Video by artist Gonzalo Lebrija
Luckily, not everything produced in the bull market was lost when the market recently crashed. Among other things, an excellent artefact survives: the 2006 video Asterión (Rider) by the artist Gonzalo Lebrija. This terse but lyrical art work is a superior par- able about man and power and what it feels like to
be master of the moment. After the recent denouement of wealth and power it seems particularly fitting, après le déluge, to trace out this video tale. Though it speaks of a time not so long ago when the global financial and art markets roared, its momentum and resolution bring it right into the present.
Lebrija is admired partly for his heightened attention to detail, which is what makes his symbolism so exacting and so much fun to watch. He distils his symbols like alcohol from the real stuff of the world he knows. Thus Asterión opens in the artist’s homeland, Mexico, with
a close-up frame of — what else? — a seemingly prototypi- cal bull. Except, because we are in Lebrija’s world, even the actions of the untamed bull are offered in a minimalist way. The Lebrija bull paws the earth with almost perfect movements, scratching at the dry ground with his right front hoof, then stopping and scratching with the left. Foreplay complete, the bull raises his head. We apprehend a man advancing through the tall grass, and this figure
is likewise distilled in a minimalist way. He is lithe and the frame is cropped so we do not see his head, only an
advancing torso clad in a black Armani suit complete with a shot white cuff gracing a hand that carries a conventional black attaché case. As an emblem of the businessman, Lebrija has chosen the root of the figure, the stealthy striding of his legs propelling him forward to meet the bull.
Lebrija has a keen appreciation of the world as it exists for men — or sporting men, to be exact. For them, there are challenges and fun and pain to be ex- perienced, maybe in equal measure. The gateway to the arena is opened by another man whose back and lean legs and boots predominate as we watch him release a big red gate in slow motion so that the businessman can emerge, complete with his briefcase, astride the unhappy or aggravated or merely provoked bull. One cannot
help oneself: it is fun to watch. The animal rears up and down to toss the rider, its head sometimes bowed so
low that its back end rises up a full 5 or 6 feet in the air. Lebrija’s rough rider holds his seat for a while, his
crisp white shirt coming untucked and the arm with the attaché case extended in the air to help him keep his balance.
Through the pounding and snorting and bells of his deep-toned soundtrack and the slow-motion move- ment of his camera, I believe that the artist invites us to savour the spectacle in an earthy way. Watching the ride, it is almost as if we are in a hippodrome for our own amusement. But the pairing of the bull with this young rider also seems to suggest something more. Lebrija’s truths should be self-evident, rooted as they are in the laws of nature and the law of gravity: what goes up must
come down like a crashing bull. And though we humans may harbour fantasies of such empowerment as a bull- market run that lasts forever, the very precariousness of human power or mastery — like a rider on the back
of a bull — ensures that it can never last.
But as Lebrija understands it, even a rough ride is fun. And release comes. Of course the attaché finally flies open, the lid unfurling to free a sheaf of white papers that float in the dark night like so many giant snowflakes or maybe even like a cache of artist’s drawings (Picasso’s 1945 series of bull lithographs may come to mind). It is not easy to be an artist today — or at any time. Or just to be a man, son of a father — always such a hard act to follow.
Finally the dark-haired rider lets the attaché case go too. And then, graceful as he is, he unloosens his legs from the bull and is tossed in the air. Rather than being thrown off, this rider really performs more of a dismount, as if he were flying off the pommel horse in
a gymnasium. He lands with his feet both firmly on the ground, his arms outstretched in a celebration of balance. And yes, he holds the landing so that all of us there in the hippodrome who watch — we invisible judges — can give him invisible high marks for his Olympic-style feat.
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