MANIFEST INSTALLATION; ‘BRIDGE/PUENTE’ AT TALLER BORICUA GALLERY
NEW YORK, NEW YORK




The title of this exhibition at Taller Boricua Gallery, a non-profit space operating in East Harlem since ’69, curated by Mauricio Lafitte-Soler, contains a conundrum that might guide an inquiry into the works. Promising to connect two different points—to bridge—it also implies that the points already overlap: “puente” is, of course, the Spanish for “bridge.” Both words refer to the same thing; the split between them is linguistic and cultural.
This split or chasm is indeed the centerpiece of “Bridge/Puente,” both in term of its structure—the juxtaposition of two emerging artists, Amy Eshoo and Omar Lopez-Chahoud, respectively from Vermont and Cuba—and in terms of its content. Eshoo’s “Telling Tales”, for instance, bespeaks a regression to an earlier, pre-linguistic psychic stage. In it, four child-size chairs face each other, distilling language-based communication to human communion. “Story Lines (I and II)” (2000) likewise never quite brings to fruition the narrative implied in its serial format. Instead, frame after frame of black-and-white photographs depict figures gesticulating—ie, resorting to a non-verbal means of articulation. Starkly silhouetted against a clear sky, their physiognomy (and ethnicity), like their ability to speak, is obscured.
If Eshoo’s works are located before the threshold of linguistic inculturation, then Lopez-Chahoud’s suggest a loss of cultural specificity after globalization. “Untitled (wall installation and table)” incorporates a babble of competing voices from found material, text, and painting, begging the question: What did the artist make, and what is pre-fabricated, collaged in? A cross between an artist’s studio and a child’s romper room, nineteenth-century British news clippings share wall space with watercolors; a chemistry set abuts a French book; a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese box sits atop a sheet of Playdo. Although adeptly refuting the bourgeois ideal of a singular creative “voice,” “Untitled” inadvertently becomes complicit with another defining feature of bourgeois life: Capitalism. The spectre of reification looms inescapably over the international cultural artifacts collected together in this and five other installations. Decontextualized and shuffled around like so many circulating commodities, Lopez-Chahoud’s constellation of objects divest themselves not only of the artist’s authority, but of any substantive meaning, entering instead into a limitless field of equivalence.
Both artists approach the chasm between language and communication, between objects and their cultural significance, thematically and allegorically. As poignantly as Eshoo represents communication (whether linguistic or otherwise), as adroitly as Lopez-Chahoud arrays his installations in the gallery space (in an effort to explode the artwork outwards), neither artist strays from circumscribed artistic boundaries to directly countenance the exhibition’s unique geographical location and speak to its audience. This concern is particularly germane to Lopez-Chahoud’s installations, which apparently deploy this now-ubiquitous format with little regard to its initial polemical, even political, underpinnings. For installation, before becoming an international phenomenon, before even its early incarnations as site-specificity and institutional critique, above all signaled the acknowledgement of the beholder as a constitutive component of art. To make this acknowledgment directly opposed the codified Modernism now associated with Clement Greenberg; it also, in challenging the putative autonomy of aesthetic experience, shifted the axis of art to connect objects to subjects.
To be sure, Lopez-Chahoud’s sprawling and heterogeneous installations strain the distinction between art and life, interweaving as they do workaday debris with the products of studio creation. Similarly, Eshoo collapses private and public spheres, photographing and exhibiting as she does an internal psychic register. The exhibition’s promise to bridge, however, necessitates an additional step to come to pass, namely this: to deploy the medium of art as a form of public discourse, a channel through which ideas can enter into public discussion.
In the end, the exhibition’s circumstances themselves intimate an alternative to the artists’ regard for aesthetic decorum. The East Harlem location of Taller Boricua Gallery (which doubles as the Puerto Rican Project Space), far from art hotspots such as West Chelsea, operates as a manifestation writ large of cross-cultural palimpsest and connection. And it is in this connection, pressed by Puerto Rican curator Lafitte-Soler—in the implication of overlap between art and politics—as much as in the artists’ exemplary works themselves, that the success of “Bridge/Puente” finds its due.

Christopher Ho
New York, New York