No Golden Age Without Gold is the second solo exhibition by Javier Barrios at MELK. The first show, which coincided with the launch of his book Anthropos, took place in 2017. This time we are invited to a far darker, almost sacral vision. The exhibition is strictly symmetrical organized, creating a reminiscent space of a bygone temple or church. On the other hand, the materials and techniques are undoubtedly from our own time: silkscreens and paintings on mylar, lightboxes and plexiglass.
Javier Barrios makes use of a generic visual vocabulary that above all symbolizes knowledge. We catch sight of lexical scenes, pieces of human form and archeological pictures, x-rays and astronomy – a language with incomplete grammar. Iconic unity and power stand against these fragments and layers of information. It is natural to see the Javier Barrios’ work as an extension of the projects and triumphs of the renaissance and age of enlightenment. But the works are part of a larger, visual anthropology, one that also factors in the losses and depredations, that opens up the possibility of new mythologies meeting the old. The exhibition effectively breaks down the barriers between information and vision, sign-on and sign-from, display and notification, archeology and sight. Faith, knowledge and information appear to thematically blend into each other and constantly interchange, and it seems clear that man will never settle down as his own reference and purpose. This, unfortunately, is the big lie and self-deception of humanism. A classic example of hubris.
The project of Javier Barrios contemplates the Western connection between sight and knowledge, and their commonality with technology, conquest and expansion. The notion of past and future will falter between utopia and apocalypse, heading out of (or back into) the red, mythological darkness. No Golden Age Without Gold… It seems befitting the occasion to allow Constantijn Huygens, the vigilant and always curious statesman from the Golden Age of the Dutch, to have the final word. Nearly four hundred years ago, he started contemplating eternity down the microscope and skygazing. Through some ponderings on the telescope, he reminds us of the dizzying extent of our own enterprises and the challenges that follow:
At last mortals may, so to speak, be like gods,
If they can see far and near, here and everywhere.