Melanie Smith with Rafael Ortega

10 Mar - 14 Apr 2007

© Melanie Smith
Parres Cero, 2006
16 mm transfered to DVD, monitor
Ed. of 3
(MAS 297)

Galería OMR is proud to present artist Melanie Smith’s most recent work, a collaboration with Rafael Ortega. Living in Mexico from 1989 to 2006, Smith has first-hand experience of the inherent contradictions of a megalopolis in constant cultural and economic expansion, and her work captures them intrinsically. Fascinated by forms in which historical and commercial influences are translated into colors, materials and objects visible on the city’s streets, Smith takes a formalist approach in order to reveal this specific urban context’s fundamental structures, visual excess and social behaviors. Her work includes a wide range of media: installation and photography, video and painting. Since 1997, Smith has collaborated with Rafael Ortega in various film and video projects that focus on the process behind making art. Six Steps towards Reality (2002) and Six Steps to a Project (2004) are two examples of this.
Melanie Smith and Rafael Ortega’s new series of shorts was presented for the first time as a trilogy at the Tate Britain in 2006; Parres I (2004), Parres II (2004) and Parres III (2005) explore the construction and breakdown of painterly illusion.
These shorts, as well as the rest of the exhibition, refer to the small town of Parres, located right on the edge of Mexico City’s urban sprawl. Half an hour away from the old freeway to Cuernavaca, this small town has managed to conserve its own separate identity and primarily rural landscape. The artists chose Parres for the project because it seemed anonymous enough to be associated with suburban landscapes anywhere in Central America or Eastern Europe.
Parres I is the first in a series of projects by Smith and Ortega to use the most basic elements of cinematography: a 35 mm camera and a roll of film. In the historical development of film, the one-roll take has been an attempt to capture reality and depict its unequivocal temporal limit, while it is also a constant quest for unlimited possibilities. Thus, these projects’ premise is to use only the simplest devices to make an image. The audio plays a very important role, as it supports but also questions the illusion documented and edited specifically for each film.
The project deliberately features the entire roll of film including the leader, marking the beginning and end of the material’s physicality, and thus suggesting the construction and breakdown of the illusion, making it clear how the narrative was created through filmic means rather than through accidental circumstances.
Parres structures a utopia of indifference while creating a bridge between the practices of film and painting. In each film, the visible world is hidden or revealed behind a monochromatic image. Smith wants monochrome painting to be understood as an example of a kind of neutral window through which the viewer’s gaze passes, expecting a transformation. This calling into question of the implicit transformation from reality to the mono-tone (canvas) seems especially relevant in Mexico, where, throughout modernism, the monochromatic trend was continuously ignored as a seemingly irrelevant Western concern. The monochrome in this case leads to the systematic disappearance of the visible world’s everyday guise.
Along with the Parres trilogy, the gallery’s space features two interventions that function as walls (made of cement block and plasterboard), blocking the viewers’ access to paintings hidden behind them, so they can only be viewed sideways or too close up. This obstruction has multiple repercussions on the paintings. First of all, the walls—or works in progress—become sculptural monochromes that negate the painterly illusion. These paintings are indeed meant not to be seen, or to be ignored by a majority of viewers; in turn, they refer to the never-ending debate about painting and its contemporary relevance.
The airbrushed-acrylic paintings can be seen as desperate efforts representing an eroded landscape under construction—a contradiction in itself. They become joyless impressions of uncontrolled, intrusive development: haphazard urban development as an inevitable reality.
In the installation on the gallery’s upper floor, the relationship between illusion and the abstract wall’s physicality finds its conceptual continuation in a video, Parres 0 (2007), showing a 16mm single frame time-lapse film of thousands of still images of Parres interfaced to depict an almost subliminal panorama of the town. Ninety film stills printed on watercolor paper accompany this video, creating a contextual narrative and setting the tone for the rest of the show.
Collectively, Parres seems to articulate ambiguities present throughout Melanie Smith’s body of work: the complex dichotomy of the quest for an aesthetic image against the setting of contemporary urban life.

The show will be open to the public March 10–April 14, 2007.
We appreciate the support from Fundación Televisa, A.C.

Tags: Melanie Smith