Artforum International, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2002


Miguel Ventura. (Reviews)


Jusidman, Yishai, Artforum International



Modernism equated artistic fulfillment with the achievement of expressive uniqueness. Miguel Ventura has met this ideal literally by devising and promoting his very own language, Nilcese, named after the fanciful New Interterritorial Language Committee (NILC). No Esperanto, Ventura’s linguistic contrivance was conceived, again literally, tongue in cheek. The drawing series “Los cuadernos de Mademoiselle Heidi Schreber”(The notebooks of Mademoiselle Heidi Schreber), 1993, shows the artist’s tongue stretching out, multiplying, and mutating to entangle, lacerate, and displace his own face, which eventually morphs into that of a girl whose undulating blond braids become the letters of the Nilcese alphabet. This Aryan lass, Mile. Heidi Schreber, is an extrapolation from the paranoiac hallucinations of Daniel Paul Schreber, whose Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903), the subject of a case study by Freud, expounds his mission to redeem the world by being divinely transformed into a woman. Likewise Ventura’s Heidi would redeem humankind by propagating a reengineered language fit for the Orwellian future of a genetically altered, blond, and generously endowed race.

Ventura has availed himself for some time of such technologies- as digitally retouched photography and video to mold the antiseptic atmosphere he favors for his wacky linguistic evangelizing. In the photo animation Contemplando el Rio Amoxapina (Looking at the Amoxapina River), 1996, the braid alphabet unfolds in Ventura’s drag impersonation of Heidi Schreber while the promise of a Nilcesian future is exalted as the artist sings (in English) an elegiac hymn that sounds like something out of Mao’s little redbook. Didactic dissemination is the task of the video Ejercicios o El regreso del cuerpo, Language IV (Exercises, or the return of the body, language IV), 1998, in which the artistand his female assistant play Nilcese instructors. Powdered, bewigged, and clad in colorful sporty garments, these merry, chemically energized experts teach us the rudiments of thenew language and its scripture, along with some dances in which body movements mimic the Nilcese alphabet. A large-scale installation, Casa NILC/The New Fuck Me Little Daddy House, 1996-2001, creates an insidious kindergarten environment for further indoctrination.

The Nilcese world, as illustrated in subsequent installations, is rich in symbolically suggestive scatological perversions: joyfully bruised cherubic boys, braid-shaped medicinal excrement cookies, grammatological pregnancies. Some might say these artfully contrived extravagances call for psychoanalytic interpretation. Others see in Ventura’s work a Foucauldian take on the partnership of language with ever-tyrannical power structures. In any case, and however consistent its notation system might seem from the outside, Nilcese follows rules capriciously determined by Ventura, a code as whimsical as its social consequences are bizarre. Ventura’s messianic rhetorical flights may echo those of Hitler, Mao, or L. Ron Hubbard, but without addressing their demagogic consequences. Rather, his facetious fabrications should be seen as belonging to the tradition of Henry Darger’s Realms of the Unreal. Granted, Darger was a crazy janitor, whereas Ventura is a professional artist. Still, as also happens in artworks by certified psychotics, Ventura’s diligent artistic maneuvers and their outlandish logic manage to reinforce one another, charging the work with emotional tensions that our own sanity forbids us to fully unravel. “Acting crazy” does not amount to “being crazy” when it comes to people, even artists; but when it comes to artworks, it somehow sometimes does.