BY Laurie Palmer in Reviews | 03 SEP 96
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Issue 27

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle

BY Laurie Palmer in Reviews | 03 SEP 96

At first I thought the work in this three room show had aestheticised the hot topics of urban violence, street culture and biotechnology into gorgeously innocuous images, perfected to meet the criteria of art and objecthood. But the word is 'anaesthetised' ­ inducing not an increase in feeling, but a general insensibility to pain. The sound of gunshots and the presentation of bullets exhibited as if exploding in the flesh of their target might imply 'pain', but how could they still have meaning when we've seen so much? Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle takes another tack ­ overtly muffling, blocking, and abstracting via contemporary technologies whatever sensational references his chosen images might still have, inducing thereby a drugged, gummed, slowed, thickened state: anaesthesia.

For Sonambulo (1995), the artist recorded the sound of gunshot outside his bedroom window and remixed it to make a broken-down, thundery rumble like a rainstorm-reverb lullaby. In the first room, this sound piece accompanied the presentation of Blink, and Wake (both 1995), two solid blocks of honey-coloured ballistics gelatine into which hollow-point bullets had been shot. Developed by the weapons industry, the gelatine slows and stops the bullets in mid-flight. These pieces are like 3-D coloured versions of Harold Edgerton's strobe-lit photographs from the 50s of milk drops or bullets: frozen moments gelled and excerpted in the form of yellowed air. Unlike Edgerton's streamlined images, the bulgy profile of these erupted bullets creates a raggedly intrusive path. But the gelatine is beautiful ­ it exudes a warm glow, even through the perspex and chrome-clamped cases that protect and objectify it. It looks sensuous and pliable, and it performs a magical, superhuman act. In Wake, two bullets aimed at each other have been stopped just short of contact.

In the back room, Subwoofer (1995) referenced the lowrider, representing this icon of street culture as a vital urban organ. The carpeted interior of a wide-hipped car trunk hung on one wall, its entire expanse rigged for sound. Cables, looped across the floor, connected the deep bass speakers with their source ­ a video monitor positioned on the opposite wall showing an ultrasound image of a baby in the womb. The sound of the foetal heartbeat pulsed from the car speakers, transforming, by implication, those mobile stereo systems that cruise the streets into carriers ­ dark, secret, sexy ­ of the city's heartbeat; or its subconscious, not quite born. A heavy sheet of bullet-proof acrylic, at least 12 feet tall, leaned against the wall in front of the monitor, further distancing the viewer from the already abstract image (a picture formed by sound), and protecting it from crossfire.

In previous works, Manglano-Ovalle dealt head-on with issues of street violence and ethnic identity. In a project commissioned by Sculpture Chicago's 'Culture in Action', he worked with former gang-members to start a video collective for latino/latina youth in his West Town neighbourhood. Street Level Video (as it continues to be called) hosted a pull-out-all-the-stops block party in late summer 1993, with 75 video monitors positioned up and down the street, and security augmented (rather than challenged) by local gangs. This project began a process of putting the means of production into the hands of urban youth to counter media hype through self-representation. In 1992 Manglano-Ovalle created a series of politically concise works relating to the anti-celebration of Columbus, including an illegal alien ID card for Columbus himself, and a trio of inner tubes named Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, cross-referenced with the boats of contemporary refugees arriving on American shores. What is surprising about these new, beautiful, technologically-filtered objects is that they don't attempt to do or tell us anything with urgency (especially not what we already know). The work seems to have evolved from an activist stance to accept the slow, questioning, and questionable conditions of the gallery, its intellectual possibilities and practical limits.

In the middle room, Manglano-Ovalle exhibited cibachromes printed from computer manipulations of DNA analyses. All four works involve similarly enlarged and blurred dot patterns, horizontally ordered, but with different groupings, holes, and doublings. The colour has been artificially infused. Rose (1995) supposedly exposes the chromosomal ingredients of a hybrid flower grown by the artist and his wife; Twin (1995) compares the identities of the artist and his brother, and sets your eyes darting back and forth, like watching tennis, to see what's different (only one blotch). In Incest (1995), a series of nine photos, small white rectangles mark where information is lost via repeated coupling. Self-Portrait (1995) is self-explanatory. The glory of these pictures is that they expose nothing at all ­ technology's most precise invasion and identification of the body's individuality has been reduced to a wholly unreadable abstract gloss.

The immediate reference we bring to the bullets, gunshots, lowrider, and DNA prints ­ created more by media than by experience ­ could be unravelled via the technological processes engaged here. What this work does is slow down, undo, or trip up to some degree those preconceived 'meanings' via distancing and buffering techniques ­ like what happens on acid, or under anaesthesia.