Liliana Porter Scales Time and Space at MALBA
By Vivi Rathbone.
Around the corner from the permanent collection at MALBA, there is a temporary exhibit by Liliana Porter, titled Man with an Axe.
Liliana Porter’s work often addresses issues of scale and time – she has a long tradition of mocking the “tight chronology of history, calendars, and clocks. The Man with the Axe and Other Brief Situations – the artist’s most ambitious installation to date – formulates a sinuous and chaotic history of expansive time, and is currently featured at MALBA.
Entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted with a curiously engaging mess. The eye is immediately caught by red dust, and a collapsed piano, but when given a closer view, one is overwhelmed by the micro details that construct the installation. The concept of scale is not an easy subject to address in traditional art mediums, but Porter’s assemblage of broken, collected, and found objects addresses scale, and causes the viewer to reflect on the nature of time and chronology.
We see a tiny man with the axe, a possible starting point if we heed the title, which gives the tiny character – “though just five centimeters tall – a paradoxical importance”. The axe held above his head poised to bring it down with force on the white bits of broken porcelain. The viewer poses the question – is this little man with the axe the initiation of the chaos of broken glass,that grows and expands in size until it reaches the catastrophe of a broken piano that looks as if it has fallen from the sky? Or does the little man stand at the end of the chronology, as the end of the scene by breaking down an impossible mess of memory? Is this the fate of time – to be born or die as shredded debris?
The viewer’s eyes get lost in the chaos and details of smashed porcelain mixed with small figures poised in action, in brief scenes constructed from childhood toys, they stand out in the chaos as if to tell their own small story amidst the flood and flow of time, as it is spewed across the platform. Banal and mundane, these toy figurines and miniatures appear unsuited and, for that very reason, unexpectedly right for metaphysical contraband installation. The pieces are haunting, and anonymous, but one small figure stands out amongst the wreck, and clarifies the artist’s allusion to time – a small car with The Kennedys on that faithful day.
From the curator: “It both summons and destroys the artist’s micro world in the here-and-now of what, in this work, is large-scale time and space. Even a partial list of what is seen here would require naming thing after thing, but what is ingrained in our memory is the set, the summation of objects that the wooden platforms see to keeping whole, safeguarding the disturbing beauty of that which cannot be arranged. How to describe it without restricting our vision as it freely wanders amidst the pieces with no set course, no narrative?”
So, why, would the little man with an axe want to shatter all of the nonsense and noise of time? The size of the individual figurines posed in such solitude causes reflection to the simultaneously irrelevance and importance of the individual in time, and how small actions create large echoes of consequence in time, which may not be linear, but meandering, and chaotic.
The curator closed it perfectly:
“This is the ambiguous time of art, which is similar to that of hope and oblivion. As in Magritte’s painting, in the end, Porter could well say, this is not a man with an axe.”