Having inherited the archive of his grandfather — an exiled Spanish photographer living in Mexico — Mexico City-based artist Iñaki Bonillas encountered photography at a very early age. His work emerges from personal history and investigates the grammar of photography, experimenting with scale, seriality, color, paper, composition, and authorship. For his first solo show in New York at kurimanzutto, Bonillas brings together three bodies of work that focus on the materiality of photography to capture the versatility of the medium’s tasks.
The artist borrowed the title for both the exhibition and his featured series Marginalia, from English Romanticisist Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who first coined the term as a writing practice in its own right, in reference to his practice of scribbling notes in the margins of books. Coleridge’s own passages can now be consulted in five volumes published by Princeton University Press. According to Bonillas, these are funnier and more eloquent than the original texts, and served as the tipping point for the artist to imagine what the margins of his own private library could become.
Bonillas selected and digitized fragments of images to compose collages that turn into new frames. The initial margins no longer limit a surface, but rather, gestate photographic bodies connected through by threads the artist has spun himself. Horizontal forms verticalize; from black and white color is born.
Bonillas’ interest in the margins also stems from a biographical note. As a young adult, instead of pursuing a college degree, Bonillas worked as the “assistant to the assistant” of recognized Mexican photographer Carlos Somonte (most recently acclaimed for Roma’s still photography). His role encompassed a whole range of tasks, but never included the actual click of a camera’s shutter. Consequently, his first artistic investigations focused on everything but the actual act of photographing.
One of his collages, “Marginalia 4,” depicts hand gestures. This subject matter comes from a comprehensive suite of works Bonillas showcased last year in a solo show at kurimanzutto in Mexico City, which was also featured in Aperture’s Fall 2019 issue. The images on view in New York were composed using photo coloring manuals and analog photography techniques. The collage pays homage to the labor of anonymous highly trained hands, whose skills are often hidden to the naked eye. It also ties into Bonilla’s interest in honoring the invisible labor that takes place in darkrooms, frame shops, and in service of other fading professions.
The second series of the show, Voyage autour de ma chambre, consists of forty-two postcards purchased by the artist on Ebay, alluding to the forty-two chapters of the book Voyage Around My Room, written by French aristocrat Xavier de Maistre (1763-1852) during his forty-two days of house arrest (a punishment for dueling). Inspired by Masitre’s endeavour of traveling metaphorically within the confinements of his room, Bonillas “traveled” cybernetically, choosing postcards of anonymous trips found online. The intimacy of the piece is underlined by its placement in the back room of the gallery. In it, something similar to Marginalia occurs: an archive of travelers that have never met share space and time, and reproductions mutate from one space to another through a number of the photographer’s decisions.
In Shavings, the final work of the exhibition, the unpredictable aftermath of Bonilla’s practice comes into play. As Bonillas assembled Marginalia, he suddenly realized that his studio floor was covered with photographic paper scraps. With them, he created a photo series of the leftover materials, randomly placing them inside a glass case illuminated through photographic lighting equipment by another professional photographer. He argues: “How would I dare to do this [throw the shavings away] if this is the very subject of my exhibition? This is the heart of my project, the essence: all these margins.” In Bonillas’ work, the margins of photographs shift from negative to positive space, becoming new images in their own right.
Editor’s note: all quotes are drawn from an interview with the author, and have been translated from Spanish by the author.
Marginalia continues at kurimazutto (22 east 65th street, floor 4, Upper East Side) through December 7, 2019.