"Interplay," curated by Silvia Karman Cubia and Patrick Charpenel, at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, 299 De Diego Avenue, San Juan, P.R.
"Interplay" is a compound word that brings to mind vast possibilities of interpretation. It is also the basis for a splendid exhibition, curated by Silvia Karman Cubia and Patrick Charpenel, that was first seen last December at the Moore Space in Miami during Art Basel. The show includes a hybrid mix of 25 young artists from around the world whose work deals with the different ways that people assimilate and filter information in contemporary culture.
One artist that demonstrates the premise of the show perfectly is Luis
Gispert, whose photographs, sculptures and installation works combine elements of popular culture, fashion, urban life, performance art and Post-Minimalism all into one signifier -- the cheerleader. Gispert's cheerleaders, often photographed against a green background, wear ridiculous amounts of jewelry and attitude. Such is the case in Musa Ho (2001), in which a long branch of golden jewelry protrudes from the mouth of a brunette cheerleader in an event reminiscent of Nauman's fountain.
Gispert's interest in Post-Minimalism and the doings of Vanessa Beecroft is more evident in his video projection Block Watching (2002-03), in which a hot blonde performs, dances and reacts, to the soundtrack of an annoying car alarm. Although at first glance the piece seems like something out of amateur porn, with longer attention the cheerleader reveals a depth of character not found in such movies or in the models of a Vanessa Beecroft performance.
Gispert's cheerleaders are more confrontational, because its easier for viewers to relate to the complexities of the "girl next door" rather than to stylish and bulimic naked supermodels.
Paul Pfeiffer's The Long Count (I Shook Up The World) is a haunting
examination of idolatry in sports. In the video, which plays in a small
screen on top of a metal pole surfacing from a wall, Pfeiffer has altered the footage of a boxing match by digitally erasing the boxers. What's left on the ring is their ghostly outline, a transparent aura through which one can clearly see the exhilarating reactions in the faces in the crowd of the match.
Dara Friedman's pseudo-documentary Wild Dog (2002), which follows a couple of stray dogs in their daily routine, plays like a sad soundtrack for the celebration of misery. The piece is loony, funny and playful.
Some people call Daniela Rossell shameless because she befriends and then supposedly abuses members of the upper class in her "Ricas and Famosas" series of photographs, which show them surrounded by their ostentatious but tasteless possessions. While exploiting the poor is frowned upon, it seems to be okay for an artist to exploit the rich in favor of a social statement. Whether these portraits, of the new Mexican bourgeois in their lavish and kitschy homes, are exploitative is questionable. The portraits are luscious and beautiful and Rossell's subjects seem sane and willing, quite unlike the subjects of another famous artwork, Gillian Wearing's trauma series of videotapes, in which it remains uncertain whether the barflies and abuse victims in the tape were mentally fit to make a conscious decision of being part of an art project that would put them on display.
An ambiguous term like "Interplay" may seem simple, but it can be nightmarish, too, as proven by Javier Cambre. In Model (NY) (2003), Cambre has constructed an architectural model that looks like a poor man's version of Barbie's dream house.
When Cambre's work functions properly it raises questions about
architecture, the failure of modernism and taste in society. But when it fails, as in this case, it is because the artist, who has been trained as an architect, is not paying attention to how a structure should adapt, relate or function in a given exhibition space.
For one, it wasn't clear if the viewers were allowed in the projection area of the shack; its size is neither too big nor small to hint visitors in any direction. What's more, the structure lacks any interesting features, color or materials, leaving a few unanswered questions. Was it an adorned projection booth, or was it an installation? Why was it so close to the wall instead of being installed in an open space?
The other problem with Model (NY) is the video that plays inside of it. The opening credits read "Hero in N.Y." and after that follows what seems to be excerpts from a song. But the real crisis starts when Cambre appears as the main and only character in a contemporary ritualistic dance of sorts that can be described as a nervous breakdown that ends in a strip show in which the artist makes love to the floor. The over the top performance in the video and its amateurish way in which it was filmed overwhelms the viewer to such extent that the structural housing seems unnecessary.
But all is not lost, as Cambre redeems himself with a set of four photos titled Homme-Maison (2003). The photos are portraits of the artist sitting on a chair, holding a smaller version of the shack or dollhouse in his arms. Javier flirts with the sculpture, wears it as a hat, and places it on his lap. Dramatic clichs are kept to a minimum, and the viewer can enjoy what is an interesting commentary on the ways that a person's behavior interacts with architectural space.
The team of Allora & Calzadilla (Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla) is fast gaining recognition as both resourceful and thoughtful. Their
contribution to "Interplay" is a set of large-scale banners. One has been
installed on a billboard near the highway, depicting the sun's reflection on the water. The image has been digitally altered and the line of light (the reflection of the sun in the water) that normally points to the eye of the camera is redirected towards the model in of the photograph. The beauty and monumental scale of the image -- that of a person looking at a sunset on the seashore -- leaves the viewer arrested, yet the images feel intimate.
Called Seeing Otherwise, the banners are an extraordinary study on perception, that makes the most of an image exhibited in two different settings. First shown in the streets of Cuba during the 7th Havana Biennial, it could be fair to say that Seeing Otherwise had a clear political tone, like subversive capitalist propaganda packaged as art and addressed directly to the people of Cuba with a very subtle and beautiful image. The image of people looking out to sea in search of comfort transforms into that of people looking for a way out of oppression. But in Puerto Rico, where no one is trying to escape political oppression, the huge banners seem like an advertising campaign for tourism.
The climax of the piece comes in the shape of an uncomfortable comparison, once the viewer in Puerto Rico realizes where this piece was first shown and what it could imply to a Cuban viewer. In this sense the beautiful image associated with vacation and the goods of capitalism becomes loaded with ideas of exile, oppression and hope. The same feelings once evoked in Cuba are seen and filtered from a different cultural and social perspective.
Seeing Otherwise is refreshing because the artists have kept the rhetoric to a minimum leaving viewers with a rich visual, intellectual and psychological experience rather than just an elongated thesis statement in an exhibition catalogue. And that is a good thing.