Cristóbal Lehyt’s (b. 1973) approach to site-specificity questions the immediate perception of sight (and the site) as a device of cultural translation: what you see is not what you get. For Lehyt, site-specific sculpture occupies the exhibition space as a phenomenological difficulty rather than an encounter with the audience.
Lehyt’s artistic practice, specially his drawings, also departs from a psychological conundrum, projecting the real on a screen, or "sheet"—a piece of white fabric, thick but not totally opaque, serves in this case as an allegory of sight as blurred vision or detritus. Typically, his series of drawings entitled, Drama Projections operates within the liminal realm of language as an impediment or defect. Drawing serves as a medium for a silent type of storytelling in which a mechanism of reproduction/psychic projection allows the artist to delve into life’s everyday conflicts that are unleashed by the artist’s narrative impulse.
Iris Sheets, Lehyt’s solo project for the Americas Society, in its various paradoxes and components—a site-specific sculpture, a mural of drawings, and a banner to be hung at the building’s southwestern façade—tackles the contradictions of an artist from the so-called periphery living in and outside his original context. On the one hand, Lehyt's site-specific sculpture echoes the shape of the geography of Chile and its materials symbolically link the piece with the country’s role as a successful world exporting country. Lehyt is not interested in undertaking an essentialist celebration or in examining political mythologies from the Cold War, although in his previous works allusions to Chile have been repressed and abstracted. It is not accidental he recurrently uses materials from the South American country blended with a cluster of multilayered references to land art and minimalism, as well as Matt Mullican’s hypnotic drawings. An artist born in 1973, Lehyt’s sculpture and drawings are informed by an exploration of the repression of memory after Chile’s dictatorship and its trivialization through the gap between traumatic experience and the past. Lehyt uses history as an abstracted fact muted by language and identifies post-traumatic effects of repression as a mythological construction of the present. Iris Sheets frames these issues as a Samuel Beckett-like tongue twister directed to non-English native speakers.
Lehyt will create a site-specific installation that responds to the architecture of the Americas Society’s art gallery and considers its exhibition history as a space dedicated to (re)present the art of the Americas since the 1960s. The centerpiece of the show will be a gigantic snake-like, three-dimensional structure that weaves through the 1000-square foot space. Upon entering, visitors will encounter what will seem to be the head of the monstrous figure. The structure will be made with natural wood drenched in red Chilean wine and natural-fiber rope therefore engaging the spectator’s perception of space and teasing his or her sense of vision, smell, and touch. The body of the sculpture forms a sort of vertebrae that will operate very much like many of Lehyt’s other works—it will appear as one thing and function as another, making it difficult to identify. The work will be at once abstract, yet organic in form. Lehyt’s work operates within these contradictions, which can also take the form of humor or through a linguistic game in which a joke can be a way for the visitor to access to the meaning of the work of art. For Lehyt, contemporary art—specifically sculpture—game playing allows for alternative approaches to be explored, some of which may not normally be taken seriously within the traditional context of art making.
Another component of Iris Sheets is a mural the artist will produce specifically for the exhibition. Working in tandem with the monumental three-dimensional piece, this work is based on drawings, which the artist titles Drama Projections— a psycho-analytic process that is the result of mind-numbing sessions of “automatic drawing.” Begun in 2003, Drama Projections was started as a means for Lehyt to overcome a conceptual resistance to representing the traumas of the present through portraiture. Through these sessions of automatic drawing, the artist projects his own fantasies upon his everyday encounters with unknown men and women on the subway, in restaurants, or on the streets of the many cities he has visited. At the end of each session, Lehyt is left with intimate drawings he has produced, which can be viewed as characters staring in their own fiction. As the artist has stated, the portraits are like the “the undead in a strange limbo.” Nevertheless, these raw drawing are rarely shown and undergo various levels of mediation. For Iris Sheets, Lehyt will enlarge these drawings, so that they are almost life-size in form.
Lehyt will also hang a large banner outside Americas Society’s building southwestern façade entitled Violeta (2006). The banner features an image of the Chilean protest and folk singer Violeta Parra, along with the text "Thank you life for giving me so much," lyrics from her iconic song. Although Parra’s song became internationally associated to the shattered social utopias from the 1970s, the song is the mere product of the singer’s existential preoccupations rather than a programmatic piece of propaganda. Lehyt emphasizes the lack of accuracy of its present meaning by showing it as an enigmatic marker, decontextualized from history and transmitted through myths. The song’s lyrics printed on the banner also operates as a comical element to be discovered by the passersby.
Iris Sheets will be accompanied by an upcoming fully illustrated catalogue in which art historian Jaleh Mansoor (Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory at University of British Columbia) will contribute with an essay as well as Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra with a text in dialogue with Lehyt’s approach to history as repressed memory. In addition, the publication will feature an interview with Chief Curator Gabriela Rangel and Assistant Curator Christina De León and the artist.
About the Artist
Cristóbal Lehyt, born in Santiago, Chile in 1973, lives and works in New York City. He studied at the Universidad Católica de Chile, and later at Hunter College and The Whitney Independent Study Program in New York. His solo exhibitions include the Carpenter Center (Cambridge, MA in 2010), Fundación Telefónica Chile (2009), Künstlerhaus Stuttgart (2008), University of California Irvine (2007), and numerous others in galleries in London, Santiago de Chile, Caracas, and Mexico City. He has also participated in group exhibitions at the Mercosur Biennial (2009), El Museo del Barrio (2007), Kunsthaus Dresden (2006), the Shanghai Biennale (2004), the Whitney Museum of American Art (2003), MoCA Los Angeles (2002), among many others in New York, Madrid, Santiago, Bogotá, Caracas, Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro. He has been awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and the Art Forum Fellowship at Harvard University. He is represented by Die Ecke, Santiago and Johannes Vogt Gallery in New York. His work with paintings, drawings, and photographs explore identity, figuration, and dramatic narrative.