Is all our Life, then, but a dream?
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time’s dark resistless stream?
Sylvie and Bruno (1889) Lewis Carroll
“Tesserae,” an exhibition by Monika Bravo is a beautiful installation which explores notions of time and space, experience and reality, through the interplay of colorful slow-moving geometric colored tiles and natural images projected onto 5 LCD screens across three walls. These are juxtaposed and enhanced by a fast paced projection of shapes, and sites from Google Earth, across the fourth wall – effectively transforming Johannes Vogt Gallery space into a delightful experiential kaleidoscope of corresponding movement and colorful forms.
The exhibition is Bravo’s first solo show at the gallery, but the Colombia-born New York-based multimedia artist is well known for her installations and public commissions. She recently represented the Vatican City-State at the 56th Venice Biennale and has created what she refers to as “visual interventions” in halls and atriums of buildings across the country and abroad including the University of Texas, the Los Angeles Airport and a NYC public school in Queens. She has just been commissioned for a project with the MTA Arts and Design.
On September 10th, 2001, the artist was filming a storm from a window on one of the top floors of the World Trade Center as part of an artist residency program run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The footage, now part of the collection of the 9/11 Museum, is a touching tribute to a friend and fellow artist who was lost when the Twin Towers fell the next day.
Coming to terms with death and loss is a recurrent theme is Bravo’s work. Though not particularly melancholy, her work transcends the limitations of lived experience. What if as Lewis Carroll says above, “Is all our life then but a dream?” In Bravo’s artist statement she explains “I want to challenge the audience’s own perception of what they consider real by generating a platform where they are induced to connect by exploring, interacting and at times focusing on an object-place-scene for a duration of time in a manner that is both meditative and investigative.”
It is for this reason, that although lovely as stills and painterly when viewed in print and online, Bravo’s work really needs to be experienced corporeally. As curator Octavio Zaya, explains “For Bravo the skin – our skin – is what translates the sensorial forms. For her, the body is the site where form and content develop and exchange, a dialogue, and where a balance is struck.”
The images on the screens are mesmerizing. As the geometric tiles of light, (note: Tessarae are the tiles used in mosaics) slowly drift across the surface moving from one set of screens to the next, if you pay attention it is possible to identify leaves, raindrops and people for example, if only fleetingly. On a crowded opening night, this experience took on additional nuance, as the sounds, above the noisy din of the crowd, one could identify the individual word, voice or burst of laughter. Likewise, the wall on which the large projection with bursts of tiles superimposed on images from Google Earth, was interrupted by shadows of the people in the room, at times collectively blurring together, and other times a wine glass or backpack was as clear as day. It’s these interventions of recognizable elements across all the projections, the maps and terrains and rivers and streams, that present the viewer with a puzzle, effectively challenging you to cognitively translate competing rhythms concurrently fast and slow, as well as images both recognizable and abstract. It’s a bit ironic, though, that as children, these very geometric shapes and colors are often the first words and forms we learn, yet now as adults, we view them as abstractions. Zaya continues, “Bravo aims for an interconnected sense of unity between space and time through an understanding of our mind’s cognitive structure, which gives to formless reality both shape and meaning.”
Bravo has a background in fashion design and photography, having studied in London, Paris and Rome before making New York her home in 1994. There is a definite style to her work. It’s not easy to work with such bright colors and to cut and layer them in a way that is both balanced and in harmony with one another, yet Bravo makes it seem almost effortless. It’s the way an abstract painter, only one who has a true sense and is well practiced in form and perspective can make it work. In terms of art historical foundations, Bravo has been influenced by Malevich’s “suprematism,” using basic geometric forms to achieve primacy of pure feeling and interestingly enough, also “constructivism,” using materials to explore their potential – yet she has taken these influences and created her own visual language which simultaneously borrows from older traditions such as mosaic making and weaving and combines with 21st Century technology and back again.
Given the political climate lately and the circulation of “alternative facts”, Bravo’s work is quite prescient in its visual challenge to decipher, and at the very least question, what is real and what is not, albeit in a sensorially beautiful space.
Tessarae opened on January 18, 2017, and closes on February 26, 2017 at Johannes Vogt Gallery, 55 Chrystie Street, Suite 202, New York, 10002.
Gallery Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm and by appointment
Writing by: Kristine Roome
Photographs provided by the gallery