María Abaddon: Paisajes de la Destruccíon
Written by Emma Riva
In Paisajes de la Destruccíon at Ginsberg Galeria in Lima, Peru, María Abaddon comes as close as you can legally get to making artwork out of human skin. Through wet felting and needle point, the hanging pieces have a fleshy, porous texture to them. His first description of the work to me was “a translation made with layers of human skin.” As an art writer, when someone throws a phrase like that at you, you stop the conversation and try to parse out what the hell it means, because like Abaddon’s felt paintings and globules of crochet, it required deeper thinking and came from a profound place. I spoke to Abaddon over Google Meets with gallerist Lucrecia González Olaechea and curator Óscar Manrique. Even on Google Meets, it was clear that Abaddon speaks the language of his own artwork. The cohesiveness of his vision comes through in the way he talks about it. Abaddon even invents terminology for his work: He calls it: “butcher-y.” There’s a goriness to the paintings, even the gentler watercolors. That’s par for the course for Abaddon, a lifelong fan of body horror film. One of the pieces within Paisajes de la Destruccíon takes its title from cult classic film The Human Centipede. Though the image in infernopelusa vs el cienpiés humano is a grotesque one, the piece itself is made of the fuzzy, soft felt materials—infernopelusa means “hell fluff” or “hell lint.”
“Often, we are afraid of being afraid,” Manrique explained. “The most interesting thing about María’s work is the dichotomy between something that feels cute and soft and the more disturbing idea behind it.”
There are three main types of artworks within Paisajes de la Destruccíon: the skinlike wet felting, hanging crochet pieces, and then watercolor on canvas. The watercolor pieces are a series referencing piso de nubes or a “cloud mattress,” a phenomenon in Peru where “if you go up into the hills, you can see the clouds coming down,” Abaddon said. The clouds take on a fleshy quality in Abaddon’s brush, with the same soft, round shape as the hanging viscera in infernopelusa vs. el cienpiés humano. Abaddon’s work takes the macabre, gory things most people decline to look at and presents them in soft abstractions where at first glance, you could almost miss the brutality. In infernopelusa vs el cienpiés humano, the figures’ faces aren’t contorting in pain and the blood isn’t gushing off of them. The work depicts the human body without centering human emotions.
“Often, we are afraid of being afraid,” Manrique explained. “The most interesting thing about María’s work is the dichotomy between something that feels cute and soft and the more disturbing idea behind it.” Manrique and Abaddon worked together to create a vision for the show and have the kind of artist-curator relationship that’s as seamless as the wet felt Abaddon works on. “With this show, everything felt like part of one big work of art,” Manrique said. This is an impressive statement given how different the types of work in Paisajes de la Destruccíon are. Hanging the show itself was a challenge because of the differences in size of pieces and the sheer scope of them. “María is a beast and made like, a thousand works,” gallerist González Olaechea said, gesturing to some of the pieces that didn’t make it into the show but still hang in Ginsberg’s office. “So we had to see that the exhibition was balanced. Our first go at it, it was really heavy on one side.” Yuyos (meaning “weeds”), the largest piece in the show at 170x250x250cm, created a weight to any space it occupied. Fittingly to its title, given that weeds have a way of sprouting up anywhere and making their presence known even among delicate, more beautiful objects.
“The use of textile isn’t something trivial, with María being a Peruvian artist. Peru is one of the six beds of civilization along with Egypt and China, and textiles have been around since the very beginning of civilization.”
The hanging crochet pieces do carry a lot of weight, but they also “The use of textile isn’t something trivial, with María being a Peruvian artist. Peru is one of the six beds of civilization along with Egypt and China, and textiles have been around since the very beginning of civilization,” Olaechea said. “It has this feminine connotation, so there’s that in the medium, but then also the harshness of María’s subject matter.”
So, Abaddon, Manrique, and González Olaechea had to work to make sure the combination of soft, fluffy materials and heavy, visceral themes balanced each other out. But Manrique’s background in literature and theory made him apt at creating an overarching theme out of moving parts. For Paisajes de la Destruccíon, he and Abaddon looked at science fiction literature like American writer Octavia Butler, but rather than dystopia, they moved towards the idea of a “counter-utopia.” Fantasy and science fiction, as genres, claim to remove themselves from the mundanities of human life, but often they become the most human-centric. “For me, counter-utopia and dystopia are two different things – dystopia is for humans, counter-utopia is just life going on,” Manrique said. There’s a hypocrisy and egoism to the idea that we need some imagined future of robots or some false reality of elves and dragons when our intrinsic closeness to nature is what both carries us forward into the future and ties us to primordial history. “I particularly like body horror, the sort of thing where it’s casual and comedy. There’s one film where a human body gets stretched into a walrus shape. We have this idea that body modification has to be to make some aesthetic improvement.”
“For me, counter-utopia and dystopia are two different things – dystopia is for humans, counter-utopia is just life going on.”
González Olaechea jumped in: “It’s this idea that it would be okay to get cheek implants or breast implants, but it’s not okay for me to get horns or a tail.”
Abaddon notices a key element of human hypocrisy: That we think we are somehow different from nature, and that our distinctions somehow are the rule of law. An animal rights activist friend of mine occasionally reposts an Instagram account called Elwood’s Organic Dog Meat, which satirizes pasture-raised family farm accounts and replaces cows or pigs with dogs. (One of its hallmarks is a blackboard with friendly block lettering saying *Fact* You can love dogs and still eat them #ElwoodsDogMeat – a genius parody of crunchy granola organic farming accounts). The account inspires a huge amount of anger and backlash, but what actually separates eating a dog from eating a pig other than that humans have come up with some distinction? What separates our flesh from animal flesh? From clouds? From the earth?
One of the refreshing things about Abaddon’s work is that though it draws from this multitude of influences – literature, film, and theory – the work speaks for itself. This is one of the qualities that makes it cohesive, as Manrique referred to, “one big piece of art.” Much of current contemporary art requires heavy amounts of context in order to appreciate its subtleties. The fact that Abaddon’s work speaks so strongly for itself is part of what makes talking about it so enjoyable. One doesn’t have to come up with theoretical jargon in order to be moved by it. I have not even physically been to Ginsberg’s space, and yet still felt the work’s pull. “A lot of art is about politics, but people disconnect from it, and from themselves. We talk about nature with a word like ‘the environment,’” Manrique said. “But María gives us a more personal standpoint. That we are flesh, that we are nature.”
“Each piece for me feels sculptural, even the two-dimensional ones.”
An untitled piece in Abaddon’s wet felting series particularly sticks out in its color and composition, where most of the rest of the series deals with reds, beiges, and pinks, Untitled (2023) is a stark blue and gold. It takes the softness of the piso de nubes series combined with the humanlike imposition of the felt. The human bodies in it fade in and out of each other, but there are no organs or guts in sight. “This was actually the last piece I made for this show,” Abaddon said. “It’s meant to be people dissolving into each other, dissolving into their surroundings. I had made a similar piece with a group of people that was more like a battle, inspired by the film Battle Royale. But this one is more peaceful.” In general, Abaddon sees himself making less confrontational, more peaceful work without sacrificing the gory quality. “This is the first time I’ve done so many two-dimensional pieces,” he said. “Each piece for me feels sculptural, even the two-dimensional ones.”
Abaddon’s work achieves something that feels impossible through perception. His paintings really do feel as three-dimensional as his sculptures, despite being on two-dimensional materials. “I want people to reconsider their surroundings,” he remarked on what he wants viewers to take away from the show. Some of the most boundary-pushing contemporary exhibitions, like Sarah Sze’s Timelapse at the Guggenheim or Shohei Katayama’s As Below, So Above at The Mattress Factory, are the ones that deconstruct the very idea of perception. Modern life positions us as the masters of our own perception. We filter the world through technology. Our ability to perceive things is saturated and limited by an excess of information. But the natural world finds a way through. One of Abaddon’s wet felting pieces, Llagas y llanuras (“Sores and Plains”) is an eye staring out through layers of yellow, pink, red, and blue flesh. You get the sense that you aren’t just looking at Abaddon’s work – like the saying about staring into the abyss, it’s looking back at you.
Paisajes de la Destruccion closes this week at Ginsberg Galeria, Av. Santa Cruz 1068, Miraflores from 11AM-7PM Monday to Saturday.
Emma Riva is the managing editor of UP. She is the author of Night Shift in Tamaqua, an illustrated novel that follows a love story between 24-hour-diner waitress and a Postmates driver. As an art writer, she is particularly interested in working with international artists and exploring how visual art can both transcend cultural boundaries and highlight the complexities of individual identity. Emma is a graduate of The New School and a Wilbur and Niso Smith Author of Tomorrow. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.