Margaret Lanzetta and David Packer’s one-person shows at Le Cube in Rabat both cast backward glances to Duchamp’s aesthetics of Etant donnés and exile, as well as to Western Modernism’s historic reframing of the Other as exotic and primitive. Yet the world has changed a bit since the first half of the 20th century, and in the contemporary work of Lanzetta and Packer, a nod to the past serves as a starting point—a given—and becomes part of the choice to make work at a nexus of cultural transition.
On ViewLe Cube, Independent Art Room
March 16 – May 9, 2012
Having just returned to New York from nine months of working in Morocco, interfacing with a country that is “emerging” into the global contemporary art world, neither Packer nor Lanzetta is unaccustomed to functioning outside of his or her element, and it’s not their practice to escape. While the artists both work freely with found motifs and imagery—Western and otherwise—the ways in which they do so incorporate the historic and the contemporary with a directness that bypasses obscurantism and, at these artists’ best, the romantic.
Lanzetta’s paintings and prints have always asserted that imagery, design, and decoration travel effortlessly amongst countries and across periods of time. Before we can identify the origin of a motif or trope, we adopt, own, manipulate, and communicate that which we seem to seamlessly absorb—using visual impact to our own ends. As Lanzetta has fed her increasingly omnivorous appetite from an ever-widening field of visual cultures, however, she has also dug deeper into these sources’ histories, exploring how form speaks to notions of aesthetics, power, and beauty. In 2009, for example, she traveled throughout Syria and India in order to research the historical development of ikat weaving, both technically and visually, along the Spice Route.
To create many of the paintings on view in her exhibition, Reign Marks, Lanzetta employed a universal interlocking knot pattern found in Celtic, Roman, Byzantine, Chinese, and Arabic decoration, chopping, slicing, and reworking the basic knot as a formal device. These paintings reference the imprinted stamps used historically in China to signify and identify imperial patronage.
In her multi-paneled silkscreen entitled “Dharma Index,” Lanzetta really hits her mark. Here, Lanzetta overlaidMorrocan zellij patterns adopted from the Royal Palace in Fez (printed in a Hindi palette of deep pinks and orange), onto fragments of Diasporic mosque floor plans. She ventures thus into an edgier, but somehow still lush and lyrical, sampling of the “incommensurable narratives” described by art theorist Terry Smith in his studied definition of the contemporary.
David Packer’s sculptures, drawings, and wall collages evince a wry belief in the ability of both physical presence and imagery to influence the viewer’s relationship to information—political, cultural, technological, and through these, textual. As a master practitioner of architectural and technical ceramics, Packer speaks simultaneously of the intimate and the grandiose. At a 2006 Kohler Residency, he fabricated five bright red, life-size V8 car engines, which were suspended from the ceiling on chains as an installation entitled The Last of the V8s; this piece has been exhibited in Chicago, Sheboygan, Michigan, and Bellevue, Washington.
In Les Bidons, Packer has worked with Fez craftsmen to fabricate ceramic replicas of the plastic water bottles found in all Moroccan cafes. As Packer says, “Plastic is the new ceramics.” Arranging multi-tiered groupings of these delicate white multiples—whose color, surface, and sleek irony call to mind Duchamp’s “Fountain”—on locally-made tables, Packer places one blue and one black bottle within each assembled piece. In a region where water is scarce and oil is plentiful, the colors blue and black have particular meaning.
Packer’s investigation of the visual qualities of old and new technologies was extended in a series of found-object astrolabes and collages. Cobbling together a poetics of functional sea-faring instruments from cast-off bric-a-brac and broken bits, the artist considers the never-ending, osmotic flow that underwrites cultural exchange. Exhibiting astrolabes in the Arab world carries particular meaning given the device’s Islamic origins and importance as a tool used in finding and colonizing the New World.
Finally, Packer’s series of photographs of local high-power lines and telephone poles speaks of the streaming of power and information, as well as the sad beauty of shared physical banality sometimes wrought by change.