solo show

Melanie Smith

  • Parres Cero

In her most recent exhibition in Mexico, now as an exile, since she has moved to Spain, Melanie Smith (England, 1965) presents an installation, several paintings and three videos, Parres 1, Parres 2 and Parres 3, created in collaboration with Rafael Ortega. These works are the result of her reflection about absence and painting, in the context of a town located in the periphery of Mexico¿s outsized capital city.
The videos in this show are an exploration of the linkages between image and reality, the sign and its context, painting and film. Each one of the three videos is filmed in a single 35 mm. reel. To demonstrate the supporting device, the beginning and end of the reel are included, showing the clap-stick and the traces of celluloid development in the lab. This is a reminder left there by the artist in order to focus our attention on the nature of the medium used. And it constitutes another clue to her obsession with materiality. The mark of her work.
In the first reel we see a painter covering a glass surface, seen from the opposite side through the film camera. The paint cloud of his aerograph flies with the wind, but some of it is able to stick to the glass and slowly covers it over with white, finally leaving us with a white square that is visible thanks to the added temporality of the camera and the film. The video is a sign of the fact that things move and change, but remain in memory.
Parres 2 begins with a camera assistant measuring, with a flexometer, the distance between the artist¿s eyes and the camera¿s lens. Next we see an extreme close-up of the artist¿s eyes, with eye and lens scrutinizing each other. The camera zooms out slowly, reaching a general shot of the unfazed figure of the artist, who will disappear slowly under a persistent rain; the image fades to white. In Parres 3 we go back to the white-square shot of the first reel, which begins to be erased by the painter with a wet rag, so that little by little the image of the village of Parres is revealed in the background. Reality acquires a well-defined form between the water streaks, and becomes almost entirely visible. The painter stops working and disappears from the landscape. The three movements, like Kosuth¿s three definitions of the chair, summarize the transfiguration of reality through the plotting of painting, which ends up transformed into a white non-illusionistic window, while the film reel is the real support for a unified concept of painting. The village of Parres is only a non ¿place that lends itself to the descontextualization of the artist and her work.
The circles that take us from reality to painting can be appreciated in a more empirical way. To pose the issue of materiality in painting, Smith deploys an installation in which she builds a sheetrock-and-cement wall inside the gallery, leaving all the necessary elements (sand, cement) visible. On one side of the wall is a video monitor displaying hundreds of images of the village at great speed, as they would be seen from the expressway through a car window. On the other side is a painting, a static image of the village resolved in aerograph so that it appears to be out-of-focus, as a painter would see it under a pale light, on a rainy day, or under cover of clouds.
A concrete-block wall, some four meters high, rises in the gallery¿s interior courtyard. Behind the wall are some fifty amplifications of film stills with images like antennas, graffiti, posters, cheap advertisements, signs, and other forms of communication of the kind we often overlook, due to their sheer abundance. For Smith, both the wall and the signs are the image¿s syntagms. Their physical presence, registered through photography, suggests reality not as an idea but as perception. If we compare these photographs with the monochrome paintings in the next exhibition area, we will see that painting, in Smith¿s thesis, is but a weak perceptual statement of the world, floating like a pigment cloud over the support¿s surface.
Melanie Smith has fulfilled her discourse with these works. A legacy about the act of creating an image that appears as imitation of the real but holds something less than a resemblance to the world. The works seem to carry our gaze to reflections about a solitary space, a place where objects are gray in color, sounds are muted, and things move leaving trails that are almost imperceptible. Parres is the perfect non-place, seen as a vacuum of Modernist aesthetic references. For Smith, painting is the Veil of Maya that envelops the world and lets us see only some of its wonders. Therein resides its lying seductiveness. ?