Trampling the Grid

CIFO's commission artists offer slaphappy taproots, martyrs, and more

Isolated in its own room and made spookier by sombre organ music, Viacrucisis a twenty-minute video montage riffing on the fourteen Stations of the Cross — the path of Christ to his death on Calvary. The disturbingly graphic piece culls current events from mass media sources, fusing images of people inflicting harm to themselves with the social unrest and political malaise plaguing the artist's homeland. He does so as a metaphor mirroring religious martyrdom. In one scene a man in a cloth codpiece, yoked by a sign identifying him as a thief, is beaten and stomped by a crowd. Another segment depicts a suicide calling for his mother on the evening news before shooting himself in the head. The funeral of Pablo Escobar gets big play as throngs of people are shown storming the open casket to paw at the drug baron's remains. Shouts of "Pablo! Pablo!" stain the air while wild-eyed police in riot gear try in vain to gain control of the mob. Other segments include a masked wrestler buried alive in a pine box, a bald parishioner wearing a crown of thorns in a church, and a man trying to wash a hooker's feet on a street. A bit of levity is injected in the provocative piece when customs agents in Canada discover a statue of baby Jesus shipped from Colombia and stuffed with a kilo and a half of cocaine.

Exiting the room, a siren's wail rises through the space. It comes from Restrepo's Protomartires (Protomartyrs), commissioned by CIFO for the show. The 42-minute video is designed as a contemporary santoral, or calendar of the lives of saints.

Entering the separate viewing room, the racket is seen coming from a virgin draped in white who bellows, "I love God, but he is sad" into a bullhorn. Other saints and mystics include a nun dragging skeletal remains on a rope across a courtyard, then forcing her arms through its ribcage. Some of the segments show a friar fanning the air with a palm frond and a priest pushing a rock up a ladder until he disappears from the screen.

There is a bone-jarring exaltation of violence in much of Restrepo's work, but his imagery is impossible to tear away from, and considering the subject matter, astonishingly fresh. It suggests how Christianity took root in the New World at the point of a sword, and how for many the shaky path to paradise still seems paved as much by death as by faith.

The recipient of CIFO's 2007 Achievement Commission, Eugenio Espinoza deservedly gets the marquee treatment at the space.

The Miami-based Espinoza, whose work has rarely been seen locally, first wrenched necks in 1972 during his debut museum solo show in Caracas, when he was only 22 years old.

At the time his work offered a direct challenge to the geometric abstraction that had a chokehold on Venezuela and much of Latin America.

That same year he also presented El Impenetrable (The Impenetrable), an installation of reticulated fabric covering the floor of the Ataneo de Caracas, which restricted the viewer from entering the exhibition space.

During the past three decades he has explored the parameters of the grid, the underlying structure of modernist visual arts, with both a conceptual rigour and a relentless sense of purpose reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog samurai warrior.

His exhibit is rife with wonky variations on the grid, including a nifty suite of digital c-prints documenting a happening staged in 1973, during which people tied strips of grid-covered canvas to each other's legs and ran through a parking lot; others chewed through the stuff, or cocooned themselves in it

Other works from the Seventies include a series of artist's sketchbooks, neatly displayed in a vitrine in the middle of the gallery, that add to the highly polished museum quality of the show.

A series of recent black-stripe-on-white-paint canvases cover the walls of an entire room and hopscotch between traditional notions of painting, sculpture, and installation.

Otro Geometrico (Another Geometric) literally stands the grid on end. Overlapping acrylic on canvas panels are arranged against a wall in what suggests an animal shape nesting on a pair of car jacks.

In a nearby corner, Bloque y Pedazo de tela is a wedge of gray-carpeted two-by-four wooden blocks stacked on the floor.

Other playful, smartly composed pieces are precariously balanced on a ceramic bear, portable file cabinet, or a glass jar full of herbs, like a ball perched on a seal's nose.

Those wondering if Espinoza might soon tire of strumming the same song need only enter Negativa Moderna, his site-specific installation created for this show, and a raucous answer to his Impenetrable.

In it Espinoza has put his grid paintings through a thresher and arranged their guts on the gallery floor. He invites spectators to enter the room without fear of getting tangled up in the tentacles of geometric abstraction, but rather to be free to join him in continuing to gleefully trample over the ubiquitous grid instead.

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