Sunday, March 16, 2008

María José Arjona at Gallery Diet

David Rohn

The current performance by Maria Jose Arjona at Gallery Diet turns out to be a striking event on several levels. The action occurs about the repeated event of blowing red-tinted bubbles against the gallery walls (and columns) whereupon they burst, leaving a blood-like splash on the wall and the floor. By the time this observer got there on opening night, the periphery of the gallery had an irregular but continuous horizontal line around its entire perimeter as the artist labored away slowly at a far end of the space monotonously lifting her bubble wand, softly blowing a burst of bubbles and watching them collide against the wall before repeating the exercise, again and again.

Turns out, the first impression of a reference to blood is no accident: when asked in a later encounter, the artist explains that yes, red is for blood and that for her the piece is about violence; And the bubbles do seem such fragile metaphors for living creatures: gently, even lovingly created, born from their (as it were ) mother’s breath , and short lived ; a mere second or few of floating existence before crashing and offering up their measure of red to the wall (or floor). Or could we consider this a poetic and meditative, even feminine counterpoint to Pollock’s drips and spurts where the trance-like state we recognize in the few and famous photos of Pollock is certainly repeated here. Maria Jose is to be congratulated no less for the rare and genuine poetry she brings to her efforts than for the sheer perseverance of the project: she performs it daily from 11 am to 5 pm –a continuity and commitment that is by no means typical in performance presentations. All too often if you miss the opening you miss the event and have to make do with a video. (This was not always so by the way). When Gilbert and George and Vito Acconci performed their landmark pieces at Ilyana Sonnabend Gallery back in the early days of Soho, they performed all day every day then too.

Repetition and violence also have a more established relationship. And alongside the sense of polite meditative sensibility of her repetitions, the clockwork activities of the factory or garment worker, the crop picker, also come to mind; maybe that intense look on the artists face reflects the face of an unskilled worker who s about to go postal; or the blank stare of the repetitious rote work of the bureaucrat in the tax department, the medical department or the war department of some monstrous government or corporate entity who is unwittingly or uncaringly contributing to our collective violence towards each other , our fellow creatures, or to our planet. And since it inevitably comes to mind, it would probably be a mistake to omit the old saying ‘I m forever blowing bubbles” as a reference in this performance. In other words, forever doing something meaningless or inconsequential. If so it s a valid irony: in the age of information we get to know all that s wrong with the world but not what to do about it. ; and in the age of artistic consumerism we get to ask ourselves whether art can anymore have any sort of social value or is it just another commodity for the rich.

Even if this may appear relatively true at the moment, it can also be argued that performance art is at least for the moment, a kind of antidote to this, much as some early minimal and conceptual art was intended to be. And then the bubble stains read back an iconic message of protest; a kind of little-girl passive-aggressive graffiti about violence and it s most obvious response: more violence For this observer, a lot of performance art, as if perpetually transfixed by the early work of Marina Abramovic and other minimalist adherents, seems sometimes repetitive in a way that isn't always very effective: the artist walking on broken glass, the razor blades attached to one s body and so forth. In this case the repetitions are effective and it is tempting to think that this is because the artist brings a sense of intense involvement and concentration to the piece: we believe in the significance of this repeated action because there s no question that the performer believes in it. And the residual mess left by Arjona’s performance is a fierce aftermath to a rather gentle and seeming insignificant activity of blowing bubbles against a wall.