The Gordian Knot of antiquity is the stuff of legend, or myth, or of parable – or perhaps of all three, woven together. In the central Anatolian kingdom of Phrygia, at the gates to the city of Gordium, an ox-cart was said to have been tethered to a pole by a knot so complex as to be intractable. A prophesy, uttered by a local oracle, accompanied this knot: whosoever might succeed in untying it would become lord of all Asia. The challenge drew many, but the knot, tied so tenaciously, remained as such – i.e. a knot — until Alexander the Great arrived in 333 B.C. and solved the problem as was his wont: with his sword, slicing through it with a single stroke. The story, propagated by Alexander’s hagiographic biographers, allows various readings, primary among which is the one that leads to philosophical moral: certain problems cannot be solved on their own terms, with the parameters inherent to them. Or to put it another way: complex problems at times necessitate simple solutions. The implications go beyond political biography. For a knot is not only a knot: a knot is in some way akin to a state, as in a state-of-being, beyond the material of which it may be fashioned. Hence the mathematical and topological study of knots qua knots, of their tying and their untying. Hence current research in theoretical physics into the possibility of all matter as fundamentally consisting of knotted and coiled loops of space- time. Hence the convergence of mathematics and biology in the study of DNA strands and coils, and in how their patterns – their knotting – form the patterns of life itself. Knots are known to have been endowed with deeper meanings in ancient cultures around the world, such as the so-called “talking knots” or Quipu of South America – intricately tied knots, exquisite aesthetically, that in fact seem to have functioned as a semasiographic writing system which today is all but undeciphered, and which one hesitates to call merely ‘decorative.’ And in fact Robert Graves postulated that the true (albeit hidden) meaning of the Gordian Knot was not political – e.g. the rule of all Asia — but rather religious: “The secret of the Gordian knot seems to have been a religious one, probably the ineffable name of Dionysus, a knot-cypher tied in a raw-hide thong.” In other words, the knot contained a word – a name – which must not be spoken, lest it lose its power. To untie the knot would be the equivalent of speaking the ‘ineffable name.’ A knot, untied, disappears; the rope is released and returned to its condition as rope. In similar fashion the secret, ineffable name, when uttered, would be released and would be returned to its condition as mere name. A knot, untied, is like a name spoken, released from one’s throat and into the air. It disappears.
Thus a knot can be seen as possessing a sort of tripartite nature — the rope, the knot itself, and the knot’s tying – a trinity which is interwoven, like a braid, within any knot. Similarly, Monica Ridruejo’s paintings and sculptures included in the exhibition EIKONOMA can be seen as making an attempt to braid together a trinity of figuration, abstraction and allegory, and – rizando el rizo — to do so via the emblematic leitmotif of knots themselves. On the level of figuration, knots (and by extension rope, chains, nets and related binding material) are the ostensible subject matter most frequently offered by the paintings of EIKONOMA. And these paintings are in fact marine paintings, ascribing themselves within a venerable and ongoing artistic tradition, and – still in the realm of figuration – include more elusive literal content, such as water, the sky, ripples and reflected light. But while inarguably figurative, the paintings employ a number of techniques that undermine their own figuration and render them in some ways and to some degree abstract – hence the second strand running through EIKONOMA. The cropping, for instance, is such that parts, in metonymic fashion become the whole, details the totality. Extreme, even violent foreshortening gives rise to shifts of visual scale that are abrupt and at times disorienting. Asymmetry prevails, far beyond what the conventions that even today underlie Western visual representation, and perhaps even underlie the retinal and neuronal confluence that create what we know as perception. This, again, is to some degree in keeping with the tradition of marine painting: one need only look at the work of artists such as J.M.W Turner or Winslow Homer to see abstraction and figuration co-inhabiting the shared dwelling place of a single canvas. Moreover, in Ridruejo’s compositions (both two and three-dimensional) the combinations of color are often as brusque as the cropping and foreshortening are extreme. In the paintings, luminosity is overlaid by opacity. The oil and often extreme varnish represent surfaces and light-filled water and air, yet in themselves become shimmering fields of color. On the other hand, the sculptures often juxtapose an eye-catching translucency within the objects themselves with the harder- edged, reflective surface their bases, while their ostensible subject matter – rope, chains and related binding material — is the closest real-life analogue to the quasi-abstract free- standing structures (which are furthermore are replete with visual signs of braiding and weaving).
But knots (as well as ropes, chains and similar binding materials) are also charged with meaning – and hence the third strand of EIKONOMA: the allegorical, which binds together the figurative and the abstract. Knots signify rescue and safety (think of mountaineering, where knots are a matter of life and death), and can also signify captivity and incarceration. But knots can also represent bondage in its full panoply of physical, sensual and sexual meanings; here, intensely and almost paradoxically, knots (and similar binding materials) become the emblems of trust.
In EIKONOMA, these three strands – the figurative, the abstract and the allegorical – are woven together, yet each retains its autonomy intact. Thus Ridruejo’s endeavor might be compared to the well-known Borromean Knot, where three rings are linked in such a way that no two rings are linked between themselves, yet all three are linked inextricably among themselves. And as a result, if any single ring is removed, the entire structure collapses. The psychoanalyst and psychoanalytic theoretician Jacques Lacan found in this same Borromean Knot a useful representation of his own understanding of the topology of the human psyche as a place where the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real not only co-exist, but in fact are interdependent: take away any single strand, and the entire structure collapses. The same might be said of Monica Ridruejo’s work in EIKONOMA.