Still playing a bit of catch-up with last semester — here are notes and pics from Aurora’s BFA show.
It’s perhaps a little surprising to see such a young artist preoccupied with the idea of the “ancient” — in the way Aurora Winkler filled the gallery with newly-minted ruins. Although it could be argued that the tremulous state of contemporary culture — the weightless burden of instant obsolescence, the way everything is made from air, blown into different shapes from one moment to the next — could easily drive one to the refuge of the past. It’s a refuge that may be fragmentary and shattered, but what remains at least gestures to a form of permanence. Seeing Aurora’s work, I was reminded of Manuel Neri’s deliberately eroded figures; I wrote about them elsewhere that they seemed a kind of “pre-emptive sculpture”: if time was eventually going to have its way with them, why not cut to the chase, and invite the connotative gravitas that accrues to history’s scars and amputations?
There were certain details in Aurora’s work that tweaked the idea of a vanished past — indications that we, the audience, were not standing in the present looking backward — but rather were were being sent into the future, to view the present day through a scrim of disaster and abandonment. On some of the cracked clay surfaces were spatters of iridescent paint — vivid, unnatural, chemical — that were meant to reference the toxic bequeathal we’re making to unknown generations. We won’t just be leaving ruins — we’ll be leaving irradiated ruins.
Some of the smallest pieces were the most evocative. There were a few ambiguous forms set on simple wood shelves; perhaps they amounted to fragments of vessels, but it was hard to say for sure. It was impossible to tell how “complete” these forms were, or if they suggested a certain self-sufficiency of incompleteness (maybe that’s too contradictory, but I’m thinking of artifacts like Sappho’s poems, which, with their accidental elisions, seem almost boldly Modernist).
At the risk of being too syntactically cute, the work played with the tension of intention. There was something provisional about the presentation — shelves, wood palettes, lighting that seemed to derive more from excavation than exhibition — suspending the objects between the fictional culture that created them, and the equally fictional culture that dug them up and put them on display. How much of the meaning of the objects emanates from the “originating” culture, and how much from the anthropologist culture, reassembling the pieces in its own image? One wall had a scattering of fragments assembled in the broken shape of a human torso and head. Was it a forensic reconstruction of an original configuration — or did it simply speak of our desire to see our human image in the flotsam and jetsam of the past, even to the point of projecting a human image onto pure rubble? (This thought was probably provoked by the time I spent in New Hampshire, a state that had as its emblem the Old Man of the Mountain, a profile of mountainside granite that had to be lashed together with bolts and cable to preserve its human echo — until gravity finally overtook resemblance).
The torso-assembly worked especially well with the shadow-play in the gallery. A floorbound lightbulb threw the silhouettes of the audience up there on the wall, to fill in the fragmented outlines of the shape. The whole gallery functioned as a shadow-theater, and that was key to the show’s success: in direct light, the pieces looked unconvincing as stage-props seen up close. On the stage, props are leant history by the blur of distance; in the more intimate gallery space, distance was leant by shade. My favorite element of the show was an archipelago of wrecked clay, with a bare lightbulb laid on the floor in front of it. It was easy to imagine a play, with miniature actors, transpiring there — among the ruins of a volcano-smashed Pompeii, or a bomb-smashed Berlin. A drama had taken place there, and it was primed for a drama to take place there once again.
I have to admit I was skeptical of Aurora’s decision to hold her artist’s talk in the gallery itself, just because the acoustics and cumulative body heat there can be oppressive. But among the shadows she’d invited, reading from an oversized book on Jung, I understood the importance of her maneuver. It was appropriate for her to step into the shoes of a storyteller, reaching back for that ancient continuity: the person holding court via apparition and firelight.