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Photography by Rodrigo Valenzuela

Past | Present, Rodrigo Valenzuela’s third solo exhibition at Upfor, is comprised of two parts: in September, a selection of work from major series in photography, video and painting created between 2013 and 2018; and in October, the debut of a new body of monochromatic photographs titled Stature.

Valenzuela’s works often involve narratives around immigration and the working class. Rooted in contradictory traditions of documentary and fiction, his staged scenes manipulate codes of representation to affect viewers’ perception of logic and reality. “I utilize autobiographical threads to inform larger universal fields of experience. Gestures of alienation and displacement are both the aesthetic and subject of much of my work. Often using landscapes and tableaus with day laborers or myself, I explore the way an image is inhabited, and the way that spaces, objects and people are translated into images. My work serves as an expressive and intimate point of contact between the broader realms of subjectivity and political contingency”, the artist says.

Past was comprised of selections from photographic series and videos created between 2013 and 2018. Diamond Box, a 2013 video work highlighting stories from Latino immigrants, was concurrently on view in The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC (through September 22). Hedonic Reversal, a series of monochromatic photographs examining the aesthetics of urban decay, debuted in Valenzuela’s first solo museum exhibition, Future Ruins, at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, WA (2015). The exhibition at Upfor also included selections from Sin Héroes (2016), Mask (2018), American-type (2018) and ongoing mixed media series New Land (selections from 2017-18).

Stature, on view now at his second exhibition installment, Present, extends practices he has refined over the past five years. Studio constructions (or “performances for the camera,” as the artist calls them) are built and rebuilt purely to be photographed from a fixed perspective. The artist makes the enclosing stage, and every object within, by casting concrete and clay from discarded consumer electronics packaging. The cast objects are not glued or affixed to each other, but are balanced in tenuous arrangements that vary from abstract to highly anthropomorphic “monsters.”

The choices of polystyrene forms and concrete as medium provide Valenzuela an indirect means to explore the discards and inversions of capitalist endeavor. As in his previous four series of photographed studio constructions, the artist embeds numerous references that interest and influence him, from surrealist painting to Latin American brutalist architecture to Ursula Schulz-Dornburg’s images of post-Soviet era bus stops. The layering of social critique, art historical awareness, re-evaluation of the traditions of documentary photography, and sheer playfulness are typical of Valenzuela.

Rodrigo Valenzuela (b. 1982, Santiago, Chile) completed an art history degree at the University of Chile (2004), then worked in construction and various odd jobs while making art over his first decade in the United States. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Evergreen State College (2010) and an MFA at University of Washington (2012). He is a professor of art at University of California Los Angeles.

Valenzuela’s many residencies include Light Work in Syracuse, NY; a Core Fellowship at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, ME; Bemis Center, NE and the Center for Photography at Woodstock, NY. In addition to Upfor, solo exhibitions of note were presented at Light Work’s O. Ellis Gallery, Syracuse, NY; Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz, CA; Orange County Museum of Art in Santa Ana, CA; Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, OR; Portland Art Museum, OR; Klowden Mann, Los Angeles; the McColl Center, Charlotte, NC; Galerie Lisa Kandlhofer, Vienna; Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA and Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Santiago. Accolades include a 2017 Painters and Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, an Artist Trust Arts Innovator Award and inclusion in Open Sessions 10 at The Drawing Center, New York.


Upfor, 929 NW Flanders St, Portland, Oregon, United States

Until November 2, 2019.


Image: Rodrigo Valenzuela, Stature No. 3, 2019, archival pigment print mounted on Sintra, 28 x 32 inches (unframed), edition of 1 plus 1 AP Courtesy: Upfor