This Place

Sculpture

Background – Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (For Jeff), 1992. Foreground – Untitled, 1989/1990. Photograph by Simon Mills. All work (c) The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.

Untitled (Lover Boys) sits like a gash between the floor and single pale blue wall, iridescent in the way of fool’s gold. You can take a sweet if you wish; it will be replaced at some point to right its ever-depleting 355lbs.

A piece of the same name and principles sits on the gallery floor above, a long strip of decorative candy pieces that are proportionate to the wall it lines. The forms of these works are passive, moulding themselves to the spaces they occupy, and can be minutely altered at the discretion of each person.

Sculpture

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Lover Boys), 1991. Photograph by Simon Mills. All work (c) The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.

The work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, exhibited in Belfast for the first time in This Place, finds its multi-faceted framework in the translocation of its personal, political and occupational dynamics, still pertinent worldwide and within this city. Much is evoked yet nothing is overly specific in each work, often touching the conditions and prescriptions of existing as the “other”. In Lover Boys, the work’s presence relies on a submissive role in a one-way transaction. The piece is not completed by the action, but its place is cemented by it: it has to offer in order to occupy, be ever-yielding in its attractiveness.

Sculpture

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Chemo), 1991. Photograph by Simon Mills. All work (c) The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.

Whilst visceral, the breadth of their application subdues the sentimentality of these works; they are abstracted to the limit of body-based empathy, and in this, are opened beyond personal narratives. Throughout the exhibition the ephemeral and incidental fit around direct action. Untitled (Chemo) is more interventional, a wide curtain of glass and pearlescent beads that forms both the doorway and the wall to the upper gallery, with each passage disturbing the beads along its length. At the far side is Untitled (Loverboy), where single blue curtains line each window and subvert the atmospheric light. Together they subtly bookend the gallery space, the minimal formalism and domineering gallery space mixed with costume and domestic material.

The installational qualities of Gonzalez-Torre’s work are combined with a sort of inertia that decommissions any direct agency, and yet instantly catalyses it within a specific context – in this case, of the city of Belfast. Untitled (for Jeff) is a huge photograph of an outstretched, resting hand. It fills a gallery wall, and will appear on billboards around the city. With no background knowledge of the image, on the streets it could be read as yet another pictorial symbol for social unity, or a lifeless body to promote awareness of the effects of drugs or suicide. And yet as an image of the artist’s friend, recently deceased from AIDS, it is in itself a gesture that many would not acknowledge, either then or now.

Sculpture

Background – Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (For Jeff), 1992. Foreground – Untitled, 1989/1990. Photograph by Simon Mills. All work (c) The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.

Yet there is no didacticism in acts like these: nothing is expected of us or to change within us. What becomes and remains potent in the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres is the inability to disengage, if engagement is not needed in the first instance. Co-existence in space is not an act of defiance, but an insurance of being present.

“This Place” continues at the MAC, Belfast, until 24th January.

By Dorothy Hunter

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