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Julia Rometti & Victor Costales: Savage Palms, Worn Stones, Moonshine Vision at Midway Contemporary Art

At Midway Contemporary Art in Minneapolis, dueling 35mm slide projectors whir and click in a darkened back room. Perched on top of two of the room’s many bookcases (this backroom also houses Midway’s impressive library), these projectors cast their images onto a shared center screen. Each slide contains a simple form on a white background: a single geological mass anchored by a heavy shadow. Overlapped and interposed via the semitransparent screen, the individual rock-shadow compositions create a central dense image that reveals a topographical form, like the portions of crossover in a Venn diagram. Richly textured with jagged edges, these fleeting shapes evoke maps—outlines and terrains of unknown, imaginary nations.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales,The savagery of the inconstant stones, 2013, double slide projection, 162 slides. Courtesy Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Caylon Hackwith.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales. The Savagery of the Inconstant Stones, 2013; double slide projection; 162 slides. Courtesy of Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Caylon Hackwith.

In addition to this captivating projection-based work, the exhibition features several other bodies of work, all by the artist duo Julia Rometti & Victor Costales. The exhibition at Midway, titled Savage Palms, Worn Stones, Moonshine Vision, represents a collection of five groups of work that reflect a driving obsession of the duo’s ten-year collaboration. While most of the works speak, in various ways, to botany, geology, and geography, the collection also make gestures toward political ideologies and histories, though this content might remain a bit buried to an uninitiated audience.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales, Worn contingencies and their shadows (on a Riffian beach), 2013, pentaptyque, 5 framed photo collages (XX-XXIV), 45cm x 35cm, edition of 1/3 + 1AP; 1/3. Courtesy Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Caylon Hackwith.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales. Worn Contingencies and Their Shadows (On a Riffian Beach), 2013; pentaptyque, 5 framed photo collages (XX-XXIV); 45cm x 35cm; edition of 1/3 + 1AP; 1/3. Courtesy of Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Caylon Hackwith.

Viewers find a line of simple collages running along the walls of Midway’s main space. On white backgrounds, sharply defined rocks (each patterned with vein-like strokes of whitewash) are anchored with even more dramatic shadows. Each composition is unique, yet they are all the same. In the center of the space, a 16mm projector throws a sequence of moving images—which seem to belong to no particular time at all—onto the wall. Masses of plants and foliage quiver and shimmy before our eyes, roused by subtle, silent winds. Soundless and minimal in black-and-white, the film, Plantas Populares – Movimiento: Agitato (2013), is still sensuous.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales, Plantas Populares – Movimiento : Agitato, 2013, 16 mm b&w film, duration 14:30. Courtesy Midway Contemporary Art.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales. Plantas Populares – Movimiento: Agitato, 2013; 16 mm B&W film; 14:30. Courtesy of Midway Contemporary Art.

Though the visuality of the exhibition is remarkable, an issue of generosity comes to bear in viewing and interpreting Rometti & Costales’ works—a question of how much context to supply, how much information to share, how to best invite an audience in to their hermetic fellowship. For these two artists (and many others who work in research-based modes), the balance seems a difficult one to strike. For the exhibition at Midway, a poetic sense supersedes the elsewhere-referenced scientific or political implications of the work, leaving us with more impressions than information.

Installation view: Plantas Populares – Movimiento : Agitato, 2013, 16mm b&w film; Ediciones del Exotismo Ordinario Internacional Neotropical, Ongoing from 2011, digital prints on newsprint paper (lapel revolución). Courtesy Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Caylon Hackwith.

Installation view: Plantas Populares – Movimiento: Agitato, 2013; 16mm B&W film; Ediciones del Exotismo Ordinario Internacional Neotropical, ongoing from 2011; digital prints on newsprint paper (lapel revolución). Courtesy of Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Caylon Hackwith.

The final and central element in the main gallery space is an installation called Ediciones del Exotismo Ordinario Internacional Neotropical (ongoing from 2011). This collection of photocopied pages, folded and stapled together, forms an ersatz research library. These thin booklets are laid out on a spindly-legged table, and set under Plexiglas—gesturing in form to research and archive, but refusing that level of interaction. The Ediciones materialize in diverse form, focus, and language, though all revolve around the study, growth, or imaging of indoor tropical plants. Drawing connections from these plants, the artists use this form of domesticated, contained exoticism to explore cultural, political, and, yes, botanical issues relating to Latin America within a global context.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales, Ediciones del Exotismo Ordinario Internacional Neotropical (detail), ongoing from 2011, digital prints on newsprint paper (lapel revolución). Courtesy Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Caylon Hackwith.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales. Ediciones del Exotismo Ordinario Internacional Neotropical (detail), ongoing from 2011; digital prints on newsprint paper (lapel revolución). Courtesy of Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Caylon Hackwith.

Ediciones offers an incredibly fragmented, partial, and subjective view of its subject. Much of the text included is indecipherable for various reasons—because it is written in a variety of languages, or because it is literally cut out, photocopied, and left incomplete, presented through shards. While there are translations available in takeaways lining the gallery walls, even these supplementary materials do not elucidate much. As visual objects, the projects are compelling, and certainly a sense of the tropical and the exotic seeps in; overall, the exhibition is quite strong. Yet, partially due to the poetic nature of its framing (in lieu of a traditional press release, a stone-shaped text by the poet and art critic Quinn Latimer acts as prologue), and partially due to a certain alien relationship uprooted, as it seems, from its originating context, Savage Palms, Worn Stones, Moonshine Vision remains abstruse. Though experientially compelling, the works presented here seem to elicit curiosity while denying fulfillment, their meanings receding and recondite, just beyond the threshold of our understanding.

Savage Palms, Worn Stones, Moonshine Vision is on view at Midway Contemporary Art through February 15, 2014.

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