Gabriela Salazar: Eye of Palm
Efrain Lopez Gallery, Chicago | July 29 – September 4, 2016
It seems like a betrayal to perceive Gabriela Salazar’s exhibition with the eyes instead of the hands. A pointy, wooden joint juts out along the floor just inside the gallery door, ready to elbow careless gazers in the toes as they step inside. From there, the rail bolts down the length of the storefront gallery, leaping over slate-colored tiles and tucking under a small pile of flesh-toned stones. At the back of the room, it corners up and around the partial wall at a forty-five degree angle, hairpin-turning behind it and disappearing. In the other direction from the door, the wooden rod rises along the same angle and kinks twice in midair before shooting up to the ceiling, where it nearly—but not precisely—traces the contour of the corner window embankment before skidding along the top of the long wall, dipping and rising slightly as it runs above the double doors that texture the otherwise smooth surface of the gallery. Reaching the far corner, the rail turns down and drives toward the floor.
Stepping over the rogue railing, feet catch on a grid of gray tiles. Most appear matte, except for the black squares, which glisten like fresh tar in the afternoon sun. Reaching down, touch yields the familiar, nails-on-chalkboard sensation of sandpaper, each grit a different shade of grey. The squares, full-sized sandpaper sheets adhered to thin MDF, crop up at a uniform angle underneath the dozens of scattered stones as if to protect them from the floor—the slightest plinths for these small sculptures.
On the checklist, Salazar calls them “scattered and possible rock cairns (ceramic),” but you wouldn’t know the material without picking one up and feeling its surprising lightness. They are hollow, lest they shatter in the heat of the kiln. In hand, each reveals its delicate texture—some are raked with subtle marks and shaped by smacks, others bristle with minuscule nubs or are marred by craterous pocks. In many, more than one kind of clay was used. A base ceramic defined the contours of the stone, and a second clay was worked into the holes and crevices made from tooling the surface, or smeared in patches over the irregular, hand-worked forms. Fired at a range of temperatures, the clays yielded different tones, from the warm bistre of river stone to a pale, chalky white.
In a back room—its entrance partially obstructed by the roving rail—a suite of drawings in ink and conté appear like Google Sketch-Ups of a nondescript space traversed by the ubiquitous wooden rail. The clay in the conté imparts a fleshy, earthy tone and weds it to the ceramics in the front. Underneath these framed drawings hangs a pale handrail made of plasticine, it’s tacky softness registering every user’s grasp. Or, perhaps these are just the marks of its making, since the rail is supported by ceramic brackets that appear crudely unsuited to support weight.
This backroom rail hints at the logic of its counterpart in the front. There the rail registers the contours of the room precisely, like clay pressed into the walls, tracing its finer details. It feels the room, and allows the room to be felt. And yet, unhinged to the wall and tilted on a dramatic angle, its purpose is lost and it poses more of a hazard than a help to the sightless. So do the gritty tiles, which resemble anti-slip step covers, but could easily cause a stumble from their unexpected traction. In Salazar’s installation, the paradox of the visual and the tactile converge. Neither sense can reveal all of its secrets, and there is a suggestion that visuality, so often privileged in art, dulls whatever other faculties we are lucky to have.
ContributorElliot J. Reichert
is a Chicago-based critic and curator. He is Art Editor of Newcity and formerly Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University.