I like to think of my work as unintentional art because it is really time that has made this art. It is really the atmosphere that has made this art. I did not go around trying to make it look a certain way, I just tried to pull it off the wall.-- Jorge Otero-Pailos
Sapar Contemporary is pleased to present Distributed Monuments, an exhibition of new works by Jorge Otero-Pailos extracted from two distinctive sites: The Old U.S. Mint casts present a century and a half of smoke dust that has accumulated on the two industrial chimneys used to mint the gold from the California Gold Rush into coins and bullions -- the pollution from which has remained an otherwise invisible material. The Lyndhurst casts present a century of water damage that turned the pool building of the Jay Gould Estate, once a playground for one of America’s richest families, into a ruin. Otero-Pailos made these casts in 2020 while completing Watershed Moment, his largest site-specific multi-media installation to date in the U.S., set to open this summer at the Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, NY.
Otero-Pailos draws from his formal training in architecture and preservation to create artworks that address themes of memory, history and transition, inviting the viewer to consider monuments as powerful agents for cultural connection, questioning and understanding. He employs the material residues of our modernity - including airborne atmospheric dust, waterways, traces of sweat and body sounds, maps, even embassy security fences, to render their invisible meanings visible. Notably, he has used experimental preservation cleaning techniques designed to restore landmarked buildings, as well as reenactment methodologies, as part of his creative process.
A prominent work by the artist was the site-specific Artangel project The Ethics of Dust: Westminster Hall in 2016: Applying absorbent latex to the length of one 50-meter long wall, the artist was able to pull away what became a shimmering sheet of history – evocative of time, events, fates and victories whose invisible imprints were given form in the remnants attached to the sheet.
In this exhibition, the themes of memory and transition are manifested in a different way. By transferring the remnants of two distinctive buildings onto traditional canvases, Otero-Pailos effectively extracts the dust from its original location and acknowledges its uncertain places of destination. Purposefully given an arbitrary number, each Distributed Monument is placed on equal footing. Yet the dust casts come from structures that sit, geographically and figuratively, on opposite sides of the American experience: The Old U.S. Mint, in San Francisco, a center of wealth production during the California Gold Rush, and Lyndhurst Mansion in New York, a landmarked example of the Gilded Age.
Taken together the casts reveal not only the embedded material realities of the site, but also the connected histories of labor, migration, resource extraction, industrialization, global capitalism and its environmental impact. The installation enables a poignant dialogue with and across time, provoking new understandings about – and a deeper sense of accountability for – our shared existence.