The documentation of performance art has been a regular guest at the contemporary art table since the 1970s. Such documents once stuck to a standard format: dry black-and-white serial photographs or straightforward video shot from a single point of view. More recently, it has been the props of performance works—often formalist objects or texts that address ideas of performance—that fill art spaces with intimations of movement but remain, nevertheless, still. Yet “Dynamo” (2008-10), a recent installation that documented a previous “performance” by the team of Dutch artist Falke Pisano and Zurich-based Mexican artist Ana Roldan, flipped the script of both aforementioned approaches, while ably taking each into its purview.
“Dynamo” comprised three large abstract drawings, which were suspended inside freestanding wooden frames. The drawings’ titles pointed to the systems underlying their genesis: Balance offered a geometric composition of crossing lines, Contingency looked like a simple floor plan, and Production of Identity resembled a smattering of stars in a blurry solar system. The drawings’ frames were outfitted with shelves that held slightly surreal objects. Shiny black balls climbed up the side of one frame; other shelves held a two-sided black bust and a comblike object that suggested Eva Hesse’s sculptural experiments. Formally, the installation was lovely—if insistently cryptic. It was like wandering into a physics classroom after hours.
Hence the relief upon encountering a series of framed textual diagrams hung along one wall. The texts were instructions, as if you were in the midst of some game. The installation’s subtitle—“a play of 16 positions in 3 scenes during 35 days”—hinted at its origins. Each “scene” was one of the drawings; the attending objects had once staked out those 16 positions, and the 35 days referenced this work’s original incarnation in a five-week show at Perla Mode, Zurich, in 2008. In that exhibition, the drawings occupied the floor, and, daily, a gallery employee moved the objects atop the drawings as instructed. Nevertheless, the texts—which placed the objects in various “situations”—proved to be no less obscure than the drawings. Balance addressed geometry, entropy, and Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Concerned with time and space, Contingency referenced Chillida, Mondrian and a 13th-century Nigerian bust, and bore abstract diagrams named “Dense Places” and “Clear Places.” The third drawing/scene, based on an Henri Michaux mescaline drawing, featured regions called “The Deep” and “The Animal” that an object called “The Reflection” traversed.
It was less the myriad references that made the instructions disorienting—that game is familiar—than the insistence that logical systems had been employed here. Had they been? The artists share an interest in philosophy and linguistics, whose vocabularies regularly infiltrate their work. But here it seemed that only the “act” of logical rigor (manifested in academic language and geometric form) was at work. Logic itself was played so fast and loose that its endgame—meaning—completely dissolved. Instead, one encountered a hazy gathering of objects, forms and references that never coalesced into a meaningful pattern. If this is also where the poetic absurdity of the lovely and elegant installation lay, one was left unsure if a send-up of theoretical logic was, in fact, the artists’ intent.
Photo: View of Falke Pisano & Ana Roldan’s installation “Dynamo,” 2008-10; at Kunsthaus Glarus.