By Catalina Mena L.
Translation by Martha Seelenberger.
“Breaking the ice” as an act of digging a trench in silence.
Ximena Velasco breaks the ice to talk about thaw. On this occasion, her icebreaker has to do, above all, with her choosing large formats, which require a bolder commitment from the body when painting on the floor.
From the sharp eye that governs fine motor skills, Ximena moves onto her body, a body that surrenders to the process and experiments with gouaches, drips, and transparencies. Aside from her typical fragmentation of levels, layers and layers of different depths emerge here. Seeking to decompress -both herself and the work- the artist bets on expressive power, even at the cost of losing certain degree of control. And she does so using form and process as metaphors of a global and uncontrolled phenomenon: the thawing of the deepest layers of the Earth that have been frozen for thousands of years in polar areas.
The secret narrative of this work resides on several studies on Permafrost, the structure in geological sediments overlain and accumulated through time, where the earliest layers turn into ice. These layers have accumulated organic and environmental matter for thousands of years; a cross-section will reveal the age-old history of humanity trapped therein. But for decades now, Permafrost has been melting as a result of global warming caused by excessive emissions of greenhouse gases, such as CO2. With the thawing of Permafrost, more CO2 is released, which in turn contributes to increased warming, generating a perfect vicious cycle.
Although Ximena's work has remained true to a strictly visual thought, she has not stopped establishing intimate relationships with her physical and cultural environment. Thus, the current Covid pandemic operates as one more context that permeates through her work. Such a connection is not random. In fact, scientists have found that, especially on Russian ice caps, thawing not only releases CO2, but also viruses from remote epidemics that have been trapped in the ice, and are now becoming active again, such as the Spanish Flu.
However, beyond her scientific observations, the focus of the work is translating into images how these environmental processes visually transform the landscape.
Ximena's work is obsessive in repeating patterns. They are visually consistent and recognizable: she experiments combining shapes repeatedly, as if they were numbers articulating mathematical formulas on the surface of the picture.
Her work is rooted in the codes of abstraction, unaffiliated to fashions and trends. Ximena was bound to that language as a teenager, when she used to visit the East Wing Museum in Washington, D.C., and spend the entire day contemplating -and sometimes copying in her sketchbook- her favorite works of the 20th century masters. She was particularly drawn to the American Abstract Expressionists.
Ximena was raised in the United States, and during her adolescence, attended a school of academic excellence, where art education was very important. Those were years of experimentation, euphoria, discoveries, and introspection, because she was far from her affections. However, this situation allowed her to shape her identity as an artist, not only due to her close contact with both the practice and history of art, but also because her uprooting was a space free from social conditioning. While her immediate circle was engaged caring about the world and politics, she was the child immersed in shapes and colors.
And even if her tongue got caught between two languages and her identity split between two nationalities, there was a language that brought everything together from the very beginning: the abstract images that bound together, composed and articulated, shaped her universal language.
This choice for abstraction in Ximena Velasco's work, is directly related to her interest in natural phenomena. The different levels overlapping in her paintings explore situations that take place within live surroundings: connecting micro and macro, distant and near, visible and invisible. It is a body of work that conceives Nature as a geometric model, and translates it into a personal code. When closely looking at a snowflake through a microscope, its rigorously symmetrical structure is revealed. Euclid spoke about that mathematical perfection laying out in the world with precise laws of form and combination, which Ximena interprets and reformulates in her work.
Abstraction, this way, is a code that adheres with natural honesty to the questions and issues animating it. A phenomenological rather than a discursive work --for there is no story to tell, no cause to defend, no idea to convince of-- presenting itself as a complex system of interrelated forms.
Abstract language as a purely visual choice takes narrative logic into crisis in order to play a part in observing, wondering, and allowing phenomena to speak for themselves. It is a round trip between eye and intuition. The authority of reason is on hold here, hierarchies are in disarray. In Ximena Velasco's work, multiple elements dialogue on equal terms without any of them claiming a prominent position. As in the great theater of Nature, the images are there, offering themselves to the viewer, wide open to multiple readings.
The repetition of patterns found in Nature --the fractal structure-- finds its way into Ximena's work as a composition method and performative gesture. She explains that the repetitive motion of drawing leads her to a trance-like state. Once more, it is an escape, a cleansing of the mind. This state becomes embodied physically: the artist regularly runs 11 kilometers across the city, almost always on an empty stomach. This practice of running on an empty stomach, repeating leg movements, breathing rhythmically, usually precedes her arrival at her studio. When invasive thoughts are appeased, space for imagination opens up as a state of awareness and clarity. Repeating a physical movement to express repetitions in nature: Ximena is a part of her pictures.