Dispossessed /Pt 1
“Unless the past and the future were made part of the present by memory and intention, there is nowhere to go.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin
“We each have our own maps. Unique cartograms that trace our movements through time. We move when culture changes its mind and when networks are forced to expand due to socio-political motives. These motives are gods and monsters, traveling through centuries, not always in a straight line. They trickle through data and nest in our heads, sometimes in the form of corrupt files. To be dispossessed is to be as the world is: twisting, burning, updating and in perpetual exile, wondering where to go and when to stop.”
-Marvin Luvualu Antonio
Marvin Luvualu Antonio’s solo exhibition, Dispossessed/Pt 1, will be at Clint Roenisch Gallery until April 30, 2016. The title of this show refers to The Dispossessed, a 1974 novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is Antonio’s first solo show in Toronto. The title, namely the inclusion of Pt 1, indicates that further iterations will be thematized in the future. Le Guin’s anchored prose was the artist’s point of departure. Her motifs of history, futurity, and temporality and its embodiments, all seem to resonate throughout this exhibition. Antonio’s short statement implies his show might be a project of mapping, of locating himself within the eroding landscape of the present moment without losing sight of the past.
Upon entry to the gallery, visitors are immediately lured closer by two cartographic paintings. The first in sight, PASSPORT, faintly resembles a treasure map and boldly bares its title. Facing it is another painting, His Own Private Africa, also reminiscent of a map albeit more intricate and colourful. One begins to sense a heavy presence in the adjoining room.
Viewers approaching the entrance to the second room are greeted by a camouflage tarp which drapes the corner of what seems to be a cage. After rounding the tarp an immense stockade is revealed: Antonio has erected a massive, black, chain-link fence within the gallery. This enclosure is filled with paintings and photographic prints which hang or lean in proximity to sculptures. Color is significant here, as is precarity. An orange extension cord slithers from a shoe containing an iPhone reading CALL HOME to an orange plexiglass terrarium containing a live snake. A recurrent faceless figure bleeds in several paintings. Out of the central concrete sculpture Mercedes Benz car parts protrude.
Look, but don’t touch. Univocal Dispossessed /Pt.1 is not unifocal, yet what we see is what we get. Visitors’ entry into Antonio’s space is prefigured; we must walk the tight perimeter between wall and fence and we must look through that fence into his private world. In a sense, we stand on reclaimed foreign ground as expatriates who must submit to foreign law, namely the law laid down by Antonio himself. In this space, Antonio is the sovereign as well as the legislator: he dictates viewer’s movements by physically creating the conditions for their (lack of) agency.
At the first quarter turn, a prominently watermarked print of a grinning man reads “DON’T PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT” – if this is a reference to Jenny Holzer’s maxim “Protect me from what I want” does Antonio not want protection from the oppressive power structures of late capitalism? Holzer demands more than her world can provide, Antonio speaks to sabotage.This print is held in place by mounds of sand as are other works, including the aforementioned terrarium. Is the snake’s enclosure, heated by a car battery, an allegory for using capitalistic mechanisms against themselves in order to dismantle hegemony? We are uncertain, overt didactical critique is not the premise of this show. Rather, signifiers asynchronously commingle in this landscape of futurity; the installation does so with objects, the novel with words.
At the second quarter turn, a black and white print entitled A Real Pride shows a darkened image of a man auditing a James Baldwin lecture. An amorphous figure resembling a country’s border has been traced over part of the face – we wondered if it was the shape of Angola, Antonio`s motherland, it is not. The print is attached to an unfolded Samsung TV box with painter’s tape and secured using zip-ties to the fence.
At the third quarter turn, a TV is held on its side by mounds of sand and a concrete plinth. Aaliyah’s “At Your Best” fills the air. Such a setup is typical for Antonio: several appropriated clips playing simultaneously, at least one related to sexuality, another dealing with symptomatic behavior. Three videos are juxtaposed: a night-vision overhead view of Antonio priming a canvas, Stefan Burnett of Death Grips devouring flowers, and a compilation of “B.B.C.” masturbation.
No man is an island, images are never alone nor stable in this artist’s world. Paintings lean against one another, prints and sculptures are held up either by the sand, the chain-link fence, or tape and zip-ties. Large concrete sculptures seem at once sturdy and teetering. A snake terrarium, in which survival and flourishing are precarious realities, is heated by unpredictable electrical currents. The installation seems to indicate that Antonio’s world is a world in becoming. His home is built on the sand, not on the rock. It is fragile, rife with possibility and situated atop an unstable foundation of sediment in perpetual flux with the movement of time and history. As Le Guin’s unswerving prose indicates, it is of vital importance to intently embody the past and the future in the present moment – only then can space be reclaimed.
© 2018 The Editorial Magazine