Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland
The night harbours a certain transformative magic – a power of illusion born in the obvious impediment and dislocation of darkness. The readable dissolves, becomes indecipherable; the known drifts into anonymity; the trusted gnashes fangs. But within this nocturnal hall of mirrors, there is also hope. Here is Admetos, mourning, in Anne Carson’s translation of Euripides’s Alkestis (438 BCE): ‘Could you visit me in dreams? That would cheer me. Sweet to see friends in the night, however short the time.’ There’s the magic. To see what isn’t there; to lose sight of what is.
It is via this realm of (im)perception that Magali Reus invites us into her exhibition ‘Night Plants’. In two rooms stand six tubular racks, each supporting a hulking, dormant sculpture reminiscent of a futuristic saddle, modified to reflect the personality of an absent rider. Propeller E.K (all works 2016) suggests some affiliation with the Air Force, its fibreglass flanks emblazoned with military panels reading ‘EXTRA KOLD’, while its trimmings have a brash, Wild Western machismo: tan fringing, woven leather and a coil of braided bolo. Next is the white bulk of Harlequin Darts, hung with a plethora of monochrome cutting patterns, fabric samples and embossed diagrams instructing how to lace some still-unfathomable knot. Toucan Brow, in contrast, is chic, if a little soulless. An ode to the high-end taxicab, its navy haunches are stippled with polka-dots, while its top-line sports wooden business cards and its left side is adorned with a plush, furry pocket – a receptacle for an iPhone, perhaps, or a feeling of late-night regret. It’s the city-boy of the troupe: cool, collected, utterly devoid of personality.
Reus’s dozing, meticulously wrought brutes are obsessive, beautiful, with their sheer precision indicating an actual fetishisation of material. But in spite of this exactness, their definition remains foggy. They purport to be functional objects: tools tailored to persona and purpose. However, dive into the detail, wherein the devil resides, and you will find an abundance of uselessness. Abroath Smokie, for instance, rigged for camping, is framed by tent poles whose skewed proportions would prevent any actual deployment in the field. Pecan Sleepers, another prairie-wanderer adorned with panniers, cowhide panels and loops of cork, is emblazoned with a map showing no endpoint. Shift from micro to macro and the inanity of these quasi-utilitarian objects becomes obvious. I continue to term these forms ‘saddles’ but, with their rigid, faux-anthropomorphic frames and restrictive dimensions, it’s hard to imagine any beast that could shoulder their burden. It’s all a façade of familiarity: a colossal farce of function.
Set into fake walls that bisect the show are Sycamore, Yucca, and Hawthorn, three white reliefs resembling the structural undersides of school desks. While their unseen veneers could well be glossy and preened, we see only detritus: mangled tin lids, untethered wires, groupings of wine corks. While Reus’s saddles, in their seductive finery, embody the construction of aesthetics, these accumulations of refuse visualise the aesthetic of construction. This is the overlooked waste that propagates as we strive to cultivate an external beauty that, like the map of Pecan Sleepers, is wholly devoid of use-value. And what happens when waste builds? It goes bad. And what happens when the living goes bad?
What does Reus want us to do with this opposition – this notion that an unnecessary indulgence in surface can sabotage substrata? For me, there are multiple applications: 21st-century capitalism, with its relentless promotion of self-improvement; the prevalent shaming culture, which pushes an unattainable perfection; the art world itself, with its prioritisation of product over process. Do with it what you will, but remember that, as with those beasts that dwell in the night, it’s easy to see what isn’t there – to lose sight of what is.
Main image: Magali Reus, Harlequin Darts, 2016, fibreglass and cast polyester resin, pigments, lead shot, powder coated steel tubing and laser cut steel, blackened socket bolts, washers and nuts, burnt and engraved wood, stapled, debossed, laser engraved, screen printed, perforated, dyed leathers and suedes, hessian, laser cut rubber, metallic leatherette, polyester webbing and rope, rubber dipped threaded steel rod, passivated steel, fixings, 1.2 x 2.6 x 1.2m. Courtesy: The Approach, London; photograph: Plastiques Photography