AboutVegas Gallery is proud to present âGloria', the first London solo exhibition by Carla Arocha (°1961, Caracas) and Stéphane Schraenen (° 1971, Antwerp).
The art of Carla Arocha and Stéphane Schraenen evokes many relationships with preceding movements in art. Almost all of these associations relate to the umbrella of Modernism and the gradated ontology of its progeny later in the twentieth century; it evokes the formal qualities of Minimalism as much as the optical illusions of Op Art. And yet, it is actually neither. It is not what it is and it is not what it seems. Hidden beneath the outward layers of immediate similarity is a practice that, while never denying what it admires about or has learned from these movements, remains fundamentally post-modernist; post-modern not as a visual facsimile of the received vernacular from the 1980's, but in terms of the oft-misunderstood philosophies and bodies of theory accurately associated with the term.
Their focus is less on objects as manifest things and more with the perception of things as objects. Ultimately, their installation sculptures are flat, composed of many small components but they can be perceived a monumental and emphatic. This overt presence of the formal and conceptual in Arocha-Schraenen's work can be deceptive. Everywhere within works whether bluntly opaque or deceptively transparent- we encounter the narrative.
Theirs is a practice full of implied stories, flickers of meaning or potentially autobiographical fragments. It is cinematic without initially appearing so. It is the accumulation of precisely placed ideas into a locus in which the narrative experience of the sentient organism is never underestimated. The formal aspects of the work rely strongly on the conscious experience of sensory perception and its gradual shifts: the audience lives through a narrative in seeing other narratives present.
Their work evidences a certain preoccupation with setting up an experience in which the viewer must inevitably vacillate between the experience of subjectively and imaginatively trying to decipher potential narrative meaning and the experiences of numerous elements that act as a kind of alienation device, constantly pulling the viewer back to a conscious awareness of its construction. And, perhaps, this tension between the narrative and the formal is particularly evident in more recent works.
In some works, such as the works referencing Billy Wilder's iconic film âSunset Boulevard' (1950) - that feature dominantly in their âGloria' show- they appropriate directly from film narratives embedded in the popular consciousness.
We are constantly forced to shift our depth of focus; standing back and making sense of the picture or leaning in and understanding how the image is made; to scrutinise it on a material level. There are frequent overlaps between narratives. These might be between searingly memorable images in Wilder's film and site-specific works made directly referencing the architecture of the London gallery space itself. The partially abstracted decorative motifs present in some works could equally refer to tendencies in British interior decoration or the high camp of Norma Desmond's Hollywood mansion.
Similarly, we are placed in a situation in which we are never certain if we should read evocative cinematic imagery that occurs within the restrained environment of an overall exhibition in its original expressionistic context or as an emotionless critique; a clinical consideration of its formal construction. The film's highly subjective and aestheticised sense of entrapment is revisited through clever appropriation and reconstruction of imagery. The central characters' literary embodiment of delusion is reframed as discussion of the image-makers' use of illusion in constructing images. The social or even biological ideation is as present as the expressive: this is a world in which the iconography of an over-the-top diva could be reconsidered as a lab rat's existence. âGloria' constructs an encounter in which the analytic and subjective must find a resolution of some sort.
In deciphering if and how meanings exist between the works that constitute the whole of an exhibition by Arocha-Schraenen, we are always forced to confront a certain literal and metaphorical opacity. And yet, in the shimmers of human narrative that cannot be hidden, no matter how disciplined the formal aspects, the audience is drawn through kind of experiential parcours in which it too may become ghostly actors within it, its reflections unable to elude certain surfaces.
We may not know exactly what unmade film these images constitute, but we can sense the presence of the emotive qualities nonetheless. And of course, all the time, the topic of other aspects of vision is never completely absent. The constant shifting between the experience the experience of a beautiful object- and the conscious thought of how it has been made, evokes a contemplation of all of the systems molecular, technical, historical, social- that inform what we make of it. And, by implication, we can extend that curiosity beyond to consider how it might apply more generally to aesthetics and the value systems of visual culture.
Beauty here is something that involves complex systems and relationships between smaller elements. The recognition of exactly how an image has been made -and the use of smaller building blocks to make it- refracts our attention to consider how the aesthetic values embedded in visual languages cannot exist without certain biological and emotional human responses. In the hands of the artists, the original objects are transformed and reconsidered. But it is the perception of the viewer, drawing on biological and social systems, that completes its transformation into an artwork. No longer neutral, their works speak of anatomy, art history, lives lived, resonant popular narratives and beauty.
Carla Arocha and Stéphane Schraenen live and work in Antwerp. In addition to a range of solo shows in international galleries, Carla Arocha and Stéphane Schraenen have shown work in exhibitions at Beeldend Kunst Strombeek, Mechelen; Hessenhuis, Antwerp; ISELP, Elsene; Museo Abello, Barcelona; Petra, Mexico City and Lieu d'Art Contemporain, Sigean. They were commissioned to make a new public work for Howard Station, Chicago, installed in 2009 and were included in the 2009 Biennale of Brussels. They are included in the exhibition â5à5 Castello' at Espai d'Art Contemporani de Castello, Castello as nominees for the Castello 09 contemporary art prize, selected by Cristina Iglesias, Jeff Wall, Daniel Buren, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Luc Tuymans. Their work is also included in âThe State of Things' curated by Fan Di'an, Ai Wei Wei & Luc Tuymans at Bozar, Brussels opening on 18 October 2009.