This summer the Chisenhale presents a solo exhibition by Mariana Castillo Deball that examines the lives of objects in “What we caught we threw away, what we didn’t catch we kept.” Travelling the world and modern history, Deball combines sculpture, printmaking, and archival elements.
Entering Chisenhale Gallery on a sunny day, the coolness and simplicity of the exhibition are immediately apparent. The space is not overwhelmed by any particular piece and despite the openness, wandering through the exhibition constantly leads to unexpected and diverse elements. Not just looking back to the traditional canon of art history, Deball is influenced by Aldred Maudslay, an explorer and archaeologist working in the 19th century; Alfred Gell, a contemporary anthropologist; and Scottish sculptor and artist, Eduardo Paolozzi.
The first work the visitor encounters is the humble-looking ‘Vogel’s Net’ (2013). Despite the seemingly underwhelming appearance of the work, this piece is charged with meaning and immediately sets the tone for the exhibition. Firstly, this work is not an original but rather a faithful replica of a Zande hunting net. Secondly, it is bound and presented in an almost identical manner to an original artefact in the first section of the seminal exhibition “ART/Artifact” (1988) at the Center for African Art in New York. This exhibition, and piece in particular, form a crucial element of Alfred Gell’s important essay, “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps.” This presentation alerts viewers to the deep theoretical background of the exhibition and the ideas of authenticity and perception that permeate this collection of work.
A series of works entitled ‘Tree Traps’ are scattered throughout the gallery space. These works are portraits, to a certain extent, of trees encountered by Deball on her world travels. Using a papier-mâché technique known as a paper squeeze, Deball quotes the work of Alfred Maudslay. The pioneer of the paper squeeze technique has works in noteworthy collections, but they are rarely exhibited and viewed as second-rate archaeological objects. Eduardo Paolozzi first re-discovered the eerie artifical skins of trees in the British Museum and incorporated them in an exhibition at the Museum of Mankind. Deball appropriated Maudslay’s technique and Paolozzi’s interest in found and discarded objects in a further reference to Gell’s essay – the theme of the trap is always just below the surface.
One of the most interesting sets of works in the exhibition is related to a Mayan sculpture. The originally monumental work is reduced by Deball into a miniature replica called ‘Zoomorph P’ (2013). This carved tree root is then used for woodblock printing for a work entitled ‘Imprint Zoomorph P’ (2013). The original piece represents a mythological creature created through the complex texture of the surface and used for ceremonial purposes. Deball intentionally separates the viewer in Chisenhale Gallery from the original object by a number of degrees (replica, imprint of the replica) creating works that are aesthetically interesting in their own right.
Almost missable is the extremely subtle ‘Ligero, invisible, mudo (Light-footed, invisible, mute)’ (2013) – a wall painting. Small dots are painted on a long wall in a connect-the-dots configuration of an indeterminable subject. The work challenges viewers to pay attention and use their imagination to see value is the modest and unassuming objects we encounter in our daily lives.
In addition to the works on display, the actual methods of display are charged with meaning. Vogel’s net, which would be much more impressive and readable displayed outstretched remains in a compact bundle. Archival photographs are crowded together on an A-frame shelving unit. Tree casts are strewn on the floor. Deball wanted to create the look of a storage facility to reference the tendency of works to become abandoned in archives and storage and her desire to collect, interpret, and re-present found objects.
Words & Images: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2013