“What happened to the index? Photography always had something to do with truth.”
This is one of the many paratactical questions asked in Lorenzo Sandoval’s video piece, ‘Shadow Writing’, and it offers a way in to the exhibition as a whole. ‘A New Prescription for Insomnia’, which is open at HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts for only one more week, testifies to the increasing abstraction of art from ‘truth’ or any clear object. The opening image of Sandoval’s video shows a house plant next to a photo of a cactus.
The interchangeability of nature and culture, the extreme relativity of our focus and attention: these are staid themes in contemporary art. And yet, curator GeoVanna Gonzalez provides us with more than just a rehashing of these topics. Her impressively consistent exhibition evidences diverse artistic attempts to return to the materiality of objects, rather than merely wallowing in abstraction. But all of the artists’ works are infused with the knowledge that we cannot simply ‘return’ to nature, pretending it isn’t mediated. Thus, the materiality that they celebrate is a mind-bending mix of imperfect mimesis and laborious artifice.
Sandoval’s video applies the logic of technology to nature: asking about the algorithms of the plants, of ‘the mesh’ that invisibly covers all surfaces. Flesh colours recur throughout the exhibition, but in shiny synthetic materials. Silas Parry’s ‘End of The Line’ shows two buoys strung with green and blue latex: the sea is conjured carefully in these swathes of rubber, the colour of which calls to mind ‘algae’ and ‘mermaid’, but also ‘fake’. Zoë Claire Miller’s ‘Metaplasm’ is a wheelbarrow of sand. What looks like crumpled paper lying on top of the sand is in fact a small sculpture of glazed ceramic: what appears to be the waste material is in fact the ‘art’. This discomfiting détournement of value is also a key feature of the exhibition. Miller Robinson’s ‘Cu Suit’ is just that: the artist’s polyester suit coated in copper. Does this addition make it more valuable? Or less, because it it has been rendered useless?
A video of Robinson cleaning the copper suit is also included in the exhibition, and it gives us a clue. What we see is an entirely inefficient, unprofitable process, and yet it is an immersive and repetitive action that absorbs the artist. Other pieces evoke ritual, too. Michele Gabriele’s brilliantly titled ‘Shitty-Slippy-Slutty (A beautiful and dangerous night)’ is a pile of silicone that looks like crystal dung. Gathered, moulded and stabbed with an Oriental fantasy knife, it reads as a bizarre commemoration of a particular night, gaining beauty and humanity from this precise significance. The series of objects that Sandoval places around his video piece, including a pile of cactus skeletons, create a small shrine or graveyard around the screen, in a similar gesture.
The curator told me that she is fascinated by the phenomenon of ‘retreats’, which are marketed as escapes but are themselves commercial. It seems that, alongside celebrating materiality, the exhibition is also looking to the inefficient nature of prolonged artistic labour as a refuge from our thoroughly commercialised existence. A new prescription for our insomnia, or a recommendation for dealing with the insomniac market.