Paratext #43 by Núria Nia

Paratext #43
July 8, 2020
By Núria Nia

Phillip Maisel (Short term residency)
Natalia Domínguez (Short term residency)


LAYERS which are layers, memory and nimbus clusters
Núria Nia

Number 43, one of those July days of heat, masks and bike lanes. I’m meeting Phillip Maisel and Natalia Dominguez before their presentation. Today, the black room that is Ricson seems to me a little more distant from any reference: the chairs, also black, are distributed with the new normative separation and it makes them even more invisible, and the Paratext’s brochures are, on each chair, small white lights that guide the silent distribution of the bodies through the space. We smile with our eyes over the mask; this 43 is special: after almost 3 months of lockdown, today’s Paratext is at the same time a reunion and a promise of return.

A while ago Phillip was telling me about his processes, based on findings of building materials and graphic traces of all kinds that he combines in physical collages and through photography. I observe how the photographic technique is both the last layer of the process and the basis of all other methods. First and last layer that accumulates the rest of the layers. We speak in English. LAYERS. LAYERS. LAYERS. Accumulating and combining ends up bringing about that union of different times and spaces. As one more layer at this moment, Andrea Soto Calderón comes to mind when she talks to us about Foucault and what the author defines as “a singular cut of time”, “a place of time that accumulates in infinity”, heterochrony.

Phillip mentions the way in which the unfamiliarity of new places invites him to imagine new possibilities through questioning and revealing the architectural conventions that accompany each territory, the assumed systems that go unnoticed when we continuously inhabit them. With an external view, each of the decisions to build public space invites direct reflection. He tells me that in Barcelona, unlike in San Francisco where he comes from, it is especially easy to find the materials that define the city, and of course it is even easier in the Poblenou neighborhood, next to each construction in progress. The development of his work in a Covid-free context would have continued in order to photograph these elements combined with each other. As he speaks, he realizes that in the collection of works he will present to us today there are not so many examples of this method that he normally employed. Instead, the architectural systems he has created give way to domestic scenes and the expression of an inner life of his own: this time Phillip Maisel’s LAYERS contain personal reflections, memories, correspondence and traces of his friendships. “It feels more vulnerable,” he says. Through the layers and with a lockdown that has left him stranded in a studio in a ghost Barcelona, these new works reach the artist’s most personal and most experimental look at his processes. Each work uncovers concepts and images from Maisel’s personal recollection, elements with which the artist maintains a concrete intimate involvement. When shown in the form of an exhibition, these same elements dialogue independently with each new vision involved, creating more and more LAYERS, microcosms which we are invited from infinite approaches. We discuss the interaction between Ricson and his works. He talks to me about the shadows created by some of the lights in the room and we notice that the fact of presenting his collages on the glass windows of the loft ends up creating new LAYERS from reflections of people present in front of the work as well as the view, through the glass, of the bodies that move on the first floor.

Also in the attic, Maisel has decided to keep some big metal fans that provide another physical LAYER: wind created by the fans creates movement in the work and shows us how the objects exist in space and time, connecting the presentation of Phillip Maisel with that of Natalia Dominguez, being that air as a material base has been part of her premise during the residence. Downstairs, I understand: Natalia Domínguez rehearses talking about sleeves, sections, knots, wind. She tells me that it is an experiment, that she was looking for “catching a cloud”, an impossible one that when being deconstructed has been generating small possibilities that she will show us in this presentation. Thus, contradictions, intuitions and symbols have been the basis of this experimental research.

Today’s two presentations are connected by more than just a fan. The form they both take is video with live voice. An approach to the physicality of the body and the personalization of the work that is undoubtedly necessary after the social isolation and the digital base of the relationships that confinement has left us. Besides, formally, both projects are built on a layered basis. LAYERS, LAYERS, LAYERS. Natalia Domínguez shows a video in which concepts, actions and graphic materials of different forms and origins coexist in a multi-screen environment. In her words “almost like showing you my cell phone”; together they are the cluster, they are the cloud, they take the force of the rain that precipitates Dominguez’s words when she reads: “The unattainable, the non-physical, the unassailable, the useless, the emptiness of failure. Embrace the impossibility”. Her text maintains a heterogeneous tone with reflections, quotes from diverse literature, conversations and everyday life. It forms a literary collage that adds even more multiplicities of vision and interpretation to the work, infinite ways of connection with the people who now listen to it. CAPAS, “my head works as a conceptual collage, malleable, shapeless, transformable… like a cloud”.

During the almost three months of residence in the Hangar, “catching a cloud” has become a wandering, testing materials and testing artificial wind with an artifact that tried to fulfill the impossible goal, “the fragile and non-existent”. The installation implies thinking about space and for Natalia, space can come to reify her projects. While we talk about the room where we are, Marc changes the light of Ricson and turns it blue. We think about the cloud, again. The sign. The symbol. Once the deconstruction of the text and the word is done, the artist’s search reaches the limits of language and from there, the symbol. From this point, everything can make sense: “I lay down these substrates of overlapping meanings”. Thus, form is also overcome and, therefore, the shape of the cloud is no longer the final horizon: it is now the symbol that generates other works that are the fruit of its similes and contradictions. Thus, today the cloud is already imperceptible to us, but plastics and fans have become anchored as primary materials for Domínguez’s future works.

There are ten minutes left before the presentations. I go out to the Hangar yard. I say hello to Laura, I look at the dances of the country group in the square, there are many layers of bikes and Ivan can’t find a place to leave his. A little angel from the trees falls on these lines and before that I have talked to Natalia about antihistamines. One of the country women reminds me of my mother. Can Ricart is a cake of layers with different time and lives. The last bike squeaks on the brakes. We go in.

Domínguez’s presentation is the visualization of a process: the para-text itself, with all the layers that have surrounded this project while it was being produced. We no longer see many traces of the cloud-captured object. It has filtered the minimal symbol through images and live text, which is structured in three reflexive parts: “The great excuse” of choosing a cloud as a subject, “An uncontrollable form” of the physicalities of the unstable and “How to avoid the fall”, thus accepting that failure is embraceable; she says “when I should embrace the impossibility of power”. The video, made of layers and more layers of captures and files, amalgamates a cluster of concepts and forms that have constituted the research. Herzog, the standard-bearer of impossible productions, has a line of text.

Dominguez’s cloud ends up being a scapegoat for thinking about other things. Acceptance, failure, overcoming and impossibility dilute each other to constitute “that knowledge of being in the world” of which he speaks to me about the artist. I think of the cloud as one of the most fickle elements around us. With these symbols that Natalia Domínguez’s research now confers on them, each cloud could be one of the changing situations of daily life, the meaning and the meaninglessness. “The plastic, the humid, the gaseous, the transparent, the effecting, the chameleon-like, the changing, the random, the impossible, the transitory”, reads Natalia. The cloud as a manager. The cloud as a container of thunder. The cloud as a container of rain and clearings.

In his presentation, Phillip Maisel shows a video recorded in full lockdown accompanied by his voice reciting live. Also, on an old monitor he will show us a short video portrait of a moment of North American exaltation. And in the loft of Ricson they extend, in the two rooms, the collages that he has been producing these months. LAYERS. Each one of these three forms becomes a layer that reveals, with the sum of the rest, the heteronymous universe of the artist, the constant of joining concepts and breaking assumptions.

The video that Phillip presents to us with a live voice looks like a loop but it is not: an old man runs in circles on the roof of an apartment in Barcelona. From a common image of the confinement, the artist makes new layers from it. He produced the music from his cell phone and according to Maisel the video sample with the live voice “feels more like a reading than a performance”. The image of the man running becomes cathartic, stable, predictable. Phillip Maisel’s voice contrasts poetically with the visual anesthesia. He recites an anecdote in the first person, a synaesthetic experience of a pigeon that one day evoked an audiovisual delay, “an un-syncing of the senses”, the starting point of the Barcelona loop. He also discovers the false dichotomies he has thought about during the lockdown, this unique occasion of a parallel, inexplicable and apparently meaningless world to reflect on the “multiple realities as truth”.

“Desire and refusal
attraction and repulsion
accidental and deliberate
precision and something loose
conviction and uncertainty
repetition and progression
Help, hurt”

He wanders between copies and originals, opposites and indefinite time slots with paragraphs from his personal diary. “There were three days in April that I mistook for August.”

The loop ends. Phillip is silent and approaches the old monitor, next to the Ricson. He switches it on, we get closer. The video he now presents portrays the massive celebration of a 4th of July, Independence Day in the United States. Recently edited, this video of 2017 seems out of all possible time. With a curiously retro aesthetic through the elements that Maisel highlights, the images of family material and collective celebration define with a certain irony the exacerbation of American nationalism.

As we finish, we move into the space to see Phillip Maisel’s collages, located in the attic. We get lost in their forms and the new imaginaries that he proposes and that, perhaps, in a certain way, are still to come. We mix, at last, as entities composed of layers that create multifocal landscapes, strata of strata that are now earthquakes, clouds, mountains.

Categories: Paratext report |

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