Rose-colored Drift/To the Students
BLAFFER MUSEUM OF ART, HOUSTON, TX
OCTOBER 28, 2017 - JANUARY 27, 2018
Rarely have I been so aware of my body as I was at Sergio Prego’s Rose-colored Drift/To the Students, a survey of sculpture, video and drawing on view at the Blaffer Museum in Houston, through the end of January. An enormous inflatable—part dome-shape, part oversized farfalle pasta-shape—fills the first room of the exhibition space almost entirely. Devouring the gallery, the huge polyethylene structure begs that we behave in an different manner, ducking under, inching through, squeezing between. Adding to the sensation of not quite knowing how to move: a thin membrane of the same polyethylene material also covers the expansive gallery walls. And in a move to alter not only the space inside the cube, but also the cube itself, Prego inflates this layer. The plastic film makes walls bulge. The hard angles shift. Walls suddenly swell out. The second skin and manufactured ceiling suggest containment or quarantine. What have I been inside of? Or, what am I being kept from? How am I to maneuver through? While creating an inflatable structure to fill a vacancy is hardly unusual, covering the walls like this is refreshingly unnerving.
The layer Prego creates here and in the second room makes for an interesting shift in relationship to body, power, and viewing expectations. On the one hand, there in the second gallery, it’s almost irritating to be denied access to the huge selection of line drawings on view. The foggy, inflated polyethylene film hovers just far enough away so that the details recede as we approach them more closely. On the other hand, the fact that everything in these rooms becomes part of the same organism greatly alters the psychological and emotional landscape of seeing itself. How am I to see these? Should I be able to? The experience of this work raises questions about access, about permission to inspect things more closely. If I’m not allowed to see more up close, how, if it all am I to have that more? Part of what is so intriguing about this work are the questions it raises about how we situate ourselves (quite literally) in relationship to knowledge and how the sculptural gesture occurs in that moment of our being there, navigating this inflatable encampment. Instead of seeing the drawing in full view, we see the ghost of the drawing, maybe the faint memory of the drawing, haunting it from behind the plastic membrane.
While the videos upstairs don’t contain references to inflatables, they conduct similar research into ideas of suspension, various membranes, and the extension of surface into space. Spills, explosions, jittery movements like linguistic stutters or CD skips populate much of these. Many pair stop-motion techniques with austere electronic music as the artist’s body travels through and within urban industrial landscapes (warehouses, construction sites, barricaded roadsides). The bigger question these seem to ask is: have we even begun to consider all the potential lines of flight within and around our physiological selves. As I watched these, I kept thinking, there’s so much more; so much more strange choreography our bodies have yet to explore.
And isn’t that one of the best jobs we have in this geopolitical climate; to find more ways to be new and new ways to be more? Prego’s oeuvre to date feels especially pressing in 2018. In a time of border debates and morphing ecologies, his explorations into the skin of things presses us to reconsider our boundaries. Do we really know how to move in space? Is a space ever really just ours? What does it mean to be fully in a body, let alone a body in space? Or even, what’s a body? Inflatables are funny things: They always call to mind their opposite; the collapsed, folded-up version of themselves. Their very being there is a reminder that they won’t. Perhaps Prego’s world demands that we consider ourselves that way; that our full potential lies in a state we’ve yet to become.
Anthony Hawley is a multidisciplinary artist and writer. Recent solo projects were presented by the Salina Art Center; CounterCurrent in partnership with the Menil Collection & Aurora Picture Show; and Spazju Kreattiv in Malta. He is author of two full-length collections of poetry, and in 2019, Print the Future Press in Amsterdam will publish his artist book A Book of Spells. Along with violinist Rebecca Fischer, he forms one half The Afield, a performance collaboration for violin, video, electronics, and more. He teaches in the Hunter College MFA Studio Art Program.