak of poverty, of the megalomania that fools itself repeatedly: the hair combs could not have been made out of any other material.

They speak of our identity as Argentines and their decorative panels tell the tales of our ills, virtues and vices. In many cases, the artist has written out by hand verses or ideas by her favorite poets, such as Olga Orozco or César Vallejo, and in particular, texts that were re-worked on the basis of a reading of the Libro del cielo y del infierno (The Book of Heaven and Hell) by the Argentine writers Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Here we find hearts, fire, the Malvinas islands, bus tickets, currency bills, versions of heaven and hell, flags, the tango commemorated in the myth of Gardel, troubling flowers, vegetable ribbons like veins through which runs the blood from the wounds. The hair comb embraces and reveals it all, like a mirror maze where everything is reflected.

The upper section of the hair comb sports teeth, sharppointed incisors like spears or thorns ready to pierce and wound. These teeth finally define the boundaries of the object which is taken to be a symbol of Argentine identity, but also a metaphor which carries an entire stream of historical observation.

Just as the hair comb presents itself as the place in which to offload the crazy iconography which identifies us as Argentines, holding it up so that it is clearly visible in its upper panels, its teeth, like lances, pierce the painful past of Latin America, quivering as they hold fast its times of exuberance and collapse, its lost joys, its wounds, its deep deceptions and its apparently forgotten strengths.

The hair comb as a visual element gave the artist’s work a political dimension, for it carried within it this concept of limiting our identity from that point onwards. In a playful context, it was also the basis for the creation of a series made out of metal called Peina tus ideas (Comb your ideas).

14 María Silvia’s work is being studied by Dr. Regina Root, from Berkeley University (California) and the College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia) in the United States. For this student of national identity and its component parts, the porteño hair combs not only define the precise outline of a local identity but should also be analyzed in the light of their historical context at the time, during the political rule of Juan Manuel de Rosas. Root believes that the hair comb “is a symbol of anti-Rosas resistance, a declaration made through fashion against the male vanity of the leaders who fought against Spanish oppression yet later refused to admit female emancipation.” In recovering this symbol of the country’s foundation, María Silvia’s work “echoes with the voices and dreams of the past, and at the same time engages the arched crest and teeth of the hair comb in a battle that uncovers contemporary pockets of resistance.”

In María Silvia’s hair combs, the thorns and splinters piercing the work inevitably refer to pain, to a lacerating wound. The bandages are present to repair the damage and prevent fragmentation. They reflect the deep-rooted conviction of the artist’s role in our society: art is charged with the responsibility of saying things, and must be taken as a form of expression but without the museum-staid rigor of an exclusive activity reserved for a small elite. It must go forward to meet the viewer. This form of expression reached a new level of representation on the basis of a visual element that was to gain in strength as her work developed and the end of the century drew near: cities.

15 “Is there any one single case in history of an artist whose work does not parallel closely the vicissitudes of his personal life, and, what is more important, the political and economic rhythm of his spirit?” asks the Peruvian poet César Vallejo in La obra y el artista (The Work and the Artist, 1929).

As with all artists whose work emerges from social sensitivity, the process of globalization did not pass María Silvia by. If with her hair combs she was pointing to all things local and the Argentines’ very own identity, with her cities she expanded the frame of reference to encompass phenomena such as transculturization. In the shadow of the global city, the hair comb’s role as a pointer to identity is highlighted and becomes a symbol of belonging.

The artist exhibited her Ciudades (Cities) series in the Rouges Cultural Center (Tucumán) in 2001. However, the image of the city as represented by a straight line was already a recurring and well-worked theme in her oeuvre, appearing in such outstanding series as La ciudad y el río (The city and the river) or La ciudad de los días contados (The city whose days were numbered), undertaken in the aftermath of the wave of privatization of state companies which came to symbolize a past that no longer existed. As opposed to the curve of the hair comb and the circular shapes which dominated the toys, the cities have become a constant source of reflection and output in her work.

The image is one she chanced across while making sketches for jewelry, which slowly turned into the raw material she used to express her vision of reality. It is a shape which she has explored with color and volume, using the broad diversity of support materials and techniques to which she resorts when researching the issues which awaken her creative urge. In many of her pieces, her cities seem to be black, but this is in fact a dense concrete green, unmistakably urban, chosen by the artist to give the image even greater significance.

16 The cities project is one of the most interesting stages in María Silvia’s artistic career for a number of reasons. One is that, as these became a new visual and conceptual element together with the hair combs, they opened up the horizon of expression in her works, setting up a dialog of many facets between local and global.

Together, they create an area where symbols interact and make sense, in which the artist also toys with different materials, using cardboard, wood, paper, thread, nails, pins and bandages. But at the same time as this is used to represent social and world reality, the introduction of this new element allows her to continue playing in and with her work, one of the more salient characteristics of her artistic style.

It was with the cities, first transfigured by the hair comb and all its attendant symbolism and later ascribed to another series of elements with which María Silvia has been playing for years, that the microcosm which enfolds each work began to function in a different way. A greater certainty of message became clear, the synthesis of the artist’s unique vision which linked up the many issues represented by the elements inhabiting her work since the start.

“The original hair comb was dismembered into arch and teeth. These now emerge from, or pierce, the cities they possess. The hair comb as an independent unit acquired a geometric form that at times grew into something threatening and at others, separated into sections, took on the form of a wheel, as if to jumpstart the city’s stillness,” wrote María Inés Pagés.

17 Using the image of the city as their point of departure, many works employ resources which either destroy or expand the frontiers of the material, to the point where they interact at a level of reality where the work and its theme merge as one. In the solitude of her workshop, the desolate city is the picture of the desolation of the city itself, over which the artist will lay and stitch bandages to heal and mend the wounds. Many works were produced with this caring, calming and repairing attitude to the fore.

Along the same lines, when the idea of the city is expressed dramatically, the artist intervenes in the canvas in one way or another: piercing it with nails, sticking on tears, stitching up the cloth, and healing the hurt. In the composition of a city, she suddenly decides to hold up what is on the point of collapsing with a hair comb. She places a red button in a precise place in a work. She allows the harmony of moons and curves to generate an image of a more serene, orderly and less dangerous community. She begins to transform the moons into eyes which watch over the town. Finally, she always leaves those cities whose self same composition marks them as stifled and cornered (such as the series which refers to the privatizations of the 1990s, made with the original railway label tags) an escape route, however small.

Her works thus acquire a troubling organic character: the greater the sadness and devastation of the city which comes across, the greater the amount of interventions therein; almost as if they were some sort of exorcism. The artist’s role and responsibility for her message in the context of the social reality of the times seem to find their niche, gaining shape, affinity and clarity of purpose in the difficult years from 2001 to 2003 in Argentina.

The works produced since then, however abstract they may appear, inexorably hide a desire to draw attention to something, to palliate and do justice by it, to heal. There are many cities created with different supporting materials which present us with landscapes of apparently pure abstraction. They are, however, anything but abstract, for we know they are telling us about cities which have themselves reached a certain degree of excess.

In María Silvia’s particular style there is always something which achieves closure and translates into expression, and always something that is veiled or kept secret. At times the meaning is self-evident, while at others, the artist recovers or recreates elements from her own language to say something new.

Many of the visual and conceptual elements with which she had already worked, such as the boat, began to acquire greater protagonism and weight within the narrative of her works. As sculptures, María Silvia’s ships always have a strong allusive power. The boat represents the waves of immigration but also expulsion and global migration; associated with the hair comb, it underscores the allusion to Argentine identity and past.

Her boat is vested with great beauty when presented in the shape of an Andean bowl, used by the village women to grind grain or wash clothing, which becomes a ship with a striking visual presence and which also looks like a city.

18 María Silvia presented Escudos (Shields) in 2005, designing the exhibition on the lines of an installation, by showing pieces in different formats. The evolution of the artist’s work and vision is clear on many levels.

In 2006, part of these shields —red and black— were exhibited in Capalbio (Tuscany, Italy) together with the series Juegos urbanos (Urban games), sculptures made with vertical modules in dark wood where images of cities are affixed on and surrounded by the teeth of a hair comb.

The catalog of the exhibition says that “María Silvia Corcuera Terán has explored in depth the expressive possibilities offered by abstract form. The language which she uses pursues a dialog with the international scene, rearranging highly suggestive social and cultural issues. Her works revisit and re-construe cultural and social themes from Argentine historical memory.”

However, the argument of her cities-as-objects also has another side to it, expressed by Italian critics in the following way: “The art of Corcuera Terán has the aggressive dynamism of historic changes, but also expresses at the same time a radical hope for the future of her land.”

19 Under the title of Escudos, María Silvia presented a further two series. The first is called Vestidos (Dresses) and includes some 48 pieces. These dresses, whose shape is always the same, explicitly and variously manifest the artist’s sentiments, concerns, joys, tributes, ideas, reflections or personal motivations when she chooses to look at herself and her world.

In their own way, the dresses were also shields, a large protective disguise. As with the upper panels of the hair combs, in the interior of each one were several varied but direct references to the artist’s own life and her daily reality, seen as a reflection of everybody’s lives and the country’s social and economic context at the time.

In spite of the harshness of the issues explored, this was kept in check by the shape of the dress, which was always exactly the same, betraying a touch of tenderness. It was a smile in the midst of bad fortune. For María Silvia, the tenderness expressed in so many different ways is a way of offering repair, and is another facet of her style. An avowed intention to cure, compensate or bring together, as well as an attempt to recover what is lost, proffer a caress, and continue to hope patiently that the city will find a way to heal its wound within the work itself… but at the same time, highlighting the wound by using the bandages covering it to try and bring together what is fragmented.

20 The second series is called Las protegidas (The protected ones), on paper with a mixed technique. María Silvia has always worked with collage techniques in which she literally operates with the very materialness of each source, breaking, sticking, cutting, mixing and creating the element that will finally serve the work. In this series, the artist conjugates different elements of her own singular conceptual and visual vocabulary with a sociological and historical perspective that comes in hand with a deliberate will to heal and repair everything that is wounded, appealing once more to tenderness.

The entire series speaks of pain and is directly related to the tragedy of the nightclub República Cromañón and other dramatic events recorded by the media during the time the artist was working on this project. This is not clear to the casual spectator, but the person who is familiar with María Silvia’s work and its sparse visual language knows that there is always a message in them, even when concealed or unspoken. In another piece from this series made of paper napkins, the artist wrote and hid in some of them lists of conjugations saying, “It was I, it was you, it was him, it was us.” The context referred to here is the well-known political scandal of the 1990s in which the corruption of the Judiciary was publically exposed.

In Las protegidas the artist holds her peace. While in Vestidos she betrays a harsh reality and brings it to the fore, using the design of a fashion accessory as a shield from behind which to make her accusations, in Las protegidas its well of pain makes no sound. The series presents pure geometric forms and is completely abstract: however, the viewer familiar with her work knows that the straight lines refer to cities and the angles to hair combs. The moons also make their appearance, eyes watching over the city. Everything appears to be totally abstract and lacks points of reference. But nonetheless, something which elects to remain unspoken and hidden is expressed through the works. The stage is set. This is how the contemplation of many of María Silvia’s pieces begins, with a stage upon which the artist’s vision unfolds.

The series is not only dramatic because of its themes. All that hidden pain, those open wounds, all that corruption and sense of imminent disaster, although they cannot be seen as such, are nevertheless present. Each cut-out piece of paper, each pen, each detail contributes to complete the vision in these silent works which the little dresses offered so blatantly. Perhaps that is why she used one single word to refer to all of these series: “shields”, as if she were calling on a form of magic protection in employing such a transparent term.

21 Just as ferocity is countered by tenderness, the visible corresponds to the hidden. Within this deliberately taut polarity, the world created by María Silvia through her works alternately unfurls or withdraws, presented either as a blow or a caress.

22 Currently, the artist is working on an unusual series about China, based on a trip there in 2006. These are canvasses whose abstraction nobody would deny, centered solely on summoning the beauty of line and flow, but which continue to send out messages, the things that María Silvia always says as an artist, but now using her experience as a Western tourist in the vast empire of the Orient.

In this series, a new element makes itself known, the “wind of the wall,” a reference to one of the most meaningful events that the artist experienced during her visit to China in emotional and aesthetic terms. In many of her works we can glimpse an intention which sidesteps the move to interpret, document and record the image of a global city and rather transmits a certain state of mind, a particular strength born of the Western concept of identity.

work’s conceptual horizon, is neither aggressive nor dramatic. This, a work in progress, where the artist has chosen to explore the plastic possibilities of what she thinks and feels, of what she has lived and all that there is to say. Everything that China continues to inspire in her, everything that echoes in her ears like an oft-repeated tune, a whispered secret which rises in her memory like a breath of wind that grows fuller, beckons her to do what she most loves doing.

23 The works about China are not ferocious. Nor are they tender. Born from astonishment (the origin of philosophy, according to Aristotle), they elude all political references and recover the moments when the artist experienced beauty in the East. But they also endow the concept of identity, hitherto expressed almost exclusively by means of the porteño hair comb, with a new dimension, and now refer to Western society as a whole.

These are neither fierce nor tender works, but, like all works by María Silvia, they thread their way through the gap that lies between two shores, stepping on the slippery edges of the reality of our world, offering us a unique vision. Because that is what artists do, they allow us to “know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon,” as Proust said.

1 Remembrance of Things Past, part 7, translated by Frederick A. Blossom, first edition, New York, Albert & Charles Boni, 1932.