Eric del Castillo / Retrofuture
Since the beginning of his career, Eric del Castillo continuously dealt with the ways of presenting the personal conception of human nature – precisely of something that could be defined as human condition. It’s an abstract term which marks a wide spectrum of human characteristics, while del Castillo takes a special interest in human drama. Aside from biologically programmed needs and human lifespan (inevitably marked by birth and death), it seems that this „drama“ persists throughout our lives, taking different shapes and entering all social systems. It is also the thematic basis of del Castillo’s works in this exhibition, some of which are shown to the public for the first time ever.
If we imagine del Castillo’s oeuvre as two axes, the „vertical“ one is based on the aforementioned interest for showing the universal „human drama“ which is highlighted in his work in 3 different ways: 1) by placing the focus on protagonists and their fates [i.e. Delirious Dreams (1986) as well as the remakes of collages made in the 90s]; 2) by taking into account the horizon of specific social phenomena (such as the Riots series or Narcoland from 2016); 3) by creating polyvalent models of the orders of human existence (i.e. Universal History of Infamy series from 2015). Del Castillo’s biography is marked by multicultural experiences which are rooted in long-term residencies in different milieus, which lead to the gradual shaping of the artist’s idea of a grid at the basis of every human order, regardless of their differences; about an invisible source and center of a historical spiral as a model for observing the human existence and traces; in a way through personal discovery, analogical to the already formulated Claude Lévi Strauss’ structural anthropology. We can discuss the ability of „human condition“ – explained in the introductory section – to offer fertile soil for shaping solid yet elusive social structures, considering the fact that they were created in relation to fundamental human needs and passions, the most driving of which are sexuality, control and power (using Michel Foucault’s typical vocabulary). Del Castillo creates his work in active cooperation with the world around us, which is testified by the fundamentally anthropological and sociological conditions as the reference grid for analyzing the modern society phenomena – motifs in his work. They represent that which we directly perceive as reality (although it is just a surface, „operative“ layer of reality which functions as a guide for the most basic human „navigation“ in the world). Meanwhile, we have already stated that the artist is aware of the logic of the „grid“ or the structure as a prototype for human self-organization which is still present [in accordance with Zygmunt Bauman, who doesn’t aim at ideal structure, but instead at specific social structures which are submitted to changes in the modern age (since Modern times to this day)] and are still hidden under the kaleidoscopic, fractured and blurred image of the postmodern world, despite the poststructuralist methods of analyzing and questioning of the validity of binary societies and their heritage. We can state that the effort to show relevant „human problematic“ in relation to the subjective awareness of the complex contemporary version of this latent system (in which, thus, human relations are arranged) shaped the direction of his artistic development. This takes us to the timeline of del Castillo’s artistic creativity, or the synchronous „horizontal axis“ which fits the formal development of his artistic production. Even though he studied film and painting, Eric del Castillo practically instantly chose collage as his medium for painting the idea of reality which is „collaged“ as well, made up of a myriad of diverse fragments. Intermediating between contemporary art criticism and professional texts, his name has become almost synonymous to collage, but, in order to precisely define the nature of his art language, it would be better to paraphrase his observation that „collage is not only the most important art medium“, but he also „behaves and thinks in collage“. The latter statement becomes heavier when we consider the overview of his oeuvre made in the past 10 years. Collage, a traditional technique at the time of his initial engagement, gave more space to digital and video collage, taking up more non-material space which differs from its usual media outlines. We can conclude that, with time, del Castillo’s art approach overcame the noun and can be better described by an adjective (not „collage“, but instead „collaging“). His way of „collaging“ is in fact a form of artistic appropriation which is at a „Duchampesque“ line of creation, and in the past 30 years it’s been gaining a trademark status for the postmodern artist (author). Del Castillo’s exhibition is based on images from various Web sources (including stills from dynamic TV shows and films as well as reproductions of famous artworks). Theoretically speaking, this fact suddenly opens up a series of possibilities and references in order to explain del Castillo’s artistic practice even more precisely. In one of the two essays which observe the works of a generation of contemporary prodigies (such as Jeff Koons, Rirkrit Tiravani, Pierre Huyghe and others ), Nicolas Bourriaud takes the term „appropriation“, expanding it further to „postproduction“. Just like the aforementioned artists, del Castillo creates by taking into account the wider image of the complex times we live in, so he can be considered a „postproduction artist“ as well [not alluding to his film education (postproduction is a term from the film industry)], and he even belongs to the same generation of artists. In relation to this, Bourriad states: „Although formally heterogeneous, all these artistic practices have in common the recourse to already produced forms. They testify to a willingness to inscribe the work of art within a network of signs and significations, instead of considering it to be an autonomous or original form“. Furthermore: „To create means to insert the object into a new scenario, to consider it a part of the narrative“, whilst following Gilles Deleuze who states that „things and thoughts develop and grow from the middle and that is the place to start from and from which everything else unravels“. Eric del Castillo isn’t searching for originality in the sense of producing „original“ works defined by special meaning. Instead, he is trying to relate them to the hypertrophy of visual facts within the contemporary world, while it is turning into a sort of visual recycling with empty contents. This can be discussed within the framework of observations made by Jean Baudrillard or Guy Debord. While defining the nature of his own artistic practice, del Castillo avoids the traditional art-history label „collage artist“ and prefers Bourriaud’s term „visual DJ“ or „remixer“. As it was already mentioned, this process can’t go in the direction of semantically fixating of the contents of one’s own works – it lets them go through the process of semiosis or chaining the possible meanings whose final definition depends on who is observing them (Charles Sanders Peirce). Eric del Castillo mimics the way of creation and proliferation of visual contents in the contemporary society and tends to include his works into already existing streams of visual production. If we go back to „postproduction“ as a separate art practice, the difference between del Castillo and Bourriad’s artists is present in the fact that most of them deal with physical objects, while del Castillo prefers „copy of a copy“ methods (as Plato would put it). He reaches into the Internet vault of human culture which represents its immensely diverse visual identity or, simply put, is a type of „cloak“, covering that which we instinctively see as reality. His version of „postproduction is „hyper eclecticism“ (as Neli Ružić labeled it). Aside from his main theme of „human drama“, del Castillo bases his works around the motifs quoted from art history or popular culture (unlike the Pop Art practice, del Castillo isn’t focused on mass production of material goods as much as the production of visual culture, hence making it an act of creation as valuable as production.
This overview of del Castillo’s art production leads us into the exhibition currently taking place in Salon Galić in Split, titled Retrofuture. It is a neologism made by connecting contradicting markings which imply two different time states. Just like del Castillo’s works, this term was created through a process of collaging, gaining an interchanging, mobile semantic character. Considering the title and the wide timeframe of when the works were created, this exhibition could be seen as retrospective. This is further supported by the fact that all works were made in a black-and-white color scheme. So, the „retro“ part of the title could easily be put into the spotlight and thus lead to the film effect of reconstructing the past (looking back). Still, as del Castillo really doesn’t have a burning reason or need to create a retrospective, Retrofuture rather functions as active browsing through his older and recent works and identifying the general places in the artist’s creative work. This is what is important – and that’s what brings the „future“ part of the title – because, based on this, we can assume in which direction further del Castillo’s production will go; after all, his oeuvre can be defined as an open yet recurring narrative, consolidated by that vertical thematic axis with which he changes only his choice of motifs and the means of displaying them, but not their essence. It’s an ever-changing and ever-expanding process, a creative timeline with a developmental logic similar to the model of seeing our civilization as a historical spiral, del Castillo’s Atlas Mnemosyne. So, Retrofuture marks a timeline of creativity based on a thematic constant, on a strategy of artistic recycling of visual motifs synchronized with the way of producing contemporary visual culture – all through a black-and-white filter of exhibited works. The latent characteristic of del Castillo’s overall oeuvre – including his works from this exhibition – is his semantic undefinition, while the observance of procedures used by the artist can enrich the repertoire of their possible meanings.
The beginning of del Castillo’s career is tied to the art series Delirious Dreams from 1986, made up from 9 compositions created at the border between collage and painting. The basis for these works was a Spanish photo magazine and an article on crime scene photography (from the French police archives since 1912 till 1940). The artist took over the photographs and intervened into them by framing them additionally or by highlighting certain elements of the compositions. The purpose of this decision is found in del Castillo’s opposition to his university colleagues’ opinions; while they were supporting academic painting expression in the service of a direct depiction of reality, del Castillo revolted, replying that there is nothing more real than that which is already in the photographs that he took from magazines. Del Castillo’s painting gesture additionally highlighted that which was already there, the tragic reality seen initially by the eyes of morticians.
In the 1990s, del Castillo primarily made collages on paper; most attention was given to those collages whose protagonists were in fact minimized human figures placed in relation to a much larger paper surface, often creating a humorous effect. It was sometimes further highlighted by the title (i.e. Measuring nothing 1991). A smaller part of original works are owned by the artist himself (the rest was sold, donated or lost), but their blueprints are stored in del Castillo’s digital archives and adjusted to the new manners of exhibiting.
The cycle Universal History of Infamy (2015) includes 9 digital collages (7 of which show the deadly sins from catholic catechism). Unlike del Castillo’s purified form language from the 1990s, this series has a much more complex composition, as each work resembles a frontal view of some architecture made of similar, iconographical elements. They are in the service of communicating subjective conception or the conceptualization of chosen topics. Here, we can clearly see that which is getting more prominent in del Castillo’s digital and video collages: a more dense interplay between the adopted visual materials which leads to overcrowded works. This horror vacui is most obvious in del Castillo’s most recent series of large digital collages Collapse, 2018-2019. Del Castillo’s painting colleagues questioned his choice to use collage as a painting medium, and those who work with classical collage techniques judged his use of computers while making collages. They seem to have forgotten that the role of the hand as a source for all art (including collage) didn’t disappear; instead, the artist connected the computer mouse (a tool) to the hand in order to expand its possibilities.
Three series of glass paintings from 2016 make a separate unit in this exhibition. The artist uses acrylic to paint glass, which is then placed over the collages. Del Castillo created the Narcoland series for a group exhibition The Reality Behind the Fantasy – La Reina del Sur in Michael Stock’s gallery in Vienna (July 3 – September 3, 2016). According to the idea of questioning whether there are „different displays of a visible hegemonic masculinity in different cultures and in history“, Del Castillo explores the theme of Mexican narcoculture, a discourse about the South-American version of the Mafia, devoid of any romancing and subject to objectification. Riots is related to the same social discourse, and it was made within a wider framework of a project that was already presented in Salon Galić. The Sea Level series, formerly shown in an international exhibition Sea Change by Multimedia Cultural Center Split in 2017, follows its basis which explores „facing different problems in the context of sociopolitical, economy, culture and ecology shifts in coastal regions“.
Del Castillo’s layered video collages created in 2018 and 2019 were based on the displacement of collage into a space of „new media“, in order to expand the possibilities of artistic expression. Unlike the compositions made of similar iconographic elements which confirm the titles of works (Universal History of Infamy, 2015), these works are dynamic visual rebuses which invoke the similar practice of „blurring“ the shown content in a tradition of powerful, almost occult symbolism and mystical works of artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer or William Blake.
Del Castillo’s most recent works belong to a series of large-format digital collages. Together with the aforementioned digital collages, they mark the peak of his work in the field of perfecting media technology. Jasminka Babić concisely explains the themes of the works as „herding of layers which help the artist to show the magical circle of human suffering through the interpretation of motifs from history or history of art“. Then, she sees that his works contain traces of works (or quotes) by Auguste Rodin, Hieronymous Bosch or Chapman brothers which then intertwine with images of destroyed cities. She will conclude that the „entwining complex images points to the eternal repeating of historical, personal, family, social dramas, a certain determination for the demise of overall humanity and the collapse of the civilization as we know it“.
In conclusion, Eric del Castillo’s entire art career is woven with primarily human, and then social themes in the horizon of the Western civilization. Collaging various adopted visual contents in different manners proved to be the ideal way of recording the complexity of the world of today. If we observe his work shown in this exhibition through an analogy with the Tower of Babel or the New Cathedral (from Universal History of Infamy, 2015), it could easily be presented as a complex building of a vertical logic, while this text could be a guide to understanding the broader context of its emergence and its „architecture“ elements.
Claude Lévi Strauss, Structural Anthropology, New York: Basic Books, 1963
 According to the titles and themes of his books: Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la Prison, 1975; Histoire de la Sexualité, 1976
 Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000
 In the horizon of contemporary visual critic, the term ‘author’ started to replace the term ‘artist’. Meanwhile, this term implies a creator unencumbered by the medium – an intermedial or multimedial artist.
 Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction (Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World), New York: Lucas & Steinberg, 2002., 25.
 „All these artistic practices, although formally heterogeneous, have in common the recourse to already produced forms. They testify to a willingness to inscribe the work of art within a network of signs and significations, instead of considering it an autonomous or original form“ in: ibid, pg. 16.
 Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughin, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995, pg. 161.
 Jean Baudrillard – Simulacrum and simulation, 1981 and Guy Debord – Society of spectacle, 1967
 Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction (Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World), New York: Lucas & Steinberg, 2002, pg. 35.
 http://ericdelcastillo.eu/hypereclecticism-en.html, 21.10.2019.
 in: Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction (Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World), New York: Lucas & Steinberg, 2002
Eric del Castillo, born in 1962 in Mexico City. Visual remixer/visual artist. He lives and works in Split. He studied film production and painting, and was professionally trained as art director and production designer for film and television. For 24 years he worked in Mexico in production companies, private and government television stations and has 61,319 hours of TV broadcast under his belt.
In 1986, he began his artistic career using the techniques of collage, appropriation and remix. Collage extends throughout his artistic work not only as the most important artistic technique, but as a way of thinking and acting in general. In 1995, he received fellowship from the National Fund for Arts and Culture (FONCA), Mexico, and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), USA. In 1996, he was resident artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Since 1987 he has participated in 16 solo shows and more than 100 group exhibitions in Mexico, Croatia, USA, Germany, Spain and Canada.
In 2018 he donated a documentary collection to Arkheia Documentation Center MUAC, University Museum of Contemporary Art, UNAM (Mexico City, Mexico): El Sindicato del Terror/Eric del Castillo. (Performance archive of the 80´s and 90´s in Mexico).This collection is about performance groups El Sindicato del Terror, Los Escombros de la Ruptura and La Sociedad Mexicana Protectora del Espectador de Performance, as well as different Mexican performance groups and artists.