Irgin Sena: 21 fiftytwo (the day after)
FRESH WINDOW | April 15 – May 20, 2016
Irgin Sena’s work is substantial in its fragility: it explores the ephemerality of the representational structures and systems that constitute the foundations of our need to project significance, and perhaps narrative coherence, onto widely disparate signs.
The tenuous grasp on materiality that his aluminum wall and floor sculptures hold is counterpoised by these being laden with a weight of cultural references of social, political and literary narratives. Also included in this show of current works is a large wall piece (resembling a post-Minimalist drawing of a maze) made by pressing packing tape to the floor of his studio and transferring the resultant pattern of miscellaneous debris onto a museum-board backing. Paradoxically realized like the sculptures, this work is similarly insubstantial in its embodiment yet dense with micro environments of matter. A video entitled the yellow shirt on a brown velvet blanket (2015) depicts what looks to be a post –disaster scenario with an eerily burning swamp strewn with errant luggage and populated by butterflies.
Intercut with this scene is a close up of the painting Island of the Dead (1880),by the Swiss Symbolist Arnold Böcklin. and an overflowing bathroom sink with an empty carton of Sensodyne toothpaste circling in its faucet’s eddy. The video, shot in high definition and phenomenally lush, rests on an arbor of fluctuating mass and fleeting presence in a subtler relation than either the sculptures or the wall piece, yet still fits into Sena’s overall intent with this ensemble: he literalizes, in his odd material choices and the precarious nature of his structures, the insubstantial basis for much of the symbolic order that we might naturally synthesize into portentous meaning. Rather than offer a summary synthesis of meaning, the artist leaves dangling the loose ends of collective logos for the viewer to accept as artifacts, missed cues, and random prompts of a visual allegory that constantly digresses from explicit symbolic order and coherence.
Like Kafka’s hapless protagonist’s futile attempts at realizing his goal of entering the castle’s authoritarian gates in his final work The Castle (to which Sena makes an unambiguous reference in 19 five (2016)), we approach the shadow of the artist’s intention without ever being able to gain any real access to the authorial significance therein.
Also Kafkaesque is the artist’s system of titling his sculptures, according to their number in the overall show sequence and how many sides, or facets each contain. By self-administering this quirky system, Sena replicates the layers of signification in Kafka’s prose. Both the artist and the author pay close attention to the structures of authority as well as their ever-elusive and multifaceted meanings.
There is plenty of wit in this show to leaven the underwhelming effect of its shaky signification. The inclusion of pop cultural references such as Sensodyne toothpaste and Ensure nutritional drinks, both associated with geriatric maintenance, could be a sly aside that coughs ups its proverbial sleeve at the aging persistence of presumptive authority, like a capricious courtier in the presence of a doddering monarch. A plasticized puddle of Ensure is poured at the base of 16 six (2015) like one might water a plant, an empty Sensodyne box circles the domestic, circumscribed sea of a bathroom sink, like a poorly- conceived and leaky canoe.
In contrast to this comic relief, Sena quotes, in a drawing on the sculpture 7 eight (2014), a news photo of a Russian-downed airliner in Ukraine. This tragic foil is extended in the aforementioned video which could be construed as jet fuel ignited on the water of the swamp and its random luggage as remnants of that particular disaster. The artist’s characteristically light and lyrical touch is still at play in the video sequence, however, in the exotic-looking butterflies that flit around this dystopian landscape of water on fire and baggage unattended.
There are precedents for Sena’s approach to image and structure. Cady Noland’s aluminum facades that de-construct marginal players in grand historical (in her case American) narratives like Patty Hearst and Betty Ford come to mind, as does his Albanian countryman Anri Sala, whose video and sculptural installations similarly leave representational assumptions blowing in the wind of complex, yet materially insubstantial, visual environments. These influences, whether actual or just channeled by virtue of Sena’s own instincts towards the dynamic of light structure and heavier symbolism, point to a shared intent by each of these artists to utilize signifying systems against themselves, in order to free up open association and the under-determined “becoming” of meaning that it promotes.
TOM MCGLYNN is an artist, writer, and independent curator based in the N.Y.C. area. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Cooper- Hewitt National Design Museum of the Smithsonian. He is the director of Beautiful Fields, an organization dedicated to socially- engaged curatorial projects, and is also currently a visiting lecturer at Parsons/the New School.