16 February – 7 March 2012
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11:00-18:00
Form follows function—Originally fashioned in 1896 by the American architect Louis Sullivan, this succinct, alliterative catchphrase would go on to define the course of 20th century modernist architecture and design. Although considered little more than an empty cliché with limited contemporary applications among today’s creative circles, Sullivan’s mantra nonetheless continues to manifest itself in the groupthink of society as a whole; its pervasive effects have fundamentally influenced how we perceive the world around us and make ordered sense of it.
Anabel Quiriarte and Jorge Ornelas are two artists who operate as a single creative unit. True to the dialectical framework that informs its production, their work invites direct engagement with viewers and demonstrates a discursive faculty befitting its manner of creation. “Structures and Fragments” at One and J. Gallery presents this process at its apotheosis, in which even the most mundane objects—pencils, paper, scissors, books and cassette tapes—transcend their face value and perform a dressing-down of the conventional ways we comprehend the world.
In their watercolors, oils and installations, the Mexican artist duo Quiriarte + Ornelas base their consideration of objects on direct and unadulterated visual experience. Not only do they refrain from a functionalist approach to objects à la Sullivan; they shun interpretive readings altogether. Their relationship with objects is one in which function follows form, a back-to-basics framework almost always used to ascribe meaning to objects that are unfamiliar or foreign to our sensibilities. In spite of this, Quiriarte + Ornelas approach the very things they understand most intimately—the pencils, sketchbooks and other art-making tools they use day in and day out—with just such a methodology. Fraught with banality though these objects may be, they are not free of interpretation. Indeed, the more commonplace the object, the more difficult it is to mentally separate its physical attributes from the connotations they suggest. In order to effectively cancel out these connotations and isolate the image of an object from its corresponding idea, Quiriarte + Ornelas physically alter its appearance while retaining its essential nature as identifiable objects, reconfiguring objects as either fragments or structures.
“Structures and Fragments” does not require conceptual heavy lifting for the disinclined, however. Much of the exhibition is, in fact, playful; given its subject matter—from balls of crumpled paper and cassette tapes spiked through with pencils, to piles of books haphazardly strewn this way and that, to hundred of pencil splinters scattered on the floor—one might even go so far as to call the exhibition “whimsical” (or at the very least, “quirky”). The paintings are characterized by an almost insultingly direct manner of representation (naturalistic but well short of hyperrealism) as well as a compositional affinity for isolating their subjects within otherwise blank canvases, eliminating all traces of the figure/ground relationship. This aesthetic sensibility sheds light on the conceptual underpinnings of exhibition itself; though technically well-executed, these paintings convey a detached objectivity that renders them unable to meaningfully connect with viewers on the basis of their images alone. Their agency as images derives from the process of their creation rather than its results, blurring the boundaries between art-making and art in its own right.
The simplest of these constructions, unsurprisingly, are also the most visually arresting. Using nothing more than pencils speared through balls of crumpled paper, Quiriarte + Ornelas reach the apotheosis of their conceptual aims in their Drawing Structure series (2012). Although structural simplicity of the constructions allowing the brain to perceive the structure according to its component parts, efforts to infer any meaning from their composite sum is stymied. This cognitive conundrum works in reverse in the artists’ Pencil series (2011). Here, the “construction” comprises splinters of shattered pencils arranged at random on a flat surface, offering fragments presented independently their correspondent whole. Again, Quiriarte + Ornelas dispatch with the relative agency demanded of these constructions by the brain and instigate a reevaluation of tacit assumptions about meaning, context and form.
The exhibition is about more than just looking; it is about using what we see (rather than what we know) to inform our relationships with objects. Once the objects in “Structures and Fragments” are reconfigured in ways that neutralize their accepted functionality, they can be considered in a new light—one independent of outside interpretations. Sullivan’s “form follows function” is revealed to permit only a very narrow interpretation of most object, one which extends only as far as our preconceived impressions allow. When “function follows form,” as Quiriarte + Ornelas propose in this exhibition, the impressions of what we see are genuine and undistorted—objects as objects, and nothing more.