HIRED TO PLAY BALL FOR ART Auratic #4, 2014, by Rodrigo Valenzuela.
  • All image courtesy of the artist and Bryan Ohno Gallery
  • HIRED TO PLAY BALL FOR ART Auratic #4, 2014, by Rodrigo Valenzuela.

You can see Rodrigo Valenzuela's photographs at Bryan Ohno Gallery.

When artists use assistants to do whatever tedious labor's necessary to make their works, the labor typically hides inside the final work of art. The work of the work is not the labor—it's some other quality, like design, ideas, et cetera.

Rodrigo Valenzuela's assistants are day laborers he hires according to whoever raises a hand when he asks who's available at Home Depot or some other way station. You'll find a picture of a magical unicorn next to the word artist in the dictionary, but these workers are given no special status and referred to as "unskilled," even though they probably have more skills at more things than I do.

But his assistants are also the subjects of his photographs in the new series Goalkeeper. In the picture above, Valenzuela hired a crew of guys to play football (yes, soccer) in his studio. For the final images, he digitally removed the ball, so it becomes unclear what they're doing. Are they working? Playing? Is it unpleasant or painful? Are they acting? The art blurs the line.

In another photograph, workers are painting, but not the kind of painting art usually requires. This is just swiping the walls and floor a bright green. The open can of paint sitting in the middle of the floor says "VIDEO PAINT," and they're creating a green screen in Valenzuela's studio. (This is where he'll shoot videos for another project that interlaces scenes of domestic workers in soap operas with documentary footage of local maids talking about their actual lives as well as reenacting soap opera scenes.)

Just as undocumented workers disappear in the larger economy, these guys' painting is made to disappear—a green screen.

VIDEO PAINT Thats what the can says. Auratic #2, 2014.
  • VIDEO PAINT That's what the can says. Auratic #2, 2014.

Note the difference between these pictures and how undocumented or unseen people are typically photographed as still, heroic, fetishized. You can just hear the voice of a collector exclaiming, "The beautiful wrinkles on those working hands!" Valenzuela is still using workers for art, but he's being transparent about himself and the conditions. He's also pretty knowledgeable about the fact that playing soccer in a studio is better than some one-day construction job because he was an undocumented worker when he first moved here from Chile.

Valenzuela's title, Auratic, is a reference to Walter Benjamin's writings, the most famous of which is "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Benjamin talked about the "aura" of the work of art, its particular magic (see magical unicorn), and wondered where the "aura" came from—an idea, a personality, an era, a technique? Valenzuela's workers are enacting a few ideas about how aura is made, and what sometimes hides in order to make it shine.

See more recommended art shows right here.