A Reader of Materials and a Writer of Forms curated by Lucy MacDonald at MOT International in Brussels is a clever little riddle of a show. You arrive on the scene to find yourself a detective, tasked with deciphering clues and unpacking a story told from the viewpoints of four diverse narrators. Subjective thoughts, words, and ideas are entombed in objects and materials and only your keen knowledge of literary and aesthetic forensics can release them. Yokes, molds, and hollow spaces wait to be filled. Can you read backwards, from material to language, from idea embodied to idea conceived?
In the center of the gallery floor curious objects are assembled on two rolls of roofing felt, carefully displayed like recently unearthed artifacts of an archaeological dig. Aleana Egan’s It is noon and one of them wanders off is less tangible than the perfect little Allen Ginsberg vignette from which its title derives. Nevertheless its muted colors and playful shapes do hint at an emotional response to a place, season, or action. The irregular cookie-cutter-like shapes are open vessels, membranes alluding to the contour of a mood or thought.
Look up. Pages of transcribed sketchbooks hang on the wall. Maria Taniguchi’s laser etchings on plywood transform hardly legible sketchbook musings into physical works of art. Ideas give way to form, but this is not your usual evolution from sketch to artwork. Here the replicated texts themselves, the symbolic inscriptions of not-yet-realized ideas, are objectified as art.
It turns out the life-sized puzzle piece to your left, Michael Dean’s concrete y (working title), is a sort of door left ajar. You slide though the narrow negative space it creates to find yourself standing above a dark room. Down the rabbit hole, or in this case the stairs, into an intimate cinema you go. A short back and white film, The Pips by Emily Wardill, is playing and if you’re lucky, you will have arrived at its beginning and the surprise won’t be ruined. A perky, abnormally flexible rhythmic gymnast dances around the screen performing a ribbon routine to music we can’t hear. The ribbon echoes her body’s accomplished acrobatics filled with contortion and dance. If you turn away for a second you will miss it: a ripple in the screen, as if someone has poked it from behind, like the outward moving circles after something has been dropped into a pool of water. Have your eyes deceived you? But wait, in its wake, this distortion has left something on the mat. Is it… a limb? The wrinkle in space occurs again and again until the gymnast reaches her final pose on the floor, surrounded by her replicated limbs, repeated and scattered like macabre hallucinations.
Is hers the ribbon you were looking for? Does it tie up the puzzle into a tidy bow? It’s a nice and complete thought, but the answer is no. Ambitions run too high and, in this case, hopes that objects can lead us back to their ideological referents ask too much of both the artist and the detective. You can’t guess the language from the object in the same way you can’t deduce the music from the gymnast’s choreography. It’s best to leave the riddle unsolved. It’s challenging and strangely beautiful either way.
(Image on top: Michael Dean, y (working title) detail, 2012, concrete, 175 x 84 x 7 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Herald Street)