Monday, 28 September 2015

Consuelo Cavaniglia: In the distance a pool of light was not what it seemed: PICA

Consuelo Cavaniglia: In the distance a pool of light was not what it seemed: PICA

by Graham Mathwin

It seems slightly inappropriate to talk about architecture in relation to what is presented in this show, and the decision to invite an architect at the talks was a curious one. Though the reference, due to the nature of the work, seems somewhat obvious, it does not seem to be at its heart: only two architectural interventions are visible in the space, and they do not dominate. The major works appear sculptural, and their joining angles are quite contrary to typical architectural shapes, and their size is diminutive – less even than the height of the doors. The emphasis does not seem to be on the body within space, so much as the bodies themselves, and on the approximate level of our eyes. Curiously, the entire focus of the exhibition seems directed to eye-height or below.

The focus on the ground certainly demonstrates where the most interesting work takes place: in the shattered pattern of light that scatters over the floor – direct, simple, yet enchanting. A ‘drawing with light’ was mentioned by Leigh Robb in the talks, and describes the vision of the work, for although the discourse of phenomenological light and space art is perhaps useful, the work seems unconcerned with being about perception so much as engaging our senses with as simple a means as possible. The natures of the subtle and clear drawings are reciprocated in the lines and shapes of the structures. The fracturing nature of the space, rather than any purely formal square seems to engage more on an engagement with relationships between elements, of junctures and meetings rather than what we perceive. The work sits between an extension of material form out from itself into the world of the viewer, and an extension of a drawing practice of formalist linear composition into space.

There is something I would like to say about the use of light in works such as this, and Alistair Rowe’s work at Fremantle Arts Centre now as well. It feels problematic to me that despite the works’ reliance on the nature of the artificial lights of the gallery, and despite the great strength those lights give to the work, those lights themselves remain arbitrary to them. For something that gives the work so much of its strength, the light seems to be overlooked as a sculptural component. For the works invoke space, but they seem to ignore the rest of it. Why, if the work extends out from its edges, should we ignore the lights? They are paradoxically treated arbitrarily, yet with great importance. It is a paradox that these practices must resolve, whether by relying less or more on scattered reflection, or emphasizing the role of the lights themselves. I can mention several instances of great success: Rebecca Baumann’s Reflected Glory, and Robert Irwin’s Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Each used light effectively, or theatrically, but it was not just the arbitrary reflection of a complex sculptural work that made the work succeed. Intentionality was there, in each.

I was un-enchanted by the work on my first visit, at the opening, people crowding around them, their delicacy was ruined by the presence of people – as is often the problem with works like this. Subsequent visits gave me a vision of them I came to appreciate them for: as a dance, a ‘choreography’ as Robb points out perceptively in the catalogue. It is a dance with space, rather than an attempt to engage in its production. The strength of the work is in its sensitivity to itself. The movement around them creates a complex relationship of angles and planes. The works seem to play off each other, each one aligned to the other, their lines and shapes involving us in a play with space, and their reflections and refractions extending it outward from their forms.

Yet there is a problem that remains, even in this interpretation. There is a strange and awkward relationship between all the elements in the upstairs space. And it breaks the otherwise magnificent choreography. The dark frames on the walls feel like black holes, sucking life out of the room of transparent structures. They are like weights, simply due to their dark colouration. Then there is my favourite work, the painted line in the corner, which extends from the floor to the roof. Yet the framed works and the line and the sculptures strike up awkward conversations, like strangers that met at a party, and are trying to find what they have in common. They’re made of the same stuff, but they aren’t yet on the same level. There is something in the boldness and simplicity of that single line, painted into the corner of the room that shines out as an example to how simple but how strong this work could be. I feel that there is a lack of boldness in the approach to space that makes it this way. There is too much work, and it is too disparate. There are also faults in the material: the blue and yellow transparent sheets bent and curled in the sun, being thinner than the transparent ones, and destroying the crispness of the work. The subtlety and boldness of that corner work is interesting, yet delicate enough to disappear into the corner it emerges from. It is a challenging and fascinating part of an installation that is otherwise too moderate. The corner work exemplifies a totally different kind of approach, of causing us to re-examine our space and its delimitations, both through its size and its simplicity.

If I was to think of artworks that bear similar traits to those in this show, I am led again back to Robert Irwin, particularly dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, three transparent acrylic columns that he had specially manufactured, and were the only things that he presented in a space. Their transparency, but also their distortion of space, allowed them to become fascinating. Only three, yet tall enough to engage in spatial dialogue, and yet invisible and subtle enough to be surprising, too, like that line painted in the corner, to throw some light over the possibility of seeing anew. The difficulty of these works is that they have not left the discrete object behind; yet seem not to need the object. Of what work I have seen, those that do not delimit themselves, but extend outwards from their frames such as the window coverings and corner line, that are not bounded, are those that are most surprising in Cavaniglia’s oeuvre. The strange difficulty of this show was that I expected constantly that it would have been spatial, and not sculptural, but it was tied up in a strange bind between the two, and without a synthesis. There is something odd about how object-like these interventions were, sitting somewhere between eye height and the floor.

The entire show is beautiful, and the sensitivity that Cavaniglia has in her drawings is replicated in the work. Yet I feel the need to say that it requires more. More boldness – even if that means more subtlety. The best works were those that almost disappeared, and extended above the line of our eyes, and outside their frames and the edges of their acrylic sheets, the windows and the painted line. They spoke, and spoke eloquently and beautifully to the problems of light and space and perception. They do not yet have the dance-like quality of her other works, which are compositions more than they are interventions. But that is the problem, for me, of the show – that it sits awkwardly between things, without any definite resolution of either. Whether Cavaniglia can reconcile the two, or expand one is something I am interested in finding out. For this exhibition feels like a testing pad, and although there are the stirrings of a great depth in the transparent and subtle work, there is a need to refine and hone the qualities of the work.


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