Art and Arnold

Translator’s dilemmas: Ana Esteve Llorens’s Calle Mérida at Big Medium


Once again, Big Medium proves to be developing a slight redundancy in its exhibition catalogue. Another Neo-Minimalist exhibition opened this past week with Ana Esteve Llorens’s Calle Mérida. Instead of examining each piece in the show, I’m choosing to focus exclusively on the five light filters. They appear to be the primary works in the exhibition as they take up the majority of the gallery and specifically utilize that space in the process.

These are a re-reading of Minimalist concerns—including phenomenology, body-as-site, and site-specificity—through the lens of event re-creation. The event is light, or a specific type/hue of light found in Mexico City where Llorens lived for some time. Her intention is to manufacture that same light in the gallery. In order to accomplish this, she first took light measurements in Mexico City at certain times of day. These times constitute the titles of the various filers. Then, she took a second set of measurements in Big Medium and figured out what type of light filters were required in order to replicate the light of Mexico City in the gallery space. Finally, she produced five circular filters to translate the light of the gallery into her designs.

But, there is more at work here than just Neo-Minimalism. Minimalists are often clear in the their intentions to negate their own presence in their work. Artists such as Donald Judd and Richard Sierra manufactured their objects in factories so as to eliminate their hands from their pieces’ construction—other than the planning. However, beyond the bibliographic inspiration for these light filters, Llorens’s hand also appears in the construction of the lenses themselves as notable in the air bubbles that appear between the color gels and their plexiglass supports. These objects are not machine made, and this touch of humanity gives the show a personality that would otherwise be lost to overly clean objects in an overly clean white cube.

However, here is the problem.

The purpose of these works is the reconstruction of light and atmosphere. They want to bring the light of Mexico City into Austin and give us pockets of it to see, contemplate, and experience. But, what I saw and was guilty of myself, was an over interest in the filters themselves. People pointed at them, took pictures of them, and discussed them. In fact, it was only after I spoke with Llorens that I took the time to pay attention to the subtle hues falling across the walls. They are spectacular if they can get out from underneath the shadows of their filters.

This is the translator’s dilemma. In general, any translator’s task is to be an apparatus that remains invisible while doing its job. But, through the very act of accomplishing the job it is charged with, it reveals itself. I’m not sure how Llorens could have circumvented this problem either. Going into art galleries, we are trained to look at art objects and not what those objects cause. This is the same cultural conditioning that continually problematizes the realm of relational aesthetics. We are told that art is a static, stoic, and permanent item that can be handled, bought, sold, re-installed, and appreciated in a variety of spaces.

But if I were to purchase one of the filters, its job as a translator would cease the moment I hung it in my house because the light it altered would be different from the light it was initially calibrated to change. And thus, the work would fall back into being an object. The focus turns back to what it is made of and not what it produces.

I’m not sure if there is a solution to this problem. I’m not sure if the curation failed the work here or not. Or, perhaps the idea was too elusive and poetic to be produced in a controlled manner. Or, maybe the intention of the show was to reveal our dependency on objects to fabricate what is already around us but what we often miss. I’m not sold on that idea actually. The mediated life experience is not what this show is after, nor is it about the relevance of the mundane. Calle Mérida is about the making of an attempt at those spectacular quite moments of fleeting temporality that open ourselves up the world around us. If this show opens us up to anything, it is to remind us of our constant need to see the world as objects willed by our objectification of everything.

In thinking about all this, I was reminded of Wisconsin. There is a very specific kind of light that falls across that state in the fall and spring. It’s a glassy, crisp light that pulls everything into a very clear focus. It’s not so bright that you have to squint your eyes, nor is it so dull that everything gets washed into burned out mid-tones. And, it doesn’t stick around for long. It’s only present for maybe an hour or so in the morning and then again in the afternoon. I used to sit in a student lounge when I was in college up there and watch it slide away into the rising noon sun or advancing twilight. I have a good friend who understands this light and does a good job capturing it in her photographs. However, the sad failure her and I cannot escape is that while we can show and tell you about this light, we can’t give it to you. Unless you go there and experience it yourself, you are stuck with our translations. We can’t get out of the way. Sorry for our shadows.

Posted 1st June 2015 by Arnold, H.C.

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This entry was posted on February 16, 2016 by .
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