Stepping behind the curtain into the space of Galerie im Turm, a tranquil atmosphere is ushered in by cool-blue and white tube lights mounted in intermittent vertical series along the walls – as though visualizing a rhythm or coded language – along with the lightly audible sounds of birdsong that flitter through the air. The space is inhabited by four large sculptures, both grounded and suspended, which comprise Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s Third Lung. At once static, sculptural installation and stage for activated performance, the bulbous and curved, organ-like polystyrene forms are punctured by carved-out cavities into which clay bird whistles of various shapes and sizes are nested. Here, the performative aspect of Ramirez-Figueroa’s work is echoed by the mimetic function rooted in the whistles themselves, which recall those made and used in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica as vehicles for communication, transformation and embodiment. The temporality of the performative gesture is materialized by the objects, which are both its remnants and latently animate entities. The floating sculptures, meanwhile, yield to a light, passing breeze; the air itself is an activating agent within this space.
With their silvery surface sheen and textural irregularities, the seemingly organic forms of the structures bear reference not only to the lung, but also a meteorite; specifically, to that discovered in the Willamette Valley, Oregon – a metallic iron-nickel meteorite, with a similarly carved out and cratered surface. The material used to articulate these forms – polystyrene foam – is a lightweight plastic primarily used in packaging. It’s malleable and easy to tear apart; disintegrating into white plastic dust particles, which fall like synthetic snow. It has frequently been employed by Ramírez-Figueroa in his sculptural installations, which, through the material’s inherent levity, come to evoke stage-like settings and props – their plastic artificiality and constructedness emitting a sense of flimsiness.
However, within the context of Third Lung, the material takes on another reference – as a material that is slow to biodegrade and has been the topic of environmental debates for its harmful effects. A lightweight material that can easily blow in the wind and float on water, it is considered a particular hazard to marine animals and birds – as it breaks up into small particles that can be easily consumed. Embedded within this material is the eventuality to which the bird whistles refer – as they have been fabricated after sounds perceived in another iteration of the project, in which the artist holds séances to communicate with extinct species of bird – while its fragility echoes that of the body, and of life itself.
The poetic framing around the exhibition text points to the porousness of our own bodies and the vulnerability of the interior to that which is ostensibly outside, existing beyond us – the minute dust particles and air pollutants that inexorably seep in. Wherein this fragility, this susceptibility to exchange, ultimately facilitates interconnectivity on a cosmic level.
Meteorites arrive in earth’s atmosphere as pieces of debris, parts of a larger whole, which are further corroded upon impact with air. The relationship between wind, breath and spirit manifests in the generation and activation of life force, yet it is also entwined with death – as embodied by these manifold references to airborne entities. Just as birds were revered in the classical period in Oaxaca, Mexico as messengers between realms – transmitters of a spiritual connection – so too was the Willamette Meteorite venerated in the pre-colonial era of present-day Oregon as a being instilled with a unifying power and as a transporter of messages from the spirit world. Levity is woven into this performative engagement with sound and materiality, through which limitations of space, time and body are transcended, though it is underlain by a profound sense of finality – of becoming remnants.
Galerie im Turm
Frankfurter Tor 1
Until 11 March
Images: Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Third Lung, Ausstellungsansicht Galerie im Turm, Courtesy der Künstler und Proyectos Ultravioleta, Foto: Eric Tschernow