The work of Lithuanian artist Žilvinas Kempinas offers a reminder that art installations don’t have to be overproduced, big-budget affairs (think Urs Fischer or Matthew Barney) to deliver a genuinely transformative effect. Using the trademark unspooled videotape of his much lauded Tube, a walk-through tunnel of tape that was his contribution to the 2009 Venice Biennale, Kempinas turned one room in the Yvon Lambert gallery into a magically fluctuating environment that defied the simplicity of the materials that comprised it.
Around the darkened space sheets of reflective Mylar were hung vertically, so that they rippled with the air currents stirred by a grid of electric fans affixed to the ceiling. From each fan dropped a cord ending in a red or blue lightbulb. These revolved in more or less fixed circles a few inches above the floor. Their paths were further demarcated by circles of videotape on the floor directly below them which trembled in the breeze.
The work was titled Ballroom, a word that nicely sums up its festive atmosphere. Stepping into the gallery was like plunging into an alternate universe where nothing is fixed—the moving lightbulbs cast spots of red and blue onto the shiny floor and the wavering sheets of Mylar, which broke up the reflections into variegated patterns. The quivering tape circles barely seemed to touch the floor. One had to walk gingerly through the space to avoid the revolving bulbs, but with a bit of negotiation one could become part of the installation. The whole had a cosmic feel, bringing to mind a universe composed of numerous solar systems, each in constant motion, but fixed in place in the larger order of things. Chaos was structured and chance held largely in place.
Kempinas’s work bears a kinship with that of an earlier generation—the ordinary materials recall Arte Povera, while his focus here on movement and wind recalled the early, prepolitical work of Hans Haacke, in particular the similarly fan-driven Wide White Flow from 1967 that was re-created two years ago at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York. At the same time, Kempinas’s work reflects the move toward quotidian materials among artists of his generation (he was born in 1969) that was celebrated as the “Unmonumental” esthetic in the New Museum’s reopening exhibition in 2007. However, Kempinas departs from the understated irony and coolly uncommunicative detachment of such works, instead providing his audiences with the pleasures of enchantment.
Photo: View of Žilvinas Kempinas’s installation Ballroom, 2010; at Yvon Lambert.