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Montreal
Tammer El-Sheikh
Laura Acosta & David Jaime at TAP Art Space
June 20, 2018

A 1963 LIFE Magazine photo shows two little girls crouching in front of an air vent at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Flanked by abstract paintings, the vent holds possibilities for the girls that Modern art seems to both shut down and occasion. The picture anticipates the demands of audiences to come for work that exceeds the bounds of the gallery and supports a more playful, embodied, and less strictly visual engagement with art. In Laura Acosta and David Jaime’s exhibition Ser/Viniendo – Be/Coming – De/Venir at TAP Art Space, the stalemate between art-on-the-wall and life-beyond-it is recast in a tightly curated dialogue between a VR piece, some orange sculptures, and a live performance.



David Jaime, Layered Selves, VR view

For curator Marx Ruiz-Wilson the exhibition asks basic questions that were likely on the minds of LIFE’s editors too: Why do we go to galleries? What do we expect to find there? And how do these experiences send us out into the world? With backgrounds in public performance and architectural design respectively, Acosta and Jaime are well chosen by Ruiz-Wilson as respondents. If debates of the sixties were organized around the relative merits of abstraction and representation, these artists look for links and gaps between those terms as they apply to social, mental, and physical spaces for artworks – spaces that are better understood as actual and inhabited physically, or virtual and projected imaginatively, or both at once, in different proportions.

In a converted garage that opens on one side to an apartment courtyard and on the other to a back alley, we are given two colour coordinated prompts. In Jaime’s Layered Selves, a VR headset hangs on a wall in front of a swivel chair covered in emergency-orange vinyl upholstery. The performance container for Acosta’s Ser/Viniendo, sewn in the same material, hangs overhead, awaiting activation. The headset presents a mildly vertiginous 360-degree view of the gallery, but without people. Spinning slowly on the chair we marvel at gritty 3D-rendered details of a palimpsest, its scarred concrete and painted wood walls, exposed spray-insulation embellished by Jaime for an extra prickly effect, and faded graffiti from the garage’s former life. The nearly faithful simulation is interrupted by animated ribbons in green, blue, red, and orange that flash across the ceiling, along the floor, and in and out through the doorways. Primed by the virtual experience, when I took the headset off I noticed airborne poplar-tree fluff (Montreal’s ubiquitous summer snow) sailing through a wind tunnel formed by the gallery’s openings.



Laura Acosta, Ser/Veniendo; performance by Michael Martini (photo: Morgane Clément-Gagnon)

If people disappear in Jaime’s rendering, survived by the din of vernissage conversation and traces of a kind of VR spirit-photography, they rush back in for Acosta’s work. Performer Michael Martini climbs into the container suspended from the ceiling in flesh-coloured tights, made-up with orange nail polish and eye shadow. To an alternately scratchy and throbbing soundtrack, he unties a knotted rope, backing it out through grommets that hold the container’s segments together. With each slow revolution inside the distressed vinyl envelope he falls closer to the ground. Martini’s labour, registered in grunts and heavy breaths during pauses in the soundtrack, recalls endurance pieces by the likes of Yoko Ono and Francis Alÿs. More distant traditions haunt the performance too. Entangled in the sculpture’s lengths of rope Martini at times looked like the beleaguered Laocoon wrestling serpents, and in repose, sagging with spent arms and his head fallen to one side, I thought of the dying Marat in Jacques-Louis David’s neoclassical masterpiece. For Acosta, the work’s references are drawn from the Neo-concrete oeuvre of the Brazilian Lygia Clark, or from “bad interpretations of religious figures by colonized people in South American church decorations” or, further off the beaten art-historical path, from designer bootlegs, the improvised garbage bag raincoats of cyclists, and Reggaeton! But these interpretations of Martini’s image are, like his vinyl straitjacket, containers against which the struggle of the performance is carried out.

The tug-of-war in the works between representation and abstraction, and virtual or actual experiences of a repurposed Montreal garage, recalls a paradox formulated by Jacques Rancière. For the philosopher, art has always insisted on the integrity of its institutions and materials, and pointed us past them to more encompassing social, political, and philosophical values. Art history for him presents various “plots” of the relationship between art’s self-reference or autonomy and its hetero-reference, or a promise that (in the more direct language of the LIFE picture) its testing ground lies beyond the gallery’s vent. The works in the exhibition turn on this paradox. Martini’s emergence from the sculpture lends a vitality to the performance that is obscured when read exclusively through art or cultural history. Freed from the artwork proper he drifts triumphantly out of the gallery along one of the paths marked by Jaime’s animated ribbons and into the summer snow.


Laura Acosta and David Jaime: Ser/Viniendo – Be/Coming – De/Venir continues until July 21.
TAP Art Space: https://www.tapmontreal.com/
The gallery is accessible.


Tammer El-Sheikh is a writer and teacher based in Montreal. His art criticism has appeared in Parachute, Canadian Art, ETC and C Magazine.

 

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