Through sheets of glass and plastic, four new visual artist explore life's ungraspables
Out of Empty is the title of Magali Reus' current show at Albert Baronian, Brussels. The recurring use of glossy see-through packaging and encasements overlaps with the content of her previous solo exhibition at Galerie Fons Welters in Amsterdam, Highly Liquid. In the latter, the walls were populated with clusters of anaemic plastic folding chairs, like those in a clinical or corporate waiting room, beset by strange obstacles: amongst these, a plastic protective sheath, custom-made to fit, and a transparent sheet of curved glass reminiscent of a car windshield sloped over an open chair. Out of Empty includes Parking (Slip), in which a plastic hood shields a solitary chair the colour of pale, bloodless skin, and the titular Out of Empty, a scattering of casts from aluminium batteries and rubber watches suspended in a case of ice-filled glass.
The trope of lamination – of transparent sheaths, shields and vitrines – that figures in these two exhibitions denotes a sense of the ungraspable. In one sense this is evoked in the protective layer that denies touch; it is isolated and isolating. In another, the ungraspable alludes to being in between states. The transitory substances of water and ice and the impotent waiting room chairs, poised without function, are iterations of Reus' interest in 'this temporary moment of transience and deferral, before completion or arrival'.
If Reus' transparent packages act as manifestations of a void, artist duo Pennacchio Argentato's At 03:30 A. M. on the night of June 5, 1992 (2012) contains similar possibilities. Exhibited at T293 Gallery, Naples earlier this year, it consists of curved pillars of transparent methacrylate. The process used to make them is normally applied to the production of commercial packaging, such as food containers, trays and lids, but here they act as distorted and distorting lenses that skew the viewer's perception of the objects behind them and negate the 'reassuring' protection that packaging usually offers. Human-sized, they haunt the space like floating bodies, spectres of physicality that are tentatively visible but not quite graspable, teetering between states of presence and absence, accessibility and inaccessibility. The objects are physical, public, but carry with them the isolated remoteness of online experience.
In Ryan Lauderdale's Metaxis (face) and Metaxis (back) (both 2012) transparent sheets of glass are sprayed with striped gradients of colour, half hinting, again, at a human presence. Like a screen or lens - or see-through plastic product packaging - they offer infinite visibility but banish traditional senses of physical contact, offering instead a new kind of touch. Your encounter with the object (body) is framed, its parameters marked out, screen-like. The word 'metaxis' was used by Plato to mean the state of 'in-betweenness' inherent to being human - as both spiritual being and beast. This has since been extended to cover the multitude of polarities in human experience - eternity and time, instinct and intellect, individual and universal - up to our current balancing act of real and virtual existence, belonging simultaneously as we do to these two inextricably bound worlds.