In its scale and complexity, El hombre con el hacha y otras situaciones breves – Venecia 2017 is one of Liliana Porter’s most ambitious projects to date. The piece serves as a form of retrospective, as it contains many of the characters, groupings, or situations that have appeared repeatedly in Porter’s works over the last three decades. The installation takes its name from the tiny figure of a man with an axe, shown hacking away at an elongated pile of fragmented objects. The viewer’s eye follows this array of broken pieces as they shift dramatically in scale, from dust-size particles, to chips of broken china, to damaged figurines, to larger objects that include plates and chairs, and finally to a full-size broken piano.
Historical figures and symbols appear throughout the installation. A plastic toy replica of the car in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated is exhibited. Nearby an old hammer is placed casually on a sickle, tools and symbols of the industrial worker and the peasant farmer used in international Communism and on the flag of the Soviet Union. Elsewhere appears a broken porcelain head of the Chinese Communist leader Mao. These and other representations of the past emerge haphazardly, their ideologies and historical positions coexisting in the same space.