A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Kinda Curatorial Text
PART 1) Music in the Bazaar
You duck under the canvas awning and out of the stall, emerging into the dusty lane of the Grand Bazaar. The bag on your back is heavy with iridescent beads, unpeeled fruits, and rolled pink textiles. Though your shoulder is beginning to ache, and though you really should begin making your way back home, you become entranced by the twiddle of distant music. High-pitched. Flutey. As you no doubt know by now, one should always follow music deeper into the Grand Bazaar, and so you do, squeezing past the swarming shoppers until the road spits you out into a small piazza. The music isn’t far-off now. In fact, it’s there, by that large throng of people on the other side of the square. You walk over to see what they’ve gathered around, to see what sounds have been calling you.
An Organ Grinder with a fabulous mustache, bursting out of his suspenders, turns the lever on a Hurdy-Gurdy machine, producing a sound like a woman’s melodic wail. On the ground before him, a tiny capuchin monkey dances around, holding onto a long string. It taps its feet. It raises its arms. It collects outstretched paper bills from generous hands.
On its head is a tiny fez. On its torso is a tiny vest. You squint to see, but yes indeed, it’s even got on a pair of tiny black shoes. The music may have led you here, but it’s the monkey that’s caught your attention.
Do you stay and consider the monkey? Continue to PART 2.
Do you turn around and head home? Jump to PART 6.
Part 2) Considering the Monkey
You decide to stay here awhile and consider the monkey? You consider how, every day, before he is peddled out before the masses, the monkey puts on his little hat. And he puts on his little vest. Then he walks out here and does his little dances, accepting whatever money is handed to him. All your other thoughts fall away except for this:
Does the monkey know that his entire life is a lie?
Consider the monkey: Working in earnest, dressing himself in earnest, doing tricks for the crowd in complete earnest. Only we, the observers, know that the monkey is playing a role, that he’s dressed inappropriately for a monkey, and that his life is an imitative act. But the monkey doesn’t have the benefit of such perspective. To him, this is just what monkeys do. He doesn’t know that it’s some other species’ suit he sports. But all that does is make the sincerity of his actions evermore conspicuous.
So, why the monkey?
- Because of how Salgado’s works approach reality. Her highly-stylized 3D art displays little interest in mimicking the photorealism many others chase. Her unreal landscapes are obtusely imaginative. Her characters have no analogue in the real world.
- And because many of Salgado’s works are glazed in a textural compound that — via carefully-tuned reflectiveness and colorization — mimics the sheen, luminosity, and consistency of glass. Blown glass. Or porcelain. Things you’d find sitting on dainty shelves in an artisan’s shop, and which are most aptly characterized by their fragility. Digital fragility is an inherent oxymoron: Digital objects can’t be broken. Digital glass is antithetical to itself, naturally devoid of the singular quality which most makes glass what it is. Salgado’s pieces might appear to be astoundingly-accurate imitations, but they’re fraudulent by nature.
As is so much in Salgado’s works.
And thus, we return to the monkey.
The monkey can never actually be what it dresses itself as or what it believes itself to be, try as it might. And it tries. Alas, only you and I, with outside eyes, can gauge the futility of its actions.
Similarly, Salgado’s glass artworks can never be what they appear to be. They will always lack the soul of the thing they mimic. And yet, look how her pieces so lovingly try anyways. Dispossessed of outside inference, they know not what they are, only what they may be.
It’s a fascinating way Salgado has found to explore the quintessentially millennial quest for sincerity.
Because ultimately it doesn’t matter whether Salgado’s glass recognizes its own impossibility, or whether Salgado’s self-portraits, as another example, bear any real resemblance to the artist. We gather around, attracted, enraptured, offering dollars because all this work so dauntlessly believes in itself. Because the thing we’re so attracted to — monkey, artwork, both — is that it believes anyways.
Do you find yourself intrigued by the finer points of Joaquina Salgado’s artistry?: Continue to PART 3.
Do you want to get on with the *point* of this whole thing instead? Jump to PART 4.
PART 3) Joaquina Salgado
In truth, Salgado’s oeuvre is somewhat difficult to wrangle. It’s so sprawling and multifaceted — blending genres and techniques and ideas — that any in-depth analysis will almost certainly leave something vital out. She creates stunning 3D landscapes, for example, but also self-portraits in surreal styles. Plus an entire Metaverse world called Fluido.obj. A well-stocked Instagram swathed in outtakes from more polished works, and the ephemeral contents of Salgado’s VJ-ing sets, where she creates virtual light and art shows alongside DJ’s in real-time. Some of her artwork, she mints. Others she’s content uploading to social media. But within a career notable for its diversity, I find myself coming back to the digital glass because it’s a frequent and unique facet of Salgado’s artistry.
Though within the larger confines of Salgado’s style, it’s hardly the only device used to explore sincerity.
Her aforementioned self-portraits, for instance. There seems to be one for every epoch in the artist’s life, and each embodies an entirely different sensibility, perspective, and compositional technique. There’s the bulbous blue baby of her crypt0baby era, star of pieces like Portal (above) and the aptly-titled Cryptobaby (below). Then there are the artist’s more modern renderings of herself, like the mermaid centerpiece of works like Mermaid Portrait and Pedestal, though a behind-the-scenes video reveals that it’s not actually Salgado who the images capture, but a model.
I hear you, even now, muttering “Well, how can it be a self-portrait if it isn’t the artist in the image?”
Because self-portraiture is nevertheless the implication! None of these self-portraits ever capture the artist as she is, true, but look at the descriptions Salgado affixes to her pieces. Almost always, they not only use the first-person “I” pronoun, but seem to be describing the motivations behind each piece, turning their contents into reflections of the artist’s mind, mentality, and moment.
“After my initiation ritual I can have sex in the metaverse. In the absence of a physical body I can feel the subtle shades of tenderness and caring,” reads the description for Heightened Connectivity (below).
“Walking through virtual galleries has left me exhausted. I enjoy my bath with essential oils while listening to a track of sounds from the sea,” accompanies Essencial Oils (below), an image where Salgado reduces herself to a mostly-featureless crystalline figure hanging halfway out of a porcelain bathtub.
And my personal favorite, “This is me. I am shy but I love sexting.” That’s from Cryptobaby itself. “I enjoy walking through virtual galleries and magic enviroments” (sic).
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not Salgado’s self-portraits are aesthetically accurate representations of her physical appearance. Not when Salgado’s descriptors imply her personal presence therein. And even if all these descriptions and self-allusions are clever fabrications used to misdirect and confound, that would only add to the initial question of artistic sincerity, turning it into, well, an actual question.
That said, I understand how one could look at Salgado’s strange self-portraits, read the quite vulnerable descriptions beneath them, hear me discuss the way digital glass is an inherent oxymoron, and still approach with caution. “Surely capturing one’s truth is possible through less extreme means,” you say, pointing to the master self-portraitists, the Kahlo’s and Van Gogh’s.
“Or otherwise,” you laugh, “all of art would be self-portraiture, just varying forms of it. Therefore, what makes Salgado’s search for sincerity so special?”
While that phantom voice isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s not giving Salgado nearly enough credit. Because what if the artist isn’t just unwilling to capture herself accurately but perhaps unable? Now the coy underbelly of her artistry reveals itself.
The artist seems to be suggesting that any attempt to capture herself as she “truly is” would be, at best, chasing a lost moment backwards. Because there was, at any given moment, a different Joaquina Salgado, and she went by a pseudonym, and she made different art.
But she sheds herself like molted skin.
Now there’s a new Joaquina Salgado, with a new perspective and a new artistic style. Soon this one will go too. Salgado understands that any sincere attempt to reveal one’s self must be a subtextual one. Because our brains change our appearances when we look in the mirror. Because we’re godawful judges of our own behavior/motivations/moralities/etc., and there are endless psychological principles which uphold that notion. When we try to capture ourselves — in portraiture, in photographs — the results are intrinsically incomplete. We can only ever achieve subjectivity. Salgado just gets rid of the middle man. Like her digital glass, these portraits of herself are objectively truthful within their own contexts. They only become false when we assault them with our external perspectives.
But yes, sure, I suppose this could all be an elaborate ruse designed to deceive us. Salgado’s entire artistic career could be a performative put-on. But wouldn’t it seem weird to build an entire coherent, cogent career for such a purpose? What do you think?
Do you trust the artist, deeming her search for sincerity legitimate? If so, continue to PART 4.
Do you think, “You know what, I’m not sure I trust this artist at all! You’re giving her too much credit. And honestly, maybe all mimesis-rooted art hinges on the same kind of sincerity-seeking self-deception you’re suggesting!”? If so, jump to PART 5.
PART 4) What Salgado is Not…
Words from the Buddha I think about often: “With our thoughts we create the world.” Every perspective paints an entirely different reality. Did Van Gogh actually look as he does in his self-portraits? Did Kahlo in hers? Or were these versions of each churned through the meat grinder of each’s mind.
What we gain from another’s artistry is their revelatory and unique perspective of the world. But an artist’s eye is structurally unable to capture objectivity. Salgado is a knowing and talented artist. Knowing and talented artists are aware that capturing oneself is a futile exercise. Because ego will always form a barrier between artist and honesty. The closest thing to truth is the convergence of multiple perspectives. It cannot be demonstrated in a given artwork, but gleaned from in-between them. Truth is something we infer, not observe.
And the truth is that nobody is being fooled by Salgado’s oeuvre. That’s the point. Salgado is not her cryptobaby. And she is not a mermaid either. Her pieces of digital glass are dressed up just about as nicely as they can be, but Salgado knows — as we know — that they are illusory, mere aesthetic re-creations.
Salgado’s digital glass isn’t meant to evoke truth in and of itself. Salgado’s artwork isn’t about truth at all, but about what happens when we deem “truth” impossible. The digital glass is merely a tool to that end. It’s a way of capturing our attention in such a way that we say, “Hmmm, this is strange. This object both is and isn’t what it appears to be. What does that mean about being anything?” With her suite of tools, Salgado encourages us to consider our own perspectives, our own subjectivities, the nature of our own realities. What “truth” means to us. Whether we can ever truly be sincere. She asks us to consider the tenuous position between earnestness and duplicity.
You’ve come this far, so you take one step further. Perhaps there’s no such thing as duplicity. All actions reveal this-or-that truth. Our’s, Salgado’s, a given culture’s. The irony, however, is that we can never look at these truths directly, only catch fleeting peripheral glimpses, swiping at them like we’re trying to catch smoke. Only when we recognize this futility of truth can the journey towards it begin. And that’s where we are when we’re with Salgado: On her own endless, futile, ultra-sincere journey towards the truth.
Which isn’t so different from the monkey’s, now is it?
PART 5) Master of Deceit
You’ll hate me for saying this, but I think you’re making my point for me. Deception is, after all, a recognition of truth, but a subsequent turning away from it. Deception is a deliberate act of hiding or obfuscating something. It requires truth, and cannot exist on its own. Otherwise it’s just ignorance.
Every conversation, social media post, and even oftentimes internal opinion we have is some kind of deception. That’s not cynicism. Deception in this way is akin to how theatre is deception. The suspension of disbelief required to appreciate stage-acting is part of the social contract we agree to when we go see a play or film. And likewise, we understand in so many social circumstances — the dreaded family reunion, for example; or hobnobbing industry events; even first dates — that we are playing a role. We are consciously choosing to speak with a certain diction. We have worn certain pants. We do not use the fork which fell on the floor. We are on our best behavior.
All of these augmentations to our normal resting state are, in some sense, deceptive. They do not represent the most honest possible version of ourselves, the “we” who emerges when we undo our belts and throw ourselves on the couch and rub dripped pizza grease on our untrimmed bellies (which is itself just another version). It may take us many social interactions with a person before we feel comfortable farting in front of them. Is that not deception to the same degree?
That question isn’t important. But this one is: Do deceptions not naturally reveal truth?
At the family reunion, we smile and earnestly try to explain what an NFT is to an 87-year-old Korean war veteran. What does that say about us?
Mingling at the art gallery, we tell everyone that we love their work, sooooo much, whether we do or don’t. Why do we feel the need to lie?
On that first date, we leave out so many details of who we are, how we think, what we want. What are we afraid of?
Salgado’s work captures that kind of sincerity. Not the sincerity of the man finally opening up to their therapist, or the overbearing mother embracing her adult daughter and saying “I love you” for the first time in 25 years. These are not Lifetime Original Movies. Salgado’s sincerity is of a more complex and realistic kind: those murky truths we sometimes graze with an extremity and recoil from, like when accidentally grazing the slimy bottom of a lake with our toe.
Salgado’s digital glass can’t help but be disingenuous. Such are the circumstances of its composition. Her so-called “self-portraits” equally so. But they nevertheless expose our shared interpersonal skeleton: We put on different faces, contort ourselves into certain forms, and only then do we go shake hands with the world. Is that deception? Does that make us insincere?
Or does it just make us human?
Do you think, “You know what, Max, maybe you’re right, it might just make us human, hmmmm”? If so, turn back to PART 4.
Do you think, “Hell no! You’re a liar, Max Cohen, and so is this Salgado character! Shame on you all, and the monkey most of all!”? If so, continue to PART 6.
PART 6) Home.
After a few moments, you stalk away from the Hurdy-Gurdy Man and the monkey both, grumbling to yourself about how people are peons and street-shows are for the weak-willed. You walk with your head down and hands stuffed in your pockets. Passersby seem to be giving you extra space. Good! With elbows jutting out this widely, they should.
After a nightmare of a time fiddling with the subway turnstile, you find you’ve missed your train. Another eventually shows up. The car is quiet. Just a few stragglers in their work clothes, men looking at their phones and women looking at anything but you. An ugly child glares at you. Someone nearly trips over your extended foot. Still, every time the doors open at a new stop you secretly hope that someone will seat themselves next to you, in the spot you’ve left conspicuously open, perhaps even a beautiful stranger, or someone interested in pulling you out of your mental morass. But alas, nobody does. The world is an inconsiderate place, and you are just a shadow in it.
After some time gazing out the train-car window, you start dozing off. Suddenly, your pre-dream ponderings erupt with memories of the monkey. Its puerile little smile, its hairy hand stuffed full of cash. It’s probably somewhere right now nibbling on the butt of an old hotdog, grasping it with all ten fingers, fully engrossed. It’s probably somewhere warm. Perhaps the Hurdy-Gurdy man is stroking its little forehead, calling it “champ” or “pal” or “Leonardo.” It may be a fraud, this monkey with its cheaply-imitative human clothes and cheaply-imitative human movements, but it’s been fed and befriended by a human, lives in a human home, and will probably soon drift off to sleep in a human bed.
And you, alone on the train, your forehead against the dirty glass? What about you?