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New Langton Arts, San Francisco
10 April - 31 May 2008
Reviewed by: Alex Hetherington »
Alejandro Cesarco/Dexter Sinister, Featuring: Ayreen Anastas, Robin Carlson, Alejandro Cesarco, Fia Backström, Rene Gabri, Kevin Killian, Post Brothers, and Gary Wilson, among others.
The word (spoken, recorded, filmed, printed, indexed) has become a levitation, a trick and magic act, a hoax and dilemma. Its simple form is conjured away from secured authority and set into a showground where its lucidity is denied, re-arranged, disassembled, mutated. It is proposed, here at New Langton, through interlocking events, installations, a publishing fair, performances and a film screening, as a free structure wrecked by apprehension, wracked with its coded significances, transformed by contingencies: the unforeseen, the if, the why, the since, the illusion of understanding, its dependence on reification: to treat what is real that which is just a conceptualization or abstraction.
New Langton presents an alternative version of language, the word and texts in contemporary art processes, an alternative plan to publishing and production; a substitution for the word as absolute certainty.
Alejandro Cesarco has a love affair with text. His installation Once Within a Room is an affectionate, sentimental, devoted analysis on words, narrative, type and the illusion/deception of reading; it is a suspension of narrative, it is about the absences surrounding a ‘fulfilment’ of reading: the alternative to the ‘realism’ of experiencing. He summons into shady existence two characters through a controlled environment of prints, a slide projection, black monoliths with text, sculptural, angular tangents, a stage/set instruction: props within a configuration of remnants, quotations and amplifications. He creates via the index a kind of unfastened narrative through a list of words, plus offset postscripts, supplementary asides. It is his preservation/presentation of the instability of language and his interest in translation of notation from linguistic to visual to emotional systems that manifest the potency of this work: the ability and the fragility of words to realize ‘feeling’. His key text: “Nine letters sent with a tenth kept back and an eleventh received” repeats itself through the show like a coda of love, poignant and prior communications, tokens of the finished. It is embarrassingly and sensitively (and I mean this in a good way) lovely, yet vigorously rendered.
What forces itself consistently through Cesarco’s work, though, is a sense of questions on the genuine, on the real, on the invented and faked. And this tone connects it directly and edgily to Phantom Rosebuds, described as the release (based on available facts precisely imagined as seen somewhere else) of the autobiography of Clifford Irving published by Dexter Sinister, and a live variety show/reading curated by Raimundas Malasauskas.
Phantom Rosebuds’ “autobiographical” account trawls through Clifford Irving’s notorious history from creative writing teacher to the Howard Hughes scandal and his eventual appearance at New Langton Arts. (Irving is an American writer, best known for an "authorized autobiography" of Howard Hughes that turned out to be a hoax). The form of this account is a series of four ‘signatures’, the name in the printing industry for a single folded down sheet of printed paper, often bound together and cut to form pages. The signatures are displayed in the gallery as a sculptural box, the pages tightly packed in, stuffed full. The future presentation of the pages then becomes an edition of 500 and form the heart of the 16th issue of Dot Dot Dot, a bi-annual journal also published by Dexter Sinister. This issue of their journal reinforces the central themes that dominate this almost Simon Starling-like undertaking of transformations, changes and evolutions: “mirroring, shadowing, gaps, parallels and practical time travel”.
Accompanying the launch of the “advance signatures”, the prototype pages is The Clifford Irving Show event: which sustains the themes of faith, magic, fakery and trickery through a number of staged ‘acts’ featuring performances and readings by Ayreen Anastas, Robin Carlson, Alejandro Cesarco, Fia Backström, Rene Gabri, Kevin Killian, Post Brothers, and Gary Wilson. Lifting the word and the “truth” from the page again, this event conjures a reality of these hoaxes and tricks for one night only, and then restores it back to the page, to history and to imagination.
Meanwhile other forms of alternative publishing, editions and artists processes with text and distribution are discussed during Book It!, another one day event/fair that seeks, reaching outwards, the principal questions of authorship, value, sustainability, dissemination and integrity.
The works feels like a rehearsal of values, acts, beliefs, procedures and processes. It allows the gallery to inhabit the world of the lab, the press and distributor, while maintaining a kind of theatrical tongue-in-cheek reaction, a droll melancholy. It is brilliantly conceived in its casual mannerisms that belie its saturating complexity; it leaves the viewer in no doubt about the complications of reading, of understanding. Ultimately its narratives are of no consequence, it seeks out the magical, the sensational and the fake in the dimensions of the psyche, and its projection onto authenticity. This is reinforced by the final joke/swindle of the show: the appearance of the nine minute trailer for F for Fake by Orson Welles, his last major feature film. Interweaving numerous narratives, including Picasso, Howard Hughes, Welles, Clifford Irving and the art forger Elmyr de Hory, it focuses on Hory’s career as a professional art forger; his story serving as the location for a non-stop meandering investigation into the nature of authorship and authenticity, as well as the structures that inform the value of art.
These companion works of texts, film, performances and publications together set up an analysis of wonder: and occupy a thoughtfully constructed space between artist, material, reading, imagining, audience and subject, allowing us all to become complicit in these gems of fabrication.
Alex Hetherington is a visual artist. He lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland and Rohnert Park, USA. He is currently working on a research and development project Modern Edinburgh Film School at ESW, 2013.
New Langton Arts
1246 Folsom Street San Francisco, United States 94103-3817
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