The elastic concepts of space and time provide the unifying themes for Argentine artist Martin Bonadeo's 10-year retrospective Alba Magica, at Wood Street Galleries. In many cases, Bonadeo's works can best be described as philosophical models that reflect on two culturally variable concepts -- time and space -- that both define our daily experience and often induce stress.
The exploration of these concepts and their symbolic expressions may not be a surprising choice for an artist whose doctorate is in social communication, and whose postdoctoral research considered intersections between art, science and technology. In his multimedia, multisensory works, Bonadeo explores all three subjects and places humans at the center. And since the field of social communication involves the study of how information is perceived, it seems natural that visitors must complete the theoretical circuits in Bonadeo's works.
The introductory work on the gallery's third floor, "Re-visits," is loosely connected to the concept of time by its inclusion of plan drawings for Bonadeo's earlier installations, and through its use of symbols like the Möbius strip, representing infinity. Originally part of a larger collaboration with artists Paula Senderowicz and Daniel Trama, it then featured sawhorse-supported table-tops covered with blueprints and scale models. Here, however, "Re-visits" has been boiled down to a few off-white wall decals of Bonadeo's sketches. The decals' pearlescent finish allows the symbols to appear and disappear, almost like forgotten history, as the viewer moves through the dimly illuminated space.
Nearby, "Real Time Vanitas" (2002) is a contemporary reference to an ancient concept: a memento mori, or reminder of our mortality. A photograph, taken while the viewer passes beneath a ceiling-mounted camera, is projected onto the sand in a sort of "flat-screen" hourglass. On my visit, the sand had largely run out, leaving nothing for my image to be projected on. Still, this, too, makes an unsettling statement: Here is a visualization of time lost, and of our inability to make even a fleeting mark. A very Twilight Zone notion.
A witty take on space and the significance of human intervention appears in "Variable Horizons" (2008), composed of a series of artisan-made thermometers filled with green- (rather than the traditional red-) tinted alcohol. The thermometers are mounted on the wall vertically and vary in size. Like a Renaissance perspective study, the size of the thermometers decreases as the array approaches a vanishing point, and reciprocally increases with each thermometer placed further from this vanishing point, creating a large V shape both above and below. The thermometers' temperature readings thereby create a median horizon, whose green suggests a landscape. Anomalous variations in the horizon are created when visitors stand close to the work -- mirroring the mechanisms of social communication itself, which is inexorably changed by human input.
In nearby "Two Suns" (2004), the spectator sits squarely between two oceanscape projections, where the sky-to-sea ratio is 50-50. At the sea, where the notion of infinity seems most conceivable, Bonadeo adds an interesting conceptual twist. One projection is a sunrise, the other a sunset. They look nearly identical, suggesting perpetuity, but bind the visitor in space on two sides by cardinal points, east and west.
Finally, Bonadeo expands this concept in "Locked-Up Landscapes," where a series of roads, beaches and meadows, and their related sounds, are projected into a narrow corridor. The work might make viewers ponder political, commercial or perceptual restrictions on land and space that might otherwise be virtually limitless.
The gallery's second floor, exhibiting Bonadeo works including "Moebius Display" (2007), "NEWS (it is not)" (2004) and "Fused Americas" (2003) was closed during my visit.
Still, the appropriately named Alba Magica ("Magical Dawn") awakens our culturally informed perceptions of time, and our politically-imposed notions of space. Even seen only in part, the exhibit offers a rich array of ideas that hold a mirror up to contemporary expectations.
Alba Magica continues through April 3. Wood Street Galleries, 600 Wood St., Downtown. 412-471-5605 or www.woodstreetgalleries.org
- The days of our lives: Martin Bonadeo's "Real Time Vanitas."