Friday, February 05, 2010

Lurking in the Background

The title of Magali Reus’s exhibition “Background” at ibid projects says it all really, initially the viewer might question exactly what these suite of works is really all about. It is when you take the time to step back from the work and observe the environment of the gallery rather than just focus all your attention on the works that Reus’s intentions seem much more clear. The work is ambiguous, frustratingly so perhaps, too pared down and simple, but after some time there is some charm in the quiet works present in the gallery. It is when the works are viewed as the background to a much larger environment that they become more readable and enjoyable to be around. In the video piece that gives its title to the exhibition we see a group of men in a desolately sparse landscape with nothing more than flat gravelly earth and heaps of sand. Dressed in army styled clothing they perform a series of stilted, choreographed activities like some form of choreographed physical training exercises. Occasionally the film switches to sculptural elements that have been placed around the set, the film briefly focuses our attention away from the group to a flash of sunlight on some small sheets of metal placed on the ground. The camera fixes on detailed shots of the movement of the feet of the players as they ascend the heaps of sand, we notice the scars in sand from their movements. Man, the environment and the materials we construct around appear as nothing more than a choreography. The contrived, measured performances seem somewhere between directed and improvised but somehow free as well. We might imagine that in their place in the group we are part of a play of the world in which the seemingly individual responses and freedoms are in fact determined and controlled by others.

The largest of Reus’s sculptures on show is composed of two green rectangular blocks on an aluminium frame set into and spanning between two walls, the paintwork on the blocks looks impeccably and cleanly finished but on second glance this appears to be a falsehood in our understanding of the scene that this sculptural piece sets. Propped against and extending away from the wall and the frame the blocks project into the gallery space with a large overhang, the blocks appear to bow under their own weight and this clean, simple construction no longer appears as robust and immaculate as first thought.

All of the sculptural works begin to unfold in the same manner, simple clean objects are assembled and finished in a quiet manner but despite the varying materials all these assemblages give a very strong initial impression of solidity. The eye is always drawn finally to the spaces around, beneath or adjacent to the sculpture itself. Two punched aluminium sheets are secured to the wall by a single screw at the top, however the eye casts downwards to the bottom of the sheets as they warp and bow from the wall creating shadows. In another piece one painted piece of board sits propped against the wall with another resting on it inset in the top right hand corner. The large bottom sheet is light green and the top is dark, reflective like a mirror, the large sheet is bowed, it appears fragile but also solid.

There are two further sculptures in this suite of works and they too create seemingly coincidental insights into the environment around the works, all works are very static however they imply strongly movement, transition. Those that appear solid are warping and bowing at the extremities of the piece and the eye shifts away from these sculptural forms to the multiple shadows cast across the galleries walls and floor. They appear ambiguous but also suggest very personal assumptions and responses by the viewer.

Leaving Reus’s work one begins to question the environment around us. We might ask whether what appears around us is “real”. Reus perhaps suggests that all is posed, contrived, choreographed and that our sense of control of our lives is in truth at the mercy of forces and influences that we can barely see or feel.

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