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Why Sometimes am I Feeling So Lost, Installation View Detail

Despite the mangled syntax of the show's title,"Why sometimes am I feeling so lost," Ester Partegas's exhibition at dfn Gallery's Project Room in SoHo manages a directness seldom seen in today's artistic vehicle of choice,"the installation." More pleasing still, the exhibition displays all the attributes one always looks for and invariably finds confoundedly hard to come by in a first New York show: A new work and vision that is, simply put, fresh, ingenious, and highly originalórather than derivative of other artists' work.


Partegas's show at dfn, though scarcely noted outside this fine publication, is a first New York feather in what is likely to be a career cap crowned by the fast and furious rather than by the patient and the politic. Partegas, a young Spaniard from Barcelona by way of Berlin, will have had two more shows by the time this publication hits the newsstands, one of them an exhibition of Arte Joven, or young artóan important annual selection made by Spain's Ministry of Cultureóto be unveiled to some fanfare in Madrid this September. Partegas's other exhibition is a group show in Williamsburg, the alternative artistic habitat that is putting Chelsea's institutional lack of risk taking to shame. In it, she takes the opportunity to round out first impressions by presenting pieces from four distinct series. In the three shows, her works insistently hinge on a key set of concerns while freely employing varied materials and art strategies. Partegas's concerns, in fact, are not entirely unlike the sort of backstory provided by major femme artists like Kiki Smith except in this important respect: Partegas has no wishóindeed, no, and precise technique, puts the lie to the cynical view that high mindedness and a questioning of the value of the much maligned"art object" requires poor execution or"bad art."

Partegas's exhibition at dfn consists of a single large floor installation made up of paper reproductions of domestic objects in varying miniaturized scales. Couches, coffee cups, computer screens, disk drives, microwaves, cigarette packages, and tables are arrayed with an eye to studied disorder, lying along the floor upright, upside down or on their sides, looking like nothing so much as a meeting between a disturbed advertiser's version of the White Tornado and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Three slide projectors rest among excellent reproductions of the sort of objects which America has long hailed as the stuff of household fulfillment, shooting images of the artist onto the faux objects' surfaces. The artist is seen to pose awkwardly, grimace and run across the floor and among the pieces of small-scale tableaux, appearing every bit as disconcerted as Alice after plunging down the rabbit hole. The viewer sees her momentarily arrested there, trapped between the utterly banal surfaces of an oven and a diskette; a fraction of a second later, she escapes, fleeing an unknown menace too terrible to describe except by inference.

Partegas's installation invites reflection of a particularly paranoid type on the nature of domesticity, our relation to household environments, and, perhaps most importantly, our fragile connection to certain seemingly friendly commodities.

It has long been understood that totemic consumer items, such as $175 Nikes and muscle cars, serve as flattering if altogether alienating reflections of their mostly male consumers, the unlimited mass production of these goods suggesting a uniform and banal brand of phallic power. But where home aids and household appliances are concerned, an inversion of the illusory power relationships inherent in consumerism takes place. Rather than extending power, cleaning fluids, and vacuum cleaners, Partegas suggests, appear capable of containing their mistress, turning ownership on its head, empowering the veritable tail to once more wag the overwhelmed, victimized, and estranged dog.

That is presumably why Partegas's continually dashing and scuttling everywoman looks so lost. In her endless cycling through the household tour in miniature, like the Red Queen in Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, she moves faster and faster only to realize that she has been standing still the whole time.


Christian Viveros-Faune

New York, New York