Carlos Amorales at Yvon Lambert, Paris

by Danny Kopel, March 2012

The first room of La Langue des Morts, Carlos Amorales’s most recent turn at Yvon Lambert, proposes no major departure from the Mexican artist’s hard-edged graphic aesthetic, a starkness and palette (mostly black, white and red) that hearkens to visual modes employed by propagandistic agendas. Amorales creates work with pictures culled from an image bank of his own making, the “liquid archive,” or source of a sizable portion of his works on differing media. Armed with this knowledge of his process, I approached the artist at the opening of his exhibition about the provenance of works in the first room of Yvon Lambert, an antechamber to the sculptural installation in the larger gallery.

The works in gallery one—a suite of fifteen black and white prints on paper—Amorales explained, are consistent in color and line but feature none of the stock forms and characters that reappear in projects born of the “archive.” These works were born of an entirely different process. Creating stencils of unidentifiable forms and arranging them haphazardly, Amorales asked studio assistants to hold the paper support against the stencils. In the process of recording the imprint of the stencils, helping hands are immortalized. The overall effect is one of pressing into and pushing against the support, hands intent on making it to the other side in an effort to make their presence felt. Though the artist only remarked to me about how process was visually integral to product in this case, the knowledge that this “photographic novel” stems from the Mexican press’s images of the gruesome war against drugs imbues these hand prints with a ghastly connotation, a gesture of desperate reaching mid-gasp.

The main gallery, the pièce de résistance, provides a change of register. Here you encounter large mobiles that revolve glacially on their axes, dominating the room. Their quiet movement inspires contemplation and stands (or rather, very slowly turns) in sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city outside. A playful riff on Calder’s iconic kinetic structures, Amorales created these pieces in residence at the late artist’s foundation, the Atelier Calder in Sache, France. Bearing a structural resemblance to the master sculptor’s most well known works, Amorales’s take replaces Calder’s organically shaped iron discs with cymbals. The overall effect is something like the opposite of Oldenburg’s famed Ghost Drumset at the nearby Centre Pompidou. Rather than languishing and melting into near unrecognizability, these percussive elements are in animated suspension.

Nearby, a pedestal with various mallets invites the viewer to participate in this environment. The possibility of intervening, of making contact with the work, would account for the certain dynamic charge of the space, but it is in equal parts thrilling and alienating. Though the point of the mobiles is to make manifest the artist’s “personal desire to offer a blissful moment,” it has to be taken into account that participatory work almost always encounters this tricky opposition of invitation and intimidation. That Amorales does not address it is the only shortcoming of La Langue des Morts.

At first glance, the exhibition’s title would seem to only address the morbid subject matter of the black-and-white prints, wholly unrelated to the more compelling and spacially commanding installation that succeeds it. But if the prints evoke darkness and horror, the mobiles then provide a necessary antidote to that heaviness, reflecting the range of human experience, our inexplicable and unforeseeable switching of gears. Room one and room two are in dialogue, a tacit call followed by a sonorous response. Darkness answered by light, the vibration produced by the cymbals reverberating loudly through the space, awakening, livening and lightening. Here is yet another language, visual and aural, and intelligible to all. There’s no way around it, La Langue des Morts will speak to you.

La Langue des Morts
2—31 March, 2012
Yvon Lambert