One of the abstract art movements of the mid-20th century that positioned itself as an alternative to the cultural dichotomy of the Cold War was kineticism, of which Jesús Soto (1923-2005) was one of its greatest exponents. His experimental vanguardism, back then, was guided by a conception of abstraction that did not suppose an “artistic objectivity” or an absolute subjectivity, but the possibility of closing the distance between artwork and spectator. Nonetheless, Soto saw the art-society relationship as similar to that of science-society, where art functions as a tool of knowledge, and where artistic procedures were analogous to those of science.
Towards the end of the century, Soto definitively rejected his initial ambivalence and declared that abstraction was, in fact, a form of objective reality. Such a reality was a common element to every being, meaning that the collective premises of kineticism turned fundamental in any sort of formal research. These premises suggested that the works were built solely from experiences in common, or in other words, from the multiplicity of compared perspectives, in continuation with the discoveries of cubism.
As pointed out by Estrellita Brodsky, it was between 1950 and 1969 when Soto developed the repertoire of techniques and approaches that would define said formal research throughout his career as an artist. With the human being as the work’s motor, a view of art as the site of immediate encounter between spectator and reality is affirmed. Where the traditional conception of art saw in a painting a window towards a transcendental dimension, Soto’s modernism made of a painting a particular extension of reality itself. Thus, the exclusiveness of oil techniques began to give way to a wide inclusiveness that, in time, came to formulate a new constructivism that did not discriminate between materials, formats, and techniques.
Through the concepts of dematerialization and instability, Soto spent decades reformulating artistic knowledge about the perceptual relationships between subject and object. Among his approaches was assemblage, with which he affirmed the extensibility of the work towards reality. As unique sites where perception turned into an object of analysis for spectators, Soto’s works allowe the elaboration of a profound connection between abstraction, movement, and everyday life. The visual unity of objects is destabilized in painting, delving into questions about the phenomenon of perception from aesthetics, in a type of experimentation that Soto saw as comparable to that of physics.
The formation of structures is importantly reflected in the series of large-scale installations known as the Penetrables. These works become coextensive with the places where they are installed, allowing the movement of people to become the departure point for the experimentation – more than the contemplation – of the work, as well as the re-evaluation of that which is perceived as more important as that which is thought. The multiplicity of points of view and experiences, as the artist held, should not just be summed in order to determine the work’s unity, but should be integrated as a continual synthesis of reality, made and remade with every movement.
The issue of synthesis is explicitly referred to in the series he developed around writing since the 1960s. Similarly, since the 1980s in another series known as the Ambivalencias Soto studied the relationships between color and plane, following the inquiries of early 20th-century modernists such as Wassily Kandinsky, except in a contrary direction, seeking not the spiritual but the material and concrete.
This is how "Escrituras" (writings), as materialization of language and therefore of meaning, becomes the center of experiments that seek to abstract its origin as points and lines over planes, as sites of perceptual inflection, where the rhythms and interactions between every “character”, every trace, come to the fore. Writing is dematerialized not only before the reticule that produces new perceptual relations, but also in itself as an experience of something universal, independent of any language or meaning in particular: “the immaterial”, Soto said, “is the tangible reality of the universe. Art is the sensible knowledge of the immaterial.”
His Ambivalencias do the same for color, in parallel fashion to the large-scale constructions that the artist made throughout his career. Where the interplay of colors indicated emotions and psychological processes in Kandinsky’s studies, in Soto’s series they fulfill a strictly perceptual function, centered upon decomposition of the form into shifting vibrations that depend on the position and movement of spectators. These two series represent significant moments in Soto’s history, inasmuch as they belong to periods of intense experimentation: the search of the immaterial through movement left us with one of the most interesting bodies of modern and contemporary work of the 20th century.
"Art and science are engaged in a common struggle to confront universal questions.”
Jesús Soto, 1994