Given the significant attention in the press release to a video that claimed to allude to the political situation in Guerrero, Mexico, where in September 2014, 43 students were killed with the complicity of the local authorities, it was surprising that no such video was on view in Take Position: Bodies and Plants, Mexican-born artist Ana Roldán’s solo show at annex14. The work seemed as if it might play an essential political role in an exhibition exploring various aspects of ‘position taking’ – the show’s title, at least partially, bearing a similarly political edge. Yet for unexplained reasons, it could not be shown.
What was on view included four groupings of works exploring the formal aspects of the title’s theme and examples. False flag (all works 2015), hung tiredly on a fragment of a flagpole, was perhaps the work most explicit in its political charge. Bearing the same colours as the Mexican flag, but featuring a gestural line drawn in its centre in lieu of the national crest, it seemed a symbol of a degenerating democracy where the types of crimes like that in Guerrero have become tragically common, and where the government not only fails to protect its people, but in many instances is complicit in violence against it.
Linguistic games and spacial aspects of positioning followed. White posters (Vanilla Overseas), were seemingly randomly plastered across a vanilla-coloured U-shaped wall, with various synonyms of the word ‘position’ – such as stance, posture, attitude – printed in black at different angles. These posters formally connected to the other works: three floor sculptures (I thought it was impossible, I–III) of cylindrical foam parts arranged in configurations resembling human bodies and placed at equally conflicting angles as the writing on the posters, as well as a series of thirty photograms (Indian File, 1–30) of coconut imprints aligned in diagonals and X’s, installed to create random patterns. The foam cylinders complete with skin-toned socks of I thought it was impossible I-III brought to mind Hans Bellmer’s dolls. They might also have alluded to dismembered or wounded bodies of protesters, lying on the streets in contorted positions – a fittingly relevant link between the flag and current events.
The connection and conflict between natural and artificial worlds was made clear in Indian File, where images of coconuts were naturally recorded through light-exposure onto the man-made medium of photo paper, and a loose link between the natural skin-tones and artificial material in the sculptures was also established. Yet the relationship between intellectual and physical stances, between the worlds of bodies and plants, was less clear, as was the artist’s actual message on the topic.
The various ways of dealing with stances and positions, then, seemed mostly tritely formal and only tangentially political – perhaps reflecting the artist’s quandary of transitioning from political idea to action. The gap between signifier and signified in the move from word (on the posters) to object (of the sculptures and photograms) seemed merely an exercise in semantics. Despite the merits of the sculptures, which were indeed engaging and even humorous, the essential message of the artist about the connection between politics, bodies and plants in a time of profound world turbulence, remained superficial or possibly just too concealed. Maybe the video was important after all.