In true Marfa style, the current exhibition at Marfa Contemporary explores the use of open space. The exhibition is host to a small number of works by Gonzalo Lebrija, five in total, but the variety of medium, scale and content makes for a strong showcase of the artist in West Texas. The exhibition title, La Sombra del Zopilote, alludes to a Mexican saying, “Life is like the shadow of a vulture; it passes quickly and will not take the same place again.” This idiom lends well to the nature of Lebrija’s investigation into manifestations of time and elusive elements of the human condition.
The viewer is met before entering the gallery space by History of Suspended Time: Monument for the Impossible. Likely Lebrija’s most recognized sculpture, the vintage Mustang is installed vertically with the hood of the car inches above a rich, black pool of water. The reflective qualities of the pool speak to many actions at once and indicate the contradictory nature of a single action; the moment of tension before an inevitably violent collision, a perceived illusion of reality and also the grace of inaction to the point of perpetuity. A symbol of power and time measured from zero to sixty adds additional layers to the thought of time through modern culture and technologies.
Inside the gallery, a six-minute video loops in a secluded room in the corner of the gallery entitled Who Knows Where Time Goes. The repetitive banging of a shotgun can be heard throughout the exhibition. Inside a smaller room, Lebrija is shown, in black-and-white, shooting books out of the air. This other form of technology indicates the transformation of time from the present action to documentation of the performance and back into the gallery as present time again, always repeating. Violence of the guns, of the shooting of books and physical knowledge narrates a frustration or failure in not knowing of an objective, true time. The reference to literal violence that has overtaken our newsfeeds both abroad and domestic, shares a glimpse of Lebrija’s political and social awareness.
For Silver Lamento, alternating vertical pennant shapes fill the large wall on the back and side of the gallery to create a soft wave movement. On the floor a small, silver-plated sculpture of Lebrija, leans face-forward in despair against the wall. When viewed from the side, the optical effect of the blending black and white spaces becomes disorienting, bringing the viewers gaze into and out of focus. Again, Lebrija uses the physical nature of his work to bring out the conflict associated with time and suspension of a solipsistic reality.
Un Universo de la Nada or “a universe from nothing” appears to begin and conclude the exhibition, even under the proverbial shadow of the mustang or vulture. The large drawing is made from the same phrase written repeatedly and physically over itself until the words can no longer be read. The action speaks of chaos theory, of time feeding back into time and entropy. Creating further depth of the seemingly simplistic work is the image of expansion on the paper, of the beginning, or end of a universe, a make up of space-time fabric that is simultaneously elegant and disastrous.
There is no question that Gonzalo Lebrija has the ability to manifest not only time, but the human condition surrounding its uncompromising nature. Simplicity is met with the constant layering of historical and philosophical allusion, yet also slightly out of reach. Like the vulture, the work offers brief encounter with something that appears within a close proximity before leaving with a simple swooshing sound from the disturbed air currents.
By Jake Weigel