Pancho Westendarp’s exhibition “All That No One Sees” looked sparse even in the compact gallery space of Robert Henry Contemporary in Brooklyn. It consisted of a set of drawings, a group of instant film photographs, two small sculptures installed on a single shelf, a fold-out book of ink diagrams, and a video screening on a smartphone. Westendarp, who received his MFA in New York in 2012 and is now based in Mexico, has created a distinctive practice by using various mediums and conceptual procedures to explore the notions of time and memory. In his new works, the focus appears to have shifted from time to space.
Westendarp’s instant photographs were presented as a triptych, with each part containing eight or twelve snapshots grouped together in a single frame; the piece was titled “World Map”. At first glance, each picture appeared to be a landscape photo – a range of mountain picks silhouetted against a luminous sky. But on closer inspection, the “landscapes” turned to be skillfully fabricated studio shots. A set of eleven ink drawings titled “The Map And the Territory” resembled a collection of topographic charts, with dense meandering contours outlining intricate terrains. In fact, they were created in a painfully slow and delicate process of drawing a hair-thin line through hundreds of tiny ink dots placed randomly on a piece of paper. In Westendarp’s “Atlas” – a fold-out book laid open on a narrow shelf – every page was filled with small diagrams and numbers penned in black ink. Each diagram reproduced the shape of a shadow cast by some object at a specific moment in time; groups of five or six diagrams documented the transformation of the object’s shadow throughout the day. Arranged like specimens in a botanical atlas, the diagrams seemed both explicit and vague, inviting the viewers to guess what each object was while making it impossible to positively identify it. The show continued with two small sculptures displayed side by side under poetic, if unwieldy, title “Ghosts Aren’t Attached to Places but to People”. One consisted of a magnifying glass stand and a LED light; looking into the glass, viewers could see a cut-out portrait of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, which cast a ghostly shadow on the wall behind. Next to it was a metal film holder containing a brightly lit slide showing a lunar landscape with a large crater in the foreground – possibly the one named after Gagarin. The final piece in the exhibition was a short video looped on a smartphone; it was made by stringing together hundreds of photographs of what looked like a nondescript patch of woods – the view being too obscure and the images too blurry for viewers to make out any details. Somewhat ironically, the piece was titled “What We Know”.
Despite the broad range of mediums, there was a sense of aesthetic and conceptual unity behind the seemingly disparate works, which made for an elegant and intriguing show. “All That No One Sees” examined the ways in which we represent, depict, identify and lay claim to places and territories. Works such as “Atlas”, “World Map”, or “What we know” reflect on the power of documentation: maps, identifications, catalogs – to make physical space conceivable, and therefore manageable. They also subvert that power by attempting to represent what appears to be unstable or insubstantial – light, chance, or sensation. By doing this, the artist points at the gap that always exists between the physical reality and its description, the territory and the map. At its very best, Westendarp’s work looks beyond the issue of representation – it questions the limits of knowledge itself. After all, our understanding of the world is based on our perceptions of reality, organized and made sensible by the conceptual apparatus of abstract notions and ideas. No knowledge is possible without concepts, and they are both our link to the physical world and the barrier, which seems to stand between us and the immediacy of our perceptions. Most of the time we pay little or no attention to the fundamental incompatibility between our mental picture of the world and reality as we physically experience it. Westendarp’s new works highlight the inadequacy of our mental constructs and the fluidity of perception, making us momentarily aware of the gulf between them.
“All That No One Sees” is on view at Robert Henry Contemporary through October 23, 2016