Garrett Nelson

Garrett Nelson @ Museo de la Ciudad de Querétaro reviewed

29 January 2016
‘Agency’ embodies with near perfection a wide range of the human experience in our contemporary times: the abstract principle that autonomous beings, agents, are capable of acting by themselves. The advanced technologic state experienced by our society, as conceptualized notably by post human(ist) theory, adds a layer of mystery to the term. These things, phenomena and events seem to have acquired a life of their own, as cohabiting systems for autonomous ‘agents’ to ‘cruise’. Garrett Nelsons Cruising Objects of Agency at the Museo de la Ciudad de Querétaro –a contemporary art museum discretely inhabiting a former colonial monastery in the Centro Historico for 20 years –explores this thesis practically, like a test realized by a skeptical albeit daring scientist in a remote university laboratory.
Occupying the only dark room among a series of antique chambers bathed in a glaring midday sun, there is a concealed effort of the artist to negate the heaviness of the space. It finally turns into a literary trick, as the main subject of the show, the aesthetics of (homo)erotic desire as applied to objects, time and narratives, affirms itself through the shamelessly explicit artworks. They pulse like a guilty heart within the dry catholic architecture of this small and rich town on the northern periphery of Mexico City.
Garrett Nelson, 'Blocks (Cruising)' (2015) Install view. Courtesy Museo de la Ciudad Querétaro, México.
Garrett Nelson, ‘Blocks (Cruising)’ (2015). Installation view. Courtesy Museo de la Ciudad Querétaro, México.

Don’t be fooled by the retouched photos: everything is much dirtier that it seems, and may be for the best. The large video ‘Ultimate non contortion of human figure’ (2015) is an uncanny animation of a skin surface spinning endlessly on itself, flooding the show with a dim artificial light that makes the materials and patterns discernible with difficulty. The ‘backroom’ reference of course comes to mind, perverted by two large paintings representing sections of a ‘Casetas para pickup (Chauvet cave) #1 and 3#’ (2015), a metallic rig that Mexican truck owners attach to their vehicle in order to install basic commercial infrastructure like a fruit-stand or a taco business, but also simply sleep or shelter their load from the outside world.

Weird feelings of intimacy thus traverse the show, through the cloth hung carelessly on the wall (‘Untitled (Cruising)’, 2015) and a small lamp of sensual 90s Italian design. The softness of the reflecting tape forms the letters of the title of the show, Cruising Objects of Agency, on a hung flag presiding over the whole installation. The anecdotal narrative inscribed on one side of a closed vitrine containing several rolls of tape like ready to use skin tones for a futuristic surgery to come explains its presence in the display case of another object. It’s a vintage tin of scenic makeup allegedly identical to the one described in the story (‘La Rosa de Guadalupe Theatrical Cold Cream’, 2015) of a text invoking the baroque character of Mabel Normand, a 20s Los Angeles star involved in a troubled murder case. It casts an antagonistic spell on the otherwise austere set of works, diluting purpose and interpretation in other more abstract feelings that are accentuated by resin and tape, or stick-like sculptures scattered subtly on the walls of the show “as commas punctuating some kind of reading”, according to the artist.

Garrett Nelson, 'La Rosa de Guadalupe Theatrical Cold Cream' (2015). Installation view. Courtesy Museo de la Ciudad Querétaro, México.
Garrett Nelson, ‘La Rosa de Guadalupe Theatrical Cold Cream’ (2015). Installation view. Courtesy Museo de la Ciudad Querétaro, México.

Nelson is also known for his performances, mixing readings of his own texts and other textual material with minimal scenographies, actions and gestures. It seems overall expected that a performer, if he chooses to investigate sculpture, do it through the idea of the absence of the body.  Thus he chooses at this very moment to withdraw, to exist only through traces, entrusting objects as events, capable of reconstituting, precisely, the complexity of a missing, thus present agency. Claiming the explicit use of gay visual culture as a tool capable to reconstitute the rudeness of the patriarchal world we are living in, the show takes a fascinating turn within its Mexican and Latin-American context. It’s one where classist, racist and sexist post-colonial violence fuels the weird games of apparitions and disappearances, be it of bodies, political corruption or a sense of (aest)ethics. **

Exhibition photos, top right.

Garrett Nelson’s Cruising Objects of Agency is on at Mexico’s Museo de la Ciudad Querétaro, running December 11, 2015, to March 5, 2016.

Header image: Garrett Nelson, Cruising Objects of Agency (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Museo de la Ciudad Querétaro, México.

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