Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

Not for Nothing: Two Exhibitions at Despacio

Nadie Nada Nunca and Herencias at Despacio

July 2016
Avenida Central (at Calle 11)
San José, Costa Rica

Installation view, "Thomas Moor: Herencias," 2016, at Despacio. Courtesy of the gallery.
Installation view, “Thomas Moor: Herencias,” 2016, at Despacio. Courtesy of the gallery.

Despacio ( “slowly”) is an independent art and residency space located in the Costa Rican capital of San José. Suspended above the chaotic atmosphere of the city, Despacio highlights individual explorations of the temporary, the absent, the forgotten, the mis- or dis-translated, the transience of things. The recent appointment of curator Sandino Scheidegger, founder of the Random Institute and gleaner of time, has slowed things down even more devotedly.

Many of the previous exhibitions at Despacio — such as Julien Prévieux’s collection of obsolete books, or Diana Abi Khalil’s space-addled notebooks — were library based, and the gallery’s most recent project continues with this leitmotif. On July 26, two separate solo exhibitions opened simultaneously under Despacio’s roof: Florence Jung’s “Nadie Nada Nunca” (“nobody nothing never) and Thomas Moor’s “Herencias” (“heirlooms”).

Jung is a French artist who’s enjoyed many recent successes; currently, she is showing at Manifesta 11 in Zurich, and received the Swiss Performance Prize in 2013. These are notable accomplishments considering her principled refusal to photograph or publish the work. Jung is a conceptual extremist who handles, smuggles and muffles the media of experience and thought, pre- and post- conception, with precision. Her happenings, installations or interventions are undocumented, ensuring that they remain as transitory as they are un-tweetable. Take, for example, Jung43 (2015): exhibited this spring in a North Korean hotel room, the work — a conceptual thought alone — demanded it was not to be thought about. Upon consideration, she insisted, it would be destroyed. For the sake of art conservation, I’ll leave it at that.

In Jung’s exhibition, a pale wooden platform showcases a scatter of thick white texts. Arranged with as much care as retired phonebooks, the cover of each reads: “El presente libro recopila todos los Quijotes retirados de Costa Rica” (“This book collects all the Quijotes removed from Costa Rica”). In a mix of quixotic quest and Reconquista, Jung has traveled across Costa Rica to gather or steal every possible copy of Don Quijote from bookstores, libraries, second-hand shops and flea markets; the fruits of this labor are indexed within these unassuming books. As is characteristic of Jung, the details of each acquisition are listed, but the physical object (and its visual evidence) is missing. Despite the negating proclamation of “Nadie Nada Nunca” — perhaps notably, a title shared with a novel by the Argentinian author Juan José Saer — Jung approaches a great deal of who and what and when in these archives, be they invented or accurate.

Jung’s project seems at once like a symbolic effort to decolonize, de-tongue, and a compulsive act of love (that is, possession). It certainly echoes Francis Alÿs’s ongoing Fabiola Project — an endeavor started in the 1990s that brings together reproductions of a long-lost 1885 painting of 4th-century Roman Saint Fabiola, collected from junk shops around the world. Like Fabiola, Don Quijote is a cult figure who pursued honor and charity with charming persistence. Unlike Alÿs, Jung does not display her collection, but hides it away in a clandestine location. Knowing her past work, we could go so far as to question if it truly exists — after all, Cervantes lends Don Quijote credibility through the invented gravitas of “The Archive of La Mancha” and the bogus Moorish translator, Cide Hamete Benengeli. Is Jung pulling a Cervantes? In a favorite adaptation of the novel, Man of La Mancha, Cervantes asks: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?” And I wonder. Across the street from Despacio, on the corner of sea foam green rooftop, lies a large box. On the side it reads: “Nadie Nada Nunca.”

Swiss artist Thomas Moor is a collector of the intangible as well. His past work includes the installation of a false Starbucks franchise (Trojan Horses, 2016), a newspaper Kiosk (2013) installed mid-air on an apartment balcony, and Touching Tangibles (2013-2014): a full body cotton suit, the same material used for art handling gloves, worn by the artist that allows him to hug valuable artwork, such as Jeff Koons sculptures.

Bubble wrap that once protected artwork, discarded carpeting from an art fair, receipts from past transactions, museum paraphernalia — Moor gathers these laminations of the art object for “Herencias” (“heirlooms”), his exhibition turned inside out. Cargo Veils, a project begun in 2015, is composed of the discarded duct tape and bubble wrap previously used by galleries to transport art. Baby blue sheaths, immortal padding and the familiar, fragrant brown tapes join to become strikingly modern works (surely every artist has admired the molted Mondrians that accompany their shipped art). Like sticky cicada shells, the works hangs with characteristic lightness, depending on namedropping titles — VonBrandenburg002, Malevich001, Weiner001 — for weight. Strangely, looking at Cargo Veils, I immediately though of Roland Barthes’s beautifully belabored description of Japanese tempura, in The Empire of Signs (1970):

“The contour is so light that it becomes abstract […] It has for its envelope nothing but time […] on the side of the light, the aerial, of the instantaneous, the fragile, the transparent, the crisp, the trifling, but whose real name would be the interstice without specific edges, or again: the empty sign.”

Yet just as Jung’s nothing is a something, Moor’s empty sign still echoes of the absent object’s dual artistic and monetary auras. Indeed, Moor is an art handler, and Cargo Veils finds the shape of value without containing it; this applies equally to the installation of “Heirlooms”: a collection of coffee mugs — filled to the brim with coins — from the world’s museum gift shops. Naturally, coffee is a major cash crop for Costa Rica, so the artist has created a connection between two economic and highly branded cultural forces.

The mugs are arranged across three low pedestals, Islas De La Felicidad (“islands of happiness,” 2016), that float in a sea of discarded and wrinkled art fair carpet (Flying Carpet, 2016). Moor, who shares his name with another maker of utopic islands, collaborated with Sabrina Röthlisberger to create the fragmented poems that line the islets. Her words are sourced from a delayed baggage receipt — American Airlines had lost, or stolen, the original bag of coins intended to fill Moor’s mugs. The vinyl letters stutter: “We sincerely apologize everything possible.”

When reading up on Despacio, I came across an old Spanish proverb: “Vísteme despacio que tengo prisa.” In unforgiving English this advises to do things carefully even when hurried — “make haste, not waste,” and the like. It has been attributed to Napoleon, Emperor Augustus, Charles III and even — according to the tangential wanderings of the Internet — Don Quixote. “Nadie Nada Nunca” and “Herencias” beg the same, asking us to consume them slowly, like a beloved novel. And like good writers, these artists think in circles, following the natural shape of time: Jung tilting at windmills, Moor tracing their movements.

Thomas Moor, Buechel001, 2016. Bubble wrap and mixed media. Courtesy of the artist and Despacio.
Thomas Moor, Buechel001, 2016. Bubble wrap and mixed media. Courtesy of the artist and Despacio.