potlatch - de ateliers - fumbling in the dark


Text: Julia Mullié



         Wandering through Adriano Amarals studio allows you to leave behind traces of your own footsteps. Outside the studio are also remains of graphite powder to be found up until the building of De Ateliers as a continuously expanding installation. Through his manipulations, Amaral stimulates like no other artist a consciousness of the space in which you find yourself and your relationship to it. This applies not only to the studio space itself, but also the larger structure to which this studio belongs.

         Originating from sharp and perceptive observation, Amaral creates new environments which may seem recognizable, yet in actuality are far from it. For his final presentation at De Ateliers, he creates a site specific installation made particularly for the space in which he spent two years. As you move through this installation, your attention becoming more and more directed towards small details of your environment. Amaral makes objects based on items common to everyday life, yet always in a somewhat alienating way, because what is determinant in our knowledge of what we see? Are there still aspects of natural knowledge which stand subject to doubt? The layering of these manipulations is strong in the sense that not all of the aspects of the objects lose their ability to characterize. Amaral knows how to deconstruct the object and give it new form which always recalls a vague recognition of the original, thereby not allowing the object a direct home. Earplugs from chalk seem to have the exact same structure as those of memory foam. They lie carelessly scattered throughout the space, where some visitors even accidentally step on them. The earplugs are now outside the context of their original form, flattened and lying on the floor like broken crayons. The way in which the visitor moves throughout the space plays a determinant role: parts of the installation change and betray the spurious nature of the objects. Through this, the visitor is asked to question the origin of objects and the materials from which they are created: how is it that we have a certain notion of the nature of the things around us? Are material and form essential in understanding the things in our immediate environment? Or does the context play an equally important or even decisive role?

         Through varying materials – including textiles, cement, powder coated metal, chlorine compounds, turf, and silicone – and the use of many combinations thereof, new substances arise with their own specific characteristics. Before initiating experiments in materiality, Amaral already knows what he wants to create. Thoughtfully and with incredible precision, he attempts to render a desired result through a composition of various materials. His interest seems to move between empirical research on the nature of things and the creation of something entirely new through a more intuitive assemblage of these elements. Through these elements arises a sensorial and stimulating installation.

         The presentation of Amaral’s work in his old studio is also very important: Amaral works very closely in relation to a particular space. This high degree of contemplation is palpable when walking through his installations. Everything in the space seems as if it fits, yet your perception is simultaneously put off balance by the alienating nature of the objects which you originally found familiar. In addition, the transient nature of the materials and objects of Amaral are emphasized: the visitor who crushes a chalk earplug, or someone who out of curiosity puts their finger on oil bearing aluminium powder. You experience the literal fragility of several materials which cannot stand the test of time. The tenuousness of the materials is reflected in the fragile colours, or even more in the near-­absence of colour. At times, light pink attempts to penetrate the gray epoxy, or there is a hint blue that can be observed in the silicon objects, yet they never seem to truly penetrate the materials. The fragile appearance of the objects suggests that they already have a lifetime behind them. At the same time, you realize that this is impossible: each object is unusable, the material too weak to provide its ability to function. With this comes a sense of peace in Amaral’s installation, in that the passivity of the objects displays the lack of interest in even being put to use.

         Terry Smith introduced the term “the exhibition setting,” by which he meant that the meaning from something cannot be determined by only a part, but can arise when the part is in dialogue with other things found in the same space. It may be possible to see a reference to classic aesthetics in relation to beauty: a piece of art consists of several elements that coalesce into an indivisible whole. The consequence is that when there is a change in the composition of the parts, the meaning of the whole also shifts. Amaral implements these notions through their precise application by which his presentation is experienced as a whole: he offers a new structure to the objects in the installation, that which provides a (seemingly) new meaning. This he does implicitly without the visitor being able to put a finger on it. It reminds the viewer of the installation photos of the important exhibition When Attitudes Become Form, which was organized in 1969 by Harald Szeemann at the Kunsthalle Bern. In this exhibition, a number of important artists were invited to create site-­specific works. Yet the use of material showed the same interest in sensitivity and transience as the work of Amaral, seen mainly in 1969 in the work of Barry Flanagan, Bruce Nauman, Gilberto Zorio, Mario Merz, and Michael Heizer.

         The close attention paid by those interested in ephemeral installations such as those by Heizer, Merz, Zorio and those who love the work of Amaral, in my opinion, closely relate to two developments in society: the virtual world that caused us to want to become aware again of the specific moment in which we are located and the experience of temporality in a presentation which allows this process. Then there are the problems caused by the pan-­capitalism in which individuals submit themselves to rational factors such as production, consumption, and efficiency. These two developments make us aware of the importance of ephemeral installations in that we are again confronted with the notion of the instability of existence.

         The presentation of everyday life as an established fact and is experience and pulled out of its context by Amaral. He renders a kind of rhythm in which we are brought out of balance, making you suddenly critical towards your surroundings. What we recognize in the work is primarily dependent on our own knowledge. What we see is shaped by our association ability. This is particularly influential due to the role of the visitor as the one attempting to find a way through the system according to its own frame of reference. At the same time, these aspects apply in the work of Amaral just outside the framework, leaving you to fumble through the darkness.