Sleeve-tugging ‘look-at-me-listen-to-me’ distractions interrupt the would-be cool minimalism of Beatriz Olabarrieta’s exhibition ‘Cosmic Clap’. Aural and visual ticks, twangs, boings and claps, vying for attention, seemed to suggest the impossibility of unbroken contemplation.
The most incessant and endearing of these distractions occurs in White Floor Blanket for Projectors Brain Nostalgic (all works 2015). In one of three overlapping videos screened at floor level, an empty speech balloon jigs up and down like an excitable child with nothing, anything and everything to tell. Turned 45 degrees, the tail of the balloon resembles a nose. (Pareidolia – the perception of familiar pattern, often the form of a face, where there is none – recurs in Olabarrieta’s work). The anthropomorphized balloon seemed to egg-on the wayward marbles in its fellow videos, which refuse to stay still – projected onto flat surfaces with diagrammatic marking as if for play or educational purposes. In one video, a line drawing, perhaps of a cuboid, resembles a musical stave with the rolling marbles, like crotchets, scoring a chance melody. The sense of playfulness extends to the projectors set on the floor under their ‘blanket’ – a large rectangular sheet of pristine white laminate. Four clean slits (reminiscent of Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvases) reveal glimpses of the projectors crouched beneath, as if engaged in an inept game of hide-and-seek.
Elementary, pre-verbal modes of learning through play were evoked by Olabarrieta’s sculptural forms: a pared-down lexicon of straight lines and curves suggests the basic ‘building blocks of text’. In Wall Lamp Nose Quiet a narrow strip, cut from but still umbilically attached to its sheet of laminate, curves away from the floor to reach an illuminated, slightly over-sized light bulb on the wall. The bulb, in turn, seems to draw its energy from the rectangle of tube lights on the gallery ceiling: only two of the eight tubes, furthest from the bulb, remain illuminated. Its black cable inversely mirrors the curve of the laminate strip to form an ‘s’, which stretches from floor to ceiling.
The open-endedness of Olabarrieta’s work, its scope for infinite permutation and resistance to the finality of crossed ‘t’s and dotted ‘i’s (though dots and horizontals were abundant here), seems conducive to team work, so it is perhaps unsuprising that the artist worked with two collaborators on this show. The audio element of Wall Blue Note Speaker Unsure on Wheels was made in partnership with writer and singer, Harriet Pittard (Zoee), and comprises voices engaged in pronunciation exercises. Rudimentary vocal sounds are carefully and laboriously repeated: ‘Duh. Duh. Drrah. Drrah. Neung. Neung.’ Snippets of unintelligible language (to me, at least) served as reminders of the gap between word and meaning – the arbitrary nature of deep-seated associations and connections. The earnestness of these lingual efforts is countered with cartoon-like twangs and boings, while snatches of piano lounge music offer relaxed interludes between exertions. Bright glissandos, jingles and chimes, like video-game sounds, indicate points of departure – a move to the next level, a change in direction or, perhaps, beginning again.
Writer and curator Gareth Bell-Jones put some of the show’s linguistic components back together to produce a series of 12 texts, each named after a type of light bulb. Printed on plain A4 paper, the texts were slotted and stuffed into the cut-out crannies of Wall Yellow Lamp Story Folder Fizzy – another sheet of laminate, mounted on the wall and watched over by two more eye-like light bulbs. Jones’s texts cast the show as a kind of language machine, offering limitless possibilities for construction and deconstruction. ‘Cosmic Clap’ becomes its own mischievous agent, ready to follow distractions wherever they may lead.
First published in Issue 176