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 pointsto bridgeit 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 structurethe juxtaposition of two emerging artists, Amy Eshoo and Omar Lopez-Chahoud, respectively from Vermont and Cubaand in terms of its content. Eshoos 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 gesticulatingie, 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 Eshoos works are located before the threshold of linguistic inculturation, then Lopez-Chahouds 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 artists studio and a childs 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-Chahouds constellation of objects divest themselves not only of the artists 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 exhibitions unique geographical location and speak to its audience. This concern is particularly germane to Lopez-Chahouds 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-Chahouds 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 exhibitions 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 exhibitions 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-Solerin the implication of overlap between art and politicsas much as in the artists exemplary works themselves, that the success of Bridge/Puente finds its due.
New York, New York