solo show

Adrián Villar Rojas

Since at least the 1990s we’ve seen a kind of eternal return of the archeological impulse as a free-floating metaphor for decay, endings, and even the promise of new beginnings, one which emerged largely under the influence of Japanese manga as more “kowai” (“scary”) than “kawaii” (“cute”) culture. But Adrián Villar Rojas’ large installation, described as both ampitheater of antiquity and post-apocalyptic auditorium” is also an attempt to form a visual partner in a larger metaphor of redemption.
The specific commission, born of a year-plus conversation between the artist and Klaus Biesenbach the organizer and Director of MoMA PS1—not to mention the 20 team members of architects, designers and installers—is a lecture hall of stadium seating for about 250 people, about 55 feet wide, 14 feet high, that also provides a shallow stage space for presentations in front of a solid wall with a tunnel vault at its center. Unusual are the more typical Villar over-sized abstract forms of solid spherical (3-d) geometry, made of his typical coarse, dark gray ceramic, which spill forth from the central tunnel to push into the stage area. Hidden by the front stage wall are other rooms, another 30 feet deep, filled with a dark, impenetrable jumble of a greater variety of similar abstract, over-life size forms, unseen and accessible only by the more curious along two, unlit side aisles.
The title of the piece, “The Innocence of Animals” (“La inocencia de los animalsî), is almost irrelevant except to contribute some vague and romanticized communiqué of purity that roughly translates as do no harm. It is this type of puerile purism and unarticulated mash-ups that have led me to dismiss much of Villar’s work in the past, as romantic evocations of meaninglessness that are overly reliant on gigantism for its own sake. It was the promise of escapism into such purity that was inherent in the modernist geometric abstract art forms of the first half of the 20th century that we rejected in large part because they excluded the far messier conditions of being consciously and unconsciously human.
But what made purism historically relevant was its practical applications, as for example witnessed through the applications of Russian Constructivist ideas by Russian Productivists to practical problems in everyday life. Even Western Marxists admitted that just because the utopian moment passed without being fully implemented, it did not mean the utopian concept failed. Life is, and should be, more subjective than that, and two aspects of Villar’s project demonstrates that here the concepts can develop into a necessary and dialectical moment, one that requires form but moves the concept of art into a broader domain at a time when such thinking is needed.
The first reason is the artist’s orientation beyond generalized evocations. Even Biesenbach, a student in the 1980s age of activism in Germany and therefore slightly frustrated by the generalities in Villar’s public conversation with him in May of this year at PS.1, credited the artist’s peripatetic mind with helping refine the shape of the larger project for which the theatre was designed on the occasion of PS.1’s “Expo 1: New York” to house the lecture portion of the Expo School program. The concept of Expo, from the perspective of Villar’s work, motivates it into a dialectical relation with the real, if slightly speculative world, rather than leaving it parked, as usual, at the doorstep of an open-ended imaginary.
The concept of the Expo, developed by Biesenbach, with Hans Ulrich Obrist and a large number of curators at MoMA and MoMA PS.1, has several parts. Villar’s theatre hosts a series of many lectures over a fifty day period by artists and thinkers concerned with the speculative future of our life on this planet, a topic on the minds, lecture circuits, and texts of all but the entirely clueless these days. Aside from listening to speakers,
the project is extended into audience participation by an outreach titled “Speculations,” sponsored by the relatively new and interesting non-hierarchical collective and magazine “Triple Canopy” based in New York, Los Angeles and Berlin. Across the third floor hallway are two rooms, the School Library, where visitors not only fill out questionnaires documenting their “speculations” on what they want the future to be, but also provides and loans routers to access the purposefully off-line file-sharing network. Then too there are a number of exhibitions within PS.1 that relate to this topic, such as “ProBio” which explores the impact of technology on the human condition, acutely guest-curated by Josh Kline.
To slightly extend one of Villar’s sources for his design: Plato’s “Parable of the Cave” provides a relational meaning to the abstract forms as Platonic pure “ideas”—which are Plato’s understanding of forms—as well as the geometry of Google mapping, which exist behind the wall and whose access is via the intellect and experiences of the speakers. To this I add the cornerstone to Walter Benjamin’s redemptive aesthetics, the archaic form which appear—here, Villar’s theatre—as new ideas for the future first emerge in “as-yet” unrealized forms with the potential to actualize collective dreams against what is “as-yet” incomplete.