The ‘Anti-Spectacle’ of Gianna Surangkanjanajai’s Red Rods

At Alma Sarif, Brussels, the artist quietly presents 56 litres of paint

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BY Emile Rubino in EU Reviews , Reviews | 07 OCT 22

Amid the frenzy of this year’s Brussels Gallery Weekend, Gianna Surangkanjanajai’s untitled exhibition at Alma Sarif offers a welcome dose of anti-spectacle. In the empty gallery, the lights are off, and a handout provides little more than the artist’s name and a floorplan indicating the position of the only work on view, Untitled (2022). Guided by a dim glow coming from the office, we find four transparent acrylic cylinders filled with a total of 56 litres of red paint lying on the makeshift desk of Monica Gallab and Joseph Kusendila, the artists who initiated the exhibition space in 2019.

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Gianna Surangkanjanajai, Untitled, 2022, paint, acrylic glass, 10 × 200 × 10 cm each orientation variable. Courtesy of the artist and Alma Sarif, Brussels; photograph: Fabrice Schneider

Displacing the exhibition to the back room, these identical two-metre-long tubes, containing the same quantity of acrylic paint, function as markers. In the most unassuming manner, they suggest new ways to consider the category of the marked site. A category described by Rosalind Krauss in her influential essay ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’ (1979) as ‘a process of mapping the axiomatic features of the architectural experience – the abstract conditions of openness and closure – onto the reality of a given space’.

Alma Sarif is an important meeting point for a tight-knit community of artists and residents of the surrounding neighbourhoods. As is often the case in this kind of artist-run space, the office, which is also where the bar is situated, tends to be where people gather during openings. Cramped in this narrow room, where tools and materials are stored, visitors could mistake Surangkanjanajai’s sealed containers for utilitarian objects. Like surrogates for something unnamed or not yet defined, these tubes simultaneously evoke and frustrate latent possibilities.

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Gianna Surangkanjanajai, Untitled, 2022, paint, acrylic glass, 10 × 200 × 10 cm each orientation variable. Courtesy of the artist and Alma Sarif, Brussels; photograph: Fabrice Schneider

Illuminated by an adjacent wicker desk lamp, the four vessels embody a series of contradictions: they appear slick yet crummy; their elegance is awkward; their presence is at once ominous and inviting. As in Birgit Pelzer’s description of Isa Genzken’s early ellipsoid sculptures in Axiomatics Subject to Withdrawal (1979), Surangkanjanajai’s work is neither ‘melancholic or commemorative nor utopian’. Paradoxically, though they stay clear of both figuration and verticality, her tubes reside in the space like a provisional monument that celebrates the fragility of its own framework. Through their tenure at Alma Sarif’s desk, Surangkanjanajai’s conduits gently redirect your attention to the social use and meaning of the place in which they sit.

The tube recurs throughout the artist’s work. In a recent piece made for Claude Balls Int’s Manhattan (2022) project, Surangkanjanajai used similar acrylic cylinders, which she filled with golden objects and material found on the streets of New York. And, in her 2019 show at Marquise in Lisbon, she exhibited a long cardboard tube taped in sections where she inserted a hidden mirror. The transparency and reflections of these various iterations of tube works contrast with the opacity and light-absorbing property of her Screens (2019), another kind of assisted readymade, in which she covers the flat surfaces of found objects with black felt.

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Gianna Surangkanjanajai, Untitled, 2022, paint, acrylic glass, 10 × 200 × 10 cm each orientation variable. Courtesy of the artist and Alma Sarif, Brussels; photograph: Fabrice Schneider

This back and forth between transparency and opacity characterizes the way in which Surangkanjanajai aims to conjure images without resorting to them – a withholding that creates a tension between the object and its context. Nestled in the office of the gallery, her red paint containers evoke the modernist trope of the monochrome but reduce it to plastic core samples where two kinds of acrylic are tautologically combined. Both literally and figuratively, these objects operate in the background. They position themselves as media, in the middle of other variables such as light and bodies, to let their equivocal presence echo throughout the empty space.

Gianna Surangkanjanajai is at Alma Sarif, Brussels, until 23 October

Main image: Gianna Surangkanjanajai, Untitled, 2022, paint, acrylic glass, 10 × 200 × 10 cm each orientation variable. Courtesy of the artist and Alma Sarif, Brussels; photograph: Fabrice Schneider

Emile Rubino is an artist and writer based in Brussels, Belgium.

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