Frozen in time, 400 rocks hurtle toward a woman and a horse in Claudia Fontes's installation for the 57th Venice Biennale's Argentina pavilion, The Horse Problem. Colonialism, war, animal rights, and feminism are wrapped up in a suspenseful moment the Argentina-born, London-based artist captures in smooth, white, marble dust resin.
The center of the action is a woman who caresses the hulking beast of a horse's snout. Feet away, the rocks hang from the ceiling casting a prophetic, cracked shadow mirroring the horse's silhouette. Nearby, a young boy, seemingly oblivious to the horse and woman, crouches on the floor and contemplates a single rock. The whole thing is a metaphor for the problems confronting the international political landscape, or, as Fontes describes it, "our crisis."
To set the stage, Fontes sourced the characters from the first artwork ever commissioned to represent Argentina as a nation abroad, Ángel Della Valle's 1892 painting, The Return of the Indian Raid. The painting depicts a bleak image of war, with indigenous Argentinans transporting a captive woman across a bloody battlefield on horseback. Fontes turns the painting's passive characters, the woman and a horse, into the focal point of her piece. The warriors seem to be encapsulated by the a stone-cradling child, "pondering what to do with/of it."
Fontes installed The Horse Problem in the Sala d'Armi as a foil to the woman and horse's relationship. The a former cannon ball factory, likely built with horsepower, armed ships built in the Venetian Arsenale at the height of European colonialism. Confronted with the history of her exhibition space, Fontes tackles headfirst the challenge that she is "meant to 'represent' a 'nation,' at a point in history when nations are collapsing." This, in a nutshell is The Horse Problem.
Fontes's rendition isn't without hope, though. The woman's slight human figure should appear frail next to the mass of stomping hooves and bulging muscles, but close observation reveals her body to be a key support structure keeping the horse upright. "The woman's weight is counteracting the horse's, both physically and symbolically," Fontes tells Creators. "The horse is not charging against the woman, but looking, literally, for support, while being trapped in the building, and by the situation that he confronts. She is trying to calm the horse down and holding, with her bigger-than-life hand, not only the bucking horse, but the full scene."
Horse, woman, man, and rocks are all part of the same installation, and they're all made from the same dust. Fontes's installation spells out her vision of the problem, but it's up to the viewer to think of their own personal solution.
The Horse Problem was curated by curated by Andrés Duprat, director of the National Museum of Fine Arts of Argentina, and will be open to the public through November 26, 2017. See more of Claudia Fontes's work on her website.