TATIANA TROUVE Desire Lines

PUBLIC ART FUND | CENTRAL PARK | MARCH 3 – AUGUST 30, 2015

Slush splashed under the crowds as the latest winter storm melted around Tatiana Trouvé’s new piece, Desire Lines, during its first days installed on the southeast corner of Central Park. Upon first approach, the kebab and hotdog stands compete for space, serving as a reminder that the site hosting the sculpture is ultimately one that attracts tourists. Emerging out of the cluttered corner, three towering dark wooden storage racks house irregular rows containing spools of colored rope. Both somber and toy-like, the piece resembles a larger-than-life distribution system for sewing thread. Passing groups debate whether or not they can touch the work. Inevitable selfies are snapped.

Tatiana Trouve, Desire Lines (2012). A project of the Public Art Fund. Metal, wood, ink, and rope, 137 13/16 × 299 3/16 × 374". Copyright Tatiana Trouve. Photograph: Robert McKeever. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

More attentive viewers would observe how each of the spools vary in size and hue. They are adorned with metal plaques that match names of famous walks with the coordinates of paths in Central Park. Among the titles are political marches, including the recent “Hands Up Walk Out” in response to Ferguson, popular songs like “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash, or walks featured in the work of artists, writers, and theorists, such as Théorie de la dérive by Guy Debord, “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges, Taking a Shoe for a Walk by Allan Kaprow, as well as numerous references to Francis Alÿs, Janet Cardiff, Richard Long, and others. The amount of rope dedicated to each spool corresponds to the approximate length of the path it indicates. Although the Gagosian Gallery’s press release for the project and adjacent exhibition of studies at its new uptown satellite space says that “visitors to Desire Lines can choose a path by name then undertake the walk it describes, tracing the march of history in collective memory while discovering Central Park anew,” the work does not necessarily behave as a social sculpture. Instead it is as elusive and complex as the rest of Trouvé’s oeuvre. Does anyone look carefully at the piece and decide to take an inspired walk? Maybe.

Trouvé’s other recent work often involves vagabond objects that circulate in cities, such as used mattresses, cushions, cardboard, and shoes. They are permanently cast into concrete or bronze, and are carefully poised in the context of minimalist architectural interventions. However, the wandering done in Desire Lines is primarily conceptual and lacks the sense of psychic residue and materiality that is Trouvé’s hallmark. Cleverly crowded yet orderly, the sculpture takes up most of the space available, making the movement around it akin to that of the teeming adjacent Midtown. Desire Lines is poised between a monument to walking and a cultural archive of the activity. Closer viewing and understanding relies upon one’s knowledge of politics, art, and pop culture to decode the labels. This is especially the case because more specific identifiers, such as the names of artists, authors, activists, etc., are missing. In this way, the work is like a piecemeal bibliography that intersects with the daily activity that belongs to most New Yorkers—walking.

Trouvé’s haunting installations and architectural interventions have earned her international acclaim, because they are usually as seductive as they are fugitive—an excellent invitation for thought. The artist’s personal memory empowers the materiality of her previous work in a way that still feels open to the viewer. Since Desire Lines is so text-based and relies heavily on research about Central Park and the history of walking, Trouvé’s normally successful strategy of producing enigmas actually closes down this work, unless we also find ourselves inspired to undertake parallel research.

Tatiana Trouve, Desire Lines (2012). A project of the Public Art Fund. Metal, wood, ink, and rope, 137 13/16 × 299 3/16 × 374". Copyright Tatiana Trouve. Photograph: Robert McKeever. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

Desire Lines could have offered the viewer a participatory option of performing a suggested walk. To all but the veteran New Yorker, it is difficult to actually find the mostly unlabeled paths, since you would already have to know the park well to decode path references such as, “From the Scholar’s Gate to the Wien Walk leading to the Arsenal.” Instead, the plaques make the spools seem like the spines of books whose titles sound familiar, but their content escapes memory.

The thoughtful casual viewer might simply be left with an idea about the various permutations that a walk can take as they continue to stroll through the park. If they happen to find themselves at Trouvé’s concurrent exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, the conceptual development of her public sculpture becomes more easily understood. There, supporting works, including a series of traced and sewn maps with handwritten labels corresponding to the various paths, are placed in a way that more clearly connects to the park’s actual geography. In fact, it is a shame that the brochure prepared by the gallery or some version of “Index” (2015), the most comprehensive map in the Gagosian space, was not present on site. As the sister-work to the public sculpture, “Index” helps fill in the gaps between the conceptual and spatial nature of Desire Lines in a way that feels generous without revealing too much.

Contributor

Sarah Goffstein

Sarah Goffstein is a contributor to the Brooklyn Rail.

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