Argentinean artist Leandro Erlich applies architectural sleight-of-hand techniques to sculptural installations that seem to tease the laws of physics. The central motif of the four new works in “Two Different Tomorrows” was the standard passenger elevator, a means of transportation so common to city dwellers that its necessity can be easy to overlook. It was a fitting choice for Erlich, who excels at drawing the uncanny out of the ordinary.
Each of Erlich’s installations was uniquely integrated into the gallery space; two allowed entry. Elevator Maze stood free in the center of a room that narrowly contained it. Six identical elevator cars, each with its door open, were lined up back to back in two rows of three. From outside it appeared as if the area above the handrail in each car was mirrored, but in fact it was empty. One could reach an arm from one elevator into its neighbor. The only mirrors were on the end walls, stretching the confines of the elevator to infinity.
Elevator Shaft was even more disorienting. The piece reconstructed with painstaking detail the interior of a well-worn shaft, turned 90 degrees, creating a slender hallway with the crusted underside of an elevator car at one end. Overhead the metal doors of adjacent floors leaked skinny triangles of light onto flayed cables and ropes and counterweights. An elevator shaft is a space people usually plunge through, and thinking about that had a vertiginous effect, compounded by the fact that Erlich was careful not to compromise the totality of his illusion.
And this is part of the success of Erlich’s installations. Since the works were each given their own room in the gallery, they were able to function at their fullest capacity as surreal spatial distortions. Stuck Elevator and Elevator Pitch both invoked the kind of fantastic scenarios that a protagonist might deal with in a story by Jorge Luis Borges. The elevator in Stuck appeared to be partially submerged in the gallery floor, as if headed to a subterranean level. For Pitch Erlich built a set of elevator doors into a wall, which seemed fairly unremarkable until the doors opened with a characteristic chime to reveal a car full of disinterested Asian passengers (on video).
Erlich seems to know what Alfred Hitchcock knew so well: the more mundane an object or situation, the greater its potential to become very strange.
Photo: View of Leandro Erlich’s installation Elevator Shaft, 2011; at Sean Kelly.