There can be no question that Freud’s Unheimlich is one of the driving (and overarching) concerns behind Otavio Schipper’s work. The objects he selects as points of departure for the creation of other, new, invented objects weave a complex and highly informed commentary on the not-so-random intersections of art and hard science – a commentary at once startling, sly, and sophisticated.
Beyond a curious sense of the unreal, of something out of joint, of a projection of our nervously amused discomfort onto the shapes and images of the pieces in the present, highly compact in the sense that they sample nearly ten years’ worth of output— exhibition at Shin Gallery, I would add that it is still fully operational in the artist’s latest work (Golem), with its hypnotic editing of found footage complemented by his occasional collaborator Sergio Krakowski’s score. The resonance of these delicately colored blobs (dysfunctional or, at the very least, thought-provoking relationships between sound and image being two of the most rapidly identifiable traits of Schipper’s pieces), reappear in the mutant, ovoid and ocular shapes of his Lumens.
Although the artist may plead otherwise, even the Victorian tintypes in another of the pieces on view are kindred creations in that each is completely individual, whether in their making or their capture – exclusive results of a single experiment. The Lumens drawings are much more abstract although they are visibly related to the universe of the Golem in terms of their distortion, deformation, and transformation of both meaning and materials.
Schipper has said that he is “more interested in possible historical, philosophical, literary meanings and connections than in aesthetic qualities. While I believe in the power and seduction of the art object, it is the uncanny that truly seduces me.”
Accordingly, the arrangement of objects in Optical Memory #1 conforms a miniaturized landscape of sorts. It includes elements (fetish images/fetish sources) that have been present in most of Schipper’s drawings for over a decade now: gallows, eyeglasses, sight itself, Victorian tintypes and imprints (in this case, on the U.S. silver dollars contained by the silver rims of the eyeglasses). It should be noted that tintypes are unique images, unlike photographs generated from negatives. In this iteration, they are presented upon a minimalist catafalque, a “dissecting table” that is also oddly suggestive of a tray. References range from Jasper Johns to Smithson’s Mirror Stratum (1966).
Memory and close observation of artifacts from past eras have driven the artist to destroy, pervert the original function or pointedly alter the meaning and function of a variety of objects and images, such as his tuning forks. These “prepared” gauges evoke a tool that dates back to the 18th century, normally used as a standard of pitch for tuning musical instruments, now an artistic corollary to remind us of the nature of silence and the memory of sound.
This drive is scopic, lenses being an overriding presence, and scopophilia and obsessional neurosis are confounded in the Eyeglasses for Ernst Lanzer. Again, certain elements (in this case the rims and/or connective tubing in the eyeglass mutations may be related to Empty Voices.
Perversely enough, there are no singing birds in Portrait of a Bird. Working against the instructions of Jacques Prévert’s poem, Schipper has caged a nib and eyeglasses. The nib within the cage could be a violently extruded beak of sorts. As much an “assisted” readymade as Duchamp’s caged marble sugar cubes, cuttlebone, and mercury thermometer, the “portrait” is one of writing imprisoned and vision incarcerated. It may well be associated with Bartleby, the most mysterious of all the pieces in the show, once more “useless”, once more a denial of sorts that leads the viewer to meditate on one of the most enduring and polemic pieces of fiction in American literature.
Indeed, the round objects inside cage originally designed for holding water and food bowls resemble eyeglass frames that, in turn, resemble the Lumens forms and even their spatial relationships, a kind of three-dimensionalization of the watercolor blots.
The artist speaks: “It is believed that the origin of perspective is directly related to that first ray of light that illuminated and projected the images of things throughout the universe. Without this image, it would be impossible to conceive a terribly efficient system for translating psychophysical space into pure mathematical being as we understand it. The vanishing point, central figure of perspectival geometry, corresponds to the inverse image of the mechanical eye, once responsible for the emission of visual rays and for the capture of appearances.”
Otavio Schipper’s pieces configure a highly complex and endless puzzle text. Their elements and inspirations – from Melville, Agamben, Freud, John Cage and Prévert to the horror and science fiction genres as well as to science proper – and their unending referentiality, the relationships and connections between the disquieting strangeness of the works in the present exhibition are exercises in visual, aural and silent gratification. It is always rewarding to listen to his images and look at their sounds.
Otavio Schipper: GOLEM curated by Lara Pan at Shin Gallery
Oct 13 – Nov 25, 2018
Writing by Stephen Berg