STRETCH at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery  June 20 to Sept. 1, 2003

Artists: Francis Alÿs (Belgium/Mexico), Fernando Arias (Colombia/UK), Iñaki Bonillas (Mexico), Los Carpinteros (Cuba), Iran do Espirito Santo (Brazil), Dario Escobar (Guatemala), Terence Gower (Canada/Mexico/USA), Silvia Gruner (Mexico), Roni Horn (USA), Doug Lewis (Canada), Oswaldo Macia (Colombia/UK), Teresa Margolles (Mexico), Kelly Mark (Canada), Vik Muniz (Brazil/USA), Oscar Munoz (Colombia), Ordo Amoris Cabinet (Cuba), Manuel Piña (Cuba), Wilfredo Prieto (Cuba), and Santiago Sierra (Mexico).

Curators: Eugenio Valdés Figueroa and Keith Wallace

Stretch includes artists from Canada, USA, Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil. Bringing together artwork from different nations within the Americas serves to provide a perspective on more than thirty works that derive their visual economy from the legacy of Minimal art and their linguistic underpinnings from Conceptual art. But to present what might be called Minimal or Conceptual art is neither the goal of the artwork nor the goal of the exhibition. Instead, Stretch reveals the diverse ways that artists make incongruous the literal and self-referential precepts of Minimal/Conceptual art forms by introducing the often messy, often poetic, complexities of daily life. Incorporating narrative, metaphor or vernacular symbolism into their work, the artists in Stretch combine the pure with the impure and create a dynamic where one accentuates the other.

Much of what is considered classic Minimal and Conceptual art in the West was inherently descriptive, even narrative, and demystified the creative process. The work in Stretch, which includes video, sculpture, photography, audio and performance, employs less logical pretexts, and many of its narratives are far from explicit. There is a complexity at play between the artwork’s spare visual appearance and its entangled interior life, between the literal physicality of the object and the narrative content that is gradually disclosed.

For example, Roni Horn’s transluscent glass blocks, Fernando Arias’s coffin constructed from Lego pieces, Oscar Munoz’s round steel mirrors and Iran do Espírito Santo’s sheets of glass leaning against the wall are emblematic of Minimalism’s visual attributes. They emphasize materials and exhibit no apparent narrative. But looking beyond the surface appearance to the symbolic content, to what Horn refers to as the “nonvisible” rather than the invisible, finds narratives emerging that wrestle with potent issues such as spirituality, death, narcissism and the rhetoric of modernism.

In the video and projection work of Francis Alÿs, Silvia Gruner, Doug Lewis, Kelly Mark and Santiago Sierra, the narrative is so minimal that it tells no story in particular. Repeated or fleeting actions – a person drinking a coffee at the same place at the same hour for thirty days, a video scan of the surface of a sidewalk, a cargo truck purposely blocking rush hour traffic in Mexico City – function as a form of meditation and as agents for narratives that may exist beyond what is represented, narratives that are reinvented through the subjectivity of the viewer.

A number of the artists have turned to everyday objects or readymades that in some cases have been subtly altered. The retractable measuring tapes of Los Carpinteros, the inverted antennas of Ordo Amoris Cabinet, the “freeway” trampolines of Dario Escobar, and the understated washes of colour in the wall painting of Teresa Margolles all appear to represent something mundane, something familiar. These objects seem to have no obvious import, but they are rich with potential metaphor. The measuring tapes are imprinted with literary texts from censored books. The antennas, usually directed to transmission waves in the sky, are now directed to the space of the gallery and the viewers within it. The trampolines, bringing the street into the institution, provide no solid ground to stand on. The wall painting, suggesting a kind of lyrical abstract design, actually consists of human grease.

Conceptual strategies also come into play with work that addresses immateriality. Terence Gower presents a case of labels representing fictitious works of art in a conceptual art exhibition that never existed. The images by Vik Muniz depicting iconic examples of Minimal art are photographs of drawings made from dust, drawings that now only exist as photographs. Manuel Piña’s portraits of utopian housing projects in Cuba, presented in the sober grid-like style of Bernd and Hilla Becher, literally fade away during the exhibition, exemplifying lost hopes that these initiatives represented. The CDs in the listening station of Iñaki Bonillas record the sound of different camera shutter speeds so the listener can only imagine what the photograph is recording. Oswaldo Macià’s carefully orchestrated symphony composed of birdsongs from around the world has no physical appearance other than a poster and printed program, but considering some of these birds are now extinct, it points to a vulnerable ecology.

With these artworks, the initial perception of the forms, surfaces and materials shifts and emerges as fields of interpretation that are at times humorous, provocative or troublesome. This shift is critical to the experience of the work. The void between form and content is filled, and the comfort of aesthetic enjoyment is displaced by the discomfort of volatile narratives and their social, political or cultural implications.

Bringing together artwork from different nations within the Americas serves to provide a perspective on the works’ similarities and differences. In spite of the virtual demise of national borders through mass communication systems and corporate globalization, the internal dynamics of the local context persist. Toronto is not São Paulo, São Paulo is not New York, and New York is not Havana. And while this work is often consciously resonant of the specificities of where it is made, both psychically and culturally, it does not necessarily look Canadian or Brazilian or American or Cuban. Many of the artists are fully and seamlessly participating in the international arena; a number of them live in more than one country and elude any expectation to conform to, or promote, identifiable regional aesthetics or styles. While specificity of place often arises in the symbolic content of the work, it is not an illustration of national identity but about everyday experience, and the iconography arises from wherever that experience may originate. In this way, Stretch avoids perpetuating the cultural stylistic clichés that are a trademark of so many exhibitions that present work from a particular region or culture.

Stretch boldly offers a rethinking of how the Americas are generally represented. Artists originating from Latin American nations are a predominant presence in this exhibition, a reflection of the fact that in the Americas there are more than thirty nations with strong Latin histories and very few without.

Stretch neither illustrates a movement nor presents a prescriptive thesis. Although the referents to Minimalism and Conceptualism certainly reside at its foundation, it is a proposition of sorts. Stretch has evolved from an observation of parallel processes or intentions that have been evident during the past decade among artists who are not necessarily aware of each other’s work. There is, then, no tight package, no uniform aesthetic or medium. Instead, it generates a collision of associations, strategies, and individual statements that ricochet throughout the galleries. It is as much about an overall resonant experience as it is about individual works of art.

– Keith Wallace and Eugenio Valdés Figueroa