Tucked away in Chicago’s West Loop, Aspect Ratio is a commercial gallery that features contemporary video art and video-related installations. The space is coming up on their one-year anniversary soon, and one can assume it will be quite the celebration considering they were recently voted “Best New Gallery” by Chicago magazine. Since September of 2012, Aspect Ratio has hosted seven solo exhibitions featuring local, national, and international filmmakers. Their current exhibition (Sept. 6 – Oct. 18) presents new work from Casilda Sanchez.
Casilda Sanchez is a multidisciplinary artist whose work explores “the ideas of visions, voyeurism and intimacy, as contradictions and metaphorical behaviors” (statement). After receiving her Bachelors in Fine Arts from Complutense University in Madrid, Spain, she completed her MFA in Video, Film and New Media from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has been exhibited here in Chicago, as well as New York City, and internationally in Spain, Germany, Turkey, and Bulgaria, among others (see Casilda’s C.V. for more details).
Casilda’s projects tend to explore the boundaries between public and private space in a materialist, non-dramatic way. Her films, photography, and sculptures actively engage the spectator in an experience of a modern, liminal state – the transgression of private/public is not necessarily enacted onscreen or in her photographs and sculptures, but in the anxious confrontation between the spectator and the art piece. Casilda produces this effect through her explicit interest in the body (The Surface Existence; Intimate Diary; The Touch of Proximity; Quisiera…) and vision or ocular functions (Sight; Peephole Relations; As inside as the eye; Ojos que no venI; Los Labios…), both of which are governed – and made problematic – by the notion of voyeurism, or “the gaze” (Insides; The Viewer).
Casilda’s work presented at Aspect Ratio is a combination of three projects. Quisiera ser tan alta como la luna (I wish I were as tall as the moon) parts V and VI are a continuation of an ongoing series, while Winter Landscape and High Tide are altogether new works. Quisiera (V) is made up of three sketches that depict different permutations of Quisiera (VI), a sculpture of a human leg that seamlessly transforms into an arm. Winterand Tide are both video loops. Winter is a 12-minute loop, single channel HD video, of people playing in the snow. The images are rear projected onto a triptych of frosted glass, and the sound of a music box accompanies the video. Tideis a 19-minute, 27-second video loop of an extreme close up of ice/snow melting or being encroached upon by water, shown on a HDTV monitor.
The projects are intermixed within the two intimate rooms that make up Aspect Ratio. There is a kind of symmetry to the presentation: the first room contains Quisiera (V) and Winter, while the second contains Quisiera (VI) and Tide. In a sense, the whole is kept separate from the part – sketches of leg-arms from the sculpture of a leg-arm and the ice/snow melting from the snowy landscape. But this symmetry is incomplete. By moving from one room to the other there is no unveiling where the big picture is more apparent across the threshold. There is, however, a change in perspective. An ontological shift occurs between rooms that highlights the formal characteristics and the meaning-making possibilities of Quisiera, Winter Landscape, and High Tide.
Quisiera (V) and (VI) exist on two different, though not mutually exclusive, planes: in the exhibition environment at Aspect Ratio and among the other parts of the series, which – at least for now – only “exist” on Casilda’s website. In both cases, it is apparent that Quisiera (V) and (VI) are a continuation of Casilda’s interest in the body and voyeurism. The conjoined arm and leg present an isolated, though abstracted view of the two appendages that ironizes their function. The arm and leg’s respective ability to stand and to reach is glorified while it is also rendered static and unidirectional. When seen through the lens of the series, this stasis becomes all the more apparent. The series is based on a Spanish folk song from Casilda’s youth:
I wish I were as tall as the moon
As the moon.
As the moon.
Using this fragment as the impetus, the series strives to explore “the beauty of believing we can achieve anything we dream of, and the danger such motivation entails” (Quisiera). Quisiera (I) and (III) enact this by focusing on the human body, specifically, the feet. I and II are video loops of feet in frantic motion, trying their hardest to defy gravity and stand on tippy-toe. The shift from video to sketch and sculpture in V and VI literalizes the never-ending anxiety implied by the video loop – to be as tall as the moon is rendered an unattainable goal, or at least one steeped in deferred gratification.
This shouldn’t be taken as a wholly defeatist sentiment, because while there is stasis in Quisiera, there is also implied movement via transformation. The shift across the threshold from room to room at Aspect Ratio is both a literal and figurative movement where the sketched studies of Quisiera (V) are re-presented as Quisiera (VI). The exploration of the anatomical oddity of the arm-leg is then shown as a process, something that must be addressed in stages, like the preparation of a model T. rex at a natural history museum. By showing this process of transformation, Quisiera (V) and (VI)seem to be enacting creation or, in the very least, documentation, where the mythological roots of the project are materialized, but not necessarily made more solid.
Winter Landscape and High Tide are not part of a series, however, due to thematic and structural similarities, they are closely related enough to talk about in tandem. The two films confront the viewer with almost static images that seem to mimic painting, drawing, or sculpture. Though, obviously, this association is metaphorical – both films seem to be an expression of the plastic arts in general, instead of video in specific. The slow, hazy images and triptych display of Landscape interacts with a lineage that puts it in nodal relation to the paintings of Pieter Brueghel and the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, who famously explored The Hunters in the Snow in his film, Solaris. While the extreme close up and photographic realism of Tide fits within a long line of artists who simultaneously document and remove natural phenomena from their origins, like the films of Jean Painleve or the sidewalk photographs by Irving Penn or Singe Emma.
This is made especially evident in relation to Quisiera (V) and (VI). The filmic space becomes sculptural in the sense that the means by which the videos are shown is a part of the art object itself. The frosted glass and digital projector used to display Winder and the HDTV monitor leaning against the wall used for Tide, have much to do with how the videos are seen by the spectator. By leaving these devices out-in-the-open, Casilda draws attention to the mechanisms that make up the display. The spectator is then confronted with the materiality of presentation, an awareness of perspective similar to the shift from drawing to sculpture in Quisiera (V) and (VI). Casilda’s interest in vision and voyeurism is quite evident here, because not only does the spectator have to deal with what they are seeing, but how they are seeing.
Casilda Sanchez’s work presented at Aspect Ratio strives, and for the most part succeeds, to create an environment of active engagement. The intimacy of the gallery space aids this experience, not only by putting Quisiera (V) and (VI), Winter Landscape, and High Tide in a particular context, but by allowing the art pieces to exist in a state between stasis and movement. The viewer and the artwork are brought into a relationship where the interaction between parts becomes integral and a certain level of “shared intimacy” forms among objects, human or otherwise. This is a special kind of materialism that has the potential to explore the systemic properties that make up objects, which may be the basis of a new kind of “communal understanding.”