SERGIO PREGO. HIGH-RISE
3 JAN — 5 MAR 2017
High-Rise is a response from the visual arts to the museum’s new architecture. Taking the form of a radical exercise in occupation, it is conceived specifically for the two areas which were transformed during the first phase of Acupunture. The Architecture of CA2M in Transition, in other wordsthe entrance lobby and the new three-floor exhibition space opened at the very heart of the art centre.
Taken together, Prego’s works over recent years comprise a body of research into the very nature of sculpture. He has reduced his formal vocabulary to basic geometric bodies engaging with the language of Modernism and the repertoire of Minimal Art, the big-bang moment for new attitudes in contemporary art. Making use of ductile and light materials, his pieces question the very materiality of sculpture as they only exist in a certain state or form or as the by-product of an ongoing action on the material of which they are composed. And finally, their location, which is to say the topological relationship between the sculpture and the space it has been placed in, is actually inscribed within the works, in an ambiguous replacement of architecture by art. In consequence, form, material and space are conceived as an intertwined and inseparable relational system, in which any decision in one of the variables leads to a change in the others, and vice versa.
For this reason, he takes his reference from the liminar or anticipatory situation of certain experiences which were the culmination and at once the questioning of Modernism: the architecture of inflatable membranes in the late-1960s, taken as a synonym of variable autonomy, between the ideal of isolation and the need for integration, where the utopian meaning of a transient and mobile architecture was transformed into an experience of ultimate estrangement for its user. Some artists from that period gave rise precisely to experiences which may be used as a genealogy to understand High-Rise: on one hand, we have the Catalan sculptor Josep Ponsatí, who created articulated monumental inflatables based on modular repetition; on the other, the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark who, in 1961, conceived Bichos, her series of geometric forms folded in on themselves, socialised and conceived for the establishment of a body-to-body relationship between themselves and the active spectator who was to manipulate them.
These coordinates are perfectly visible in the ground floor installation, which welcomes spectators as they enter the building, consisting of a variety of pieces which give shape to a coherent ensemble through accumulation. They are rigid cardboard tetrahedrons whose structured shape and apparently whimsical alignment explore the possibilities of articulation of their modular volumes, the combinatory capabilities of a geometric pattern when it is developed in the disorganised space of the real. Spectators can move among these pieces laid out on the floor, circumvent them, look at them, in an exercise that possesses the phenomenological flexibility of Minimal sculpture, made to be read by the body of spectators in their walkthrough, using the serialised repetition of identical elements as a means of measurement or as a mechanism to interpret the space the sculpture is inserted in.
These forms are then applied to a second exercise which was specifically conceived in response to the proposal to research the potential of the space on the first floor. This central piece takes over the monumental, 12-metre high space, its very immateriality at variance with the large scale. The volume of its pneumatic, transparent, translucent membranes is encapsulated in the space, while the sheer amount of inflatable elements exerts great pressure on the existing space, occupying the architectural floorplan almost as if it were posing a question to its surroundings. The structure is modular, based on the tetrahedron, a simple element of plastic geometry. The module is a unit of spatial organisation, providing a solution to the problem of occupying space and at once a reference to the body. The module in fact is a sign of how architecture is invariably construed with relation to the body that is eventually destined to inhabit it. The defining limit of each individual element is precisely the taut skin of the membrane restricting the expansion of the air contained inside it. Therefore, its surface is defined both by its inside and its outside. As the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty said, when we touch, we do not touch other bodies, but the limit of our body with another, what we touch is always our own surface: my body “is caught in the fabric of the world.”
The large installation is kept in place thanks to the continuous influx of air that circulates throughout the structure. Raising it was a complex task reminiscent in ways of sports and physical exercise and indeed the consequences are visible in the scratches, marks, rubbings and handprints on the walls and floor of the exhibition gallery. In fact, these are signs precisely of how sculpture is the suspension of an action in progress, the moment of greatest intensity in the process of unfolding and inflating which will ultimately end in re-folding and emptying. For that reason, it is also important to take note of the working models on the table in the hall on the first floor: trials, possibilities, combinations and the idea for a plan which can be reorganised and redrawn in many ways.
The title of the exhibition, High-Rise, is borrowed from a novel by J. G. Ballard, the English sci-fi writer. The book tells the story of a vertical utopian city that gradually descends into distopia as a result of a collective psychosis brought about by its total isolation from the outside world. In the hands of the writer, the high-rise building where the action takes place becomes a psychological entity in its own right, a form of content latent in its liminal spaces and potential hostility between unlimited combinations. In 1968 Ballard himself described it as “an imaginary realm in which on the one hand the outer world of reality, and on the other the inner world of mind meet and merge.” It is that out-of-the-ordinary quality that Prego’s piece activates in the very institution where it takes place: a potential psychological position, an experiential surplus of its apparent autonomy.
Sergio Prego (Fuenterrabía, 1969) is a Basque sculptor from the generation of artists that came from Arteleku, the experimental art space in San Sebastian. He lived in New York for over ten years, working as the only artist alongside a team of engineers and architects at the studio of the seminal conceptual artist Vito Acconci. Throughout his career, he has questioned and reconsidered his belonging to this tradition, namely the performativity and institutional critique of 1960s art in video, spatial interventions, sculpture and pneumatic architecture.
With the collaboration of the artists Javier Soto and Claudia Lorenzo.