On ViewMoMa PS1
El Viejo Griot—Una historia de todos nosotros
April 20–September 4, 2023
There is a tacit co-dependency between things in Daniel Lind-Ramos’s assemblages. Objects sustain one another in a careful balance, leaning up against each other to form ecosystems of reciprocal uplift. Take, for example, Armario de la memoria (Cupboard of Memory) (2012), where two collections of rope-bound yard tools rest on either side of a wooden bookcase. A television monitor is placed atop the shelves, and then—climbing still further—the sculpture is crowned by palm tree branches, which balance in a graceful arc on top of the monitor. The work is a towering display of mutual support, a kind of symbiotic network in which one thing delicately props up the next.
Indeed, the works are like communities in their structure: the total unit cannot exist without nourishment from each individual part. This collaborative ethos not only structures the formal relation between the assembled objects but is also reflective of the conceptual questions of mutuality, community, and social entanglement that motivate Lind-Ramos’s practice, which is presently the subject of a career-defining exhibition at MoMA PS1.
The exhibition’s title, El Viejo Griot—Una historia de todos nosotros summons a consortium of voices into the room, invoking a long lineage of story makers and keepers. Each work is a vignette of local history, threaded together to embody a story of the artist’s home, its people, its customs, its land—but also attendant histories of colonial extraction and natural disaster. El Viejo Griot, or “The Old Griot,” refers to elder Afro-Indigenous storytellers who are among the definitive cultural leaders in the artist’s hometown of Loiza, Puerto Rico. Lind-Ramos honors these heraldic figures through a suite of works that themselves resonate as chronicles. Though several of the ten sculptures are exhibited in their own rooms, they do not feel siphoned off from one another. Instead, they work in dialogue, each world of objects whispering memories to another. Lind-Ramos’s works are sculptural griots and witnessing them together is to experience something like narratology.
Comprised entirely of found objects from Loiza—some of which the artist himself collected and some of which were gifted by friends and neighbors—the sculptures at PS1 are redolent with the residual energy of a place and its people. Several of them, like Centinelas de la luna nueva (Sentinels of the New Moon) (2022–23), are sprawlingly complex and monumental in scale, yet possess none of the stand-offishness that so often characterizes large-scale sculpture. In part, this is because the three sentinels resemble humanoid figures, seemingly arranged with heads, breasts, and hands. But also, a kind of humanity bubbles up from their materiality: the objects it is comprised of—among them colorful cloths, yard materials, and drums—are deeply imbued with animacy and character, with a narrative voice that is not so much spoken but felt.
Despite their fulsome whimsy, Lind-Ramos’s assemblages also generously bestow a mood of divine protection unto the galleries. Deeply affected with spirituality, they watch over us as we walk among them, seeming to enshrine our paths. Three of the sculptures are explicitly named after a divine figure, invoking several iterations of Santa Marìa. One of these, María Guabancex (2018–22) is named after the Taíno deity of hurricanes, referred to in English as “the lady of the winds.” A gyre-like mass of material—coconuts and tree trunks, ropes and hoses, trumpets and maracas, and finally an electric streak of blue FEMA tarp—the assemblage coils up and up, a tornado of stuff accumulating in a twist of fabric resembling a watchful eye. The incredible force of the thing—paired with its title—inevitably calls to mind that second “Maria,” the storm which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.
In Ambulancia (2020) (2022–23), Lind-Ramos remembers and relays the devastating impact of a different catastrophe in Puerto Rico: COVID-19. Here, he has deftly cobbled together a mattress skeleton, a horn, emergency vehicle lights, and a pair of shoes, constructing an ungainly, almost monstrous hybrid between a human and the titular ambulance. Though the work commemorates trauma, foregrounding a narrative of precarity and urgency, it also radiates a sense of wit and familiarity. It is undercut with a refreshing awkwardness, a bizarreness of configuration that smacks of idiosyncratic personality. This is certainly not to say that the work makes light of tragedy. However, it does loudly remind us of the force of life and survival in the face of dire conditions, brimming with narratives of an effulgence that cannot be quieted.