The World is a Membrane

Everything in this world is ephemeral. That feeling of timelessness is what fuels my creation. We will exist but a moment in this long history, and on our short voyage we must turn to contemplation and introspection.

Everything in this world is ephemeral. That feeling of timelessness is what fuels my creation. We will exist but a moment in this long history, and on our short voyage we must turn to contemplation and introspection.

© Portrait Alessandro Moggi

Painting, sculpture, most of the plastic arts exists as bodies do, in space, bearing the marks of their creation, testifying to the processes that first brought them into being. For Bosco Sodi, this process involves a further step that complicates and enriches the usual relationship of matter to form, creator to creation, work to worker, art to artist: Sodi invites the materials and elements that he works with into the formative operations of making his art. Sodi explains that, for him, “The artist and his work must provoke contemplation and introspection in those who experience his art. Introspection understood as attention to causes, to the process of creation and not only to its effects.” 

© Bosco Sodi, Untitled, 2020, mixed media on canvas, 60 x 60 cm; 23.6 x 23.6 in, unique

This act is one that builds on the legacies of chance procedures but embodies a greater focus on the ecological impact and consciousness of the material world as Sodi experiences it, and as it experiences Sodi in turn. The artist maintains that, “My process seems simple, but it is truly a complex endeavor. Many factors interfere with it, since it is in the nature of organic elements to behave capriciously.” Allowing the material to speak and determine its own course of action – granting it a kind of agency and autonomy – is not one instrument pulled out of a toolbox of equivalent strategies. Rather, Sodi’s practice is founded on a deep conviction in the intelligence, history, and wisdom of the materials he chooses to employ. This belief informs the full breadth of the artist’s varied endeavors, which include painting, architecture, pedagogy, and performance in scales that range from the monumental to the microscopic.

The membrane is a site of frequent investigation and discovery for Sodi, which in his art, functions much like the human skin – the largest organ in the body – covering, protecting, but also allowing for a transfer between what is inside and thus hidden from view and what occurs outside of the purview of a human corpus. The skin is both fragile and all-encompassing, easily punctured but somehow everywhere, a fold that is erected to facilitate the transfer and communication between two otherwise distinct entities. Sodi’s interest in such properties can be seen in his Casa Wabi initiative in his native Mexico, a studio/residency built by Tadeo Ando, a paragon of ecologically minded architecture that expands on the artist’s parallel interests in supporting younger artists and offering platforms for the presentation of newer art in Mexico.

© Bosco Sodi, What goes around comes around, Collateral Event Venice Biennale, Italy, 2022
© Image Laziz Hamani

For 19th-century architect and theorist Gottfried Semper, the vertical fold or membrane was the first and most lasting model of architecture, dating back to the first attempts at creating shelter and security. Sodi’s unique take on this prehistoric form of building can be understood in his translation of the properties of a membrane onto a given object or project, which connects projects like UNTITLED, 2013, in which the artist covered massive slabs of volcanic rock in a red cadmium ceramic glaze and more recent paintings and reused burlap grain sacks, each of which explores the organic overlay in its various guises. Sodi explains his source material as, “the composition of water in a certain region, sawdust from a particular place, clay from a specific piece of land, variations in temperature, these are some of the numerous factors in my working process.” In Sodi’s paintings, thick impastoed materials are spread over a flat surface and left to dry, allowing the natural processes to determine the final outcome of the given picture. Sodi avows that he knows when one of these works is finished when cracks start to emerge, when the material itself begins to reveal its operative procedures of creating and covering space.

Almost always monochromatic and untitled, the creaturely nature of these works is reminiscent of the white works of Robert Ryman, but their overall effect is more sculptural, breathing with a life of their own, recalling the collaborative act and autonomous movements that first created them. The comparison is instructive for it helps to measure Sodi’s distance from the twin legacies of Minimal and Land art, which are only superficially related to the artist’s practice. To put it more concretely, unlike his predecessors of the 1970s, Sodi is attentive to his own situatedness and context, careful not to merely show up somewhere in the desert and start intervening. Rather, in his careful selection of natural pigments and materials sourced from natural sites around the world, Sodi allows those sources to speak through his work, a kind of generosity of spirit in which the artist is in many respects a guide rather than a director, steering a course without a prior knowledge of exactly where things will end up. He maintains, that “the use of organic materials allows changes in texture and color to spark imagination while attaining the physical forms dictated by these same materials and their functions.” This temperament is one deeply informed by the artist’s heritage and his desire to employ art in the service of something more than mere aesthetic experience.

© Image Kasmin Gallery

Take the artist’s TABULA RASA project at Art Basel in 2022. There, passersby were entreated to take one of a series of small clay spheres containing seeds from nearby emptied burlap sacks hung like medieval pennants on the side of an adjoining church. Unpacking TABULA RASA reveals the dense and resonant network of forces at stake in Sodi’s practice more generally, beginning with the act of viewers removing individual objects for repurposing as plants, potential sustenance, and the continuation of a durational exercise whose final outcome is not in the artist’s hands. The removal is reminiscent of Félix González-Torres’ candy works, like UNTITLED (PORTRAIT OF ROSS IN L.A.) from 1991, where viewers were invited to take from a pile of candies arranged in a corner, with the idea that they would then be ingested by said participants, far from the space of the exhibition environment. The completion of González-Torres’ work depended on a kind of viral spread of the sweet, effectively bridging the border between what one sees and what one cannot see for it involves the semi-autonomous processes of the human body.

The larger geopolitical context for TABULA RASA is a more complicated one, though, for the emptied burlap sacks return attention to the issue of passage, of trade routes, and the legacy of European colonialism that turned native grains into the stuff of global commerce. The addition of colored circles on the exterior of these sacks is an acknowledgment of the inherent migratory nature of materials in Sodi’s cosmos, which, contra the title of the work, never exist as mere black surfaces. And it remains to be seen if they ever do, ever have, or ever will. Each pigment, sack, surface, is laden with a history of its creation and the various uses to which it has been put. The cracks are metaphorical as well as literal in Sodi’s works, prying open the forces of nature and its politicization for everyone to see.

CASA WABI, 2018 © Image Sergio Alejandro Lopez Jimenez

With continued projects related to Casa Wabi and other initiatives promoting the work and education of younger artists, there is also a reparative or restorative element to Sodi’s art. Within each crack is an imperfection made over into form, evidence that each work and the experiences it engenders is radically open, split between what it can show and what it invariably hides. Sodi maintains that “space is crucial to my work. I would even say it is the most important component. I conceive of my works as a series of objects that correspond to and belong in a certain space and are thus determined by it.” In this space, lies the operations of process, an ongoing exploration of the possible that exists in the membranes covering our bodies, the earth, and the work of art.

CASA WABI, 2018 © Images Sergio Alejandro Lopez Jimenez 




Bosco Sodi (b. 1970 in Mexico City, Mexico) lives and works in New York City, USA, and Oaxaca, Mexico.

He is known for his richly textured, vividly colored large-scale paintings. Sodi has discovered an emotive power within the essential crudeness of the materials that he uses to execute his paintings. Focusing on material exploration, creative gesture, and the spiritual connection between the artist and his work, Sodi seeks to transcend conceptual barriers. “Explanations about my work represent the biggest obstacle to its experience: words become hollow and obsolete. The intention of my work is to be observed and experienced.”, Bosco ...
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