continued from The Power Plant Refresh inaugural exhibitions, review pt 1: Thomas Hirschhorn

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s video projection and installation, Phantom Truck + Always After, occupy the second main floor space at The Power Plant. Diametrically opposed to the overwhelming visual stimulation of Das Auge (see previous post linked below), Manglano-Ovalle’s work is no less political and confrontational.

Through understated, enigmatic sound, video, and installation work, Manglano-Ovalle explores the metaphorical potential of the concept of “climate” as it relates to both meteorological and socio-cultural and political events that characterize our time. For the relaunch, The Power Plant has chosen two key works from Manglano-Ovalle’s oeuvre which focus on the aftermath of destruction. Always After (The Glass House) is a wall-sized projection documenting the sweeping up of shattered glass after Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall, former home to the architecture school at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, was ceremoniously destroyed to make way for renovation in 2005. Extreme close-ups of cracked, crystalline forms being slowly pushed and mounded by the broom are a meditation on the necessity and ritual of restoring order after a destructive event. An atmospheric soundtrack comprising dischordant notes and rumbling sounds interspersed with long intervals of near-silence gives the projection an unsettling, threatening tone, as if a storm has just passed or is brewing. The obliteration of the work of a modernist icon represents a critical shift with resultant underlying instability in the contemporary socio-cultural climate.

In a darkened room behind the projection, Manglano-Ovalle provides another interpretation of the effects of climate as it relates to destruction. Looming in the blackness is a full-scale reproduction of a truck trailer which was described by the Bush administration to be the mobile biological weapons lab justifying its invasion of Iraq. Dimly lit by a pair of red lamps behind opaque windows set high in the walls, the sculpture only begins to emerge from shadow after many minutes spent adjusting one’s eyes to the darkness.

Waiting thus for the object to make its appearance is a test of faith, and the less faithful among us will begin to probe the distance between self and sculpture, shuffling with arms extended lest a protrusion reproach us for our impatience. A sense of foreboding emerges as a cage-like form begins to resolve out of the darkness—what might a hidden cage contain, except something horrific? However it soon becomes clear that the silence pervading the room is emblematic of the absence of any such thing in the cage, indeed, of the cage itself, which in historical fact turned out to be a figment of one nation’s overactive imagination (to put it charitably).

Ironically, the mobile trailer, a metaphor for the recent political climate of disinformation and legitimization of destruction in Manglano-Ovalle’s piece, was found after the Iraq invasion to house not weapons of mass destruction, but rather scientific equipment for the study of climate using weather balloons. Similarly, the exhibition viewer’s own investigation is rewarded with frustration as it becomes clear that seeing the sculpture in full will be impossible no matter how long one spends looking, the context of the gallery being set up in such a way as to prevent any such revelation to occur. In showing Manglano-Ovalle’s work, The Power Plant offers a lyrical and visual counterpoint to Hirschhorn’s installation, whereby two radically distinct artistic practices (additive and aggressive versus subtle and subtractive) can each on its own terms engage the viewer in critical thinking on cultural and political topics relevant to our world today.

See the exhibition on The Power Plant website

related posts:
The Power Plant Refresh inaugural exhibitions, review pt 1: Thomas Hirschhorn
The Power Plant Refresh inaugural exhibitions, review pt 3: To What Earth Does This Sweet Cold Belong?

image: Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Always After (The Glass House), 2006, Super 16mm film transferred to HD video, courtesy the artist and Donald Young Gallery, Chicago